Weekly Digest – News and Essays In and Out of Orthodoxy – UPDATED

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

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49 Responses

  1. YbhM says:

    The Daniel B. Schwartz article makes an interesting assertion:

    In response to each and every Open Orthodox attempt to deal with those questions, issues like how to create Halachikly permitted ritual opportunities for ever eager and educated women, or how to render a seemingly ultra-conservative Orthodoxy relevant and meaningful to an increasingly liberal youth, or how to address the challenges to faith posed by critical Bible scholarship (which is ever more and more easy to access online), Gordimer’s reply is always to simply denigrate the motivations of those questioners, to brand them religious miscreants and to predict schism as a result of their alleged turn to heterodoxy.

    This paragraph is an illustration of how OO boosters cannot manage to avoid using language that assumes the correctness of the changes that they want to implement.

    Various elements of traditional orthodoxy might have different ideas about roles for women, and offer responses to claims of feminism – but these are ignored because they do not “create Halachikly permitted ritual opportunities” for “ever eager and educated women”.

    There is a traditional Orthodox youth culture ie. Bnei Akiva, NCSY etc. These may be way too nerdy, but Schwartz ignors them because they aren’t liberal enough ie. don’t appeal to “increasingly liberal youth”.

    And there is a lot of Orthodox scholarship that is aware of the heretical claims made by people who study Tanach in universities, but for Schwartz these are apparently not relevant because they aren’t consistent with what it says in Wikipedia.

    Increasingly it seems to me that OO is about creating a kind of nonjudgmental eclectic mix in which the basic notions come from shallow contemporary PC sensibilities, but appreciates communal and “spiritual” aspects of traditional Orthodoxy.

    • Daniel Schwartz says:

      Well, at the outset, my son goes to an NCSY shiur/kaffe klatsch called Lattes & Learning every week.  The regional director of New York NCSY is a very close and dear friend of mine; someone who I learn with on occasion, but also someone from whom I learn every time we meet (which is fairly often as we sit together in schul Shabbat mornings)  He loves it and I love that he loves it.  But I think you misunderstood part of my point.  I don’t intend to disregard the impressive body of literature created by certain quadrants of Orthodoxy in response to these issues.  Halevai more people accessed it.  I’m focused on the popular press, where too many people form their opinions.  And it’s there that R. Gordimer (btw he and I sat next to one another during night seder in YU’s Beit Midrash, about twenty five years ago), does real damage to Modern Orthodoxy, as I described.  Indeed sometimes, oftentimes “no” is the answer.  But it’s a foolish denial to ignore the reality that the current incarnations of tradition and the past responses to innovation are fast becoming meaningless to a growing Orthodox born and raised population.  Simply saying “no” but failing to pack that “no” with religiously satisfying meaning, is unacceptable.  And old packaging of that “no” increasingly no longer resonates  with Modern Orthodox Jews.   To simply read such questioners/seekers out of Jewish tradition as was done in the past to people who pushed the envelope to uncomfortable limits, is religiously cruel.  Modern Orthodoxy’s right can and must do better.

      • joel rich says:

        so of course the question is who, and how,  change evolves.  imho oo has opted for a high risk high reward strategy of forcing issues rather than allowing a slower evolutionary change.  there’s a lot to discuss about the reasons for such an approach and how it comports with current trends towards individual autonomy and being a member of an eternal existential community (based on halacha,hashkafa,negotiation theory, social psychology….) but that’s a book for someone who is truly MO(of course as defined by me) to write.


      • Daniel Schwartz says:

        I’m not a big fan of change, certainly not of radical sudden change, even if Halachikly defensible.  But denial of that change has to be accompanied by a resonant and positively impacting religious message.  Mere appeals to tradition and authority no longer hold sway.  Or at least the way those appeals are made now doesn’t move anyone.

