Open Orthodoxy and the Rebirth of the Conservative Movement

by Avrohom Gordimer

Cross-Currents readership is all too familiar with discussion about Open Orthodoxy; every nook and cranny of Open Orthodoxy could be explored with a critical eye through Cross-Currents’ numerous articles on the subject, spanning a lengthy period of time.
Once the major issues of Open Orthodoxy had been fully brought to the table, it was decided that our focus and energy should be directed elsewhere, as the Orthodox public assumedly had been presented with enough information about Open Orthodoxy to be well-informed, if not saturated. More discussion about Open Orthodoxy seemed moot, and it was hoped and supposed that Open Orthodox leadership would constructively utilize the criticisms to recalibrate the movement’s trajectory onto a more normative path.

However, we were dead wrong, for as we turned our attention away, the nature and magnitude of the challenges presented by Open Orthodoxy increased beyond imagination. Over the past several months, the intellectual leadership of Open Orthodoxy openly embraced highly problematic positions regarding the origins of Torah She-b’al Peh; Open Orthodox rabbis around the United States engaged in new, more radical types of interfaith and interdenominational endeavors that could make one’s hair stand on end; and much more.

It was decided, as per the advice of senior rabbinic authorities, to issue a comprehensive article on the above recent and current issues, feeling that the larger Orthodox public must be aware of these startling developments, as Orthodoxy is now truly at a crossroads. This article would be intended for hard-copy journal publication, and would include a composite of all of the issues to consider, new and old. In light of the fact that Open Orthodoxy is successfully and rapidly placing its graduating rabbis in Orthodox shuls and schools across the country, bringing a different type of Orthodoxy to communities heretofore unfamiliar with it, and in light of the currently unfolding nature of several of the critical issues at hand, it was decided to release the article early as an online publication.

With K’lal Yisroel presently facing so many challenges – Hashem yishmor – we felt compelled to hold off and not post anything about Open Orthodoxy for the time being. In the midst of fervent tefillah and grave concern for our brethren in Eretz Yisroel and our soldiers in Gaza, we deemed it inappropriate to post about most other issues, and publication of this article was hence delayed for almost a month. However, in light of the acute spiritual challenges faced by Orthodoxy which are presented in the article – challenges that continue and increase irrespective of whatever else is happening in the world – it was realized that delaying publication further would not serve us well and would engender even more serious challenges, as actions and attitudes that threaten to profoundly impact the fabric and character of Orthodoxy are at the door, ready to enter, and cannot be left unaddressed.

Please read this article and consider the very potential far-reaching ramifications of the recent actions and current path of Open Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Gordimer is a kashrus professional, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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46 Responses

  1. reder says:

    Is there any way for those without a scribe account to get access to this article?

    [YA – To the best of our knowledge, you don’t need an account to get access – but some filters block access to Scribd]

  2. Esther Wolfson says:

    Tomorrow begins the nine days and next week we will fast and mourn the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash because of Sinat Chinam. Today, as you did mention in your introduction, thousands of Israeli soldiers (including my son) are risking their lives to defend the state of Israel, as our enemies are raining rockets down on our heads. And what are you doing? Publishing articles that are discussing what DIVIDES US rather than trying to use this time to work together as the State of Israel is at war. Yes, you said you waited. Great. Have things improved? Is now a time to seek division between us – or to seek to bring all of klal yisroel together? Do you think waiting until after Tisha B’Av would have just made all the difference. Of course not. Anyone who wants to know why Mashiach has not yet come can just look at this post and weep. Klal yisroel is under attack – from our real enemies. Now is the time to strengthen our connection to other parts of am yisroel, not push others away. What is wrong with American Jewry that this is what you do now. I would cry for you, but I simply cannot invest any more energy in those that are so disconnected from the true problems of Am Yisroel that they would publish this article now.

  3. YY Freedman says:

    How can the full article linked be downloaded as a PDF?

  4. Joe Hill says:

    “In light of the fact that Open Orthodoxy is successfully and rapidly placing its graduating rabbis in Orthodox shuls and schools across the country, bringing a different type of Orthodoxy to communities heretofore unfamiliar with it”

    This, indeed, is the real threat of Open “Orthodoxy” to the world of Torah Judaism.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    As always, R Gordimer is 100% on the mark. Is there any way that this article can be dowloaded as a word document?

  6. Yitz says:

    Why can’t I download the Scribd article? It’s too difficult to read all of it on the computer. Can the author please allow to print it out if possible? Thank you.

  7. Reb Yid says:

    Kudos to Rabbi Gordimer for writing the most definitive work to date on OO. He has certainly taken the reins of Orthodoxy’s mandate to document a disturbing fifth column.

    Amongst the many pieces of documentary evidence, some interesting, others disturbing, frequently humorous, at times outrageous, was an interesting statement by Professor Katz. He congratulates b’nos tzlophchad for standing up, and in the same sentence, also praises those who were tamei at pesach-time and needed pesach sheni. With respect to the latter, Katz likes that they used the term “lamah nigarah”. Tellingly, however, he fails to mention that the same word “nigarah” is used by those (men, tribal leaders) who worried about the repercussions of b’nos tzlophchads’ inheritance; they also didn’t want their shevatim to be nigarah, and they also spoke up, but naturally don’t merit Katz’s blessing.

