Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads
What will the rabbinic leadership of the Modern Orthodox (MO) world do? A wave of provocations from the Far Left challenges the very definition of Orthodoxy. Should Yidden in other parts of the community who are far from the battle lines care? It would take a navi to answer the first question. Responsibility for Klal Yisrael and caring for other Jews demands a resounding “yes” to the second.
Lots of things are happening in the Modern Orthodox world – some good, some not so good, and some astonishingly terrible. The far left of Modern Orthodoxy seems to be intent on continuing an unrelenting drive to push the envelope and change the way people lead an Orthodox life. Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, who in many other ways is a model of selfless commitment to ahavas Yisrael, has unfortunately become the charismatic leader of what is now a movement. He led the campaign to ordain the first Orthodox woman rabbi, backing off (at times) only in assigning her a different title (Maharat instead of Rabbah) so as not to offend others. He also hosted a Kabbolas Shabbos service led by a woman, claiming that there was no halachic objection, since it wasn’t really a form of tefilah be-tzibbur. Rabbi Weiss founded his own Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT), which has been ordaining rabbis in his image for a number of years. Chovevei graduates have quietly slipped into pulpits around the country. It now sports a sister program for training more Maharats. Chovevei graduates see themselves fully committed to love of all Jews, which to them means respecting the scholarship of non-Orthodox clergy. Chovevei rabbis trade pulpits with them in their local communities and they serve as a Chovevei faculty members.
YCT is not the only group flexing Far Left power. When the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the rabbinic umbrella group of Modern Orthodoxy worked to standardize giyur procedures for the benefit of future converts, some rabbis on the left were upset by what they saw as a “charedization” of the process, denying them the right to rely on whatever leniencies they see as appropriate. They founded their own rabbinic organization, the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), which will promote its own competing batei din for giyur, relying on more “flexible” and liberal standards they believe are found in certain teshuvos, ignoring the vast majority of poskim who disagree, and who have disagreed for a century. The children of their geirim are being sentenced to lives of uncertainty, since the conversions of their parents – whether valid or not – will certainly be questioned years from now, when all that is remembered is that the dayanim who presided over them rejected the standards of the majority of poskim.
The Far Left does not rely on notoriety alone to capture attention. It makes steady and good use of the media, as well as direct mail, email and advertising, all aimed at the rest of the Orthodox community, and well beyond. One of its more effective tools is a blog called Morethodoxy, written by, in their words, “four Orthodox Rabbis and an Orthodox Maharat,” almost all of whom have been strongly influenced by Rabbi Weiss. (The Morethodoxy blog has a mirror site in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, which is read almost exclusively by the non-Orthodox.)
Maintaining public visibility as iconoclasts and innovators produces much thunder and attracts significant media attention outside the Orthodox world. This is designed to increase pressure on mainstream rabbis, and move the majority of the community to view its changes as acceptable. People who lack the background in learning to analyze the arguments on both sides see a group of “progressive” rabbis willing to engage the issues of the day, which seems like a good thing to them. Then they note a different group of “reactionary” rabbis who insist on living in the past. This generates enormous pressure on the traditionalists to make concessions so as not to alienate growing numbers of their congregants. Years ago, the Far Left sought innovations like calling up each person to the Torah by the names of both his father and mother, or women’s prayer groups, complete with krias ha-Torah. (Women were advised that they could get around the “problem” of the bracha before the kriah by not reciting birkas ha-Torah earlier in the day, and delaying it till they were called up.) Those changes are so commonplace that they have lost their cachet. Today the push is for “partnership minyanim,” in which a mechitza is in place, but women have an even greater egalitarian role in davening pesukei de-zimra and leining.
The latest skirmish in the battle between extreme innovation and tradition came a few weeks ago, when a dynamic Los Angeles rabbi, a wonderful human being, one of the Morethodoxy regulars, wrote that he cannot and does not recite the bracha “shelo asani ishah” any more. In fact, he claimed, continuing to recite it would be a “desecration of G-d’s Name,” since today we realize that there is virtually nothing that woman cannot do as well as men. Silence would be wiser than continuing a beracha that no longer speaks to our generation, he said, in the spirit of the rabbinic tradition of “better to sit and not do.”
Reacting to a firestorm of criticism within the MO world, the rabbi withdrew his article in preference for one that proposed the same change in nusach, but in a less strident voice, as if the choice of words were the problem, rather than the approach behind it. He added rabbinic sources that someone had cobbled together to justify, after the fact, jettisoning a beracha found in the gemara, and whose most widely accepted (and oldest!) explanation underscores the greater number of mitzvos that fall to men to perform – something that would still seem to valid today!
More provocations followed on the heels of the abandoned beracha. A colleague of the first rabbi argued that the beracha “shelo asani goy” was also offensive, and could be eliminated by the same halachic sources. The original author spoke glowingly of a “couple had requested that the honor of reading the ketuba under the chuppah be given to the bride’s teacher. Her teacher was truly her rebbe muvhak…. Naturally I agreed, and we proceeded accordingly.…As could be expected after many years of Talmud study, the rebbe read the Aramaic text flawlessly.” The rebbe in question was the author’s wife. (He goes on to condemn those who would stand in the way to such participation in a chasuna. He decries the argument “put forward by numerous rabbinic writers in a variety of contexts, [that]declares that whenever Orthodox women perform ritual practices that are traditionally associated with men, their motivation is invariably subversive… cynically utilizing religious practice as a means of expressing their rebellion against perceived unfairness or injustice in Orthodox life….The very essence of the argument constitutes an outrageous act of slander.” The position he mocks was none other than that of the previous gadol ha-dor, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.) Yet another Morethodox contributor explored his quandary about whether or not to design a same-gender marriage for two congregants, who in other regards were observant, and might be lost to Orthodoxy if their special needs were not met.
To many, the “withdrawal” of the first article by the Los Angeles rabbi did little to quell the criticism. They saw the second article as worse than the first. It underscored, they argued, that the YCT/IRF axis looks at halacha in so many of its published articles in a manner fundamentally different than the rest of us. It senses where it wants to go, and then looks for arguments within rabbinic tradition to justify it – but without having to offer any arguments for why one shitah is preferable or more defensible than another. All shitos are available on an as-needed basis. It is the embodiment of the Dubno Maggid’s famous response as to how he always has the perfect mashal (“you shoot the arrow, and then paint the target around it”) applied to halacha. Absent is the sense of looking for an objective truth. That quest permeates hundreds of years of halachic literature: weighing all the views available, and only relying on those best supported by the evidence of the words of the gemara and rishonim.
Critics of Far Left halacha point to two other elements that differentiate it from traditional halacha:
• Very few on the left can show the competence with text that comes with many years of serious immersion in learning. It just doesn’t have such members, neither as role models, nor as products of their institutions.
• In traditional halacha, very serious questions are taken to the greatest contemporary halachic minds as a kind of “reality check.” This is true both in deciding about new areas of halacha, as well as weighing and deciding between competing opinions stated in the past. The left balks at this, seeing this as an affront to individual autonomy. It also believes that talmidei chachamim should have input, but it should be one of many contributions, alongside great academic scholars, who have much to add in their view to halachic debate. Taking questions to its own gedolim or stellar halachists is not an option anyway. It doesn’t have any, at least not according to the definition that has held sway for centuries.
Where does this leave the rest of the Modern Orthodox community? People who reside entirely in the more traditional Yeshiva world are often clueless about the nature of Modern Orthodoxy. They are aware – correctly – of hashkafic differences between the two camps, especially in regard to the State of Israel and whether a certain amount of secular acculturation is to be desired or avoided. Other images of Modern Orthodoxy could benefit from a bit of updating. The last decades produced, in many ways, a good deal of achshara dara – a more fit and proper generation in the MO community. To be sure, it is beset by major problems, just as the “heimish” community is. Some of these problems are the same; some are different. For the most part, though, the stereotype of mixed dances at shul dinners, congregants eating fish in treif restaurants, and rebbetzins who don’t cover their hair is no longer valid. There is more Torah learning going on in many MO shuls. Children often have received a more intensive Torah education than their parents, and have spent more time in Israel where many have been able to draw from the intensity and strength of immersion in high-octane learning – some in charedi yeshivas, and many others in quality “white” yeshivas like Kerem B’Yavneh. Many have spent time in both. Modern Orthodoxy has produced large numbers of men and women who have successfully stood up to the challenges involved in high-level participation in a broad spectrum of professional and academic endeavors, creating much kiddush Hashem along the way. Each community can genuinely point to areas of accomplishment, as well as areas of failure.
