Subjective Morality and Its Discontents

For the want of a single word – like the nail of the horse’s shoe – kingdoms can be lost. Israel’s enemies look towards the French version of UN Security Council 242 for the definite article missing in the English version that would imply that Israel should withdraw from all territory occupied in the June 1967 war.

Sometimes, transmigrating a simple word or two can be just as crucial. How many people were enticed by the mistranslation of עלמה in Yeshaya 7:14 as “virgin,” while Mishlei 30:19 shows it to mean something quite different?

A recent mistranslation of a pair of words in an important passage in Rav Kook affords readers an opportunity to closely inspect one of the elements that sets Open Orthodoxy apart from the rest of the Orthodox community, and explains its defection from mesorah itself.

Several writers have responded to Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s “Five Reasons Being an Orthodox Rabbi Compelled Me to Support Gay Marriage.” (Rabbi Yanklowitz is a frequent poster boy for Yeshiva Chovevei Torah.) The best I have seen was penned by frequent Cross-Currents contributor Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer. No need to beat a dead horse, even if it is trying to shlep an entire new movement.

The mistranslation, however, deserves some attention, because the accurate understanding of the original is a beautiful articulation of a position I mentioned in passing in my recent review of Rabbi Bleich’s The Philosophical Quest.

Heading for the finish line in his piece, Rabbi Yanklowitz summarizes why he has “come out of the closet,” to use his words, in support of gay marriage:

One of my rabbinic heroes, Rabbi Avraham Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, explained that faith cannot require us to abandon our moral intuition, and that we dare not sacrifice basic ethics for the sake of piety or submission.

He then gives us his translation of Rav Kook in a quote box:

It is forbidden for religious behavior to compromise a personal, natural, moral sensibility. If it does, our fear of heaven is no longer pure. An indication of its purity is that our nature and moral sense becomes more exalted as a consequence of religious inspiration. But if these opposites occur, then the moral character of the individual or group is dismissed by religious observance, and we have certainly been mistaken in our faith.

R Yanklowitz would have us believe that we ought to look inwards at our personal moral compass, using it to determine what parts of our religious behavior are valid. In any conflict, our personal moral sensibility should prevail.

Now it is true that R Yanklowitz does not argue in this piece (unlike one of his Open Orthodoxy colleagues who has) that male homosexual acts should be halachically condoned. He restricts his comments to advocating for gay marriage on the basis of what he thinks are compelling Torah reasons, especially since “traditional Jewish law has no established model for gay marriage.” (This last phrase is horribly ignorant. I have seen few, if any, questions for which traditional Jewish law has no models. Those models sometimes compete, and must be subjected to the give and take of halachic process, as do all halachic questions.) But why draw the line there, if Rav Kook turned our personal moral compass into the most important part of our Torah-behavioral apparatus?

Here, however, is the original from Rav Kook, taken from Orot HaKodesh 3:11

דבר מוכרח הוא שיסגל האדם לעצמו את המוסר הטבעי הפשוט, בכל רחבו ועמקו, ואת יראת ד’, ותמצית הטהור של האמונה הפשוטה, וכל
מדותיה ברוחב ובעומק, ועל גבי שתי הסגולות הללו יבנה את כל מעלות רוחו העליונות. אסור ליראת שמים שתדחק את המוסר הטבעי של האדם, כי אז אינה עוד יראת שמים טהורה. סימן ליראת שמים טהורה הוא כשהמוסר הטבעי, הנטוע בטבע הישר של האדם, הולד ועולה על פיה במעלות יותר גבוהות ממה שהוא עומד מבלעדה. אבל אם תצוייר יראת שמים בתכונה כזאת שבלא השפעתה על החיים היו החיים יותר נוטים לפעול טוב, ולהוציא אל הפועל דברים מועילים לפרט ולכלל, ועל פי השפעתה מתמעט כח הפועל ההוא, יראת שמים כזאת היא יראה פסולה

Anyone can see that Rav Kook is not talking about “faith” or “submission” or general “religious behavior,” as R Yanklowitz would have it. Rav Kook deals with yir’ah, or yir’as Shomayim. He does not and would not remotely suggest that we “forbid” the religious behavior determined by halachic process when it runs afoul of our moral proclivities. We can convince ourselves all we like that it is unfair or unjust (c”v) for the Torah to deny gays the love, companionship, etc. of a loving gay relationship – but it will not change in the slightest our obligation to call that relationship forbidden and offensive to G-d.

Rav Kook deals with the direction and path that each person’s sense of yir’as Shomayim leads him or her beyond the dictates of halacha. There is a huge world of reshus in which a person can and must make all kinds of decisions. When those decisions are too liberal, he becomes the naval b’reshus ha-Torah that Ramban speaks about at the beginning of Kedoshim. When those decisions are too restrictive, he can lose elements of compassion, generosity, humor and refinement that he would have had without that extra dose of his personal brand of yir’as Shomayim. Such yir’ah is indeed a yir’ah pesulah.

