Saying It Loudly and Frequently Does Not Make It True: The Tablet Article on PORAT

Apparently, it is believed that an aggressive PR blitz which broadcasts pretty much the same information over and over again is the most effective way to convince people that something is good and true. That’s how many readers have described the near-daily promotional articles by the leadership of PORAT, the nascent Progressive Orthodox/Open Orthodox organization.

The latest PORAT article (the fifth PORAT article in about a week), featured in Tablet Magazine and authored by R. Avi Weiss and Rella Feldman, rehashes the appeal for a more open, pluralistic and progressive Orthodoxy, yet places special emphasis on the alleged exclusionary policies of mainstream Modern Orthodoxy over the years. Whereas the recent PORAT article by R. Yitz Greenberg focused on the increased Torah observance expectations of Modern Orthodoxy during the last half century, including R. Greenberg’s lament that the OU now requires all member synagogues to have a mechitza and that the Young Israel movement no longer sponsors mixed dances, this new PORAT missive focuses on Orthodoxy’s allegedly unfair rejection of Progressive Orthodox/Open Orthodox representation, “moving to the right” to create an exclusionary group. Hence:

This past year a growing number of Orthodox rabbis have been declared personae non gratae by institutions and organizations that have been identified with the more centrist streams of Orthodoxy. Some of these instances did not occur in the public eye, and I (Avi) have witnessed them myself: A world-renowned rabbinic figure was invited and then disinvited from serving as a Shabbat scholar-in-residence in a centrist Orthodox synagogue; a rabbi with ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was denied membership in the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) because he supported the values of an institution not to their liking. I have also been personally affected: after writing weekly divrei Torah for a widely read Jewish newspaper for many, many years, I was recently was informed that my column would be discontinued because of my association with a more open Orthodoxy…

Indeed, these most recent censures come from more centrist groups. While deeply distressing, this phenomenon of criticism of Modern Orthodoxy from the center, is really the continuation of a trend that has been going on for many years. Consider: many of these institutions prefer the label Centrist Orthodoxy or simply Orthodoxy over Modern Orthodoxy, reflecting a rejection of a true engagement with modernity and its challenges in favor of situating itself merely as a non-extreme-right version of Orthodoxy. Lacking the verve of animating values, it is not surprising that this approach would wind up focusing on drawing lines and establishing borders, with identity politics replacing true religious engagement and constructive responses to communal challenges.

In the past 25 years, the Modern Orthodox community has shifted precipitously to the right. In response, rabbinical schools have been created to graduate men and women as spiritual leaders—Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat; a new Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, has been formed; a Jewish court, the International Beit Din has been established to deal with the plight of agunot; the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance has come into being; a think tank, The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, has come on the scene…

What’s missing is a broad, lay organization that subscribes to this more inclusive Modern Orthodoxy. In response, a new national organization called PORAT (literally, “fruitful,” from the acronym People for Orthodox Renaissance And Torah), has been formed. Its founding committee includes leaders from within the Modern Orthodox community, including this article’s authors. But the most central members are lay Modern Orthodox adults of all ages. PORAT is a grassroots organization.

The goal of PORAT is clear: to demonstrate that a critical mass (we believe it is in the tens of thousands) of Orthodox Jews identify with the values of an inclusive Modern Orthodoxy. It will make this point by organizing events around the country, and using the web to encourage individuals to sign on as supporters of PORAT’s values. Unlike the Orthodox Union, which is primarily a federation of synagogues, PORAT is exclusively a “union” of thousands of individuals.

PORAT will focus on providing a platform for civil discourse on the pressing matters challenging our community. People will be encouraged to come forward to join the conversation—without fear of being ostracized or locked out.

What the authors of this essay fail to mention is that it is precisely the reforms of Progressive Orthodoxy/Open Orthodoxy that were responsible for the movement’s exclusion from mainstream Modern Orthodoxy, and that those same reforms earned the clergy of Progressive Orthodoxy/Open Orthodoxy a blanket stamp of non-recognition from Traditional Orthodoxy. Ordaining women, calling for modification of conversion standards and protocol, feminizing beis ha-k’nesses (synagogue) practices, tolerating and even inviting in views that reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah, and engaging in interfaith discourse that was banned by Rav Soloveitchik, thereby breaching uniform policy (please also see here), are among the ways that Progressive Orthodoxy/Open Orthodoxy has departed from normative Orthodoxy.

