Responding to New Open Orthodox Provocations

I was really hoping that theological breaches on the part of the Open Orthodox/Neo-Conservative (OONC) movement would be tapering off and that there would thus be no need for further rejoinder. Oh, was I wrong!

After a series of new Times of Israel articles by OONC leadership that undermine the most fundamental tenets of our faith, I felt compelled to speak out. Here is my response, likewise in Times of Israel.

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10 Responses

  1. lacosta says:

    i wonder if someday we will thank the heads of YCT , like Saul of Tarsus , who [according to legend] did pharasism a favor by making such a large break between the doxies and praxies of the nascent Nazarene religion and torah judaism so there wouldnt be to and fro flow. likewise , the left end of O has a continuum with the right end of non-O C movement . by pulling OO far to the left , they will make it impossible for O jews to confuse it with orthodoxy….

  2. dr. bill says:

    An attempt to partially deal with modern Biblical criticism, to which most talmidim of har etzion were exposed, was that of R. Mordechai Breuer ztl. I am happy that others continue to struggle with the issue; despite the attacks to which they are subjected, they work on developing a new articulation of Jewish theology. To continue to simply deny (as opposed to honestly confronting) the accumulating evidence is hardly supportable. I expect their ideas will continue to get refined over time. If their adherents continue traditional practice, they will eventually get wider support. What might be more deserving of condemnation are those going in the opposite direction and adding other ikkarai emunah that further challenge rational belief.

    On another topic you raise, I thought R. Katz’s list of what God regrets, is in reality areas where we must make a cheshbon hanefesh and direct our tefillot and efforts. I don’t find it more jarring than various midrashim; the one in Berachot daf 7. where R. Ishmael blesses God (in a dream) on YK (many decades after the Churban.) I believe some rishonim interpret the midrash as instructing us as to what we should pray for.

    • DF says:

      Not sure I agree with your first paragraph, doctor. Unlike theories of evolution or the big bang, biblical criticism cannot be harmonized or made to square with traditional beliefs. The attempt of R. Breuer that you mentioned is a perfect example – it is neither fish nor fowl, and no one – but no one – is convinced by it. One doubts R. Breuer really believed his own thesis himself, but felt compelled to offer * something*, precisely because of the desire you mentioned of confronting the DH.

      In my view the best approach is neither that of R. Breuer nor of R. Gordimer. Both tried to deal with it, in their opposite religious approaches (one of integration, and one of denigration) and failed. The best approach, in my view, is the third way – isolation. Ignore it completely. It does involve a degree of intellectual dishonesty, yes, but I don’t think any other approach will work. It is useful, for purposes of analysis, to compare it to the related question of how to approach Maddah generally – complete acceptance, complete rejection, or compromise. In that arena, compromise has proven to be the best solution, for the majority. But Maddah is exactly akin to the theories I mentioned above. It can be harmonized with Jewish tradition very nicely. Biblical Criticism is very much a horse of a different color.

      • dr.bill says:

        DF, I don’t disagree wrt R. Breuer. His Brisker “shenai dinim” alerted many to discrepancies between various texts. Did his method foster belief in the classical view of torah mi’sinai or is the torah the work of a human editor with diverse (at best, God inspired) sources? Sadly, judging in terms of that question alone, I believe he was not successful. However, rest assured he himself unquestionably believed in it.
        However, I do not despair of a theology that will eventually be able to integrate (some of) the findings of biblical criticism with classic Jewish beliefs. Despite the OO attracting much of the fire, probably because of their insistence of referring to themselves as orthodox, slow progress, mostly in diverse academic quarters in Israel, should not be discounted. We may be a generation or two away.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that R Gordimer was 100% on the mark. Man was expelled from a perfect existence in the Garden of Eden because of his inability to adhere to a simple request from HaShem. All of human progress since that moment is a story of man’s seeking to rectify his transgression from what had been a carefree existence. As the Netziv points out in Parshas Bchukosai-HaShem gave us mitzvos in the same way that a doctor prescribes medication, but if the patient fails to take the medicine, that is not the fault of the physician who prescribed the medicine. The linked article in R Gordimer’s piece places the “blame” on HaShem, R”L, when, in fact, the eternal question is and remains every year whether man acted in accord with the Ratzon HaShem and the Bris Sinai.