Mangled translations can come about by innocent mistake, or through weak training that leaves one inadequate to address complex texts. Sometimes, they betray a bias in a person’s entire weltanschauung. As our community continues to wrestle with the problem of defining the boundaries of inclusion (and where to place YCT and Open Orthodoxy), time will tell which explanation applies. In the interim, the rest of us – centrist Orthodox and haredi – will continue to accept the dvar Hashem as the most important touchstone of both behavior and attitude, and adjust our moral sensibilities accordingly.

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40 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    Even if his “proof” was correct, it’s interesting that those arguing as he does never seem to consider that perhaps homosexual acts themselves are immoral. To them, “morality” is “do as you want,” period.

  2. joel rich says:

    When those decisions are too liberal, he becomes the naval b’reshus ha-Torah that Ramban speaks about at the beginning of Kedoshim. When those decisions are too restrictive, he can lose elements of compassion, generosity, humor and refinement that he would have had without that extra dose of his personal brand of yir’as Shomayim.
    Topic for another post – how does one/you/chazal/hkb”h view this distribution of possible results? For example is one who is in the 5th percentile as a naval judged the same as one who is in the 95th percentile as a restrictive (does the fact that there was not a simple name for the latter like naval tell us something?) If the distribution is not symmetric, why not? and most importantly, isn’t there a philosophical debate as to in our own actions, dvar reshut means that hkb”h is indifferent between the option we choose or is there really one, and only one, choice that maximizes hkb”h’s “happiness” with us?


  3. YS says:

    In the interim, the rest of us – centrist Orthodox and haredi – will continue to accept the dvar Hashem as the most important touchstone of both behavior and attitude, and adjust our moral sensibilities accordingly.

    In practice, this may be true insofar as our attitude towards homosexuality is concerned, but it’s hardly accurate to say that our attitudes towards slavery, the role of women in society, the status of non-Jews, usury are based on ‘Dvar Hashem’

    Can anyone who spends any of his/her time outside of a Beis Midrash truly claim that the most ‘important touchstone’ of their attitudes regarding these topics is ‘Dvar Hashem’? Or even that that’s the ideal? Homosexuality is a little more extreme because the Torah calls it an abomination. Other than that, it’s not so clear why it should be so different. I’m speaking in terms of our attitude. I’m not saying we should change how we treat it from a legal perspective. But when it comes to attitudes, the fact is that on many of these issues, our attitude is more informed by our ‘seychel’ than by anything else, even when this contradicts the ostensible spirit of Dvar Hashem.

    [YA – I must beg to differ. I know LOTS of people who seriously endeavor to subject every question they deal with to halachic and hashkafic analysis based on mekoros and/or anecdotal evidence of strong daas Torah positions. As far as slavery specifically is concerned, see Igrot HaRayah (R Kook) #89. Don’t leave home without it.]

  4. Bob Miller says:

    The idea that our perceived urges have to be obeyed above all is straight from the nachash way back when. This idea is the essence of paganism and the negation of Judaism, so anyone who espouses it should be on the outside looking in.

  5. TK says:

    In addition to trying to draw lines of where Orthodox Torah Judaism starts and stops, it would be helpful to attempt to understand the “morality” being espoused, which is _not_ simply “subjective” (and continuing to say so does not move the conversation any further).

    The current ‘zeitgeist’ of univeralism, which crops its head every generation, is “oppressionism”, whereby there is a victim, oppressor and a saviour. As an example, in the Huffpo post subject to this article, the last paragraph says “There are good reasons for religious leaders to be deeply concerned about sexual mores today, with all of the abuse, adultery, obsession, objectification, and indecency that abounds.” That list, save and except (a very loose term) “indecency” _only_ addresses the moral spectrum of victim and oppressor.

    And that is the crux of this conversation. While Orthodox Judaism also espouses the end of oppression as a goal (a running theme of Passover), that is not the _only_ morality it espouses. The idea of purity, authority, sexual restrictions even where there are no victims (“consenting adults”) is not tolerated by the mono-moral “oppressionist” thinking. (Said another way, if there is no deemed oppression relationship, there are no restrictions – that is what is being called “subjective”).

    And that is why religion in general, and Orthodox Judaism in particular feel there is a growing intolerance toward it.

  6. Reb Yid says:

    And, in any case, who says that support for gay marriage is his “mussar hativ’i” anyway? It rather sounds like something he learned from secular society.

  7. cvmay says:

    Completely ludicrous, how Rabbis will misconstrue the words of the Tzaddik, Rav Kook zt”l to fit their personal agenda.

  8. Chardal says:

    Ironically, the ethos of individualism which would lead one to an ethical system that demands gay marriage is an ethos against which Rav Kook fought his entire life. Rav kook saw individualism as being redeemed only in its contribution to something bigger than itself. In the following poem, we see Rav Kooks vision of a world where people’s individual talents and proclivities contribute towards a larger unified goal:

    אל נמוד כל קנין רק לפי מדתנו.
    נדע כי כל אחד הנהו רק פרט,
    חלק אחד, אחוז מקהלינו,
    ומה יוכל על הכלל לדון, הלא מעט.