    Much more interesting, however, is Katz’s spin on Sotah. Rather than take the typical leftist path of condemning those “big bad misogynistic rabbis” (r”l), he praises them for, essentially, rewriting the Torah in women’s favor. In one fell swoop, he asserts that the Torah is not divine (unless he means that G-d is misogynistic), establishes a (flimsy) claim to Orthodox credentials (“see? I like chazal!”), and implicitly coronates himself with the ability to similarly reinterpret any din he chooses. Quite cunning.

    I think the next step would be to analyze the future prospects for such a movement. Currently they are growing, but they’ve grown only from a very small number to a slightly greater very small number. Will it flame out soon? Or will it grow to large numbers like the Conservative movement and so many others before it, only to fizzle in the end?

  8. A. Gordimer says:

    Esther: There are several issues occurring now with Open Orthodoxy that needed to be addressed immediately. I am not at liberty to elaborate, but time is of the essence, and the article could not wait.

    This article is not causing discord. Rather, those who have departed from normative Orthodoxy and formed a new movement, crossing red lines and challenging norms, have divided the Orthodox community. I personally know many shuls that have split due to the innovations discussed in the article, and a major vaad rabbanim was dissolved due to these issues. Several rabbis whom I know have been forced out of their positions due to their members demanding the innovations of the Open Orthodox shul down the road, so to say. It is a crisis that needed to be addressed now.

    Countering things that challenge Torah authenticity should be a merit for us at any time.

    Readers: The Scribd article has been adjusted so as to allow downloading.

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    “I think the next step would be to analyze the future prospects for such a movement.”

    It might absorb some in the Conservative movement. Judah Skoff wrote in the Times of Israel this past November in response to Daniel Gordis’ “Conservative Judaism: A Requiem” from a Conservative perspective, “What should be obvious is that this new Liberal (or “Open”) Orthodoxy, and the traditional-egalitarianism nurtured by Yeshivat Hadar, have far more in common than right-wing Orthodoxy and left-wing Conservative Judaism, respectively. How long will it take for this resurgent centrism to emerge as its own quasi-movement? Where else might it lead? The Conservative brand may be failing, but its ideas are not. Its ideas remain as potent as they were during the golden age of JTS…If the Conservative brand must fade, then let Conservative ideas re-assert themselves in new forms, with new movements and in new ways. I welcome that challenge.”

    The Noverminsker Rebbe also juxtaposed Open Orthodoxy with the decline of Conservative Judaism in his speech at the Agudah dinner.

    R. Efraim Buchwald wrote about the relationship of the Conservative movement to Orthodoxy in the December, 2012 Klal Perspectives,”…[because of] the rapid decline of the Conservative movement over the last two decades, it is my view that there has been a precipitous drop in the number of people becoming baalei teshuva in America”.

  10. Raymond says:

    Even before I access the article being referred to, let me just say that I see nothing wrong with bringing up these issues, even in the dangerous times we live in, and even during the Nine Days. I do not think that I am the only Jew who values truth above all else. If anything, at least in my perception, Judaism is all about accessing the Ultimate Truth of our universe. Just think, for example, how we reject other religions, not because we have anything personal against their adherents, but because we realize how much their worldviews are full of nonsense. Whether or not the Open Orthodoxy movement has any legitimate points to make, I do not know. I will try to keep an open mind long enough to see what they have to say, but the point is, that even if our suspicions are right, namely that that movement is not good for Judaism, it will not be because we wish to increase divisions among our fellow Jews, as much as it is a commitment to the Ultimate Truth of G-d’s Torah.

  11. Ari Rieser says:

    I am truly perplexed that this topic is up for discussion yet again. One would think that the rapid erosion of modern society’s ethical and moral foundation along with the general spiritual malaise that we see are the real threats to the current and future generations of Orthodox Jews. Halivai that the elite can debate these issues, but practically speaking these issues really make zero difference in whether or not somebody will choose to keep shabbos, kashrus, or any other of the 613 mitzvos. To repeatedly blame and be afraid of a small group of rabbis (who by the way are doing important work in places that the average YU musmach would be afraid to go to) for the potential destruction of frumkeit really just skirts the real issues and dangers facing klal yisrael in the near and distant future. Please let’s spend more of our time davening for the IDF and the welfare of E”Y and joining together in unity and less time shouting at each other from our ivory towers especially during this eis tzara. Hashem Yishmor!

  12. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I’m not particularly interested in seeing this comment published, but I want to express my wholehearted agreement with the comments of Esther Wolfson and Ari Reiser.

    If mainstream Orthodoxy feels so threatened by “Open Orthodoxy,” I think its spokesmen would be better off investing their efforts in developing their own approach to the issues of Torah and Modernity, and conflicts between Torah and science/archeology/historical scholarship, an approach that deals with these conflicts in an intellectually honest way. I will admit that I haven’t invested much time in reading these articles against Open Orthodoxy, for the simple reason that I haven’t had the time to investigate Open Orthodoxy itself and I think I would prefer to first investigate it on its own terms rather than learn about it from its opponents.

