Weekly Digest – News and Essays In and Out of Orthodoxy


Rabbi Francis Nataf (in the linked essay) repeats an oft-cited critique of progressive Modern Orthodoxy: that we do not have “red lines.”

We of course do have red lines, Rabbi Nataf.

The disagreement between us and the conservative wing of MO is about the adjudication of heresy (“red lines”), not its definition.

Denying the divinity of the Torah is heresy, unequivocally. Nevertheless, how to prosecute such denial is a matter of serious disagreement between us and RWMO.

They think we should blindly follow precedent; we profoundly disagree. Our social and religious reality makes twenty first century heresy unique and without precedent. It, therefore, requires its own set of rules and considerations.

YCT graduates who crossed those “red lines” are not alone, they represent a general trend in Orthodoxy. Traditional dogma has lost its resonance for many in our community. A wrong and impulsive response will placate the few but turn away the many.

An appropriate decision on a matter of such significant consequences to our community will, therefore, take a very long time. Understanding the interim silence as acquiescence is unjustified and a misinterpretation of the facts. (See link for further elaboration: http://www.jewishlinknj.com/index.php… )


Rav Ysoscher Katz, Thanks for responding to my article and clarifying certain points. Btw, I never wrote that OO has no red lines. My point is that there are a whole host of people who are not likely to write on your timeline that have become very confused about where YCT stands and I don’t think the response to that from the yeshiva has been effective so far. You may well need more time to articulate a proper response, but if you wait too long you may find that many people will no longer be waiting around to hear it. I don’t plan on posting again to this thread but look forward to continuing the conversation.

(My two cents: OO has consistently tolerated the crossing of red lines and has even defended it. In fact, much of the crossing of red lines has occurred on the part of OO leadership itself. Readers are advised to consult this, among many other essays and critiques on the subject. I must again emphasize that my stance relates to solely to hashkafa and is not directed at anyone on a personal level. – AG)

Last week’s installment of Weekly Digest – News and Essays In and Out of Orthodoxy can be viewed here

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18 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I guess the OO crowd took a break[ you really had to stretch to find all the news that fits. First, those who read the full facebook post, may object to the term “screwed up” but should appreciate how the torah/chazal dealt with eglah arufah and its connection to the story of Jacob and Joseph. Second, I would expect an attack on R. Katz for his defense of tolerance for a “heretic,” but to claim “…much of the crossing of red lines has occurred on the part of OO leadership itself..” is to conflate R. Farber’s views with ANY of the leaders of YCT. To date, R. Farber’s views are not generally present among traditional Jews outside of Israel.

  2. Rabbi Benjamin Elton says:

    I think that R Katz’s statement should be properly appreciated and welcomed by critics. He says:
    1. Denying Torah min hashamayim is heresy
    2. There are red lines
    3. Some have crossed those red lines
    4. YCT does not acquiescein that
    5. There is an important task to formulate a response to heresy that resonates and brings people back to traditional beliefs.

    After reading this, I think it is difficult to argue that R Katz personally or YCT institutionally are heretical or condone heresy. They are just working out the best way to deal with the views that are out there.

    • Dov says:

      Hi Rabbi ,Problem is Rabbi Katz has said things that can be understood as heretical. Additionally , they give semicha to those that are as well. YCT also promotes these heretical people.
      – R’ Shmuley Y is constantly patted on the back as a YCT grad, and rarely called on his constant breaches in issues of Emmunah and with Hashkafa
      – R’ Farber heads a department for your yeshiva
      – Your Rebbeim are on Kol koreh’s that are promoting heresy (as was pointed out by Rabbi G) .. so it is one thing to be doing Kiruv work , but when those that are doing kiruv need kiruv it seems that you are condoning such material

      YCT students are marrying girls from JTS , so apparently they dont think issues of faith are impediments in building a bayis Neman B’yisroel.

      Yct speaks out all the time against people saying something politically incorrect .. in the papers , on blogs, even getting politicians involved ..Yet , when it comes to issues of faith they are so quiet ??

      So, honestly is it really they are just grappling with how to handle these people or is it that they simply don’t care?