    אם העמל בתורה, בחקרי הלכות,
    אם יצא לשיר בשירים, מליצות לבקר,
    יצא שכרו בהפסדו באלו המלאכות,
    ויגיעו יעלה בעשן, ותלמודו יעקר.

    או מי אשר מלאכתו לתור בחכמה,
    להרקיע שחקים, במעשה בראשית ומרכבה,
    במלחמת מושכלות מופשטות בינתו לחמה,
    הנה זה חלקו בחיים, שנפשו אהבה.

    או מי אוהב דרוש במדע והגיון,
    להוליד רעיונות בדברי הגדה,
    לפתח נחלים כפלגי מים בציון,
    על ככר המדרשים ידו יסדה.

    או מי שם לב לחקר קדמונים
    בספרי תולדה ודברי הימים.
    גם שם ימצא זהב ואדרכמונים,
    שמה יבנה מקדש לחכמה ברמים.

    ומי לבו נתונה לחכמות החול,
    לרפואה, לטבע, להנדסה, לחימיה,
    ונפשו צמאה ותרחיב כשאול,
    להתענג על טוב חכמה ענפה, פוריה.

    המשכילים למשל דורשי כשרון והשכלה,
    אם רק להשכלה ידרשו, באמת, בצדקה,
    להשכלה צרופה, לא זונה וחללה,
    אז חדלו הקולות ותשבת הצעקה.

    אוהבי מלאכה, עת ירימו קולם,
    אם באמת באהבת מלאכה ידגלו,
    להרבות בעמינו החרשת יתנו חילם,
    הלא כככבי אור על שמינו יהלו.

    שומרי תורה ומצוה, הרדים עם א-ל,
    אם לחזק את הדת קולם ישאו,
    למה לא יטו להם אזנים כל,
    ומי אכזר עליהם, מלא יקראו.

    חובבי שפת קודש השפה האהובה,
    אם בשם טובת השפה יתנו יד,
    מי לא יקבלם באהבה מרובה,
    ומי לא יתמכם בלב אחד.

    או מי כחו במתנו, מלא זרֹוע,
    ולחרשת כל מעשה תטה לבתו,
    ילך בדרכו אל השערה לקלע,
    להרחיב מלאכה למצא בה חיתו.

    כל איש לחפץ לבבו ילך ויצליח,
    ומתנובות כפימו עמם ירוממו.
    כל אחד במקצֹעו רוח חיים יפיח,
    בבנותו לו בית, הריסות עמנו יקוממו.

  9. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:

    Is it surprising that they would misinterpret (quite possibly intentionally) words of R Kook, when they do so and worse with the words of Torah, Gemara and Shulchan Aruch.

    It is also a wonder why some commenters seem more bothered by a misinterpretation if R Kook’s words that the skewing of the Torah, Gemarah and Shulchan Aruch.

  10. Avraham Goldman says:

    I recently started reading Cross-Currents and wish to applaud the editors for #1 assembling a team of thoughtful writers who, in turn, #2 tend to attract thoughtful respondents. Kol hakavod lo v’lahem.
    As a former kiruv professional, I’m planning to share CC with a number of my former students with whom I’m still in contact, particularly those with a penchant for deep contemplation of Jewish thought & values. I thank CC for providing the ‘ammo.’

    On a further personal note, the references to the UNSC resolution and the Biblical verse, particularly in the context of the present discussion about the pitfalls of (arguably tendentious) mistranslations & misinterpretations, trigger memories of polemical encounters from my distant past. Both pertain to the word “the.”

    Polemical encounter #1 – In the mid ’80s I was an 11th grader from Cherry Hill, NJ visiting a ‘high school journalism’ symposium across the river at Temple University. Standing outside the building which housed the gathering, I found myself publicly debating a self-described communist (the first one I’d ever met) about the right of the State of Israel to retain control of Ye-SH-A. She kept invoking UNSC Resolution 242, in a manner which bespoke reliance upon the French-language version (which, candidly, I didn’t know existed until this morning when I read Rav Adlerstein’s comments in CC). And I kept shooting back at her, armed with what apparently was the English-language girsa. Now, decades later, I’d like to discern whether the French-language version holds any legal water. I hope not, especially since I’d told this communist (and others I’ve argued with over the years) that the widely-held notion that Israel has a legal obligation to withdraw from “the” territories is entirely erroneous.

    Polemical encounter #2 – In the mid ’90s I’d hired a contractor – an Evangelical Christian – to convert my garage into a home office. Needless to say, the contractor tried to convert more than my garage. Among the arguments that he threw at me was the reference in Daniel 9 to “the Messiah” who will be killed. Of course, I needed to show him that the original Hebrew speaks of A messiah, not “the Messiah.” And this messiah was among countless messiahs referenced in Tanach.