    Alternatively, perhaps mainstream Orthodoxy should simply write off those that are looking for an intellectually honest way of reconciling conflicts between Torah and science. The best attempts that I think have been made in this area, those of Rabbi Natan Slifkin, were banned, so perhaps this is an admission by the mainstream Orthodox world that any real attempt at reconcilliation of Torah and science are too threatening to be tolerated. In which case, I think the mainstream would be better off to worry about their own issues, and pay less attention to those that are less willing to ignore the conflicts and issues of science and modernity.

  13. Avraham Marks says:

    Ms. Wolfson:

    I see it as very much the opposite. Being complacent with people leading other Jews off the derech (for lack of a better term) is a callous indifference to our brothers’ spiritual welfare. Yes, it would be better if we could all just get along, but the sad fact of the matter is that there is a group of people taking positions completely antithetical to Torah (to the point that some are just outright, lose-your-chelek, kefira) and trying to sell them to the greater Jewish world as true Orthodoxy, going so far as to launch advocacy websites such as the presumptuously named What R’ Gordimer is not trying to cause divisions; those divisions are already there, and the breach they have created is growing wider with time. Rather, this message is an attempt to limit the damage these people are doing. Passivity here is a failure to truly appreciate kol Yisroel areivim zeh b’zeh.

  14. Yonasan says:

    Rabbi Gordimer, Your explanation to Esther leaves more questions for me so I would appreciate your elaboration. You reply to her that the urgency of this article was precipitated by some unelaborated developments. I’m sure those hidden issues are important but it strikes me (RIETS musmach in the middle of the MO community) that a secret (straw man?) is a terribly insensitive breach of this unique period of achdus. For that matter, it totally undermines the quality of your argument.

    Your reply that your article is not the cause of discord – is that statement meant to be prescriptive or descriptive? I, for one, find it a painful source of discord.

    Regarding your last point (rabbis losing positions) – of course I know not which examples you allude. However, the not-uncommon situation I’m aware of in the past few years is not the binary choice of (a) traditional orthodox or (b) OO. In virtually all instances I’m aware of, the rabbis were trying to prevent any changes but were unable to articulate why its in the best religious interests of the congregants. Rather, in the instances I’m aware of, the rabbi was simply following the words of their rabbeim (R”Y in YU) who offered no flexibility on these issues. If centrist rabbis in the MO communities want to retain their positions and maintain the views of their rabbeim, they MUST learn how to articulate in a compelling explanaiton for why each decision is right for that community. Daas Torah is insufficient.(This permutation of DT, I suspect, may be one of the social fault-lines between RW and MO communities.) As a practical matter, therefore, don’t you wonder sometimes if the strident views being fed to these rabbis by their rabbeim may be undermining them? Perhaps its even allowing the opportunity for OO rabbis to find positions.

    And, therfore, to return where I started, instead of blaming the other guy (OO), perhaps we should look inwards to how the RW parts of the MO world can make welcome the YU-educated ‘hamon am’ who just don’t feel compelled by the absolutist arguments.

    Let us pray for a time when these sad divisive discussions are no longer.

  15. Yisrael Asper says:

    Ari Rieser said:”To repeatedly blame and be afraid of a small group of rabbis (who by the way are doing important work in places that the average YU musmach would be afraid to go to) for the potential destruction of frumkeit really just skirts the real issues and dangers facing klal yisrael in the near and distant future.”

    The same thing could have been argued in the early twentieth century and now look at what the potential destruction of frumkeit has produced, Jews with little or no connection to Judaism or Israel and set and ready for intermarriage. In any event you can’t argue that things should be bent to accommodate the few for Yiddishkeit and then be unconcerned about the potential destruction of Yiddishkeit from a small number of rabbis. Even one Jew’s spiritual destruction is a tragedy. Second this not being worried about a “small number of rabbis” statement is false. Open Orthodoxy is a strong movement and is going to takeover a nice sized fraction of the Orthodox community. There’s a whole segment that has for years been having views on Yiddishkeit that fail to recognize the boundaries that is fertile ground for the movement. There will come a time when a sharp divide will be between Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy. They will not be considered one movement. Open Orthodoxy will eventually lose momentum as the superficiality of it will fail to satisfy the spiritual needs of its membership and a loss of Yiddishkeit will result as well.

  16. dr. bill says:

    It has been said jokingly (and truthfully) that what differentiates YCT from JTS, is that no one at YCT comes even close to the likes of Prof. Ginsburg ZL or Prof. Lieberman ZL. But the joke and the article miss the serious change that has and continues to occur. YCT is not the threat; there are scholars in universities of Bible, Talmud, philosophy, Midrash and Halakha that are immune to the attacks on YCT. Even among current faculty of Revel and the few students of Prof. Lieberman still alive, let alone, Harvard, Yale, Hebrew University, Bar Ilan, etc. etc. challenges that are more fundamental and cogently reasoned will continue to develop. It is woefully insufficient to just declare them heresy; we need to have coherent responses. Chazal suggested to go beyond calling something apikoruses – dah mah she’tashuv le’apikores. The ability to deal with these issues cogently, enhances one’s emunah.