Many in the “heimish” community would be surprised by the makeup of the “modern” rabbinate in particular. The diversity is enormous. Many of the younger rabbis in particular have had the benefit of years of learning, and maintain close contact with rabbeim. In their ranks you will find bnei Torah with good learning skills, a real love for limud Torah, and an enviable grasp of serious, nuanced halacha – besides excellent training in speaking, writing, and counseling. Unfortunately, you will find others who display woeful ignorance of gemara and halacha. My sense is that there are more of the former than the latter.
What should the Modern Orthodox rabbinate do about YCT/IRF? The question threatened to split the RCA after the semi-ordination of Maharat Hurwitz. Some members wanted to ensure that YCT graduates not be admitted to its ranks; others were eager to see them brought into the organization. A split was avoided then, but the brouhaha over the suggestion of dropping a beracha authored by Chazal is not dying down. If even the gemara can be deconstructed to allow for accommodation to modern, enlightened sensitivities, where will this all lead? Given enough time (and enough headlines), can any text be explained away or reinterpreted? Even if no further changes are contemplated, doesn’t the approach suggest an understanding of mesorah fundamentally at odds with the rest of the Orthodox world? A new debate is shaping up around the applications of several YCT graduates who have private semichas besides their YCT ordination, and seek RCA membership on that basis. This has prompted Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg shlit”a to write that he would never have given those semichos had he known that the candidates were YCT products.
The RCA has changed much in recent years. At one time, it was almost exclusively the province of MO pulpit rabbis who were musmachim of Yeshiva University. Today, it includes educators, mashgichim, and retirees. Members come from a larger number of yeshivas, including ones on the right. Many members, including myself, proudly support the work of both Aguda and the RCA, and see a clear need for both organizations to thrive. The incessant pummeling of our mesorah by the Far Left has rattled the traditionalists. They believe that YCT should not be given recognition as just another Orthodox institution. (Rabbeim in YU have been among the most outspoken critics of the Far Left, including one major talmid chacham there who has openly called them “Conservative.”)
The RCA’s leadership, for the most part, has taken a principled position that it has always tried to keep as many Orthodox rabbis under the Big Tent as possible, where the majority can at least subject mavericks to some restraint. While Rav Soloveitchik, zt”l, the undisputed yoshev rosh of the MO world for decades, was extremely critical – even condemning – of a public position taken by Rabbi Emmanuel Rackman, a”h, the RCA never dismissed him from its ranks. Why should it now be in the position of having to pass judgment on the de’os of members?
Many of the RCA rank and file pose a counterargument. Maverick positions in the past were just that arguments put forth by individuals. They could not go any further – especially while Rav Soloveitchik was alive to suppress them. YCT, on the other hand, is on a crusade – with values and protocols that the majority cannot in good conscience share or be party to. To them, there is no question of a future split. It has already taken place.
The essential question might be how the RCA should see itself. Some regard it as more or less a fraternal organization for rabbis who need a place where they can share their concerns with colleagues. For many years, the RCA was just that. In such an organization, there might be room for people who disagree completely with each other, but can still engage each other with admirable collegiality and personal respect.
Others, however, look to the RCA as the face of a good part of the Orthodox community to the external world. Orthodoxy has finally arrived in the American mainstream; so many Jews and non-Jews are curious about what we have to say about questions and issues that arise in a world changing at a dizzying pace. The Modern Orthodox world, which believes in greater engagement in general society, should have a large role in articulating Torah positions in a wide variety of areas. Yet no organization can speak forcefully unless its members agree to a set of common principles. An organization that stands for too many things ultimately stands for nothing. Many RCA members feel that the divide between YCT and the rest of the MO world is so large, that keeping all members under one roof makes it impossible for the RCA to offer anything but vague platitudes. If YCT stays, the RCA can be a rabbis’ club. If it leaves, the RCA can be the face of Torah values to millions of Jews and non-Jews. It is as simple as that.
It is difficult not to think of the dispute between the Wurzburger Rav and R. Samson Raphael Hirsch. When Orthodox Jews were given the right by law in 1876 to withdraw from the community structure dominated by Reform, Rav Seligman Ber Bamberger strongly that they should not. Jewish unity should be maintained, so long as the observant did not have to compromise with their observance of halacha. Rav Hirsch, however, felt that it was imperative to do so. No one can say who was objectively “correct” in that dispute, although the last generations have looked favorably upon Rav Hirsch’s bold decision. Some argue that today’s agonizing choice is different. In Germany, the lines of demarcation between Reform and Torah Judaism were clear. Today, many fear, those lines have to be drawn. To avoid erosion of Torah values and practice, the rest of the community must define the approach of the Far Left as so different, that it can no longer be called Orthodox as the rest of us know it.
Who will decide which of these opinions should be applied to contemporary times? When Chazal needed to draft the 19th bracha of Shemonah Esreh against Jewish heretics, they turned to Shmuel ha-Katan, because of his extraordinary sensitivity and love for other Jews. He would cry before writing the words, and they did not want to trust anyone who would not cry. Who has the qualifications to address such a weighty issue – dealing not with heretics, chas v’shalom, but nonetheless about defining other Jews as outliers?
At least insofar as RCA membership, Rabbi Hanan Balk, YU-trained rabbi of a MO shul in Cincinnati, proposed a solution that resonated with many of the more traditional rabbis. He pointed out that rabbis continually admonish their congregants to ask questions when they do not know the halachic answer. Indeed, he said, one of the defining elements of being Orthodox is taking hard questions to greater Torah authorities. With the stakes so high, only one recourse suggests itself. The question of keeping YCT or defining it out of contemporary Orthodoxy should be put to the three talmidei chachamim within the American MO world that are most respected for their halachic ability: Rabbis Hershel Schachter, Gedalia Schwartz, and Mordechai Willig. The RCA should be prepared to abide by whatever decision these three come up with. We should watch to see if this solution gains in popularity.
Why should the more traditional part of the community care about issues completely off its radar? The problems with which the Modern Orthodox world is grappling are just not relevant to communities much further to the right. In fact, we should be able to identify several reasons.
Firstly, the impact upon areas of Orthodox cooperation will be enormous. If the Far Left grows stronger in untethering itself from both traditional hashkafos and accepted protocols of determining halacha, there will almost certainly be a reaction in the rest of the Orthodox world. Lemegdar milsa, to draw clear lines of differentiation, the traditional community will move in the opposite direction to oppose changes it sees as dangerous and illegitimate . We will drift even further apart. Cooperation in many areas – education, kashrus, kiruv, gerus, political advocacy – will be jeopardized or eliminated. Much of the right will argue that if Modern Orthodoxy can tolerate such aberrations in its midst rather than expelling it, than they cannot trust or continue to deal with the Modern Orthodox – especially if a YCT presence becomes mingled with the Modern Orthodox representation in common enterprises. Cooperation that took decades to accomplish may quickly unravel.
The best reason to care is that the Torah demands it of us. Rambam writes that we have no right to be dismissive of any Jew who accepts the Thirteen Principles of Faith. “When a person believes in these principles…he is included in the nation of Yisrael, and it is a mitzvah to love him, show compassion to him, and to conduct ourselves towards him in all ways that Hashem commands us to act to our fellow Jew.” These principals are fully accepted by the vast majority of the Modern Orthodox world. Other frum Jews simply cannot be unconcerned about the future of hundreds of thousands of Modern Orthodox brethren, many of whom are in danger of embracing a treif ideology. We must be concerned for their well being; all members of our spiritual family deserve our love. (Those on the Far Left also deserve our love, but at the moment it may have to be tough love! Sometimes, as a last resort, an errant child needs to be rebuffed before he or she can fully participate with the rest of the family. The gemara speaks of rebuking by distancing with the left hand, while drawing closer with the (stronger) right hand – and allows for reversing the hands at times!)