    Again, I want to thank Rav Adlerstein and his team. Regarding the topic of his current article, I wish to give him and his family a bracha (and this one is surely a birkas hedyot, for what it’s worth) that – in the merit of his defense of marriage – he and his family should experience, b’karov, the simcha which comes when marrying off children, BeH.

  11. Aaron says:

    My question to R. Yanklowitz (and is it appropriate to ask from whom he got smicha?) would be why now that America has basically given up on the fight against gay marriage does he discover that, why, yes, opposition to gay marriage is morally wrong. Theoretically, he should have held this position way before it became mainstream.
    R. Yanklowitz, we aren’t guided by the moral compass of the NYT editorial board.

  12. Eric Leibman says:

    What to do with “open orthodoxy” (sic!). Put their leaders in Cherem, with everything that goes along with it according to the Shulchan Aruch. There comes a time when you simply have to drop the hammer, and this is one of those times.

  13. cvmay says:

    Chochom b’mah nishtanah– Since I do not usually respond to those who ‘read into’ comments to their own liking, I felt an exception must be granted on this occasion.
    If this YCT Rabbi would have written, ” One of my rabbinic heroes, Rabbi Ahron Kotler, explained that faith………..”, would you have responded the same way? with the same knowing agenda? Why is it..that it’s doubtful??

  14. Aharon Haber says:

    Rabbi Alderstein – you say in this post that “The best I have seen was penned by frequent Cross-Currents contributor Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer”

    And then you say – “Mangled translations can come about by innocent mistake, or through weak training that leaves one inadequate to address complex texts. Sometimes, they betray a bias in a person’s entire weltanschauung.”

    Please read Rabbi Gordimer’s reading of Rabbi Linzer’s conclusion to his article in milin havivin and please judge whether Rabbi Gordimer fairly captured the sense of what Rabbi Linzer said. As I said to Rabbi Gordimer privately I think it is a gross misreading – whatever Rabbi Linzer says or professes anywhere else. As I also said to Rabbi Gordimer integrity is very important to me no matter what side you take on the open orthodox discussion. Please have the courage to post this comment and add your own judgement on Rabbi Gordimer’s reading. I believe that there are biases exposed on both sides of the divide. Thank you.

    [YA – I read it, and fully agree with R Gordimer! In fact, when the issue first appeared, I had the same reaction, and traded messages with R Linzer about it! Others, of course, are free to disagree.]

  15. Raymond says:

    I am surprised that this issue of gay marriage has even been brought up in a forum like this in the first place. As far as I am concerned, one might as well have brought up the possibility of sanctioning certain other deviant sexual practices that I will refrain from spelling out here.

    In any case, the Jewish position on this issue, I would think, should be obvious. The Torah is extremely clear on prohibiting male homosexual behavior, so why would anybody even consider the possibility that gay marriage could be permitted? This does not even have anything to do with urges, as nobody, at least not the overwhelming majority of men, have any particular urge to get married. Rather, men marry women out of a sense of responsibility. But the nature of gay marriage is almost diametrically the opposite of straight, normal marriage, and so different rules apply.

    Honestly, I think that the whole notion of gay marriage is a complete farce, not meant to be taken seriously, but invented as simply another means by which to attack traditional Biblical values. But if even the Orthodox Jewish community has trouble standing firm on this issue, than our society really is falling apart after all, and it is time for the Moshiach to come save us from collective self-destruction.

  16. SA says:

    Raymond, why stop with gay marriage? If circumstances are making Orthodox Jews even remotely consider sending their children to public schools to save money, if major Haredi communities see no problem defending child-molesters, and if a respected Israeli Rosh Yeshiva can get up and call a whole group of religious Jews “Amalek” in public forum (as happened right before Tisha Be’av this year) then society has already started to fall apart, and it is time for Moshiach to come save us from collective self-destruction.

  17. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:

    Ms. May,

    It was my drivers ed teacher of many years ago who taught me what to assume means.

    My response would have been the same as it is now. That it is not surprising that Yanklowitz intentionally misinterprets the word of R Kotler, He does so with the words of the Torah, Gemarra and Shulchan Aruch.

    Oh, as far as the assumption goes; I never studied in BMG or it’s affiliates. The Rosh Yeshiva where I did study was very close to, and studied with R Kook.

    However I detect in your comment a little of “אוף דער גנב ברענט דער הוטל “.

    But I wouldn’t want to assume.

  18. Yair Daar says:

    I think that as correct as you are about R’ Yanklowitz’s literal mistranslation of R’ Kook, you are incorrect in your “translation” of his arguments. He seems to support the notion that supporting gay marriage in secular society is not an issue with a definitive Orthodox approach. Therefore, it falls under that category of “Yiras Shamayim,” which is then subject to one’s own moral compass, and not halacha. Additionally, this explains why he draws the line at supporting marriage in secular society as opposed to condoning homosexual activity. His mistranslation of R’ Kook then becomes irrelevant because he is not arguing to subject halacha to one’s moral compass, but instead to an issue that is, in Rabbi Yanklowitz’s eyes, a dvar reshus (aka “Yiras Shamayim,” in R’ Kook’s words).