It is PORAT that has excluded itself from Orthodoxy, not the reverse.

PORAT contends that it is being unfairly rejected, but the clear facts on the ground are that PORAT has rejected communal norms and key definers of Orthodoxy. One cannot reject core principles and then demand a seat at the organs which abide with fidelity and sincerity to those same core principles.

Aside from PORAT’s leadership omitting from its missives the glaringly critical fact that it is Progressive Orthodoxy’s/Open Orthodoxy’s own actions which have caused it be disenfranchised from mainstream Orthodoxy, PORAT’s litany of attacks against the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy have not helped either. Half a dozen of PORAT’s recent articles have attacked YU, the RCA, the OU, the Young Israel movement, the Rabbanut (Israeli Chief Rabbinate), Israeli hesder yeshivos, and the entire Charedi world, including even Artscroll. One prominent PORAT leader has denied in writing the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah, another senior PORAT leader has articulated ideas that are blatantly non-Orthodox (e.g. this leader wrote that the Covenant of Sinai is no longer binding after the Holocaust), and many PORAT leaders are at the extreme fringe of Orthodoxy. (Please see here and here.) And no PORAT leader has said anything positive about the increased Talmud Torah (Torah study) and mitzvah observance that have been embraced by Modern Orthodox communities over the past decades, in which many people who had previously never really learned Torah became active in shiurim and in independent learning, and individuals who were not as careful in mitzvah observance expressed greater interest and seriousness about their observance.

Orthodoxy must be welcoming, dynamic, warm, inclusive, loving and inspiring. But this cannot be done by forsaking principles. It can be done by appreciating and encouraging fidelity to authentic Judaism and by doing our best to bring others near to it.


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29 Responses

  1. larry says:

    “A true engagement with modernity.”  Porat is neither engaged nor married to modernity.  It is shacked up and living in sin with many of the shallow concepts put forth by secular modernity.

    It is counter productive for Judaism to embrace secular modernity.  Our mandate is to look back to our past. Yeshayahu 51,1.

    • dr. bill says:

      I guess chacham einov be’rosho and aizeh hu chacham haroeh es hanolad mean????  And btw pshat in chapter 51 is meant to console/encourage bnai yisroel based on how far they have come.  We look to our past to live in the present; our history is replete with examples of integrating changes in society.

      • larry says:

        The purpose of Judaism is to sanctify HaShem.  Am zu yatsarti li tehelati yesaperu.  Understanding the ways of the Avot is all we need to accomplish this task.

        roeh et hanolad has nothing to do with conflating twisted liberal values with modernity.

        You say give porat a chance to sin before condemning it. But you also say the wise man knows what is coming. You can’t have it both ways. Rabbi Gordimer is sufficiently wise to condemn PORAT before it sins further.

      • Avi says:

        The vast majority of Charedim whitewash every negative recorded in TaNaCH, with respect to the Avot and other heroes (David, Moshe, etc.).  It is completely contradictory to claim that all one needs is to understand the ways of the Avot, while simultaneously ignoring many of the major events recorded about the same.

      • larry says:

        God fearing Jews look up to the Avot. There is a modern Othodox poison of viewing the Avot in a negative light to make them more relatable.  Chareidim do not whitewash, they approach with sanctity and humility all qualities lacking in the Govah Haeinayim approach.

        Ultimately groups like PORAT are all about lowering the standards by denigrating the standard bearers.

      • dr. bill says:

        PLEEESE, I can have it both ways.  i know that X will eventually do something awful.  Can I punish him now? Read charitably and assume that others may be logically consistent.

      • larry says:

        PORAT members have already act in ways inconsistent with  Orthodox Judaism.  They are fracturing Orthodoxy and blaming others for the fracture.  When a Rabbi ordains women, abandons the RCA, criticizes Orthodox Jews in every media outlet available to him and holds in contempt anyone who disagrees withi him, I wonder what kind of unity he envisions.

      • dr. bill says:

        it is best to differentiate members from organizations; conflating them results in the ability to increase the praise or disdain that each might deserve, needlessly.