Minimally, HaKadosh Baruch Hu expects our deep concern about wide-scale counterfeiting of Torah, even if it does not impact upon us directly. We should be prepared to show it. Many MO rabbis are showing extraordinary mesiras nefesh in refusing to compromise on what they received from their rabbeim. If you learn of an MO mara de-asra in your community who is valiantly holding a line against incursions from the Far Left, consider offering some chizuk. Let the rov know that you generally daven elsewhere, but admire his tenacity in standing by the Torah while it is under assault. Let him know that while some people think that people’s Yiddishkeit is defined by what they wear on their heads, you believe that what they carry in their heads is far more important. And in that regard, we are much closer to each other than they can ever be to the Far Left.
[This article, with minor editorial changes, appeared in issue 39 of Ami Magazine. While I take full responsibility for its content, it enjoyed the review and input of many important rabbinic figures, particularly within the RCA.]
“When Chazal needed to draft the 19th bracha of Shemonah Esreh against Jewish heretics, they turned to Shmuel ha-Katan, because of his extraordinary sensitivity and love for other Jews. […] The question of keeping YCT or defining it out of contemporary Orthodoxy should be put to the three talmidei chachamim within the American MO world that are most respected for their halachic ability […]”
You seem to slip away from your own precedent here. But IMO technical poskim is not the answer. Leadership is. If the RCA and the greater not-“Far-Left” Orthodox world lacks the human leadership to rise to the perceived challenge of YCT, then it has already lost. R’ Hirsch’s successes did not derive from being a top posek; they derived from his eloquence, community engagement, and unwavering support of his own uncompromising positions. I see *nobody* doing this on any scale in NY-metro Modern-leaning Orthodoxy today, except perhaps the YCT crowd! If they are, I haven’t heard about it.
As an addendum to my earlier comment: if anything, R’ Adlerstein himself has done about the best job of anybody in MO advocacy and advancement. I don’t know if you see yourself in that role, or if you are prepared to push your influence out farther, but I think Klal Yisrael would benefit from more of you.
Therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee”-Coincidence – I think not:
From the Haemtza blog:
The Great Orthodox Divide
Sometimes I just want to give up. No matter how much I want to see Achdus, it seems more elusive than ever. Rabbi Yosef Reinman wrote a book a few years ago called One People – Two Worlds. He had become friends with a Reform rabbi and they wrote a book together. It was of course banned by the right and he ended up apologizing for it. He thereby retained his standing.
I think we are witnessing the same thing happening in Orthodoxy itself. We are one Orthodox people but we are definitely becoming two Orthodox worlds. Maybe even three worlds: one on the right, one in the middle, and one on the left. I have recently written about just how far out of the mainstream the left seems to be going. If they keep going in this direction there may ultimately not be any compatibility between us.
But the right is no better. I’m not talking about the Meah Shearim/Eida HaCharedis types in Israel. They seem to have already become a people unto themselves virtually cut off from the civilized world. I’m talking about American Charedim who are not seen as such extremists – but are nonetheless on the far right of Orthodoxy
An excellent article which clearly articulates the difficult issues posed by the YCT/IRF axis. If this group was interested in maintaining a low profile and solely interested in providing support for those interested in their derech, I might say live and let live. Public splits are never a good thing and maybe a few people would be kept closer to some minimal level of observance than they otherwise might.
However, the YCT/IRF group seems to be interested in being the representative of the broader Orthodox public and making annoucements about the Orthodox position on key social issues. This is completely unacceptable and in my opinion mandates a public split so that the broader Jewish and Non-Jewish world will not be mislead into thinking the Torah says things it actually doesn’t. This falls in line with the view that “Minimally, HaKadosh Baruch Hu expects our deep concern about wide-scale counterfeiting of Torah, even if it does not impact upon us directly.”
If there is a split in the MO world the question is where it will be. The right and left cannot co-exist, but what about the center? Will the center refuse to join in expelling the left, forcing the right wing MO world to form their own organization or will the center join the right and leave YCT off by itself?
R Balk’s idea is wonderful in theory, but the reality is that in the RCA/OU/RIETS world, the rabbinical supporters of the LW of MO haven’t been seriously regarded as Baalei Mesorah for a long time. As far as the feminist oriented aspects of LW MO-IMO-it is important to consider the intellectual baggage of the rabbinical and academic supporters of feminism-which include advocates that TSBP is sexist or reflects a bias of its male transmitters, that the covenant between HaShem and Klal Yisrael does not exist, that Klal Yisrael are not the Am HaNivchar with all of the awesome responsibilities therein, and that wherever there is a halachic will, there is a halachic way, and that all musmachim are entitled to have their POVs considered on hashkafic and halachic issues of grave and not so grave import. Why would anyone consider the halachic and hashkafic views of such personae on any communal issue?
After all the commotion, I still don’t get it… why can’t a woman be a rabbi? No one seems to have a satisfactory answer to that question. You can’t just attribute it to some general idea of Masorah because it had to start somewhere.
1. Above all, the Orthodox rank and file need to be given the grounding to tell the real spiritual leaders and spiritual principles from the fake. The fake may be costumed in a variety of ways, not only the politically correct YCT way. If people readily fall for nonsense, those who should/could have straightened them out are partially responsible.
2. Organizations must carefully and completely define the minimum requirements for membership—and not only for new members. Without this definition, all actions to exclude will be widely viewed as arbitrary.
The YCT/IRF faction presents fundamental challenges to Orthodox Judaism on multiple levels. Their adherents operate with a different set of rules, posing modernity as the equivalent of – and at times even more enlightened than – Torah. Contemporary cultural values and issues of the non-Jewish world are given a higher status than traditional views. There is a constant attack on boundaries that differentiate and delineate, whether it is between men and women, Jews and non-Jews, laity and Halachic authority. It is an adolescent posture of defiance rooted in the desire to eliminate any Yoke of Heaven from our lives by placing our own sensibilities above Hashem’s directives. It is also a universalist attitude that is intrinsically alien to Torah. The fact that they are adept at PR and very well-versed in media manipulation makes any genuine dialogue of issues worse than useless. Traditionalists end up sounding like ignorant reactionaries while they come across as compassionate innovators as they focus on image over substance. How can we remain under the same umbrella when we don’t share the same obedience to Torah?
It is not enough to know vaguely the errors of their positions. It is imperative that Torah authorities thoroughly educate all of us on the pskei halacha of the recent generations relevant to the subjects under challenge. We lose credibility when we are unable to counter misrepresentations or distortions of the Halachic process.
Orthodoxy has only itself to blame for the left wing excesses of chovivei torah and their ilk. They are matched only in degreee by the right wing excesses coming out of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and Lakewood. We are not talking about fringe elements like the Burka ladies, we are talking about regular proclamations from men routinely referred to in grossly reverential terms as Gedoilei Hatoirah [edited] Unless and until Rabbi Adlerstein can come to terms with this difficult (for him) truth, he should not be out trying to demonize the natural pendulum reaction orthodoxy has created. Let’s fix our own house (so to speak) before fixing others.
As someone who usually appreciates Rabbi Adlerstein’s articles as models of sensible charedi thought and as a MO Jew, I have to say that most of us really don’t care any more what Charedim think of us. Lo Meduvshech V’lo Meuktzech. We need and want no approval from charedim and if we got it, would ask ourselves what we are doing wrong to deserve it. Before any charedi criticizes MO society I have to say “Tol Koreh mbein einecha.”
Point well taken. Unfortunately, not quite accurate. While I take responsibility for the writing, the article emerged from a group effort of a number of rabbonim, all RCA members, none of whom are charedim.