    It seems that you set up R’ Yankowitz’s arguments to say something that even he would disagree with. If you want to tackle the main issue here, then argue that the gay marriage discussion is not a subjective topic as R’ Yanklowitz argues, but in fact a questions with a real halachik answer. I can appreciate the arguments for both sides (isn’t it possible for Jewish and secular society to have different sets of values?), but let’s make sure we are talking about the real matter at hand.

    Have a good Shabbos.

    [YA – I acknowledged in my essay that R Yanklowitz did not permit homosexual activity in his column. I said that the formulation he cited for support was phrased so broadly, however, that it would not have to stop at advocating for a secular recognition of gay marriage. Since the time I wrote, it has become clear (see comment by Dovid Shlomo) that R Yanklowitz simply lifted an exceedingly inaccurate translation from a non-Orthodox source. The antinomiam implications of that mistranslation should be apparent, as well as the need to speak out against it.]

  19. Dovid Shlomo says:

    Thank Conservative rabbi Harold M. Schulweis for the mistranslation — and thank him as well for apparenlty being R’ Yankelowitz’s Rebbe on these matter.

    The translation and the thought seem to come from “Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey”
    By Harold M. Schulweis, page 20.

    To see it for yourself, Google “It is forbidden for religious behavior to compromise a personal, natural, moral sensibility. If it does, our fear of heaven is no longer pure” and you’ll see it through Google Books.

    R Yanklowitz quotes this passage frequently and bases a lot of his thinking on it.

    The same Google will show you another essay of his, where he once again bring Shulweiss’s translation, without attribution.

    (Is that ethical, to not attribute a translation, both in terms of stealing an author’s work and in terms of not telling one’s Orthodox audience that the source is a Conservative Rabbi? Especially for someone like Yanklowitz, who seems somewhat focused on the moral failings of Orthodox personalities? One would think he would set a better example, I suppose.)

    His reliance upon Conservative Rabbi Schulweiss’s book and translation for something that is so fundamental to his own thinking, without having bothered to check the Conservative Rabbi’s sources for himself is troubling.

    Even if he’s personally incapable of understanding the original text, surely he could have found someone to help him with it.

    I would have thought that an Orthodox Rabbi would be expected to be careful to check primary sources, especially when he sees it in a Conservative Rabbi’s anti-halachic writings.

    Perhaps Open Orthodoxists should be trained to be a bit more skeptical, not only of Haredi writing, but Conservative Rabbis’ writing as well.

  20. Reb Yid says:

    To Dovid Shlomo:

    One can debate the accuracy of translations, but scholarship should be the determining factor.

    It may very well be that in this case the individual R’ Schulweis erred (or not), but that should not be conflated with any denominational pronouncements. Indeed, one can criticize Conservative Judaism for all sorts of things but surely the scholarship at JTS would not be among the top items. I would far more trust a scholarly translation coming out of JTS than I would Artscroll.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    Dovid Shlomo wrote, “His reliance upon Conservative Rabbi Schulweiss’s book and translation for something that is so fundamental to his own thinking, without having bothered to check the Conservative Rabbi’s sources for himself is troubling.”

    The Conservative and Open Orthodox outlooks are basically very similar. Each looks on the theological basics of Judaism, and also many practices, as items in an a la carte menu, to be chosen or combined as the individual’s feelings move him.

  22. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    There is a general attitude among American yeshiva graduates that “Rav Kook’s Hebrew is too hard”. That enables them to justify their laziness in completely relying on whatever they are told about his works. Of course you have to sprain your brain a little bit to struggle with what the words really say, and also to encounter people who are true talmidim of that beit midrash. After you have struggled with the words and after you have lived with Rav Kook zt”l, then you can have an opinion, not before. That goes both for the liberal and hareidi versions of the conventional wisdom. Of course being in E”Y and learning Torah Ivrit-B’Ivrit makes a great difference. Rabbi Zeira left Bavel for E”Y and davened to forget all the Torah he learned in Bavel because he was so convinced that E”Y is the proper center.

  23. dr. bill says:

    the rav ztl’s comment to prof. blidstein, mentioned iirc in a footnote to prof. Shapiro’s letters from r. Weinberg ztl, ought be balanced with the responses and positions taken.

  24. Dovid Shlomo says:

    To Reb Yid:

    I agree that scholarship should be the determining factor.

    If you think that Schulweiss’s book is a work of scholarship or written by a scholar, I suggest you order it on Amazon and see for yourself.

  25. Uri Levi says:

    Would Halacha or “Daas Torah” forbid civil unions(Not “marriage”) for Gay couples if it was for insurance and other financial considerations?