    [YA – I, for one, agree. A few of us have been pushing to get the right people to address the issues that call for cogent responses. Keep tuned, although it will take patience…]

  17. art.the.nerd says:

    The article sounds interesting. It seems odd that it’s hosted on scribd rather than your own site, but maybe you want to link to it from a variety of sites.

    Glance at the article, it looks interesting. No Print button, but a great big Download button. I think I’ll grab it and print to read it later.

    Site wants me to create an account. Umm, nope.
    Site wants me to use a Facebook account. Umm, nope.

    Guess I won’t read it.

  18. Emma says:

    Rabbi Gordimer’s attacks on YCT seem almost exclusively researched on the internet – based on the social media presence of various organizations, press releases, and interviews conducted by others. There is nothing wrong with “aggregating” content in that way, per se. But it does lead to certain lack of…nuance, and occasional outright mistakes. For example, his description of the Global Day of Jewish Learning didn’t sound like what my shul participated in. Nor did his linked source for Global Day seem to be the official website. Google quickly reveals that Global Day was founded by an orthodox rabbi (R. Steinsaltz), has many non-“fringe” Orthodox participants (including several chapters of NCSY), and, in addition to the IRF and YCT on its list of “supporting partners”, lists both Yeshiva University and the RCA.

    My point is not to pick nits – I realize Global Day was a small side point in this long article. But it does show that the Us vs. Them dynamic this article sets up is not reflected in real life. In real life, rather, there is no bright line between the activities and people R. Gordimer objects to and “mainstream” Orthodox institutions and people.

    A similar point can be made by noting that the guilt-by-association in this article (anything connected to YCT, morethodoxy, IRF, or Maharat taints everything and everyone else connected to any of those) can easily be extended to several well-accepted Orthodox institutions, especially in Israel. (For example, there is a well-known Israeli rosh yeshiva who teaches in a women’s smichah program.) My sense is that the attack on “Open Orthodoxy” intentionally steers clear of Israeli connections for this reason – because the Israeli institutions that could be similarly drawn into this orbit are more “mainstream” in the geography of American Orthodoxy.

  19. Torah U'Madda says:

    Thank you for this extremely important piece. It is masterful in its synthesis of all that is troubling with “Open Orthodoxy(OO).” We are struggling with these issues in the D.C. area. But I was confused by comments you made toward the end of your article. I can identify at least 7 major pulpits in the DC area and only 2 are led by OO types. So what’s your basis for stating that the vast majority of major pulpits in the DC area are led by YCT grads and affiliates? Similarly, I’m not aware that any of our local Orthodox day schools have YCT graduate principals. At least one has a YCT grad on staff (who is also the rabbi of a small shul associated with the school), and this is disturbing enough, but nothing remotely approaching a principal. Can you elaborate? Thanks.

  20. A. Gordimer says:

    Yonasan: This could not wait. And if it were to wait a week, even if the Gaza maztav were to calm down by then, people would complain that it came out in the Nine Days. And were it to wait longer, people would complain that it came out in the period of Nechama. And if to to wait even longer, people would complain that it came out in Elul, when we should be introspective and not criticizing others, etc. And if it came out after the Yamim Nora’im, ditto…

    The issues in the article are crucial for those committed to Torah to know about, and stifling such information and discussion would be a great disservice to Torah and to truth.

    The reasons for opposition to the ordination of women, partnership minyanim, and so forth, have been articulated in detail by Rav Schachter and others. I do not see rabbis from RIETS as refusing to explain the positions taken and insisting that the laypeople accept it all as Daas Torah, without understanding the issues.

  21. Ben Issacs says:

    I really appreciate those who say we should focus now on unity and davening for Klal Yisroel and the IDF. Indeed it is a time of war, may Hashem protect us. At the same time this is crucial information for the Jewish community. Outlying communities are one by one hiring YCT Musmachim for all kinds of positions. Ultimately this effects not only the fundamentals of faith but all our communities support for a strong Israel. The YCT mushmachim in the Western state where I live, were at the forefront of pushing the Gilad SHalit deal even when it became known that hundreds of murderers would be let free.

    In the current conflict they are subtly validating and leaving room for those voices in our community that are portraying the conflict as two sided, R”L!!! Amazing for Talmidim of Avi Weiss!!! So ultimately this is about all of Yiddeshkeit, including having a strong safe Israel. Todah Raboh Rabbi Gordimer!

  22. DF says:

    Re Biblical criticism and dr. bill’s comment – I respectfully disagree. It is almost pointless to confront bible critics or produce responses, because they don’t speak the same language as traditionalists. The fundamental premises – the 4 assumptions, for those who’ve read Dr. Kugel’s popular book on the subject – are totally at odds with each other. Those who accept the postulates of biblical criticism (or let us say, feel intellectually drawn to them) will never be convinced by an orthodox apologia. That was already tried by the great R.D.Z. Hoffman, to no avail. Even Cassuto’s analysis, in his recorded lectures, hardly made any impact.