      • R.B. says:

        With all due respect, it is only Rabbi Gordimer, who self-identifies as MO, who is doing the work he is doing and doing a good job. I believe that he is accused of many things, among them being obsessed, because he is the MO web presence who is calling out or bringing attention to the excesses of OO. In fact, I disagree that he is doing any damage. Instead, he is providing a steadfast countervoice to OO, which successfully uses social media to push its message and the boundaries of halochoh. Contrary to your assertion, the responses provided by R’ Gordimer are not becoming meaningless. Instead, they are the “fly in the ointment” of OO’s positions on current social and gender issues of the day that may be acceptable of their PC and liberal credentials. Let’s face it – R’ Gordimer is the lighting rod for R’ Katz and other OO leaders because he is the voice leading the charge, pushing back against the OO movement to break red line after red line. The damage is because of OO, not the other way around. When you take PC views and package them as Orthodox Judaism, today you are going to sell a somewhat saleable product. R’ Gordimer wants to make sure people aren’t fooled by the packaging.

      • Daniel Schwartz says:

        The direction the population takes with their feet will determine just who’s message resonates more.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Avraham Avinu stood alone until he made some headway in his activities.  We should not shy away from that even if, in the meantime, many people are misled out of orthodoxy and into something else.  Rav SR Hirsch ZT”L showed us how to buck trends.

      • Sass says:

        And therein lies the problem. The entire movement has attempted to redefine halachic truth to align with “whose message resonates more.”


      • Dov says:

        You are making a fundamental mistake Mr. Schwartz . I was B”H afforded the ability to be involved in campus Kiruv for a profession. There have been many times it would be easier to re-invent and create a false reality and let the student walk away shaking their head in approval. Ultimately representing truth is important, it allows people to challenge their beliefs and grow as an Eved Hashem. The fact there are people that take the simpler route is of no consequence.

        The OO rabbi took many of our students (last year we had 3 that were encouraged to attend either pardes or conservative yeshiva, instead of our options) and sent them to Pardes or to learn in the city at Drisha . Our relationship was/is very strong with these people, but it is hard to really convey the value of a place that challenges popular societal norms . They chose the easier path. They have become stagnant in their growth and ultimately come back to us saying they regret not going to “X” yeshiva or seminary.  Your premise that OO message resonates more is wrong. Its easier to swallow , but it is unfulfilled and ultimately not successful . The striking parallel to Conservative is easy to make , but one would be a fool not to see it.

      • Tal Benschar says:

        Isn’t that what the ringleaders said on their way to worship the Golden Calf?

      • Daniel Schwartz says:

        Contrary to popular myth, Mr. Miller, RSR Hirsch’s Austritt was not a great success.  The overwhelming majority of German Orthodox Jews remained part of the Einheitsgemeinde and did not join the Austrittgemeinde.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I agree with RB 100%. The packaging of PC views by OO as compatible with and being consistent with mainstream Orthodox Judaism has been the constant theme of R Gordimer’s posts on OO. One need only read the linked articles in R Gordimer’s posts to see the evidence in the various posts that being both PC and emphasizing contemporary political, social and cultural trends at the expense of Halacha is what drives OO.

      • YbhM says:

         And old packaging of that “no” increasingly no longer resonates  with Modern Orthodox Jews.

        Your posts here seem to suggest that you feel it is the substance that isn’t resonating.

        If it were the packaging that isn’t resonating, then you would just have to make NCSY replace whatever they are doing these days with more contemporary cultural references etc.


      • Daniel Schwartz says:

        No.  I’ll try a different analogy.  Ta’amei hamitzvot, the articulated reasons for various mitzvot, either the reason itself or the way the reason is explained, often represent more the cultural and ethical mores of the time than they actually inform why G-d commanded anything.  And as such, they change over time.  The mitzvot do not change, but the packaging does.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Daniel Schwartz-Many of the classical sefarim on Taamei HaMitzvos differ in their hashkafic approaches, and their intended audiences. For instance, compare the view of the author of Sefer HaChinuch with that of Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim . Many of the other Monei HaMitzvos also have different hashkafic orientations.Yet, all agree on the binding nature of Mitzvos.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Regarding the comment by Daniel Schwartz January 13, 2016 at 2:19 pm:

        I wasn’t referring to Austritt but to Rav Hirsch’s general effort to re-establish Orthodoxy as a force in Germany after massive losses to Reform and assimilation and a general loss of fighting spirit.  Even today, many of his writings (translated) are very timely and powerful.