This is a very well written article with cogent arguments. I learned much; thank you. I take issue, however, with your suggestion for the composition of the proposed panel to define the approach to be taken with the Far Left. As both
R’ Schechter and R’ Willing are inextricably linked with YU- which is, sof kol sof, “in competition” with YCT- their presence on this panel stands to weaken its impact. Certainly those on the Far Left would say “what did you expect from…”. I’d suggest instead doing one of two things:
a. Eliminate both of these individuals and look for 2 others of the appropriate caliber- R’ Emmanuel Feldman comes to mind as a possibility (and I’m still struggling for the second)- with no overt YU connection.
b. Keep R’ Schechter, eliminate R’ Willig, and replace him with someone from the Near Left- perhaps R’ Saul Lieberman (provided that he has no overt connection to YCT or the broader Far Left- if he does, then someone else).
Just some thoughts… I had no idea of the proposed change of bracha; ridiculous.
B’virchat K’tiva V’chatima Tova.
Excellent analysis! I would add to R. Balk’s list of three American MO Gedolim a fourth: R. Aharon Lichteinstein. Even though he no longer lives in America, he is from the USA and understands our issues here and continues to maintain close ties to our community..I, and many others, consider him to be the “Yoshev Rosh” of both Israeli and American MO.
>>>>This has prompted Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg shlit”a to write that he would never have given those semichos had he known that the candidates were YCT products.
—– what does the fact that YCT’s could pass this certification speak to? their high level, or the minimal requirements for smicha?
2. there are many issues— feminism, gay agenda, etc — where the haredi answer is not working spiritually or emotionally for a segment of marginally O jewry– that are AC/DC: they can easily slip over the dividing line from say Congregation LWMO to Temple Beth Conservative. the question is how many will be lost in these ‘wars’— no doubt all the gays, most of the feminists, the social liberals, and the non-zionists…
3. for all of us not there when Conservative and Reconstructionism was born, maybe we are living to see, unfortunately, a new branch of non-O judaism…..
All of your facts are correct. The gulf between mainstream modern orthodoxy and open orthodoxy is real. The split may be inevitable because neither side will back down . Having attended HIR a number of times while spending Shabbos with children in Riverdale, I can tell you that Rabbi Weiss is very secure in his position and not dependent on the approval of other orthodox rabbis. He started his own seminary and it is gaining in popularity because it fills in the open space that used to be filled by YU musmachim a generation ago. A shul that has a low mechitza or a microphone or a primarily non observant membership is looking for the rabbis Chovevei ordains. They won’t stop looking for them because the RCA doesn’t recognize them.
His own congregation in Riverdale is full of all kinds of Jews, many of whom are academically educated and professionally successful.Jack Lew, Head of the OMB is a member and was there. He isn’t going to stop coming because the RCA doesn’t approve. It is also home to many other people who are all welcomed. It is the most friendly, hospitable and socially conscious shul I have ever observed. Every Friday night there is a free Shabbos meal called “Abraham and Sarah’s Tent’ in the shul lobby for all who care to come. They were working hard to stop traffic in front of the U N to protest the Palestinian application for membership. It attracts a lot of very sincere people who are attracted not only by his egalitarianism ( Rabba Sara is an equal member of the clergy and there is no mistaking that. She teaches, preaches, conducts life cycle ceremonies and answers halachic questions),but his gevaltigeh middos tovos.He truly loves Jews, all Jews ,especially the lame and the ill and the weak and the poor.
I don’t argue with a word you are writing. You have analyzed the dangers, but it may just be that orthodoxy is going to split. The more serious Conservative Jews may be attracted to such shuls and it will put another nail into Conservative Judaism in America. It certainly won’t harm the burgeoning and highly successful right wing of orthodoxy that is numerically much stronger than the Open Orthodox element. How many of them are there really?
I discussed this with a colleague who is historian. He believes that Open Orthodoxy is episodic and that ‘this too shall pass”. He also decries it because they are making “b’dieved” into “L’charchila”.
Cherem’s didn’t stop any popular movement and it may just add notoriety to Rabbi Weiss,something he has never shied away from, and make him into a martyr for his cause. He won’t object and his followers will revel in it. It may even spur growth of his movement .
One final note. Not all Chovevei ordained rabbis are the same. Many are sincere people who fill pulpits and other positions and are not looking to rock the boat. I have seen a number in action and there is no question that they make no claim to gadlus ba torah. What they do try to do is reach out and attract lots of people who otherwise would never set foot into an orthodox shul with a mechitza, with a rabbi who does believe in Torah Mi Sinai . I do not think that any major godol will endorse what they are doing and agree that they are following trends as much as making waves.I just don’t think a psak from the 3 very respected rabbis you mention will dissuade anyone who is attracted to that type of shul.
In Chizuk Amuna, which is a large Conservative congregation, they have in their lobby exhibition area a copy of the decree of the Vaad Harabbanim of Baltimore forbidding entry to that shul when they became Conservative in the 1940’s. They are proud to have been banned and laugh at us. Will you have more success in this battle? I wonder. Again, I don’t disagree with you, just think it won’t help to do what you suggest.
“b. …eliminate R’ Willig, and replace him with someone from the Near Left- perhaps R’ Saul Lieberman ”
Assuming no-one minds that he’s been deceased for nearly 30 years, you’ve got yourself a deal.
In my earlier communication I referred to R’ Saul Lieberman. This was, of course, an error. I meant to say R’ Saul Berman.
Rabbi Adlerstein, i will leave it to others to debate the main point of the article.
First, i was at a tshuvah lecture last Sunday, by a rabbi that you praised some years back. he made a telling point about some of the symbolic foods of RH and the incessant punning that seems to part of the ritual. he extended and applied an idea he openly attributed to Leon Kass’s brilliant insight into the change in adam’s language in the opening chapters of Genesis. Like it or not, a number of contemporary areas of judaic study have benefited from non-orthodox scholars. Use of such insights is not restricted to only YCT types. Non-orthodox (and even non-jewish) clergy(and scholars) may have insights from which we gain. (al ta’amin means you do not believe, not necessarily that it is false; it may also relate to halakha versus makhashavah. rav Lichtenstein famously talked about about his observance of kibbud av was enhanced by his knowledge opf Milton.)
Second, it is unfair to expect YCT to have produced first rate poskim/ talmidei chakhamim in so short a period. (i do wonder whether they ever will; i suspect those in their camp who might develop that way choose an academic career in jewish scholarship.) That said the overall movement does have a number of (almost exclusively Israeli) scholars who are decidedly not in the classic mold of a Gadol. Nonetheless, they can hold their own and one ought not be dismissive of their credentials or their right to pasken for their communities.
third, your example of rav bamberger and r. hirsch weakens your argument that a set of first rate halakhists should decide. (now that we have rav salant’s personal diary, we have added insight into rav bamberger.) Only one of the two was a (first rate) halakhist. I would much prefer that the president of the RCA decide who should address such issues.
Other senior rabbis whose view I’d like to hear:
– R’ Emanuel Gettinger shlit’a
– R’ Yehuda Herzl Henkin (if you claim he’s opposed to women’s accomplishment in Judaism, you’re sorely ignorant).
I would rather hear arguments against their policies instead of arguments about their motives.
And in time, the arguments must be offered if the battle is to be won.
But if you had a friend who was diagnosed with a terrible illness and found out that the only treatment he was planning to seek was from a reflex kinesiologist, would you ply him with papers comparing it with legitimate medicine? Or would you first scream that it is worthless, treif, and a fraud?
Our first priority is to let people know that the work of the Far Left is treif and fraudulent, and that they should stay away if they are at all interested in Mesorah. Later there will be time for scholarly papers.
I identify myself with centre-right Modern Orthodoxy and am both sympathetic and in agreement with much of your arguments in this article. Having said that, if you want to be truly balanced in relation to this debate, you must acknowledge that the continuous push within the Charedi world towards Chumras and Frumkeit has exacerbated this dynamic ten-fold. Sometimes “mechzi k’yehura” is not “mechzi”, its simply “yehura”.
“I would rather hear arguments against their policies instead of arguments about their motives.”
Even better, how about discussions about what the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah faculty have actually said or wrote. Rabbi Linzer in particular leads a fabulous Daf Yomi shiur that I am privileged to attend regularly; the archives of most non-Shabat non-Yom Tov shiurim are available online. (It shows the effect of many years of serious immersion in learning!) Rabbi Adlerstein, if you can find anything in Rabbi Linzer’s shiurim that you find objectionable, I’d be happy to bring the issue to his attention.