    If it is enhancing one’s emunah that we seek, then, in my opinion, the best approach is not to confront it at all. Remaining willfully ignorant of the topic, in other words. There is a huge dollop of intellectual dishonesty in doing so. But the alternative – exposing people to the questions in an attempt to answer them – is too risky for one’s emunah, and in my opinion, an unwinnable battle. There is no return to innocence. Notice that the most well-known of orthodox scholars either co-opt the findings of Biblical criticism (e.g. Dr. Breuer) or in the main, avoid them altogether by focusing on other areas (e.g. Dr. Leiman.) Many others today deliberately swerve around the issue by applying the very same methods of biblical studies, to Talmudic studies. But in no case do they actually engage the question, in the style of 19th century polemics. Because it can’t be won. The “dah mah shetashiv” cited by dr. bill never contemplated the breadth and magnitude of biblical studies, and moreover, that approach was never adopted in practice by Jewry. The many encounters with minim in rabbinic literature portray the rabbis answering their interlocutors with what it called a קנה רצוצה but we are not aware of them devoting time to attempting to seriously understand the opposing viewpoint.

  23. A. Gordimer says:

    Art: The article was too long to post on Cross-Currents as a text, and hence Scribd was used. The Scribd posting has been adjusted so as to allow easier downloading and viewing.

    Torah U’Madda: The data was from a few rabbis in that region. Regardless of the numbers, the issues and pervasiveness are quite alarming, and that was the focus.

    May Hashem protect us K’lal Yisroel physically and spiritually. Both elements are essential. (FYI, if anyone has an interest in it, here are my thoughts about the world community’s reaction to the current matzav with Hamas: This situation of course weighs heavily on all of our minds, and viewing it from a physical and spiritual perspective is very important, I believe.)

    Besoros tovos,

  24. FEZ says:

    Rabbi Gordimer:

    You repeatedly state “It was decided” and “It was decided, as per the advice of senior rabbinic authorities,” and “It was decided,” to “release” this article.

    What are the names of the specific individuals that actually specifically decided to release this specific article at this specific time?

    Thank you.

    [YA – He shared the names with me. They are important and responsible people.]

  25. Bob Miller says:

    DF makes some good points above. The number of lies that can be offered up in scholarly ways has no limit. While somebody could have what it takes to refute this or that pack of lies, there will always be some new wrinkle. For all but specialists in refutation, the time spent considering and dissecting most lies in the most complete way is better spent learning Torah. The big lies, though, with the most potential impact on Jews as a group, need to be addressed in laymen’s language to protect the group.

  26. InDC says:

    I would like to echo Torah U’Madda’s comments regarding your puzzling paragraph regarding the Orthodox Jewish community in Washington, DC and the Maryland suburbs. There are 2 YCT graduates who hold pulpit positions– one of which is a “major” shul, while the other is small and is struggling to attract new people. There is another major pulpit position that is occupied by a YU graduate but who affiliates more with Open Orthodoxy. So if you want to lump them all together, there are 3 YCT/OO affiliated rabbis in the Washington area. This is out of AT LEAST 8-10 pulpit positions. There is a major pulpit in downtown Washington, DC, held by Rabbi Barry Freundel– very NOT Open Orthodox. There are major pulpits in the suburbs– Kemp Mill Synagogue, YI Shomrei Emunah, YI Potomac, White Oak, Woodside– I can go on. All of those pulpits are occupied by RCA rabbis.

    In addition, the “principal” you are referring to is not a school principal. He is a mashgiach ruchani; I can understand how some may see that as a problem, but he’s not the head of school or principal. And, let’s not double count; he’s the same guy who is the rabbi of a small shul which is struggling for new membership.

    I think it is wrong to keep this paragraph in place at the end of your paper. It simply isn’t factual information, regardless of where you got the information from– you should not be just getting information from few rabbis in the region without checking first. It’s quite easy to check shul websites. Your paper should be updated to reflect the true nature of the Jewish Orthodox community in Washington, DC and its surrounding suburbs. Washington is a wonderful place for a Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is thriving here. The issue is NOT pervasive here, so Washington, DC, should NOT be the focus here; find another community. No one should read your article and leave with the impression that it is anything but. Please update your paper to reflect this. Thank you.

  27. Brooklyn refugee sheygitz says:

    Ben Isaacs comments are important and shed light on the point made by Emma about Israel bring different.
    The BIGGEST danger of open orthodoxy is that is essentially an assimilationist movement. It seeks to assimilate into the liberal version of American life which is against any form of particularism whatsoever. So while rabbi avi Weiss is an amazing Jewish and Zionist person (as anyone who can read his recent blog posts can see), the open orthodox rabbis a generation behind him have a tenuous affinity towards the state of Israel and the rabbis two generations behind him are all but essentially identifying with the issues facing Israel as liberal Americans and creating moral equivalence between Hamas and Israelis. It is only a matter of time before they all end up like Peter Beinart.
    So yes in Israel we can tolerate some “loosening” of the binds of what was “traditional orthodoxy”. It won’t necessarily lead to an abandonment of traditional Torah – which includes the all important component of peoplehood. In the USA however it is only a matter of time before open orthodox rabbis not only support intermarriage – but actually will embrace it (just like many have done with same gender marriage)
    Yoram Hazony has pointed this facet out about open orthodoxy.
    Israeli feminist rabbis such as Einat Ramon have also pointed this out.
    It is precisely this assimilationist trend leading to anti-Zionism which is the most dangerous and worrisome aspect of yeshiva chovevei Torah graduates and open orthodoxy.