      • mycroft says:

        How much influence SRH had over German Orthodox Jewry is an interesting question. He has many descendants which of course makes a market for Gdolims works and keeping name alive.

        Rav Hirsch certainly wrote many works and is worth reading. His idea of even  our avos made mistakes is a crucial one as a counterweight to the overwhelming influence of RAKs position today that avos don’t sin in our terms.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        At the risk of speaking out of turn, my attending an NCSY regional and then a National convention gave me the emotional and intellectual fuel to begin exploring Orthodox Judaism when many of my pubic school peers were exploring decidedly more anti social activities and trends. That led me to realize that I needed the in depth intellectual tools of Jewish literacy that only YU’s JSS program presented and where many of my advisors attended as well, together with a college education

        B’H, your son loves “Lattes and Learning.” Even if his peers think that going to such a program is nerdish or worse, the fact that he loves the program is proof that the program attracts participants such as your son. Perhaps  you should discuss with the regional director and your son re his exploring the possibility and feasibility of his attending one of NCSY’s many summer programs, that might just help him explore the answers to the question of our time-“why be Jewish” and its corollary-“why be a Shomer Torah Umitzvos”.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Daniel Schwartz-another suggestion-Am Yisrael has survived for centuries despite the cultural and intellectual assaults of the regnant political intellectual, and cultural elites, including the popular press. Let me suggest one simple idea-there may be nothing more inspiring to a child than seeing his or her mother make time to either learn with a chavrusa or run to a shiur.  Such an effort sends a message from a parent to a child that Torah observance and study are key values in the family that are being transmitted, as opposed to merely being a family expense in the form of tuition and dues.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Daniel Schwartz wrote in relevant part:

        In response to each and every Open Orthodox attempt to deal with those questions, issues like how to create Halachikly permitted ritual opportunities for ever eager and educated women, or how to render a seemingly ultra-conservative Orthodoxy relevant and meaningful to an increasingly liberal youth, or how to address the challenges to faith posed by critical Bible scholarship (which is ever more and more easy to access online), Gordimer’s reply is always to simply denigrate the motivations of those questioners, to brand them religious miscreants and to predict schism as a result of their alleged turn to heterodoxy.”

        The best response is that one must encounter Torah , and especially TSBP, on its own terms as a profound discipline without imposing any sensibilities that you are bringing in from the outside. Apologetics are just that-and are ultimately doomed to fail

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If they can’t stand the heat…

    Are we now in the parallel universe of micro-aggressions where outside criticism can’t be allowed to disrupt the sensitive ecological balance of their minds?   Or are they like all liberal politicians who basically want to make their opposition shut up?


    • YbhM says:

      Are we now in the parallel universe of micro-aggressions where outside criticism can’t be allowed to disrupt the sensitive ecological balance of their minds? 

      R. Gordimer is invading their Facebook “safe space”.

  3. Disgusted says:

    Ysoscher Katz’s attack of Rabbi Gordimer is absolutely nauseating. I didn’t know that articles posted publicly constitute “people’s virtual homes.” Narishkeit of the highest degree. The guy should be ashamed of himself for stooping so low.

    Although Rabbi Gordimer has what to be proud of – he is clearly doing an excellent job exposing the moral and halachic bankruptcy of OO if Katz is resorting to this tripe.

  4. lacosta says:

    r gordimer is becoming the professor berger [ anti-meshichistim ] of MO  , if he is to be still classified in that category, and i don’t know if he is.

    from looking at the websites of the YCT’s and the institutions its OO followers are leading  [like theNJ shul with the ladyO rabbi ] , it’s not clear that any impact is being made, and maybe none will be made—-especially if these are all non-OU institutions.  the facts on the ground may make all the protests neccessary but futile….