“The gulf between mainstream modern orthodoxy and open orthodoxy is real. ”
Much less so in Riverdale. People move back and forth between HIR (Rabbi Weiss), RJC (Rabbi Rosenblatt), the Young Israel (Rabbi Willig), and a few smaller shuls. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is sitting shiva right now for his sister and the minyanim there have been promoted by both RJC, which gives him the honor due a former rabbi, and HIR. In addition, people eat in each others’ homes regardless of the shul they attend. Would that in other communities kashrut would not be such a divider. I would add that Rabbi Weiss has never to my knowledge been anything but supportive of the leadership of the Vaad of Riverdale regarding kashrut, the eruv, or the mikveh, and he strongly supports the SAR Academy and High School.
R. Adlerstein – Whilst your points are well taken, I question why there is so little evidence of charedi rabbanim (in the charedi press) seriously confronting the serious moral, social and economic issues that affect their own world? Is this because you view them as simply not that big of a deal in comparison to what the LWMO’s are doing or because the system propped up by the ‘gedolim’ is not as easy a target?
Can’t speak for the charedi press. (Wouldn’t if I could.) Lots of people both in the charedi world, and the world populated by many of the readers of this blog (i.e. the growing world between MO and Haredi), that give those issues lots of thought. Occasionally, we write about them. Watch here next week for an announcement of the premier issue of an entire publication devoted to just such problems. (An online publication – and it is free!)
of the 3 middos of the avos—- we can say that these left movements are chessed.
i think the haredi community/leadership sees itself as emes, but i think that to much of the world they are seen as pure gvura– both in methodology,attitude and approach.
maybe this is part of the question— who truly wears the mantle of Yaakov avinu– of chessed tempered with gvura….not chessed shoteh, nor chassid shoteh…..
Someone concerned for my welfare sent me this email. I share it with you and make the following comment. No one is all good or all bad. Even when we have religious or philisophical differences, we can respect one another. I was zoche to work under a great man who did not punish me for having views not 100% in synch with whatever is politicaly correct at the moment. There was never an attempt to muzzle opinions and this allowed for freedom of conscience. If that were more common today, our frum world would be better off.
“Someone alerted me to a comment of yours on CrossCurrents about HIR. While I obviously agree with you entirely I need to be the voice of caution and remind you that people in your world are extremely threatened by HIR for both justified and contrived reasons. You should be careful not to get into trouble. I don’t think the comment that itis episodic is wrong but I am not sure how relevant it is. All jewish movements become obsolete over time and just because something lasts doesn’t mean that it is terribly important (practically the only thing that remains from 1000 years of European jewry are the Chasidim who have absolutely no relevance to my life.) The important thing about Rabbi Weiss is how he is moving the mainstream to confront issues that would not be dealt with and in this he has an influence in his own world though this is a small part of Jewry.”
I have an article by Dov Linzer,The Discourse of Halakhic Inclusiveness,posted on jewishideas.org/ where he uses exactly the process described by Rabbi Adlerstein to come up with a new way to define tinuk shenishbeh ,and i quote “Is not the use of tinok she’nishba vis-à-vis our coreligionists patronizing and infantilizing? Imagine if the situation were reversed. Consider a responsum from one of the other denominations deliberating on whether it was appropriate to count an Orthodox Jew towards a zimmun, or whether one could fulfill one’s obligation of keriat megilah if the megilah were read by an Orthodox Jew.” While there isn’t a major revolutionary aspect to the psak he makes. Frankly the attitude stinks -read it and you will see. I have met Dov Linzer, and yes he is a Scholar and a masmid as well. But the Hashkafa…. that’s a whole different story. i am sure there is more like this out there so I don’t know where you are coming from.
RYA – But if you had a friend who was diagnosed with a terrible illness and found out that the only treatment he was planning to seek was from a reflex kinesiologist, would you ply him with papers comparing it with legitimate medicine? Or would you first scream that it is worthless, treif, and a fraud?
First of all, this is a flawed analogy. I sincerely doubt any readers of Ami Magazine or even this blog are planning on following the relatively few halachically suspect teachings of what you call the Far Left. This article is more like preaching to the choir.
Second of all, if the analogy were not flawed, I would still respond that my friend would only trust me if he had a reason to trust me. He would only listen if I provided some evidence or reasoning that I am right.
I disagree on both counts.
1) The direct assault by YCY et al on both halachic process and general Torah weltanschauung will impact everyone – some more, and some less. For some on the right, the impact will be the creation of subconscious doubt. To others, it will take the form of determination to move even further in the opposite direction.
2) I agree. Most readers of Ami trust that all the Torah figures they know and have heard of – MO or right wing – who share the attitude of the article, have the arguments to back up their rejection of the Far Left
What about adding Rav Aharon Lichtenstein to the list of those rabbonim who evaluate how to act in relation to YCT?
Although he doesn’t live in America, he is America and is respected across the spectrum of MO.
Wow, just days after this column was posted, there are already so many responses, that mine might get buried here in obscurity at this point. But I just wanted to present what my understanding is of the contrast between Modern Orthodox Judaism and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
From what I understand about this subject, the main difference between those two types of Judaism, is in their approach to the secular world and secular knowledge. For the Modern Orthodox, they are very open to the secular world, often putting secular knowledge pretty close to Judaism in importance. Thus, when I heard Rabbi Norman Lamm several years ago give a speech, he managed to quote great Rabbis in our thousands of years of tradition, along with secular, often gentile philosophers and other thinkers, without skipping a beat. Because the Modern Orthodox have an open attitude toward the secular, gentile world, they have a much better chance to make a good living, and to have direct, visible influence over the secular world.
In the ultra-Orthodox world, things are very different than all that. They look at the history of our people, how we have been constantly persecuted by the gentile world, and how too many of our people have been lost to history, due to intermingling too much with the gentile world. And so the ultra-Orthodox turn their back on the world as much as possible. Similarly, when it comes to secular knowledge, they reason that the Torah is the only book ever written that comes directly from G-d, that it is by far the most influential book ever written in any case, and so why spend time studying anything else, when one can be studying the Torah? True, one needs secular knowledge to make a living, but they try to keep this to the bare minimum. A small minority of them take this a step further, and do not even learn a trade, living off the welfare of others.
There is a third approach to this, what I would call the Hirscheans, who kind of combine both, in that they somehow manage to make no compromises when it comes to their Judaism, and yet are fully immersed in the secular world. How they do this, I do not know, but this group constitutes only a relatively small portion of Orthodox Jews. I would say, though, that if I were religious, I probably would opt for this third, Hirschean approach, as it seems to capture the best of both worlds, plus it is probably the most intellectual approach, which also has appeal to me.
I have great respect and admiration for Rav Adlerstein, which makes this article all the more unfortunate. It is impossible to address all the issues raised, but a few brief points.
1. The so called ‘left wing’ is willing to look at the underlying issues, go back to understand not just what the gemara and rishonim said, but why, and are willing to establish psak on the understanding of the ‘why’. In the process, they are willing to take into account the prevailing social and cultural understandings. It can be argued that, up until recently, this has always been the derech of psak, and in fact it is the other parts of Orthodoxy that are deviating from a traditional approach to psak.
2. The ‘left wing’ includes a number of ex-presidents of the RCA, including Marc Angel and others, and is not the ‘fringe’ group that it is made out to be. In addition, they are probably close in approach to the Tzohar rabbinical group in Israel which adds hundreds of ‘main stream’ supporters. Rav Yosef Carmel, dean of Eretz Hemda and talmid muvhak of Rav Shaul Yisraeli has publicly called a number of RCA decisions(the giur issue, the position paper on defining death) a chillul haShem.(I do not know his position on women’s issues and make no claim on his behalf as to what he holds)
3. ‘flexing power’ is partly in the mind of the beholder. Perhaps the right wing has been ‘flexing its power’ when I can no longer eat asparagus tips, broccoli or strawberries in kosher restaurants. Or, more seriously, when the RCA giur commission kow tows to the chareidim and as a result those who have been converted by Orthodox rabbis face the possibility of having their conversion examined and rejected. Right wing teachers also insist on teaching certain customs as binding halacha and portraying their approach as the only acceptable one. Not to mention taking perfectly acceptable beliefs and labelling them as heresy.