  28. dr. bill says:

    DF – I agree with you that modern bible study is perhaps for many a bridge too far. Even Prof. Kugel suggests that your approach is best for many. Nonetheless, leaving Bible aside, the works of (even) orthodox academics in halakha and Talmud cannot be easily avoided, especially in the future. God help us if academic study of Talmud or Halakha presents challenges to orthodox practice that cannot be dealt with.

    Bob Miller – Treating academic findings as “lies” reflects the problem. If the orthodox response is to “prove” things are “lies” as opposed to honestly dealing with them, their efforts are better not attempted.

  29. Shades of Gray says:

    I see a difference between defining Orthodoxy versus dealing with intellectual challenges to it. The second issue is relevant and came up a year ago (“Is Heresy Horrible?”, July 23rd, 2013). The website where R. Zev Farber wrote his essay that sparked additional criticism of the Open Orthodoxy movement, was co-founded by someone who was involved in kiruv and dissatisfied with certain aspects of it, so it seems to be a relevant issue to the Open Orthodoxy discussions.

    Completely separate from this is the question of defining Orthodoxy. For example, “the rabbis drastically reinterpret the process[of Sotah] to make it sensitive and egalitarian”, quoted by R. Gordimer, needs to be explained by its author. I would say: “precisely because YCT values openness and intellectual honesty, yelamedeinu rabbeinu, what is your precedent to be able to say this in the name of Orthodoxy”?

  30. Yisrael Asper says:

    Open Orthodoxy is not a movement which can be easily pushed off with answers to questions it has. It has a whole other methodology. It does not question secular authority, only religious authority. There definitely are things to worry about. Anyone aware of the issues or aware that there might be issues should worry and if they’re not worried it means in all likelyhood that the reason they can’t see a problem with the ideas of Open Orthodoxy or are not worried is because they don’t consider them a problem or anything akin to a heresy. Here there is blame to be placed in the Orthodox community. This stuff was building up and always just with a small minority. Why wasn’t there a big or big enough campaign to remove the elements from any organizational ties to Orthodox institutions? Open Orthodoxy has arrived at a time in the secular community when believing in authority is all the rage and questioning the authorities is given lip service. You can throw all the questions you want at such people but it is not going to have an effect unless they are willing to whatever extent to leave the matrix.

  31. shaul shapira says:

    dr. bill-

    I agree with you up to an extent. If they wrote the works and said that they’re here to undermine the fundamentals of Orthodox Judaism because they’ve become convinced they’re false based on X,Y &Z, that would be one thing. But when they start giving ‘divrei torah’ about how Avraham shouldn’t have listened to G-d, that’s less an argument that needs to be refuted and more a viewpoint that needs to be repudiated.

    By analogy, if someone claims that a particular Israeli action is criminal because __________ you can respond and explain why you disagree. But if someone asks ‘what can we do to end the Israeli aggression in Gaza?’, there’s nothing to respond to because they’ve already staked out their view. And, significantly, if they then claim to be pro-Israel, they need to have their anti-Israeli positions exposed.

  32. Y. Ben-David says:

    I can think of two reasons why Jews leave religious observance. One is simply because it is hard and demanding and they want an easier life. Another is because they have real questions that don’t feel the Torah’s teachers are able to answer. If O-O is posing an ideological challenge, then it has to be confronted head-on, ideologically, by those who disagree with them. This is what happened two centuries ago with the challenge the Haskalah and secular Zionism posed. Simply saying that “they are leading people astray” and brainwashing them and that the answer is to put up high walls will not solve the problem. The challenges of modern society and the rapid changes it has been undergoing put the onus on the Torah leadership to come up with powerful, relevant answers. This had often not been the case and instead the response has simply been to hunker down, put up high walls and to bring divisions among Am Israel. It didn’t work 200 years ago when most of Am Israel abandoned Torah observance and it won’t work today. The only way it to point-by-point show where O-O is wrong and this means having Torah teachers who understand the world around them and the Torah’s teachings on these matters.

  33. Ari Heitner says:

    Over the course of seven years working in kiruv in North America, I have Baruch Hashem seen a lot of Jews on the path to becoming frum.

    Torah mi-Sinai/Torah & Science/Biblical Criticism/Academic approaches to the archaeology and historicity of Tanach are important issues. Woe to the mekarev who does not at least have a good starting point to guide his students when the questions come – even when the questions aren’t there at the beginning of the journey, they will always be asked at some point. I myself believe in, teach, and continue to see positive results from the excellent answers and approaches of the mainstream frum world – from R’Mordechai Breuer and R’Moshe Cassuto, to Dr. Schroeder, to Dr. Gottleib, R’Ken Spiro, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and many many others. To the best of my recollection I have never had a student who did not feel the answers were better than the questions.