  2. dr. bill says:

    Ikkar hoser min hasefer.  As I have repeatedly noted, in Israel modern orthodoxy is flourishing.  It stands to reason that a leading Israeli Rabbi and the new Rabbi of KJ are the rabbinic leaders on stage at the PORAT kickoff.  While you highlight Rabbi Yitz Greenburg as a founder, you omit mentioning Rabbi Yehuda Sarna.  Or perhaps you are ready to proceed to the next logical step and try to expel some other Rabbis from the RCA.
    In terms of Bible authorship, Dr. Bayme was careful to mention (only or at least mainly) items similar or identical to what has been suggested by rishonim, achronim and modern day accepted Bible scholars.  Read Dr. Schapiro’s now classic work on Rambam’s ikkarim and Dr. Berman’s article on the Exodus, etc. and listen to a now famous lecture by a YU RY.  Unlike Dr. Bayme, I have no expertise that would let me suggest what the most effective method is for when and how to introduce the next generation to modern scholarship of any of our canonical texts.  But to simply maintain an emunah peshutah and hope it will all just miraculously disappear is, as the Rabbis cautioned, one miracle on which we should not depend.

    • mycroft says:

      “As I have repeatedly noted, in Israel modern orthodoxy is flourishing.  It stands to reason that a leading Israeli Rabbi”

      Rabbi Lau is a leading Rabbi-among other things the major person behind 929 is the number of chapters in Tanach-they study a chapter a day-lots of explanations on the site. His lectures Shabbos afternoon are  packed-Nach in winter ,summer Talmud personalities.

      He has been pushing womens issues lately-currently Ramban Synagogue-his schul is looking for a female employee to help him.

      • dr. bill says:

        We agree.  His peirush on Yirmiyahu and series on the Sages, are examples of the best that academic scholarship has to offer to the serious student of canonical texts.  since my junior year in high school, i was always overwhelmed by the Malbim’s  brilliant (and original IIRC) explanation of the haftorah of Tisha B’av morning; Rabbi Lau’s dating that prophesy to Yirmiyahu’s earliest period adds additional meaning and insight.  (I guess by continuing the study of Tanach in Torah Vodaath, you could have predicted an apikores in the making.)

        But alas, Rabbi Lau has been subject to attack on this website; sad indeed.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Not attack-just criticism. I didn’t know that the freedom to write and publish entailed and guaranteed any author a freedom from criticism. I found R Lau’s series on Avos very  interesting but IMO in some instances lacking the proper respect for the Tanaim, especially his views on the role of R Akiva with regard to the Bar Kochba uprising. One need not work from the extremes of Daas Torah or viewing oneself as equal to the Tanaim and Amoraim when one writes a commentary on Avos-as can be evidenced from the many excellent and classical sefarim on Avos.

      • dr. bill says:

        First, get your facts straight.  Rabbi Lau was attacked over his appearance/remarks at a (gay-pride) gathering after the murder of a teenage girl during a gay pride parade.  (Another attack on a recent statement on homosexuality by Beit Hillel, an organization that includes a number of Ramim at Gush including what many consider RAL ztl’s greatest student, continued this approach.) Second, i (and many others) have had the opportunity to offer explanations of some difficult midrashim relating to Rebbi Akiva, based on the historical context rarely integrated in so-called traditional circles.  Third, pray tell which “excellent and classical sefarim on Avos” (i assume tannaim and amoraim) are you suggesting?

    • tzippi says:

      And is Israeli modern Orthodoxy flourishing without mechitzos and with mixed dancing? How would you compare and contrast Israeli and chu”l MO? No attack here, I really want to know.

      • dr. bill says:

        Tzippi, look at the membership of beit hillel, the rabbis of tzohar, the leading talmidai chachachim of the RZ movement, the very large, flourishing academic talmud and bible community, even the right leaning conservative movement, etc. etc.  Compare that to the relatively small number of leading MO figures in the US.

      • tzippi says:

        That was my impression. R. Greenberg is mourning American MO.

  3. Noam Stadlan says:

    “Saying It Loudly and Frequently Does Not Make It True”-  For an excellent example of this idea,  see all the articles(every week and more) by Rabbi Gordimer et al. What they lack in truth they make up in nastiness, distortions, and false assumptions.

    • joe36ct says:

      Thanks-was wondering when someone would point out that the pot is calling the kettle black.

      While I don’t think Rabbi Gordimer could do much to convince me that he’s right, if he stopped the ridiculous “I didn’t want to write this article, but I just had to” trope then at least I’d gain some respect for him (which I’m sure he doesn’t care for.)  Shtika k’hoda’ah?  Maybe. But nobody asked you.  Leave it alone-when we see his name attached to an article 9 times out of 10 we know it will be criticizing Open Orthodoxy (and the 10th time it has nothing to do with Open Orthodoxy), so how about he stops wasting his (and our) time, we’ll assume that he’s opposed to Open Orthodoxy doing anything, and he can focus more on making sure our cheese is kosher?