4. What is lacking here is a basic respect for the learning and the people on the left. the argument should not be over which people hold what position. It should be over which positions are the best extension of our Mesorah. There are valid arguments on the left. Some may not be so valid. There are some valid arguements on the right. There are certainly some very non-mesorah arguments being propounded by the right. The discussions should be based on halachic arguments and halachic values. The difference between the right and the left is not in the committment to halacha. It is in the weight given to different halachic values. The right prefers to lean towards bein adam l’Makom. The left leans towards bein adam l-chaveiro.
there aren’t that many Jews committed to Halacha. we should try to work together more, understand the point of view, rather than deligitimize. We all may ultimately benefit.
The gist of this article seems to be that “Modern Orthodoxy” should expel its far left. Why? Because if they don’t they will come to be identified with this far left, and this could create a split between “Charedim” and “Modern Orthodoxy” which have done such a great job uniting the past few decades. Seriously? What planet are you living on exactly??? The fact is that the “difference” between charedim and modern orthodox is very minimal, yet it is continually exaggerated. Now, you continue the trend by exaggerating minor differences between the “far left” and “modern orthodoxy”. If you want unity you should call for allowing for minor differences, not for disallowing them. The far left agrees with 99% of what charedim agree with. They disagree with about 1%. So, why is this a big deal??? Why not just call them yet another branch of Orthodoxy… Chassidim, Misnagdim, Open Orthodox, Modern Orthodox etc. What damage will this do exactly?????
Noam Stadlan writes: “The arguement should not be over which people hold what position…The discussions should be based on halachic arguements and halachic values.”
I respectfully disagree. The transmission of Mesorah has always viewed the person passing on psak as equally important to the content of the psak. “Min sh’kosav sefer torah” is a quintessential example. Chazal identifies a special seyatah d’shimaya given to leaders so that their guidance is straight and true. On a practical level, it stands to reason that those who have the greatest knowledge, depth, personal immersion, and commitment to Torah in their scholarship and who live and breathe Torah 24/7 are the most reliable decisors of Halacha. Likewise, one would hardly consider going to a general surgeon for a triple bypass.
Perhaps the last consensually-acknowledged American Gadol Hador was R. Moshe zt”l. Would you consider him to have been Chareidi? Would the YCT philosophy and agenda have met with his acceptance (he might not have agreed with the entire Torah u’Mada approach, but he did not stand in opposition to it)? I’m sure we could debate his possible reaction to LWMO. But it would be critical for us to inquire of the Gadol for insight into his perspective on such a movement. Are you aware of any Gadol affirming the YCT approach?
“On a practical level, it stands to reason that those who have the greatest knowledge, depth, personal immersion, and commitment to Torah in their scholarship and who live and breathe Torah 24/7 are the most reliable decisors of Halacha”
Does your statement imply: On a practical level, it stands to reason that he who has the greatest knowledge, depth, personal immersion, and commitment to Torah in their scholarship and who live and breathe Torah 24/7 is the most reliable decisor of Halacha?
If not, why not? If yes. why would anyone else be able to come to a different conclusion?
Thankfully there are a number of great men about whom my description applies. Who among them is in fact the GREATEST may be unknowable by our assessment, though as a group I believe they are identifiable. They are not of one mind and they frequently disagree on all sorts of issues and subjects. I question whether or not the YCT philosophy and practice has the backing of a single great man.
What a tragic article to come out during these Yemei HaDin. It is a well known halacha that one does not bring someone to Beis Din during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvs, even if they are right, because of the middas hadin hovering over all of Klal Yisroel during this time. While this article came out technically before Rosh Hashaha, it certainly is in violation of our mesorah and would have been prudent to have waited until after Tishrei.
Since it did come out it is imperative to respond to it. The article in general reflects a yeshivish/chareidi understanding of Daas Torah and rabbinic authority. It supposes that since the founder and president of YCT has said and done things he finds objectionable, it is reasonable to assume that all musmachim are exactly the same in their hashkafic approach and derech ha’psak as him. This of course is not reflective of a genuine Modern Orthodox derech. The truth is, YCT musmachim, approaching close to 100 rabbis, are out in the field in a variety of capacities. Some of them are shul rabbis in prominent large synagogues, others in smaller more heimish shuls, some are on campuses and while others are in chinuch or hospital work. Every day they go about doing avodas kodesh; teaching Torah, making shiva minyanim, teaching taharas hamishpacha to chasanim and kallahs, educating children in day schools, sitting with the sick and the dying. They are in New York and in Los Angeles, in Cleveland and in St. Louis, in Israel and in Canada. When you read this article and others like it, you come to the conclusion that all Chovevei musmachim do is spend their time thinking of ways to uproot our mesorah and turn Jews away from Torah. These articles are exercises in rhetoric employed by partisans in a intra-organizational fight for control, politics and power in the guise of emes and a milchamta shel Torah. It is even possible that some who write these articles do not even realize how much sheker and exaggeration they employ to make their points. They too are like tinokos shel nishbau when it comes to a real yedia on YCT.
You would be hard pressed to find a hint of controversy with 99% of the YCT musmachim and that is whether you agree with the supposed controversial opinion or not. Every semicha program produces people passionate about a particular idea or philosophy. If we would employ the same standards to, for example RIETS, then RIETS would be mamish completely pasul by now as one can point to many, many heterodox and outright apikorsim who are musmachim of RIETS since its inception to the present day.
The only thing this article and those like it could potentially do is make light even more difficult for the musmach who is out there teaching Torah, visiting the sick, burying beloved family members of community members and giving his life over for the klal. Anyone in rabbonus knows how much sacrifice each rov makes for his kehillah and how much politics exist in each board and community. Why would anyone want to increase the potential hardship of other rabbonim and besmirch the name of almost 100 musmachim because they disagree with perhaps, at the most, 5 people from the olam of YCT?
As I started my comment with I shall end with. Despite the apparent objections to this article and its clear use of exagerrated rhetoric and rechilus about close to 100 rabbonim; even if this was going to be published why violate a meforesh halacha brought down in the sifrei halacha, as explicitly mentioned as late as by the Mishna Berurah, not to bring accusations during these yemei hadin? When one sees such a clear violation of halacha one cannot help but wonder how much of this was the work of the yetzer hara.
accepting your response as accurate, it doesn’t address the philosophical issue of my question.
I completely agree with the approach recommended by Rabbi Balk, that the question of YCT’s membership status in the Orthodox community should be taken to the top Torah authorities in the community. However, I think a better solution would be for the top Torah authorities in the community to proactively and preemptively confront these issues before YCT and the “Far Left” bring them to the fore. Why is it necessary for the community to “take” these questions to their Gedolim in the MO world? In the Yeshivish/Chareidi world it is understandable that the Gedolim are reactive rather than proactive in this arena, because (at least today) their concurrent total insularity from the world and total involvement in Torah is part and parcel of the Gadol role. However, to my mind, in the MO world the Gedolim are expected to be aware of the world and directly participate in the community, thus I don’t really understand their (seeming) passivity with respect to these issues. I think that many of the issues YCT stands for, “humanistic” issues pertaining to things like female leadership and homosexuality etc need to be confronted, let them be confronted by the mainstream Torah community first!
Rabbi Adlerstein, the problem that many of us who somewhat agree with you have is that we have a deep suspicion that some of those who criticize the LWMO are not doing so because they are concerned about “counterfeiting of Torah” but rather are doing so based on political and social considerations. Many of us wonder why there is no outcry at the much more dangerous and significant “counterfeiting of Torah” that has emanated from the right wing in recent years. Perhaps the most prominent instance that comes to mind is the complete silence of the right wing world regarding a well known Chareidi Rabbi who publicly declared that cheating the government is ok as long as you will not get caught? Is telling people that they can disregard specific halachos in SA not a Ziyuf Hatorah? The RCA reacted forcefully to this situation as was reported in the Jewish Week. Rabbi Dovid Landesman, in a Cross Currents post, decried the lack of reaction from the chareidi world to this Rabbi. He said “one would have expected a response on the part of his colleagues at least on the level of those who pilloried R. Slifkin. We got deafening silence instead.” (http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/04/12/spring-cleaning/). Rabbi Adlerstein, we will take your arguments much more seriously when we see an equal reaction to “counterfeiting of Torah” even when it comes from the chareidi world.