  5. Daniel Schwartz says:

    @Sass, When has that ever not been the case?  It’s a delusion to believe that Judaism, including Orthodox Judaism, has ever been an entirely trickle down enterprise.  Witness, as but one small example, R. Moshe Feinstein, z”l.  When asked by a New York Times reporter how he became THE gadol hador, he replied something to the effect of “Someone wrote me a question and I replied.  He must have liked what I wrote and told people.  The questions keep coming.”

    • Sass says:

      The difference is obvious: Rav Moshe did not issue his psakim looking to align with “what resonates with people.”

      • Daniel Schwartz says:

        But he was acclaimed because he p’sakim did so resonate.

      • mycroft says:

        Not a personal question about Rav Moshe but a general one most of us have never met Rav Moshe so on what basis do people  make comments on what basis he paskened or anything else other than his record.

  6. Larry says:

    I am reminded of Rambam’s commentary on Rabbi Elazar’s teaching in Pirkei Avot, know how to answer an apikores.  Clearly, Rambam was prescient.

    Improving the Yirat Shamayim and Torah learning in MO schools is the best way to deal with OO.  The standards have become very lax.  Biblical criticism has replaced gemara leining at some MO high schools.  The educators who no longer believe in the product should be replaced.

    • dr. bill says:

      Larry, pray tell, can you identify those MO high schools where you claim “Biblical criticism has replaced gemara leining…”  BTW are the tunes by which some yeshivot “lein” gemara also an important part of your mesoreh?  Does Daat Mikre qualify as bible criticism, because there are excellent MO schools where it is used. 

      • Larry says:

        I am not going to identify schools on a blog.   Certain MO schools believe that proper preparation for college requires exposure to biblical criticism.  These same schools feel that learning how to read gemara is too technical and turns off students from learning.  They prefer to teach Talmudical concepts and analysis and leave the text based skills for the gap year in Israel.

        Mikraot Gedolot and the more recent Daat Sofrim are the texts I prefer.  The atlas Daat Mikre is very helpful to those who are not familiar with the land.  I think using Daat Mikre within the context of rishonim and achronim makes sense in some schools.  Using Daat Mikre instead of Mikraot Gedolot would not be biblical criticism, but a departure from the mesoreh (hopefully, the mesoreh still includes Nach).

        I do not think a school that eschews primary texts could ever be excellent.  An excellent education rquires showing students that the best way to learn is with primary texts and with rishonim.  I would not use Artscroll or Steinzaltz when teaching Talmud.  I would use Chovat HaLevavot, Kurzari, Shemonah Prakim and Mesillat Yesharim ahead of any contempory mussar book.  I believe that learning rishonim is a segulah which has a powerfully positive impacts on the souls of young people.  I believe the rishonim had a level of ruach hakodesh.

        It is not “my mesoreh” it is our mesoreh.  I do not care what tune people use, so long as they treat the mesoreh respectfully.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    R Gordimer should be applauded for his willingness to set forth what, how and why OO has deviated from Halacha, and for refusing to be intimidated by R Katz’s claims that such criticism is improper.

    • dr. bill says:

      you left out where; is that intentional or Freudian?

      • Steve Brizel says:

        R Katz is engaging in avoiding discussion of the issues by claiming that any and all criticism of his POV invades his so-called “space”. Such  claims are  nothing more than avoidance of discussion of the issues-both by R Katz and by others who inhabit LW cultural and political views.

  8. mycroft says:

    Daniel Schwartz
    January 13, 2016 at 2:19 pm
    Contrary to popular myth, Mr. Miller, RSR Hirsch’s Austritt was not a great success.  The overwhelming majority of German Orthodox Jews remained part of the Einheitsgemeinde and did not join the Austrittgemeinde


    Agreed a classic story of how Austritt was far from universal in Germany. A new schul whose Rabbi was a member of Agudah was being dedicated. The senior Rabbi in town insisted on rank to give the opening greetings at the chanukat habayit. The senior Rabbi was a Reform Rabbi.