    Interestingly, while many of my female students have asked questions about gender roles in Yiddishkeit, not one has come to me (or my wife!) and said, “I feel like a second-class citizen (or I won’t be frum) because I can’t get an aliyah.” I can only guess they are seeing strong female role models in the frum community.

    The funny thing is, one the one hand, I fail to see how giving up on Torah mi-Sinai and accepting wholesale the stupidity of academic Biblical scholarship will result in people wanting to be mekabel ol malchus Shomayim, while on the other, if a talmidah said to me, “I will be medakdekes in mitzvos kalos k’chamuros, but a mohl I gotta get an aliyah,” I would find it hard to believe the Borei Olam would have big taynos.

  34. Bob Miller says:

    Dr. Bill wrote, above, “Treating academic findings as “lies” reflects the problem. If the orthodox response is to “prove” things are “lies” as opposed to honestly dealing with them, their efforts are better not attempted.”

    When they have determined on investigation that something is indeed a lie, would you allow them to prove that and call it what it is?

  35. Steve Brizel says:

    I invite all critical readers of this piece to read the linked footnotes-many of the comments of those quoted re the war in Gaza illustrate what happens when you divorce your support of Israel its being the land promised by HaShem to the Avos and thereafter to the Jewish People as a covenantal community and the significance of adherence to Torah and Mitzvos. As R Gordimer points out, we are now seeing the adverse results of either what can called be the Trojan horse like effect or tunneling of OO views on halacha and hashkafa into MO acceptance-what were once views that were once beyond the pale are now views that are included in communitis that view themselves as the bastions of MO.

  36. Steve Brizel says:

    Many posters here and elswheretend to dismiss anecdotal stories-but anyone familiar with a blatt Gemara knows that sometimes “Maaseh Shehayah Kach Hayah”, as a means at least of illustrating or proving a point. With that in mind, the following is such a story that illustrates my previous point-a number of months ago, I was Mnachem Avel at the house of a close friend whose wife had sustained the Petirah of her mother ZL. I was there at Mincha time, and a woman walked in who was clearly single and not dressed either Bderech Tznuah or Lo Tznuah. I was told that she was the “congregational intern” for a local and nationally prominent LW MO shul, and she proceeded to read a few Mishnayos between Mincha and Maariv. I was asked to daven Maariv for the Tzibur, and I noticed that the ArtScroll Siddur for the Beis Avel mentioned different views among the Gdolei Acharonim as to whether a Baal Tefilah who was not the avel should recite Tiskabel during Kaddish Shalem. When I turned to another musmach who is the audience to discuss the issue, I was told to “consult” with the congregational intern, who told me in no uncertain terms IIRC to recite Tiskabel. The above story is illustrative of OO’s views and agenda being accepted via the means of Trojan horse or tunnelling into MO as not even worthy of discussion.

  37. Dave says:

    Yasher koach for an wonderful and needed expose of this cancer in our community. Your article is a must read and should be widely dissemintated.

  38. Richard Kahn says:

    Steve Brizel – I don’t understand your point in telling that story. Were you outraged that you had to ask a woman what the halacha was? Or do you disagree with her psak?

  39. david says:

    I find it extremely ironic that you should judge Rav Katz by calling him a heretic as opposed to showing how he was wrong in his analysis. This is a clear example of the difference in approach between OO and the Haredi mindset. Rav Katz says there is a difference in chazal’s procedure to that which was in the torah. Instead of proving him wrong you go with a general philosophical attack that is just not relevant to his claim. It may as well be ad hominem. I am afraid that if you are afraid to meet someone that you disagree with head on and try to shut him up by crying ‘witch’ then you really have no leg to stand on. You can’t protect judaism by shutting people down because they are not allowed to make those kind of comments or ask those kind of questions. OO are being open minded, they are providing the answers and showing how they all fit into orthodox judaism. You are being close minded and stating that these questions just can’t be asked in orthodox judaism. If you want to get anywhere, you need to actually give some answers.

  40. Steve Brizel says:

    My point was in illustrating R Gordimer’s point that OO is via the methods of the Trojan Horse , tunnelling its way into acceptability in mainstream MO shuls.

  41. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that one can certainly disagree strongly with R Katz’s view of Mitzvas Sotah. For those interested in the classic view without any gender/feminist based critique, see the relevant views of Shut Beis HaLevi,Minchas Chinuch ( I don’t have the volumes in front of me and I am having tech problems at home) as well as the view of R Yaakov Kaminetsky in Emes LYaakov that the Mitzvah was designed to prove that the woman accused was in fact telling the truth.

    One can certainly argue that many of the POVs advocated in the footnoted articles are beyond the pale of mainstream MO .