  4. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I published a post on Times of Israel critiquing one of the articles referenced in this post.
    For those who are interested, it can be found here:

    Some unsolicited advice to Rabbi Gordimer:
    In my experience responding to what I regard as distorted theology, I always make the attempt to offer a critical analysis the (distorted) sources cited by my opponents in detail, and often cite other sources of my own to make my point.
    Simply brow-beating the opposition with righteous religious indignation has little effect other than to serve as a catharsis for those who are already convinced of the impropriety of the opposing view.

    • dr, bill says:

      While I appreciate a detailed critique, it rarely ends there; critiques invite response. One of your major arguments, that Rabbi Hefter only cited viewpoints supporting his position, is a good example. A proper argument against Rabbi Hefter would have to demonstrate that those sources represent only an isolated point of view, something you do not do. Furthermore, what else would you expect; an article is not an exhaustive study. In our society some/many dispute the societal/human/heart element in the process of psak; citing (only) rabbinic sources to the contrary supports the validity of an alternative viewpoint.

      You then go on to question why women do not just learn leshemo; why do they also pursue a rabbinic or at least a quasi-rabbinic title? The reason you give to make the public comfortable with women rendering lenient decisions is correct, except for an added word – lenient. You write: “They need it to empower women to render lenient halachic decisions over areas of halacha that primarily affect them.” Heaven forbid such motivation; is “koach de’hetaira adif” only an open orthodox dictum? Wording like that, without any supporting evidence of the actual nature of such psakim, make you question whether their author is being fair-minded.

  5. ehrlichnotfrum says:

    Rabbi Gordimer wrote: “While I was hoping to start the new year without having to address this issue, wishing that the numerous expressions of highly problematic theology by Open Orthodox leadership would taper off, matters have gone from bad to worse, and there is again an obligation to speak out.”

    Really? “There is again an obligation to speak out”? Rabbi Gordimer, there is absolutely no chance that Open Orthodox leaders would do something, and we would think you agree. Don’t worry. I assume that you wouldn’t say Amen to a Maharat’s bracha on Shabbos candles, or support even one iota of something that is done by a leader or balabus of Open Orthodoxy. We get it. You think they’re wrong. But your protests of “I wish I didn’t have to, but they forced me to because they did X” have rung hollow for a LONG time. You don’t HAVE to do anything. Nobody will suddenly think that you agree with them if you stay quiet. You WANT to respond so that you can protect your view of True Orthodoxy. That’s fine, you have every right to do so. But don’t pretend that every Op-Ed by Ysoscher Katz is not complete until you have responded to it.

  6. David Ohsie says:

    “In my experience responding to what I regard as distorted theology, I always make the attempt to offer a critical analysis the (distorted) sources cited by my opponents in detail, and often cite other sources of my own to make my point.
    Simply brow-beating the opposition with righteous religious indignation has little effect other than to serve as a catharsis for those who are already convinced of the impropriety of the opposing view.”

    I agree with R. Kornreich on these sentences. R. Gordimer’s piece seems to take it for granted that the reader will simply be offended by an opposing point of view.

  7. Bruce says:

    I’m amused at your choice of the words “provocation” and “compelled.” A provocation is an action done with the intention of causing a reaction. Whatever else you can say about OO proponents, they seem to be writing because they believe what they state, not because they want to provoke you or others. And nothing “compels” you to respond repeatedly. That’s a choice. There is no provocation and no compulsion.

    Your articles remind me of the XKCD cartoon where the character won’t go to bed because “someone on the internet said something that is wrong!”

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