      • Rabbi Benjamin Elton says:

        I don’t think R Katz has said anything heretical. Provocative, yes. Maybe more provocative than I’d like, but certainly not heretical. He is a big talmid chacham, and I know personally to be a man of great emunah and yirat shamayim. If his statements can be read as heretical or not, we should be dan lechaf zechut. R Shmuley is no heretic either, even if he sometimes writes things that are unwise, or even wrong. I think he is very concerned to maintain an Orthodox hashkafa. R Farber has NO position at YCT, that is a misapprehension we need to get over. Students leave the yeshiva every year because they cannot maintain an Orthodox hashkafa. They are given time to work out their place, but if they can’t, there is a parting of the ways. The yeshiva does not issue kol korehs, although if this statement counts as a kol koreh, it should also count as proof of hashkafic Orthdoxy, from R Lopatin ‘ As a Modern and Open Orthodox Yeshiva, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah embraces the classical view of Torah MiSinai and Torah Min Hashamayim in the way the multitude of accepted commentaries and thinkers of our Mesoret have passed down to us through the ages.’

      • Dov says:

        Im an avid reader of this blog and have a few friends that are YCT grads. I think we see the situation very differently.
        I think you would need a point by point refutation not of my comment, but the many articles specifically Rabbi G has written about many of the people I have mentioned. .
        Sorry for writing Rabbi Farber I meant Rabbi Linzer.
        I’m curious what your reply would be to my question about the JTS marriages .

        For Brevity the starting point should be refuting the claims in these 3 articles:

        By the way , Kol Hakovod on going out to AU. As someone who went way “out of town” for a chinuch job I commend the dedication. I wish you an honest brocho: you should be blessed to make a kiddush hashem following the will of hashem.

      • Ysoscher Katz says:


        Putting aside for a moment the fact that R. Gordimer is totally mischaracterizing what I wrote. (Anyone who isn’t predisposed to pounce on anything written by us would admit that, read in context, I don’t say at all what he ascribes to me. I would be happy to make my case if I thought that there’s a chance of conceding and admitting wrong doing.) What’s tragic about all this is the amount of damage this does.

        The impetus for my essays is to engage those who’ve been disenchanted by platitudinal Judaism and are looking for something creative and contemporary that would allow them to re-engage. Stridently espousing simplicities and superficialities, sadly, only manages to turn them off even more.

        Notwithstanding the fact that this entire project smacks of immodesty. To obsessively search other people’s writings and, the minute they publish something, to gleefully run to the public sphere to share and expose their every utterance is troubling and highly inappropriate.

        To those of us outside this eco-chamber this feels like an incredible breach of our communal standards of tzniut and kedusha. The amount of chillul HaShem this causes is בלתי ישוער. (I hope to expand on this soon.)

      • Avrohom Gordimer says:

        I am puzzled by Rabbi Katz’ comment for two reasons:

        Firstly, my articles provide full quotes from the materials being addressed, along with links to all articles under discussion, in order for readers to themselves consult the original articles and form their opinions. This is the farthest thing from misrepresentation. It is, rather, transparency.

        Secondly, to label my writings as engendering an “incredible breach of our communal standards of tzniut and kedusha” is mystifying. My writings are replies and responses to public media posts; when someone publishes something on public media, he by definition is inviting open discussion and potential critique.

        As I have written numerous times, I admire and appreciate the dynamism and creativity of OO/progressive Orthodox leadership, for this leadership has the potential to reach Jews whom otherwise may not be reachable. However, when the Judaism presented to such Jews, or to anyone, conflicts with tradition, there is every right to object and speak up.

  3. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    I’m with Dr. Bill. Aside from the “screwed up” we have a standard Devar Totah. It begins with a standard move: What is the particular significance of eg lah arufah, answers it by citing HaAk, and theninks it in an obvious way toyaakov sending Yosrf to his brothers. I say “obvious” because reflecting on the Eashi last week the same idea occurred to me

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I think that R Gordimer’s point is two fold-one Bnei Torah and Talmidei Chachamim should not indulge in barnyard epithets and as used in the YCT Dvar Torah, and strive to avoid nivul Peh, wherever possible.

  4. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Rabbi Elton and Dov: I wanted to be very nuanced here, but I may have been too nuanced. Please see the linked article at the end of my post, which quotes some extremely problematic statements from OO leadership. That article contains links to other articles with quotes that are equally problematic.

