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But does the "standard" reflect normative, Orthodox views?

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Emes Ve-Emunah}

I say this with a heavy heart. But I think the time has come to say Kaddish for Open Orthodoxy. Kaddish is the prayer traditionally recited upon the loss of a loved one – like a parent or child. This is how I feel about this loss.

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I have always been a big tent type of Orthodox Jew. Orthodox Judaism has room for many Hashkafos, from Satmar to organizations like JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance). While I personally disagree with the philosophy of both extremes, I have always thought that there is room in Orthodoxy for differences. And yet in order for Orthodoxy to have any meaning, it has to have defined borders. There are limits to what can be called Orthodox. With respect to Satmar, as much as I abhor their views with respect to the State of Israel, those views are well within the parameters of Orthodox belief.

However with respect to the left it is an entirely different story. The left has morphed in to something called Open Orthodoxy (OO). To the best of my knowledge, no one has expressed the problems with them better than Rabbi David Berger. In fact his views to a large degree parallel those of my own.

I have in the past always felt that even though some of their leading lights have strayed from their mentor’s Hashkafos -they should nevertheless be considered Orthodox. I argued that no matter how much they have strayed from the norm, they should still be considered members in good standing as long as they strictly adhere to Halacha, which has always been the case.

So for example when something like Women’s Tefilah Groups (WTGs) were started, I did not consider it to be a violation Halacha if done properly.

Rabbi Weiss (who was arguably the leading proponent of the left) kept pushing the envelope of Halacha away from tradition and adopting more innovations based on criteria outside of the Torah. This was done despite his mentor, Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik’s clearly stated opposition to many of them. Innovations like ordaining women; interfaith and interdenominational services, are all the kinds of things that Rav Soloveitchik had strongly opposed. Something Rabbi Weiss actually conceded. Thus was Open Orthodoxy (a term he coined) born. He had also founded YCT (Yeshicat Chovevei Torah) – a Yeshiva that reflected those values.

But even with all of that, speaking for myself only, I did not think they warranted being expelled from Orthodoxy. Until one fine day Zev Farber, one of YCT’s prime products revealed that after studying biblical criticism he concluded that the Torah was probably written by different people at different times in history. That is a heretical view.

YCT president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin reacted to that by reaffirming his belief in the traditional view that the Torah is the word of God as recorded by Moshe; and this is what his Yeshiva YCT teaches.

But he nevertheless defended Zev Farber’s right to question those foundational beliefs – calling him a major Talmud Chacham, and continued to embrace him as one of YCT’s own. That (as I have indicated in the past) is a deal breaker for me. I challenge my good friend Asher do explain how you can assert traditional views to be the truth and at the same time say that one of their brightest graduates has a right as an Orthodox Jew to question it?

I don’t see how any movement that does exactly what the Conservative movement does vis a vis belief can be called Orthodox. The Conservative movement too allows for such beliefs, just as they do the traditional ones. How is Open Orthodoxy all that different with respect to their belief system? As I said in a recent essay, they have essentially started a new movement that is not Orthodox, despite use of the word in their name.

In its early stages the Conservative movement was not that different than Open Orthodoxy is today. They had similar motives of inclusivity – the mantra of OO. Their founding fathers sincerely believed that by creating a more liberal form of observant Judaism it would better appeal to the American ‘melting pot’ masses. They did not consider themselves a new movement at first. They just thought of themselves to be a more liberal – American style version of Orthodoxy. Some of their founding fathers, like Louis Ginsburg, were actually major league European trained Talmidei Chachamim.

And yet they were firmly rejected by Orthodox rabbinic leaders of their day. History has proven those rabbinic leaders to be right. The Conservative movement of today cannot in any way be considered Orthodox. Many of its current leaders have even advocated that their movement stop calling themselves Halachic. Open Orthodoxy of today is not much different than Conservative Judaism was when it was founded.

But I don’t have to expel Open Orthodoxy and its affiliate organizations (e.g. YCT; Yeshivat Maharat) from Orthodoxy, Rabbi Weiss has resigned from the RCA, explaining why in a Tablet Magazine article – and has effectively declared Open Orthodoxy to be a new movement.

They use the word Orthodoxy. But they are not Orthodox. If you are a camel and claim to be a horse, that doesn’t make you a horse. They may see themselves that way. But they cannot have their cake and eat it too. You cannot resign from an organization that represents Orthodox rabbis because they don’t accept your innovations as Orthodox – and then say that you are still Orthodox despite that. Even more to the point, there is no legitimate Orthodox body that accepts them. Not the Agudah, and not the RCA. Not the OU and not the Israeli Rabbinate.