  26. Yair Daar says:

    With all due respect, it seems that you answered my claim that your article dodged the real issue by dodging the issue again. This is not about a mistranslation and is not about making Judaism completely subjective. Open Orthodoxy does not automatically and by its nature turn Judaism into item on an a la carte menu (as commenter Bob Miller put it) nor does it propose to mistranslate every passage so that it fits their moral intuition. You are taking the phrase used by Rabbi Yanklowitz (“religious practice”) and using that to create an exaggerated version of what he is actually claiming.

    Additionally, this has nothing to do with using a non-Orthodox source. Ideas should be judged as valid or invalid on their own merits, and by attacking the source of the idea instead of the idea itself, you are reinforcing why one would not want to quote their source in the first place. Is it so horrible for an Orthodox person to find some truth in ideas that aren’t from Orthodox thinkers? No. But would I ever admit to it if that would cause the idea o be dismissed outright? Maybe also no.

    The philosophy used by R’ Yanklowitz here is related specifically to using one’s own moral intuition to guide decisions in areas that are NOT completely clear-cut. His claim is that gay marriage in secular society is not a clear-cut issue, and therefore, an individual’s moral compass becomes and appropriate measuring tool. Open Orthodox does in many instances use modern values to guide the halachik process (much more than other branches of Orthodoxy), but never to replace it. There are those individuals who have “beyond the pale” but every group has its extremists. Yes, the phrase “religious practice” was used incorrectly, and yes, it seems that Rabbi Yanklowitz did not look up the original source, but that does not invalidate the argument on its own merit.

    What I’d like to hear is an argument as to why one cannot support gay marriage in secular society while at the same time oppose homosexuality in the Jewish community. Why can’t we have Jews and non-Jews living with different values? Don’t we have principles about preventing non-Jews from participating in Jewish ritual and study; might those principles be sources?

    [YA –
    Open Orthodoxy does not automatically and by its nature turn Judaism into item on an a la carte menu

    Let us hope that you are right! But it would be very hard to make the case for any sense of restraint or limitation, given OO’s track record of innovation after innovation, all of them rejected by rov minyan u-binyan of the Torah world.

    Is it so horrible for an Orthodox person to find some truth in ideas that aren’t from Orthodox thinkers?

    Not at all when that truth is apparent and demonstrable. When a notion is debatable, the source certainly does matter. Think of what the gemara says about learning Acher’s Torah – and what that did to R. Meir. Besides, in this case what R Yanklowitz learned from a non-Orthodox source was not truth at all, but distortion. Were it not for the openness-without-limits of OO, he would not have made the mistake.

    The philosophy used by R’ Yanklowitz here is related specifically to using one’s own moral intuition to guide decisions in areas that are NOT completely clear-cut.

    I’m not sure I know what this means. The Chazon Ish would argue that there is no such thing. Issues are only not clear-cut to those who have not properly mined the relevant sugyos. While I believe that many take issue with the Chazon Ish’s insistence that every question we can think of has a discernible, defined answer within halacha, any independent moral intuition needs to be based on a Torah-approach, not shooting from the hip, or attaching oneself to regnant theories of political correctness. Certainly such a moral intuition only kicks in after a search is first made of the relevant halachic material. When you tell me that R Yanklowitz or anyone else in OO has thoroughly addressed areas of lifnei iveir, misayei’a, and the jurisdiction of Jewish batei din over non-Jews (including the teshuva of the Maharam Shick), I will take OO’s statements on the matter more seriously. ]

  27. Yehoshua Duker says:

    I cannot comment on this particular translation, but it is well know that looking up passages from Rav Kook in Orot is not really the way to go. Those passages were edited, either by his son Rav Tzvi Yehuda, or by his talmid, R’ Dovid Cohen (the nazir). To see what he actually said, one has to look at the unedited version, published in the Shemonah Kevatzim. It may be that Rabbi Yankelowitz’s translation fits with what is printed there.

  28. Dovid Shlomo says:

    To Reb Yid, regarding your point about Artscroll:

    I thought I addressed that.

    You don’t think that Yankelowitz would have checked a reference himself before copying it verbatim from an Artscroll haredi polemic? (I would hope so — I certainly would!)

    So, why would he not have done the same when the polemic was anti-halachic and written by a Conservative Rabbi?

    When the Conservative Rabbi’s polemic is trusted and the haredi’s is not, what does that tell you about Yankelowitz?

  29. mb says:

    Until this article, I had never heard of Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz.
    I then looked at his resume, and I must say it is extremely impressive including 2 Rabbinic ordinations in addition to his first at YCT.
    I would suggest developing a relationship with him and promoting areas of mutual interest would be more beneficial than this, dog bites man hatchet job against a YCT alumnus.

  30. Tzvi Grossman says:

    Dovid Shlomo,

    “When the Conservative Rabbi’s polemic is trusted and the haredi’s is not, what does that tell you about Yankelowitz?”