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    Re. “Silent night: How the Hasidim observe Christmas Eve”:

    When they are finished playing chess, Chasidim can join Justice Elena Kagan and all other good Jews for a meal in a Chinese restaurant , with the exception of the author of the “Aveirah Song” who says “I learn the gantzeh nittel nacht”.

  6. YbhM says:

    RYK writes: “The impetus for my essays is to engage those who’ve been disenchanted by platitudinal Judaism and are looking for something creative and contemporary that would allow them to re-engage. Stridently espousing simplicities and superficialities, sadly, only manages to turn them off even more.”

    This is quite an interesting statement that is very hard to unpack. I’m not sure if RYK means to say that he seeks to speak the language of contemporary audiences, to address the topics that interest them, to highlight aspects of the Torah that are most relevant to them. If this were the case, he would merely be following in the footsteps of R. SR. Hirsch, R. Soloveichik, or perhaps 1970s-era R. Shlomo Riskin.

    Of course, these latter were sometimes accused of presenting “old wine in new bottles”, and I think that RYK wants to avoid doing that. Perhaps RYK could specifically address whether he views the aforementioned as intellectual forbears, or as representatives of “platitudinal Judaism”.

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    “A wrong and impulsive response will placate the few but turn away the many”

    I  see the point of this (think: the Science and Torah controversy).  However,  compare R. Lopitan’s “openness”(“we want our students to struggle openly throughout their lives as they integrate the mesoret into their own hearts and souls…Rav Zev is a big enough talmid chacham to defend his Orthodoxy from all his critics. We support his honesty and speaking his mind, but he speaks for himself, not YCT) to the validation of struggle in the “RCA Statement on Torah Min HaShamayim”( “While we recognize and respect the theological struggles that are a feature of many a modern person’s inner religious life, the position in question is unequivocally contrary to the faith requirements of historic Judaism”). Neither statement was polemical, but the RCA’s was closer to the clarity YCT itself had regarding a mixed-denominational beis din by a student in 2008 (” This violates the standards and principles of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and YCT categorically rejects this action”).

    Other issues that I think it  would help to have a  follow up, whether here or in a lengthier article,  is a response to R. Aharon Feldman’s interview in  Hamodia  where he discusses R. Katz’s comments on Sotah and on the possibility of belief being “a-factual” (see “Rav Aharon Feldman on Open Orthodoxy”, Cross Currents, 11/17/15, and “Note to the Perplexed: Try Theology, Not Halakha”, Times of Israel, 9/9/15 ).

  8. Dov says:

    I have to add in general a few points. Firstly, R’ Katz I do respect the fact you are on here talking to a moderately hostile crowd (although I think the commentators on here are usually here to defend OO , the readers are decidedly not in your camp).
    1. There are privacy settings on Facebook , yet you write purposely for the public to see . You want to teach . It is therefore appropriate for Rabbi G to defend his view of Orthodoxy . According to those that think you are dangerous it would be the right thing to do to make a machah on what you write. Playing the victim works for the general masses of weak liberal Jews that typically are drawn to your wall , but I don’t think deep down you even buy the words you just wrote.
    2. We don’t ascribe to the modern morality of ‘as long as I am not hurting anyone you don’t say anything’. Firstly that’s false because Kol Yisroel arievim and the mitzvah of tocachah. If you argue that it’s ineffective that’s fine. You often speak out against breaches of social justice (Ari Hart , Rabbi Weiss , Rav Shmuley have all spoken out against other Jews in public papers). I find it a bit silly to say now when we see people distorting tradition we have a ‘let’s sit back and gently bring them back’ approach . As I say for the third time , just last year one of your semichach student married a girl in JTS , so are you really saying we are trying to figure out or this issue isn’t such a big deal?
    3. I think your premise is off in the first place. Jews leave because a lack of strong leadership . I don’t think watering down Judaism to fit into a PR acceptable rainbows and unicorns world is what is needed to truly engage and keep people. I think building confident , caring , sensitive Rabbonim that educate parents and kids alike is what is needed. To me this is YCT greatest flaw and strength . You make (or attract )caring sensitive students , but don’t train them in Yahadus well. It seems semicha is a degree by you guys. It’s sad Semicha should be a stamp of approval on them being being fit to actually carry on a mesorah and not just someone who is PR ready .

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