Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher, a member of the New York Bar, and Open Orthodoxy’s most vocal critic in the media.
What books are currently on your night stand?
I have no time for scheduled, methodical bedtime reading. After I finish my night seder and my subsequent “computer seder” (catching up with work from my day job, responding to e-mails that require serious elaboration, and sometimes working on new articles), I finally get to “bedtime reading,” during which I randomly go through whichever journals or papers have recently arrived. I often turn my attention to hashkafic or unusual halachic literature, but it’s all pretty spontaneous.
What’s the best book on Judaism you’ve ever read?
Aside from the Torah itself, I am particularly drawn to the works of the Ramchal and the shiurim of Rav Soloveitchik in the original (i.e., verbatim transcripts of the Rav’s shiurim, as opposed to a distillation of the Rav’s ideas by third-party writers and editors).
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite books and authors?
I was a pretty avid reader. I loved biographies of all sorts (about explorers, presidents, and sports stars), as well as youth classics like The Hardy Boys and various detective series.
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
None. I look to my parents and rebbeim as my primary influences. And I think that’s how it should be. One needs a mesorah (live example and oral tradition) as one’s principal teacher and guide in life. This is a unique and fundamental aspect of Judaism.
You are known, in part, for your forceful articles against the new Open Orthodox movement. What books would you give someone who wanted to know why you regard Open Orthodoxy as heretical?
Rabbi David Rosenthal’s new book, Why Open Orthodoxy is Not Orthodox, is a must-read. It presents a comprehensive treatment of the Open Orthodox movement and compellingly demonstrates how radical this movement has become in its departure from tradition.
However, the truth is that many of the writings of Open Orthodox leaders themselves exhibit hair-raising concepts that lead one to the conclusion that the movement is quite distant from normative Orthodoxy – be it writings that deny the objective divinity of the Oral Torah; caustically disparage the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and Moshe Rabbeinu; support gay marriage; call for the ordination of women rabbis; refer to Chazal as misogynistic and halacha as bigoted; or call for lowering conversion standards.
As a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher, what books would you recommend to someone who wanted to learn more about the inner workings and controversies of the kashrus world?
Sue Fishkoff’s Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority and Timothy Lytton’s Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Foodcare both very informative. In terms of halacha, Rabbi Binyomin Forst’s The Laws of Kashrus quite nicely presents the nuts and bolts of much of Yoreh Deah while Rabbu Zushe Blech’s Kosher Food Production very effectively depicts how these halachos are distilled and applied in actual kashrus certification.
That said, in order to get a good grasp of kashrus issues and controversies, I recommend two things: 1) learning Yoreh Deah in the original and 2) visiting www.OUKosher.org, which is a treasure trove of piskei halacha on cutting-edge issues, excellent articles on every area of kashrus, instructional videos, kashrus primers and shiurim, and so much more.
What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?
A book about the developing relationship between the more traditional (“right-wing”) elements of Modern Orthodoxy/Religious Zionism with the yeshivish/chareidi world. We see today a splintering of the MO and RZ communities and a greater alignment of the more traditional elements within these groups with at least some of the yeshivish/chareidi community. It’s really inevitable and quite revealing in many ways.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, many rabbanim opposed reading novels, arguing that they were a waste of time. Do you read novels? Or just non-fiction?
I no longer read novels. My reading is solely non-fiction (with the exception of the news, which is so wild today that it sometimes seems like fiction literature).
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
The list is too long! My schedule precludes me from reading so much of what I probably should read.
If you could recommend one book to Jewish leaders, what would it be?
This may not be what you would expect, but I would love for them to read some of Rav Soloveitchik’s shiurim in the Nora’os HaRav series. The reason is that it is critical for Jewish leaders to understand that Torah is the most important aspect of what being Jewish is all about – including serious, deep Torah learning – and that through an understanding of the centrality and profundity of Torah, one gains a far keener and genuinely Jewish perspective on the current needs of our people.
What do you plan on reading next?
Whatever I randomly make my way to after midnight when I get to my reading; it’s always unpredictable.
The questions and format of this interview are modeled on The New Times’ popular “By the Book” column.