    That Rabbi Yankelowitz (and many other yeraim ushlaimim) trust Conservative rabbis to be more intellectually honest than chareidi ones says more about chareidim than it does about the people doing the trusting.

  31. Reb Yid says:

    To Dovid Shlomo:

    So simply emphasize that Schulweis, in your view, mistranslated. Period.

    Instead, you created a new name and every reference to him is “Conservative Rabbi Schulweis”. And then just about everything critical of him is pretty much on the basis of being “Conservative”, and in your view, “anti-halachic” (which I’m sure Schulweis and others would find amusing.

    That straw man is a major distraction and full of unnecessary vitriol.

  32. Hoffa Fingerbergstein says:

    mb – Yanklowitz is doing a fine job of hatcheting himself, thank you. Also, when your apparent appeal to authority based on how many he has received “smichah” is a fallacy. Maybe look at his arguments instead, including his mistranlsation, and then judge for yourself.

    Your apparent knee-jerk support for open orthodox is unnerving as much as your knee-jerk anti-hareidism.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    Kudos to R Adlerstein and especially R A Gordimer for their continuous exposure of the fallacies of Open Orthodoxy which can be fairly called Halachaless Orthodoxy on every occasion where either Halacha or Mesorah are deemed expendable in comparison to the intellectual, social and cultural trends of the day.

  34. mb says:

    Hoffa Fingerbergstein, I’m not sure how you arrived at your conclusion about my knee jerk support for OO. Rabbi Adlerstein is familiar with my mantra about not cutting off the left, because when they go, he’ll be next. However, as I do refuse to say shelo asani goy, maybe that does throw me in their camp.

  35. Bob Miller says:

    MB, do you “refuse to say shelo asani goy” because you are not thankful for that fact?

    [YA – No. He refuses to say it because he is a Brit. The British have long had a different nusach: Shelo asani nachri. He was baiting us – and it worked!]

  36. Bob Miller says:

    Then “refuse” is too strong a word. If he happened to be a shaliach tzibbur elsewhere, wouldn’t he follow the local nusach?

  37. Yair Daar says:

    Yes, innovations from Open Orthodoxy have not been accepted by rov minyan u-binyan of the Torah world, but that cannot invalidate them. Ask any member of the OO movement, and they will openly admit that many of the things that they do challenge current Orthodox practice and thought. They will also admit to being okay with that, and be proud that they are trying to help develop Orthodoxy in a way that is consistent many of the phenomena that Orthodoxy today is built upon (whether we realize it or not). So, to dismiss them because some of their practices are radical (and to begin with the assumption that those involved haven’t thoroughly mined the sources) is really just avoiding addressing what Open Orthodox is all about.

    If you truly believe that current Orthodox practice is the proper measuring stick for what is right and wrong in Judaism, that is fine. But if so, every article on the topic can be boiled down one sentence: “I don’t agree because it doesn’t fit with the views of rov minyan u-binyan of the Torah world.” The other option is for the rest of Orthodoxy to take a serious look at what Open Orthodoxy stands for and, with a little honest self-reflection, see if current Orthodoxy could (or should) adapt to include some of these elements.

    Until there is a concerted effort to truly understand what Open Orthodoxy stands for – and this can only happen with respectful dialogue – articles and publications that continuously criticize Open Orthodoxy will be lacking in their credibility on the subject.

    [YA – Thank you, Yair, for the clearest statement yet on why OO is not regarded as Orthodox at all by so many in the center and right of the Orthodox community. Those who can reject the opinions of rov minyan and rov binyan – without anyone remotely close in Torah stature to those who reject OO’s innovations – simply do not operate with the same attitude towards halacha and mesorah as the rest of us. In one fell swoop you have not shown OO to be lacking in…credibility, but to possess none at all. This is tragic. No one I know is happy about the schism. We are mispallel that you should all live well and prosper, but have the opportunity to learn the difference between what you were taught, and what the rest of the community believes.]

  38. Shades of Gray says:

    Regarding slavery, there is an article in the October, 2013 Torah u-Madda Journal, “Orthodox Approaches to Biblical Slavery” by R. Gamliel Shmalo which has the various approaches including that of R. Kook. He writes in the last paragraph:

    “Interestingly, even conservative thinkers—who justify slavery by pointing to the social, economic, moral, and spiritual benefits it gives to the weak and the vulgar—may have been moved by modern conceptions to justify slavery in accordance with those conceptions. Accepting that only a direct benefit to the slave himself could be an acceptable justification for enslavement, almost all would agree that the practical application of this once normative institution would be unthinkable today. Of course, the most conservative rabbis might argue that their approaches are informed only by unchanging biblical values, that their views have always been the Jewish view, and that they have not been influenced by modern notions of egalitarianism. These claims would have to be tested by a comparative study of the talmudic and medieval rabbinic literature on this subject—a study that would be of great value, but which is beyond the scope of this paper.”