I do not celebrate this break. I am ‘saying Kaddish’ over them with sadness and a feeling of loss. This new split away from Orthodoxy is not a good thing. There is a need for an Orthodox left wing. There are a lot of sincere modern Jews that are strongly influenced by the spirit of the times, and yet are committed to observance of Halacha. The left provided a home for them. Those people otherwise might have gravitated to Conservative Judaism – where that spirit is more fully honored.

I believe that Rav Soloveitchik felt the same way. Because even though he opposed WTG’s he advised Rabbi Shlomo Riskin howi to implement it Halachicly in his Shul at the time, Lincoln Square Synagogue.

I don’t want to lose sincere Jews whose convictions lead them to embrace social values and ideals that are not sourced in Orthodoxy. Values that were honored by the left. The left has always been able to accommodate them while balancing those values with tradition. There were lines, however, that simply were not breached. Now they have now been breached with vigor.

In the past the left was at least tolerated if criticized by the right and to a lesser extent, by Centrists like me. But now that those lines have been crossed there can be no tolerance. There is no longer a left wing of Orthodoxy. Open Orthodoxy has hijacked it. There is now only the right and Centrists. Centrists are the new left by default.

I don’t know what’s next for Open Orthodoxy. But it doesn’t matter any more than it matters what’s next for Conservative Judaism. And I tear as I say Kaddish.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article! I have benefited from and enjoyed women’s t’filah groups, but can no longer endorse this OO movement as Orthodox for exactly the same reason you cited. This constant need to evolve seems to be a Leftist value that neither measures the effect of constant evolution on people or practice, nor shows respect for the value of words or definitions. I left Reform and Conservative because I was seeking truth, not feel-good folkways. I am sad that I can no longer support this movement.

  2. I disagree that the Centrist Orthodox are the new left by default. OO can call themselves what they want. Centrist Orthodox is still Orthodox and not leftist, no matter what the OO believe in. Centrist orthodoxy has a basis in Halacha too. Calling them the new left by default is an insult.

  3. Who dictated Orthodoxy, HaShem? Or the male gender who like to control and strangle that which was intended that belief and worship belongs to all. V'ahavta aet Adonai Haelo-chae-cha b'chol l'vavcha ob'chol naf-schaecha o'bchol maodecha.. You shall love the Lord YOUR G-D with all your heart all your soul and all your might. It includes EVRYONE, men, women, and children exceptions none! Except total love.

  4. a friend asked me to post the following
    I will have to think about i. My initial thoughts are that Judaism has survived because it has been open to change. During the middle ages this willingness to change was closed because of the brutality of the middle ages. However, now if Judaism is to survive and flourish it must again embrace change but that change must be organic, an outgrowth of what is genuine and not an abrupt rupture from tradition. Having said that I point out that the Talmud is the great book of change. It rewrote much of Torah law and created a new Judaism. This was not the fist time that happened. The Jews returning from Babylonian captivity recreated a Judaism heavily influenced by the culture of ancient Babylon e.g. we changed our calendar to the babylonian calendar, changed the alphabet we used, changed the way we measured land, started the synagogue system, started the custom of reading the Torah publicly every monday and thursday etc.
    The article refers to an orthodox rabbi who thinks the Torah was written by different people at different times. If that is so, which it probably is, it does not make the Torah any less Holy or Divinely given. The Torah is not a book of science or even of exactly accurate history. It is a book of spirituality. It is a book designed for self transformation. Judaism is designed to provide each person with a chance to encounter HaShem–God–in his or her own life.
    I could say much more but must now return to work because where there is no bread there is no Torah.

  5. In anything, I turn to the Tanakh for guidance. All answers are found therein. The rest of it all? It is just applied, external trappings. Put on the trappings you are most comfortable with. But I know that the final authority in everything spiritual is the Tanakh, and of course, its core, Torah.

    Of course, I am not in any way Jewish. But what was written long ago, and still survives, has the ring of Truth to it.

    Isn't it the heart, the mind, and the Spirit within all, that is the most important thing? Therein, we find common ground. The 613 Commandments, the Noahide Laws; don't they ultimately lead to the same place?

    That is the way that I see it.

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