    • R.B. says:

      What has he written that lacks truth? One thing R’ Gordimer is quote them, letting OO leaders and rabbis hoist themselves on their own petards.

    • Shmuel W says:

      Noam, being the yemei hasefirah and with the fate of talmidei r’akivah in mind I will not respond with my first draft reply. In that same spirit if you read your comment here and many of your other comments on these and other topics, you might see why some ppl, perhaps, see the very things you accuse R’ Gordimer of in your own commentary. But please keep on reading cross currents. gut Shabbos.

      • dr. bill says:

         In the spirit of my comments below, chazal emphasize the reason for talmidei Rebbi Akiva’s death:  They did not give appropriate kavod to each other.  Both the number of talmidim and the fact that all had a similar area of ethical weakness is difficult to interpret literally.  (Even Mir Yerushalayim has a far way to go.)  Talmudic literature is almost silent on the bar Kochav rebellion; this statement is perhaps one of a small number of exceptions.  My sense is that talmidim are not students but rather followers who the Romans slaughtered.  Chazal who gave a similar reason for the churban were telling us that the reason had still not been sufficiently addressed.  Just a thought.

    • Reb Yid says:

      Yasher koach–you beat me to the punch.

      One wonders why the author of this post continues on these harangues at least once a week.  By now, the responses are all too predictable–the same individuals who laud him uncritically, while many others point out the distortions, et al.

      The bottom line is that no-one’s minds (or hearts) are being changed by this–if anything, it acts to polarize everyone.


      • R.B. says:

        Will you say about the weekly and daily harangues about the Chareidi world that appear in various websites and blogs?

      • Reb Yid says:

        If you mean various media outlets reporting that:
        Chareidi educational institutions are stealing from the government under false pretenses;
        Chareidi institutions are not providing a minimal level of secular education as they are mandated to;
        various kids of abuses occurring to minors in these and under Chareidi institutions….

        Those are hardly “harangues”.

        Those are very objectively serious violations of both general and Jewish law that are doing serious harm to both individual victims and a tremendous chillul hashem to the broader community.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Bill-My mistake-R Lau’s book was indeed his book on the Sages. My view of the same was I previously described. Just curious-which member of Beit Hillel was RAL’s “greatest student”? I don’t see either R M Rosensweig or R Y Rimon listed as a “member” on the web site.

    Re Ymei sefirah-I thought your idea was intriguing-but the idea expressed in many Midrashim that the R Akiva’s talmidim refused to share their Torah with each other always has appealed to me.

    R Gordimer deserves another Yasher Koach for showing that PORAT is just another quantitatively voluminous OO  PR front that deserves to be critiqued solely for describing its open lack of respect for rabbinical authority and trumpeting opennness and plurality at the expense of halachic and hashkafic norms, and which cries persecution when it is criticized as for the same.

    • dr. bill says:

      I said “many consider” not is or was; check the list, it is obvious.

      You know a ben sorer u’moreh, who was killed based on his predicted future, according to most/all save one isolated opinion, never happened.  Give PORAT the chance to sin before condemning it.

  5. Avi says:

    Any time I see the phrase “authentic Judaism”, I know the author knows nothing of history.  Every other word in the article is wasted, because the author is willfully blind.

  6. Steve Brizel says: Gary Rosenblatt’s equation of BDS and the issues raised by PORAT should be rejected by any reasonable reader. It is apparent that those quoted at PORAT have never utilized or encouraged the use of the RCA PNA and have never even thought about having a function for the signing of PNAs for already married couples or are aware of the work of ORA. Blu Greenberg’s  comments about Agunot were as follows:

    “But Blu Greenberg, a central figure in Orthodox Jewish feminism, cautioned that “we’re not there yet” as a community. She said leadership of the Modern Orthodox community has “abdicated responsibility to the gedolim” [rabbinic authorities in the charedi world] on issues including conversion, higher education, pluralism, and interacting with non-Jews. Focusing on the issue of agunah, in particular, she cited how little has been done to alleviate the problem of “chained women,” those who are unable to divorce and end loveless marriages.

    Such comments IMO display a complete lack of familiarity with the facts on the ground as to the use and effectiveness of the RCA PNA in the MO world, and the important work of ORA. .

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