  39. Yair Daar says:

    “Those who can reject the opinions of rov minyan and rov binyan – without anyone remotely close in Torah stature to those who reject OO’s innovations – simply do not operate with the same attitude towards halacha and mesorah as the rest of us.”

    Using this argument to delegitimize Open Orthodoxy is faulty because it uses circular logic. Basically, it states “you cannot be Orthodox because you do not follow our mesorah. How do we know that? We know it from mesorah.” What you are working with here is an assumption, not a logical argument. It is unfair to judge the tenets of Open Orthodoxy as incorrect if all you have is the assumption that they are incorrect. Either use logic, or admit that you don’t plan on using logic. Those who choose the latter shouldn’t be writing about the topic, but rather should say “you have your assumptions and I have mine” and let it go.

    The same goes for invoking the argument that those with the most Torah knowledge must be correct. This is a reasonable argument, but not ironclad for the following reasons:

    1) There is always going to be one person that is the “most knowledgeable” however, we don’t ever say that this one individual has authority over others, rather that there are a number in the same class, and any members of the said group have authority. I do not know the Torah leaders of Open Orthodoxy personally, but I have read and heard from them, and it does seem that a number of them are true Talmidei Chachamim. Whether they are as knowledgeable as those who disagree I do not know (and would like to know how you are so sure they aren’t), I do think there is a strong possibility they belong in the group of those who deserve to have an opinion.

    2) There are other factors than pure Torah knowledge that go into deciding whether a Jewish approach is legitimate or not. For example, Beit Hillel is given authority over Beit Shammai due to their humility and for considering Beit Shammai’s opinion as well. I would argue that academic scholarship is one of these factors as well (I know this is anathema to many in the Orthodox world). In trying to decide whether an approach has precedence in Jewish tradition, it helps to have the studies of those who have spent months and years studying Jewish history, archaeology, and literature. Many of these people have the express intent of uncovering truths about Judaism, and their findings should be considered. In this area, Open Orthodoxy has a large leg up on Central and Right-wing Orthodoxy. Again, if you want to label academic scholarship as being unimportant, that is simply based on your version of mesorah, and is an assumption, not a logical argument.

    All of this considered, I would hope that those who disagree with Open Orthodoxy, would take a little more time to consider OO’s actual arguments and sources instead of dismissing outright. Unfortunately, I have major doubts whether this will ever happen. I personally do not specifically identify with Open Orthodoxy as a hashkafa, I am just trying to honestly see both sides of the story. It disappoints me that you assume so (“you should all live well….”) just because I willing to consider that their opinions have merit.

    [YA Yair, the rest of the Torah world rejects a half dozen of your arguments in this piece. Sadly, the chasm that has opened up between Orthodoxy and OO is so wide, that we no longer share a common vocabulary – just as we do not with the heterodox movements. All the areas of difference perhaps boil down to one. When all your factors, legitimate and illegitimate, are weighed, how do we arrive at conclusions? You’ve been taught that individuals do, by exercising the G-d given power of autonomy. But that is not, and has never been, a Torah position. While there is room for considerable autonomy, in the end – ESPECIALLY for the community as a whole, mesorah plays a huge role. I will refuse to dilute the point by giving you reasons for the point by point rejection of OO practices and values by the Torah community, although they exist. They will be a distraction. The rest of us need to remind ourselves that there is something called mesorah, and that in each generation there are baalei mesorah who best judge what innovations are good for the tzibbur, and which must be avoided. You chafe at the notion; we understand it intuitively.

    We also know, more or less, who these baalei mesorah are. Unfortunately, we fight mightily among ourselves about who is “best” or deeper, or smarter, etc. But we can indentify the pool from which the the Torah leaders can be drawn. Obviously, I cannot get into ad hominum arguments about individuals in the OO camp. You can guess what I would say if I could say it. All I can get away with saying is that to be one of the baalei mesorah, you have to be more than a competent talmid chacham or an acclaimed leader. You have to be a Torah superstar. Hamayvin, yavin. ]

  40. Steve Brizel says:

    R Gordimer has done an admirable in exposing the halachic and hashkafic equivalent of quicksand that Open Orthodody finds itself as a result of the zealotry of Open Orthodoxy’s advocates to jettison halachic and hashkafic norms when the same stand in the way of the raison de etre of contemporary society, culture and intellectual trends. The issue remains -how much actual power and leverage do Open Orthodoxy and its advocates have in the strongest MO communities? I suspect that Open Orthodoxy’s spokesmen, except in the far LW of MO, are not viewed as the halachic and hashkafic addresses for most of the MO world. That would be a fact that should be noted by anyone unfamiliar with the nuances of the MO world, unless someone was intent on conflating Open Orthodoxy and its spokesmen with the Roshei Yeshiva of RIETS-an equation that can and should be easily rejected by anyone with knowledge of the facts on the ground, or with the interest in determiming the facts.

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