Not sure I understand this. As I have written before, all those involved in preparing the article, vetting it, and critiquing it are members of the RCA. Not a charedi in the bunch, with the possible exception of myself – and that is hotly contested by many charedim!
A Charedi rabbi in RBS was asked to sign a petition condeming the recent violence at the girl’s school there. He refused, saying,
Do you sympathize with this response? Should the mainstream of MO feel differently about demands that they condemn OO?
“These articles are exercises in rhetoric employed by partisans in a intra-organizational fight for control, politics and power in the guise of emes and a milchamta shel Torah. It is even possible that some who write these articles do not even realize how much sheker and exaggeration they employ to make their points. They too are like tinokos shel nishbau when it comes to a real yedia on YCT.”
I would not be surprised to find out you are a YCT insider since you employ the low in facts, high in emotional rhetoric style which is the hallmark of the far left. Please provide EVIDENCE that this article contains even one iota of sheker or exageration. Rabbi Adlerstien quoted articles and public statemements in his article as evidence.
“If we would employ the same standards to, for example RIETS, then RIETS would be mamish completely pasul by now as one can point to many, many heterodox and outright apikorsim who are musmachim of RIETS since its inception to the present day.”
No you wouldn’t pasul YU or any other yeshiva with musmachim who have gone off the derech. YU has had individuals do things over the years that might be considered “beyond the pale”, but as an instititution it has never attempted to promote radical changes that are coming from the YCT/IRF group.
“The only thing this article and those like it could potentially do is make light even more difficult for the musmach who is out there teaching Torah, visiting the sick, burying beloved family members of community members and giving his life over for the klal.”
Reform and Conservative rabbis do these things too and nobody argues they are not Orthodox. Nobody is saying YCT graduates (or Reform rabbis) aren’t caring people, just that they are misguided in their understanding of the Torah. As I said in my previous comment, if they would just keep to themselves the far left might not be worth fighting, but the issue is that they are trying to be the “voice of Torah” to the world. Those who are misguided simply can’t be allowed to do this.
You are trying to make a case that really YCT and the Charedi world are in agreement but that there area few individuals in YCT who think otherwise. Given the individuals who are teaching at YCT, who I think as a whole can be shown to be in disagreement with the Torah world, that would mean all the musmachim must disagree with their teachers. Why would anyone go to such an institution?
The new issue of Hakirah is out. Take a look at the letters to the editor section in which many of the issues raised by R Adlerstein are debated.
The matter of the timing of this article in CC aside – RYA noted that this is a reprint from a past issue of Ami Magazine – I don’t believe you responded to the substantive concerns that were raised.
As a father of young men who have made the profound decision to sacrifice their material life for the sake of working for the klal in kiruv, chinuch, and rabbonus, I assume that anyone who chooses the rabbinical life does so from the best of motives and is committed and conscientious. I don’t see anywhere in this article a condemnation of the YCT graduate out in the community. I’m sure they are hard-working individuals who take their responsibilities seriously.
It’s not the personal/professional activites of a given musmach that is at issue. The institution that one chose to attend and with which one is affiliated as a result creates an institutional identity for all its graduates. Whether one is a musmach of Torah Vodaath, YU, or YCT a link is made that presumes adherence and congruence to the basic ideals of that institution. After all, one CHOSE to pursue smicha there. However, the reverse is not necessarily true. YU is not posul because a musmach acts improperly; that is primarily a reflection of the individual. An individual who studies for smicha at YU is certainly making a statement about himself as he has accepted the institutional identity.
It is not credible for a YCT musmach to expect others to see him as philosophically independent from his yeshiva. I have a difficult time with the very notion that YCT musmachim do not subscribe – at least in a general sort of way – to the positions promoted by their faculty and followers. If that is the case, they ought to say so explicitly and not allow any mistaken impression to continue. On the other hand, if they do support their yeshiva’s views then there is no rechilus being perpetrated.
Frankly, the accusation of self-serving motivations on the part of the author and those opposed to the YCT agenda may be a more blatant act of rechilus.
To my knowledge, the last individual who had the unqualified authority to be THE decisor was Moshe Rabbeinu. From that point on Torah was disseminated via multiple personalities, thereby de facto creating the reality of “shivim ponim l’Torah”. We have accepted that principle ever since, though it still relies on the notion that the greatest Torah personalities have the greatest standing. The “lowest” member of the Sanhedrin cast an equal vote as the head of the Sanhedrin because being a member of that body meant one had achieved the highest level of greatness.
Robert Lebovitz, I think that your comment only proves my point. Are you saying that “shivim ponim l’Torah” does not apply to some of the positions that have been articulated by the LWMO leaders and Rabbis, but that it does apply to those that say that one can rob, steal and cheat and still be a good Jew? If you are willing to say that “shivim panim l’torah” allows the orthodox community to accept a Rabbi who says that one can ignore halachos in SA that prohibit fraud and stealing (based on the theory that the SA only included such halachos because of fear of the gentiles), then how can you say that it does not allow us to accept views on women’s issues that do not directly contradict the SA? This only proves my point – if a chareidi Rabbi says something outrageous, then you say “elu velu” and “shivim panim”, but when a LWMO rabbi says something that is much less outrageous then you start talking about “ziyuf hatorah”.
Re: JR October 5, 2011 at 8:44 am
1. Would you support a evenhanded policy to exclude those who advocate either one of the two infraction types you cited?
2. If you’d answer yes, what if an organization with such a policy only encountered the left-wing infraction type in practice? (maybe it had no right-wing members as you understand the term) Would you then oppose the enforcement?
As Rabbi Adlerstein writes: “It is difficult not to think of the dispute between the Wurzburger Rav and R. Samson Raphael Hirsch. When Orthodox Jews were given the right by law in 1876 to withdraw from the community structure dominated by Reform, Rav Seligman Ber Bamberger strongly that they should not. Jewish unity should be maintained, so long as the observant did not have to compromise with their observance of halacha. Rav Hirsch, however, felt that it was imperative to do so. No one can say who was objectively “correct” in that dispute, although the last generations have looked favorably upon Rav Hirsch’s bold decision.”
It’s remarkable that no one seems to consider whether the Wurzburger Rav’s approach was the correct one, or if there was no objectively “correct” and “incorrect,” the better one. In hindsight, with the the evidence the recurrent schismatic and disputatious after-effects of R. Hirsch’s decision over the subsequent 135 years, maybe the Wurtzburger Rav’s approach would have been better.
JR: A number of commenters have made reference to Rabbis in the Chareidi community who “say that one can rob, steal, and cheat and still be a good Jew”, or something to that efffect. I would greatly appreciate sources in the pskei tshuva of these rabbis where they put forth such opinions and their halachic basis for saying so. I’m unfamiliar with any contemporary writings that explicitly permit what you say they permit. I know there are all sorts of anecdotes about one or another rabbi having made such statements and I accept the stories as having some measure of truth. But there is a difference between “what everybody knows” and what in fact has been written as a matter of halacha or hashkafa. A rav who engages in criminal activity which he later tries to whitewash by offering some sort of technical rationalization is a)not creating a radical redefinition of halachic practice and b)revealing more about his own lack of integrity than reflecting new standards for all of us to emulate. I don’t believe the bulk of the yeshiva world would find this sort of post hoc sophistry to fall under the heading of “elu v’elu”. If you’re confused and appalled at the way the frum community is not outraged and doesn’t sanction this behavior, so am I, but that’s another subject
The positions articulated by LWMO leaders and Rabbis have been presented as a redefinition of Orthodox practice and have been rejected by the great men of our generation. THAT is why “shivim ponim l’Torah” may not apply.
