Book Review – A Comprehensive Treatment of Open Orthodoxy

Rabbi David Rosenthal has done that which few others can do when dealing with a lightning rod issue. Whereas most naturally engage in polemics from the bottom up, reacting critically or harshly defending (albeit very often with sound logic and for good reason) the novel and controversial upon the emergence of attention-grabbing headlines about new developments or innovations, few are able to dispassionately address it all from the top down in a systematized fashion. Rabbi Rosenthal has clearly done this and starkly defied the norm.

Crafting a 277-page detailed, super-organized and painstakingly annotated treatise that examines the Open Orthodox movement from its inception, analyzing its history and axiology in the context of other movements within Orthodoxy and within Judaism in general, Rabbi Rosenthal presents his readership with something totally unique, chronicling the Open Orthodox movement over the span of 19 years since its founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss, penned his seminal Open Orthodoxy! A Modern Orthodox Rabbi’s Creed in 1997. Although Rabbi Rosenthal’s book is entitled Why Open Orthodoxy is Not Orthodox (Amazon link), such is the conclusion of the-depth study undertaken by Rabbi Rosenthal in these pages, and is not a mere dismissive cliché or an uneducated indignity.

The book begins with an objective religious-historical definition of Orthodoxy and a presentation of the development of the heterodox movements, and proceeds to address Open Orthodoxy vis a vis the broad framework of the various “streams” of Judaism and the potential character of Open Orthodoxy as a new movement within this context. Everything here and throughout the book is presented via copious quotes, writings, shiurim and citations from Open Orthodox leaders, scholars and general clergy, such that the message which emerges is in fact articulated by the sources themselves, almost like an autobiography of Open Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Rosenthal addresses major topics of note surrounding the Open Orthodox discourse, such as Torah authorship and the immutability of Halacha, women’s issues, homosexuality, and more, not only by invoking an overwhelming array of Open Orthodox primary sources on these issues, but by first systematically presenting the traditional Orthodox approach, with all fundamental and controlling mekoros, and then examining the Open Orthodox sources against these mekoros and the axioms of normative Orthodoxy which they support. Additionally, a rich historical sweep, culled from secular and non-Orthodox sources throughout the presentation, provides a very important contextual background for the various discussions in this book.

Although much attention has been given to Open Orthodox responsa on major issues, such as conversion, few have dissected these responsa and subjected their sources and methodology to halachic scrutiny, focusing instead on other (valid and important) considerations that relate to these responsa. Rabbi Rosenthal addresses several major Open Orthodox responsa and examines their internal, objective soundness – something that is very much needed in order to appreciate Open Orthodox learning and halachic positions.

Although scholarly and very detailed, Why Open Orthodoxy is Not Orthodox is written in a lively fashion, and its presentation is extremely captivating. There is nothing dry or boring about it. Moreover, since the book is constructed as a logical flow of ideas emanating from the hundreds of documented sources that it contains, the reader feels as if he is coming along on a ride down a well-charted path, able to always go back, trace the steps, and examine them all for himself.

Why Open Orthodoxy is Not Orthodox is one of the most important books ever penned about contemporary Jewish movements. It is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the crossroads at which the broader Orthodox community now stands and the major relevant challenges. The religious and historical significance of Why Open Orthodoxy is Not Orthodox make it one of the most unique Jewish books one will ever encounter.

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19 Responses

  1. R.B. says:

    I have to say but that cover is one of the most hilarious book covers I have ever seen. 🙂 Genius!

  2. Larry Rosen says:

    Thanks for sharing.  This is so important as so many well-meaning “orthodox” Jews don’t understand the problem with this movement and all the historical and halachic data.


  3. dr. bill says:

    if someone has the time, it would be interesting to compare the view with the much briefer view on some related issues expressed in the Beit Hillel platform.  Given Ner Israel’s orientation, particularly of its current RY and rabbeim, some points of difference are likely.  you can find the platform at:

  4. Daniel Schwartz says:

    *YAWN*  This review is “Dog Bites Man.”

  5. mb says:

    A recent negative comment about Rabbi Rapoport(and the reluctance of Cross-Currents to remove the comment) because he speaks at YCT on occasion etc., reminds me that it is better to speak TO those with whom you disagree than ABOUT them.

    • YbhM says:

      >it is better to speak TO those with whom you disagree than ABOUT them

      Yes.  But OO seems to have no interest in speaking in its defense.  The quintissential OO answer to questions and criticisms is (as someone said below): “Yawn”.

      This is a sharp contrast to the long-ago schisms with Reform or Conservative movements, or more recent controversies like Torah U’Madda or even the Meshichistim.  There was little ambiguity about what these groups stood for, or on what basis they saw their approaches as the correct ones.


      • mb says:


        So instead carry on talking to oneself and fellow travelers? About somebody else?

      • YbhM says:

        mb, if you actually believed in dialogue, then it would have been constructive for you to offer a substantive response to my point.

      • mb says:


        You mean, you didn’t like my response so criticized it.


      • YbhM says:

        > You mean, you didn’t like my response so criticized it.