  9. joel rich says:

    I believe R’ Twersky’s shiur deserves its own post.  I’m reminded of some recent discussions on whether the Conservative movement should try to continue to be a big tent movement or refocus on being a specific “traditional” values driven movement.


    • mycroft says:

      I listened to it and kdarko it was very well presented. R Meir Twersky has presented a position. I hope it starts a serious discussion of the issues that he raised-it should at least have its own post.

  10. dr. bill says:

    Ideas that man can advise God or God gets angry or God speaks undoubtedly seems unbecoming of God as we perceive Him certainly in post
    Maimonidean times.   Yet in the language of the Torah and the Prophets, precisely these conceptions held sway.  To properly understand Biblical messages and how they speak to us today, it is helpful to understand the words as they might be read in those ancient times.  That is, at least to some, me included, a great deal more useful than an anachronistic retrogression that fascinate those who discover modern modes of expression and conception buried in ancient texts.  Reading Dr. Erin Lieb Smokler that way may be less jarring and perhaps even inspiring; at any rate it is mandated if one wants to judge charitably.

    • Larry says:

      Either she is an ignoramus who does not understand what she is saying or a heretic who denies the principles of our faith.  Either way, whatever Othodox religous educational system produced such a person should be shuttered.


      • Benjamin E. says:

        Did anyone here actually read her post?  Throw kivyachol into a couple of sentences if it helps; far from being “outrageous,” she summarizes a Rashi from the parsha and a gemara in Sanhedrin.  Every point she makes is just taken straight from the gemara:

        Moshe criticizes God for promising to save them and making things worse and is punished for this criticism (ועל דבר זה נענש משה רבינו), then God describes the way each of the avot were so much better and believed in God even when God seemingly did not fulfill His promise to them, and then God explains how even so, he is going to fulfill the promise he made to Moshe.

        What’s heretical?  Where she summarizes the emunah of the avot?  “Forget the big promise of vast land inheritance, for example. The tiny needs of the moment–to bury a loved one, drink some water, or pitch a tent–seemed impossible. Yet even still, they refrained from criticism or doubt. They remained steadfast in their trust in the promising God, even as He failed to fulfill.”

        Her description of God’s behavior there as that of “the God who promises but does not discernibly deliver,” which is basically a direct quote of Rashi (“לֹא נִכַּרְתִּי לָהֶם בְּמִדַת אֲמִתִּית שֶׁלִּי שֶׁעָלֶיהָ נִקְרָא שְׁמִי ה’, נֶאֱמָן לְאַמֵּת דְּבָרַי, שֶׁהֲרֵי הִבְטַחְתִּי וְלֹא קִיַּמְתִּי”)?

        Man, if you think this is outrageous…the things I could show you from places way further to the right than Yeshivat Maharat, relying on way less than this nicely framed basically direct summary of Rashi and the gemara!

      • Benjamin E. says:

        And if anyone actually read the piece she referenced from the week before, it’s another instance of “Moshe teaching God” being literally exactly what the gemara and Rashi say.  They describe God’s explanation for Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh as meaning “אני הייתי עמכם בשעבוד זה ואני אהיה עמכם בשעבוד מלכיות” – “I was with you in this servitude, and I shall be with you in the servitude of the [other] kingdoms.”

        Moshe’s response is, “רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, מָה אֲנִי מַזְכִּיר לָהֶם צָרָה אַחֶרֶת, דַּיָּם בְּצָרָה זוֹ” – “O Lord of the universe! Why should I mention to them another trouble? They have enough [problems] with this one.”

        And God’s response, as Rashi and the gemara (heretically?) describe, is “יָפֶה אָמַרְתָּ” – “Well said” (-Rashi) – “לך אמור להם אהיה שלחני אליכם” – “Go tell them ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.'” (-gemara)

        God said one thing, Moshe explained why that wouldn’t be a good idea, and God responded that Moshe made a good point and changed his response – explicit in Rashi and the gemara. Is her comment about Moshe being “willing to teach God about who God needs to be for the Jewish people” seriously heretical and outrageous given that?