  42. Steve Brizel says:

    Ari Heitner wrote in part:

    “Torah mi-Sinai/Torah & Science/Biblical Criticism/Academic approaches to the archaeology and historicity of Tanach are important issues. Woe to the mekarev who does not at least have a good starting point to guide his students when the questions come – even when the questions aren’t there at the beginning of the journey, they will always be asked at some point. I myself believe in, teach, and continue to see positive results from the excellent answers and approaches of the mainstream frum world – from R’Mordechai Breuer and R’Moshe Cassuto, to Dr. Schroeder, to Dr. Gottleib, R’Ken Spiro, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and many many others”

    R Ari-do you include the classical Mfarshim ( Rashi, Ramban, Sforno, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Netziv, Meshech Chachmah, and the works of RYBS and R Yaakov Kamenetsky for a small list) among the various approaches of the mainstream frum world? I would suggest that living with the fact that there are numerous approaches to such issues is far more intellectually honest, and humbling , than offering an “answer” that will collapse under a simple critique.

  43. david says:

    steve, Rav Katz doesn’t give a view on Mitzvas sotah. The halachot themselves are irrelevant to this discussion. He is commenting on how chazal interpreted the torah and learned out the halachot.

  44. Yonadav Kenyon says:

    I am a member of what I suppose would be considered one of the ‘Open Orthodox’ congregations. Our former Rabbi is now the president of YCT, and our new Rabbi is a graduate of YCT.

    Here is the thing that stood out to me most about your article, Rabbi Gordimer. It is an exercise in broadbrushing. You paint an especially off-the-derech picture of ‘Open Orthodoxy’ by presenting sample selected for conveying the picture that you want to convey.

    Yes, ‘Open Orthodoxy’ does have some real characters at the helm and near the helm. But it also has many people with legitimate Orthodox perspectives and objectives. Yes, it is a free speech culture, in which heretical things are sometimes said by a few. And I frequently to wince at it, and sort of wish that someone would say something. But that someone doesn’t say anything, or that objections are not made publicly, does not invalidate Open Orthodoxy as a legetimate segement of the Orthodox world.

    It would not be hard for me to point fingers at a few Cheredi guys who are saying and doing things that are beyond the pale. Should I then write articles about how the entire Cheredi Movement is beyond the pale? Of course not. Of course, we know that some people have actually painted such pictures, and I think that you and I both have a low opinion of those who paint the Cheredi with that broadbrush. But your article is more of the same, but directed at the left, rather than the right.

    Open Orthodoxy is basically a kiruv movement. At the core of my congregation, we have seriously Orthodox people, who live fairly machmir Orthodox lives, and have solidly Orthoxdox perspectives. We also have the Reform Jew who got a taste of the ‘legitimacy’ and ‘exclusivity’ of membership in an Orthodox community.

    The Reform Jew who developed a taste of the ‘legitimacy’ and ‘exclusivity’ of does not want to go back to his former Reform temple. Open Orthodoxy caters to this guy. And why does this guy acquire a taste for Orthodoxy for the wrong reasons? Because the kiruv movement begged him to. Open Orthodoxy exists because tens of thousands of American Jews have been begged to come to Orthodox shuls to do whatever mitzvot we can get them interested in. After all, if we can get them to do a mitzvah for the wrong reasons, then it might one day lead to them doing many mitzvot for righteous reasons, right?

    And that is why something like ‘Open Orthodoxy’ was inevitable. If you are going to condemn Open Orthodoxy, then perhaps it would have been better to have never begged these Reform people to try Orthodoxy in the first place. The kiruv movement has created many tens of thousands of fence sitters who are disatisfied with their former Reform lives, but not ready to plunge into full fledged t’shuvah. Open Orthodoxy has given them a home, where they are given a steady gentle and constant exposure to the genuinely Orthodox people at the core of its congregations. And of course this is going to attract some nuts.

    Not long ago, I had a lot of trouble with being associated with an Open Orthodox congregation. But in time, I have come to really enjoy it. There is always someone who wants a little instruction in Hebrew, or tefillah, or halakhah, or minhagim. An Observant Jew can have a very meaningful relationship with an Open Orthodox congregation.

    Of course, if our spiritual needs revolve around telling other Jews that they aren’t kosher, then Open Orthodoxy presents a convenient target. Open Orthodoxy would probably not be the best place for such people, although I have run into a few within OO who seem to be thriving just fine.

  45. Steve Brizel says:

    My question for Rav Katz and his defenders is simple-do you accept the principle that the tools of TSBP are part of a Mesorah that starts with Moshe Rabbeinu that is built into the text of the Chumash itself ( see Netziv in many places for a discussion of this ) and was transmitted to each generation or R”L were “invented” by Chazal?

  46. dr. bill says:

    Steve Brizel writes: “My question for Rav Katz and his defenders is simple-do you accept the principle that the tools of TSBP are part of a Mesorah that starts with Moshe Rabbeinu that is built into the text of the Chumash itself ( see Netziv in many places for a discussion of this ) and was transmitted to each generation or R”L were “invented” by Chazal?”

    This represents an assault on the laws of logic that unfortunately is not uncommon in polemical arguments. Do you believe X or ~X can be unfair enough; there may be intermediate positions between X and ~X. The question posed to R. Katz is do you believe in (A^B^C^D) or Z? One can question or reformulate A or B or C or D, each of which is entirely independent of Z.

    Just parenthetically, which “tools of TSBP are part of a Mesorah” is debated by Rishonim.

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