        > Interesting.

        mb, on the one hand you claim to be interested in talking to people who disagree with you. On the other hand you respond to these people (not just me) with rhetorical shoulder shrugs, demands that “disgusting” posts be taken down, and accusations of bad faith – suggesting that OO is more like a far-left Neturei Karta than a rational or moderate movement.

    • Lawrence M. Reisman says:

      It all depends on WHAT you’re saying TO them.  I remember an exchange I had with a “prominent” Orthodox rabbi about his speech at the second conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy.  He claimed he was speaking so that the women there would not “be abandoned to the guidance of mostly left wing rabbis who spearheaded the Orthodox feminist movement.”   My impression of the speech was that he was pandering to the prejudices of those same left-wing Orthodox rabbis and their followers.  He ended his speech with the hope that future conferences would be about “feminism in Orthodoxy” rather than “feminism in Orthodoxy.”

      What message did Rabbi Rapoport deliver when he spoke?

      • mb says:

        “What message did Rabbi Rapoport deliver when he spoke?”

        Why don’t you ask him? Or read his Seforim.

        Do you know he was in Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks “cabinet” on medical ethics.

        R.Sacks predecessor, CR.Lord Jakobovitz wrote the book on medical ethics, so R.Rapoport had big shoes to fill, and I suspect he had very little secular education. Not only did he go through the Chabad system, but also Gateshead, Mir and yes, even Jews’ College. If he was not top notch, the London Beth Din would not have a tolerated him.

        I’ll ask Cross-Currents once again, take down that disgusting post.

      • reader says:

        Rabbi Rapoport’s book on toeivah came out over twelve years ago, which is quite a while in today’s fast moving world. He was the darling of some MO and YCT for some time afterward (for some of them he still is a favorite). Since then, however, much has changed, both with YCT (they have become increasingly openly extreme), and re the toeivah movement (they have gained power, and made great gains in Western countries, ה’ ירחם).

        It would be interesting to hear if R. Rapoport’s positions have changed with regard to YCT since then (after more and more of the Orthodox world has come out openly strongly against them), and if he has any regrets re his liberal stance re YCT and the toeivah movement, after they have gone more and more extreme to the left, and it became clear that they are following the lead of extremist outside forces. Maybe R. Rapoport can speak out and let us know where he stands.

        After all, if you say he is a great scholar, it would be interesting to hear why he seemingly differs from all the great Rabbonim that have come out so strongly against YCT, and is so close to them.

      • dr. bill says:

        open orthodoxy or modern orthodoxy or post-modern orthodoxy, call it what you wish, is a great deal more than YCT.  Forget for a moment the many talmidei chachamim and scholars who are not members but are on both sides of Beit Hillel, to the left and to the right hashkafically, Beit Hillel members represent a formidable group whose membership includes many great rabbonim who do not need anyone’s imprimatur.

        i don’t think Rabbi Rappaport’s views are that dissimilar  from those of Beit Hillel.  and frankly, the views of many “great Rabbonim” on homosexulaity have done little for kevod shamayim.  besides using the term “toeivah movement” that you have latched onto is hardly a way to engage in anything but useless mud-slinging.

      • mb says:

        “After all, if you say he is a great scholar,”

        Exactly the problem, and I suspect Reader doesn’t have a clue why!

        C’mon everybody, let’s keep talking about people we don’t like instead of to them. Why waste our times with something possibly productive when we can indulge in this wonderful feel good about ourselves stuff. And of course, there can’t be any torah violations in what we do. Why? because we say so.

    • Lawrence M. Reisman says:

      that should have been “Feminism in Orthodoxy’ rather than “Feminism and Orthodoxy” which was the title of the conference.

  6. Yossi says:


    If only the conversation would be productive. It’s very hard to have a conversation with someone when you can’t agree on any ground rules. Torah is eternal and everything in it is true- then, no not really. you can’t promote people living an openly gay lifestyle- them, yes you can. not mesora to have women rabbis-them, yes you can.

    You need elite Torah scholars to make radical change-them- mope, Shmuli Yanklewitz is good enough.

    Talking about sex with a Rosh Yeshiva and two women on a public podcast is a violation of tznius- them-it’s fun? I mean, it’s ok.

    I see the community as a whole as having given them plenty of time to engage, not kicking them out of the RCA, not issuing proclamations for ages, begging them to slow things down, and all I see from them is unilateral action. I don’t think there’s anyone to talk to.

    Not saying that we should talk about them instead, just that there’s no one to talk to there.


  7. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Bill wrote in relevant part:

    “Forget for a moment the many talmidei chachamim and scholars who are not members but are on both sides of Beit Hillel, to the left and to the right hashkafically, Beit Hillel members represent a formidable group whose membership includes many great rabbonim who do not need anyone’s imprimatur.””

    Take a look at the membership list and then ask yourself whether those listed are scholars, as opposed to Talmidei Chachamim whose opinions should be reckoned with in any serious halachic debate on any major issue

    • dr. bill says:

      i assume you do not know many of the people listed.  yes many are scholars but I dare say i would accept a psak of at least one of the women listed against almost any posek. the group is not as old of many revered as poskim but remember that in ancient times those over 70 were not allowed to vote as a part of the sanhedrin.

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