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Throughout the Torah, HaShem tells Moshe Rabbeinu, to speak to the Jewish People and to explain the content of the Torah as revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu by HaShem , which as Ramban points out is the meaning of “Emor” and “Dibarta Lahem” in any such verse. The encounter at the burning bush was to persuade Moshe Rabbeinu, who had fled from Egypt, and seemingly written off the future of the Jewish People, that HaShem had chosen Moshe as the Divine Messenger of the four elements of liberation, and that HaShem was going to fulfil His Promise to Avraham Avinu made at the Bris Bein HaBesarim that HaShem was now ready to redeem His People in a process that would begin with the Makkos, proceed with the splitting of the Yam Suf and culminate with Hashraas HaShecinah via  Matan Torah and the building of the Mishkan. The quoted article  dispenses with this view which is rooted in Chazal and the classical Mfarshim,  by assuming somehow that mortal man can teach immortal God something in the realm of how to live a moral and committed life.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        The quoted article…assumes somehow that mortal man can teach immortal God something in the realm of how to live a moral and committed life.

        Is your problem with the suggestion that God had been promising and not delivering for a long time and only now changed that?  Because that’s the explicit gemara.

        Is your problem with the suggestion that Moshe challenged God’s plan and God accepted Moshe’s challenge and changed His statement to Moshe?  That’s explicit gemara and Rashi, quoted above – “יפה אמרת” says God.

        The Torah has multiple explicit instances of God interacting with people and “changing His mind” about His plans as a result.  Avraham and the people of Sdom, Moshe after the egel ha-zahav, even Noach when he brings a korban.  The Torah literally says “וַיִּנָּחֶם ה’ עַל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לְעַמּוֹ”.  Did any of these literally “change the mind” of the immortal, eternal God?

        I think most people understand all of these discussions and explanations as changing God’s mind kivyachol and as the Torah speaking בלשון בני אדם.  God “changed His mind” as much as God “stretched out His arm”.  The Pachad Yitzchak writes things about God that are much more egregious than this, but he clearly says them kivyachol, and we understand what he’s saying.

        In short, while you could read all of these uncharitably, I suspect that the fact that it’s got the name “Yeshivat Maharat” stamped on it is causing people to assume the worst of all possible interpretations and not allow for the standard assumptions we give people writing about Torah, especially in the realm of writing a d’var Torah (as opposed to issuing psak or writing an extensive philosophical piece).

        Give her the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps there’s something worth learning in that gemara and those Rashis.  And if you don’t think so, take it up with Rava, Abayei, and Rashi.

      • dr. bill says:

        How charitable of you – perhaps both?  BTW which principle of (y)our faith might she deny?

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Take a look at the standard Nusach of Rambam’s Ikarei Emunah 2, 3, 10, 11 and 12 for starts.

      • dr. bill says:

        what don’t you figure out which are violated by anything approximating pshat in Tanach and talmudic literature.  it might keep you busy for a few decades.

        what she is doing is deriving lessons, as chazal often did, from more ancient beliefs systems than the belief system that Rambam formulated.  if you find such an approach jarring, stay away from a good deal of drash and rabbinic homelitics.

      • Larry says:


        It is pointless to argue with someone who won the Talmud Prize at YU for his creative use of parenthesis.  But Dr. Bill is correct when he posits that the Maharat could be both ignorant and a heretic.

        You may also want to add Part 1, Chapter 36 of the Moreh to your list.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I have never viewed the Moreh as the basis of either Pshat and Parshanut. I would reccomend that any serious student of Chumash begin with and have a serious seder in the classical Mfarshim

      • Larry says:


        I agree.  Please see Ramban Breisheit 18:1 Shemot 30:13 and introduction to VaYikra to realize the importance of the Moreh in learning Chumash.  There are probably many more sources, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

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