“It’s remarkable that no one seems to consider whether the Wurzburger Rav’s approach was the correct one, or if there was no objectively “correct” and “incorrect,” the better one. In hindsight, with the the evidence the recurrent schismatic and disputatious after-effects of R. Hirsch’s decision over the subsequent 135 years, maybe the Wurtzburger Rav’s approach would have been better.”
The Wurzburger Rav’s approach was the one adopted by the majority of German Orthodox Jews, rabbis and communities. Actually, it was the approach of almost all Western Orthodox Jews, and their rabbis. That’s why the famous Synagogue Council cherem of 1956 took place, to roll that back. Obviously the Hungarians also had their tradition of separation, but the yeshivishe velt only began it in 1956. Not to say that the voices for such separation only began in 1956, on the contrary. But, let’s say, the famous correspondence between the youngish Rav Gifter and Dr. Louis Ginzberg was definitely thinkable in the 1940s. Not so in the second half of the 20th century. We shouldn’t forget that R. Hirsch did not necessarily win the debate in his time or for a long time afterward.
I am a very apolitical person (and this is all a question of good politics), so the only word I have to put in the conversation is that it is clear that the charedi world–and certainly MO world–needs to develop the keilim to approach the issues tackled by YCT in a way that does not compromise Torah principles. This is the hardest path to take, much harder than making pronouncements, because it means that our own rabbonim and laity (and women, yes, women) need to learn to walk the line between personal stringency and expansive tolerance and love for other yidden when they are facing sticky issues. And to understand those issues, and not to fall back on the reactionary stance *which is about attitude, not observance*.
When one of my students needed a voice of Torah to explain to her dying mother (and her female partner of many years standing) why they should allow the coming burial arrangements to be done in accordance with halachah, to whom were they to go? Where could they come for a meeting where the issue of the mother’s homosexuality would not be a barrier to common understanding? And they wanted a woman to speak to, since “male rabbis” were not their thing!
So they came to my house in Meah Shearim, and we sat and drank tea, and had a very long and productive conversation, and they agreed. I don’t feel that I’m a miracle worker, just that my upbringing and education formed me with an open heart to other Jews. There are many difficult issues that most of our tzibbur has no knowledge of, no keilim to deal with, so it’s natural that some more organized effort to address them comes to fill the vacuum. But why should there be a vacuum in the first place?
I remember when a certain school in Yerushalayim began training and certifying women as “yoatzot” for niddah shailos and there was a big uproar. The reaction of a good friend? “My grandmother did this in the Bobov court in Rudnik before the war! What’s the big deal?”
It’s a big deal when a shtempel is involved, that’s all. And people are looking for the shtempel because the skills are atrophied, both technical and human.
So it’s not the mouse who’s the thief, it’s the breach.
Mr. Lebovitz, the Rabbi in question that Rabbi Landesman and I were referring to has, as far as I know, not put his psak in writing. But he has been very open about his views that the halachos regarding gezel akum and tax fraud in SA can be ignored. As was reported in the Jewish Week, he said some of this openly in front of over one hundred people. Many others have discussed this privately with him and his views are no secret. As the JW reported, the RCA severed its ties with him but there has been no reaction from the chareidi world. He even subsequently spoke at an Agudah business ethics conference. As Rabbi Landesman said in his Cross Currents post, this silence is very disturbing. Unfortunately, it shows that “ziyuf hatorah” is treated very differently when it comes from the right.
“JR: A number of commenters have made reference to Rabbis in the Chareidi community who “say that one can rob, steal, and cheat and still be a good Jew”, or something to that efffect. I would greatly appreciate sources in the pskei tshuva of these rabbis where they put forth such opinions and their halachic basis for saying so. I’m unfamiliar with any contemporary writings that explicitly permit what you say they permit. I know there are all sorts of anecdotes about one or another rabbi having made such statements and I accept the stories as having some measure of truth. But there is a difference between “what everybody knows” and what in fact has been written as a matter of halacha or hashkafa. A rav who engages in criminal activity which he later tries to whitewash by offering some sort of technical rationalization is a)not creating a radical redefinition of halachic practice and b)revealing more about his own lack of integrity than reflecting new standards for all of us to emulate”
The only Rabbi who seemed to have said anything of this sort (,and even this is based on hearsay,)was R’ D.Cohen-and generally his rulings have found more favor in the MO world than the Charedi world.
I am watching the arguments disintegrate from a well positioned paper that Rabbi Adlerstein along with other MO rabbis, wrote, into ad-hominem attacks on “Right-wing charedi rabbis” who supposedly permit stealing from the government. If Agudath Israel is anything it is the right-wing charedi world; and you have to be deaf and blind not to have heard all of the speeches and symposiums that they have EVERY YEAR, that demands that mosdos and individuals, act in the highest ethical manner and adhere to ALL state and federal laws. If there are “rabbis” out there that say otherwise i can promise you that they are certainly not part of the “yeshivish right wing” world.
As an aside i am finding that many of the comments don’t seem to get the point of what Rabbi Adlerstien was saying. I ask you this. WWTRHS -What would the Rav (Rav solevaitchik) have said. It seems so obvious to me from reading The Ravs’ works, that he would have opposed the IRF Chovivei HTC triumvirate that it seems unnecessary to have to say it.
I have spoken to Rabbi DC on numerous occasions regarding issues of Gezel Akum and how to deal with akum in business in general and he has typically been more machmir than most. He has NEVER suggested that we do anything even remotely dishonest and has gone in the other direction quite often – asking us to go lifnim m’shuras ha’din. I do not believe you are accurately reflecting his views. I once spoke to a close family member of his regarding his speech in Teaneck and he emphatically told me that his approach was misunderstood and that little of what is said is true.
But you don’t have to believe me – try this – call him up with a shailah [he has hours every afternoon and evening] that has something to do with gezel akum and see if he allows it. Then come back and let me know if I’m right or wrong please.
Dear Rav Yitzchok,
Kol Hakavod for this remarkable piece. Once again, you have enlightened our community with your eloquence and erudition. Undoubtedly, the threat of the LWMO movement, which I prefer to call the Neo-Conservative movement, represents a clear and present danger. I will reiterate the comments of others that this is not an ad hominem attack on YCT musmachim, Chas Veshalom, many of whom are known to us as wonderful baalei Torah and baalei Midos tovos. On the contrary, the discussion is one about hashkafah and mesorah and the halachic process. It seems to me that “Shivim Paninm LeTorah” is misconstrued and misinterpreted almost as often as “Tikun Olam” by those who support the left-wing ideologies. With respect to the specifics of Torah Shebaal Peh and the halachic process, it seems accurate to note that the hashkafos and concepts of YCT and YU cannot both be correct, and that there is much to suggest that these two streams of “Orthodoxy”, far from sharing a common conception of TSBP & halacha, have very different ideas and priorities. Yes, achdus is a supremely important goal, but there are lines in the sand that must be drawn, for the sake of the preservation of our mesora and our sacred Torah.
“That’s why the famous Synagogue Council cherem of 1956 took place, to roll that back.”
Of course the largest Orthodox groups at the time the Rabbinical Council of America and the OU never followed the cherem .
The SCA dissolved due to financial problems-internal required change of management but primarily the Conservative and Reform were tired ofOrthodox vetoes of what they wanted to do and they have gone on their own way without fear ofOrthodox veto. Once the SCA dissolved many in the MO world withoutthe RYBS who was niftar just before the SCA dissolved had no desire to deal with such complex issues without both the Ravs guidance and frankly the necessary imprimatur of a leading gadol.
‘The Wurzburger Rav’s approach was the one adopted by the majority of German Orthodox Jews, rabbis and communities. Actually, it was the approach of almost all Western Orthodox Jews, and their rabbis. That’s why the famous Synagogue Council cherem of 1956 took place, to roll that back. Obviously the Hungarians also had their tradition of separation, but the yeshivishe velt only began it in 1956. Not to say that the voices for such separation only began in 1956, on the contrary..’
The Munks’,the Carlebachs’,the Kohns’,and other Rabbinic Families all followed Hirsch where it was realistic and applicable.
re:the yeshivish world,you know that it wasn’t all that relevant until it transferred to the western hemisphere.