Sefaria and Koren – A Concerned Look
I write the following without any agenda other than to share information that has already been made public voluntarily by the parties under discussion. It pains me to write anything that can hinder people’s Torah learning, but due to the fact that this public information is largely unknown to many people, it is important to make them aware.
I so fondly recall my early days of yeshiva in Yerushalayim. I, like all of my friends, proudly displayed my newly-purchased Jerusalem Bible, the beautiful Koren Tanach, at my makom in the beis medrash. The print, translation, paper and binding of my Jerusalem Bible were so appealing – really stunning. It was the new “must-have” sefer for every American in yeshiva who learned or at least consulted pesukim in Tanach.
Likewise, much later in my learning and writing endeavors, how I loved looking up all types of references in Sefaria. The comprehensiveness, clarity and ease of use were unmatched. ALHATORAH.org, Mercava and other such sites did yet not exist, but even had they been around then, I would have had no need for them, as Sefaria had it all, both in terms of content and usability.
Not long ago, while doing a search in Sefaria for some lesser-known material, I came across other materials that bothered me; some of these materials were non-Orthodox, while others were Open Orthodox or fringe-Orthodox. At that point, I decided to stop using Sefaria and I instead moved over to ALHATORAH.org.
My impression was that this problematic Sefaria material perhaps crept in due to poor filtering or editors not adequately scrutinizing submissions before posting. But recently, as reported several days ago, Sefaria announced its release of The Contemporary Torah: A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation, in which male pronouns referring to Hashem are removed (e.g. “His voice” is replaced by “God’s voice”, “His covenant” is replaced by “the covenant”, etc.) and generic male nouns are neutered (e.g. “we are honest men” is replaced by “we are honest”, “the men enrolled” is replaced by “the persons enrolled”, etc.). Aside from this constituting Ziyuf Ha-Torah, the transgression of falsifying the words of the Torah (in service of secular values that are not in consonance with the Torah, in this case), it also displays Torah ignorance, for every word or gender reference in the Torah is purposeful, and to disregard them and apparently assume that they do not matter stems from a troubling lack of knowledge. For example, the Torah typically refers to Hashem in the male form, not because Hashem is male, but because Hashem’s attributes and interactions with the world are manifested by characteristics that are predominantly male in nature and in the human experience. On the other hand, the Shechinah is intentionally presented in the Torah as a female noun, as the Shechinah primarily represents Hashem’s attributes and interactions with the world as manifested by characteristics that are predominantly female in nature and in the human experience. Kabbalah likewise has specific male and female references for Hashem, depending on the unique Divine manifestation or illumination. To overlook this and conveniently make matters “gender-sensitive” distorts the Word of Hashem and exhibits ignorance.
If one does a more thorough search, it is clear that Sefaria is packed with very problematic material, from gay pride source sheets, to Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative movement) content, to Maharat (female Open Orthodox clergy) publications, and just about everything else from all “streams of Judaism”, including the individual works of the founders of Conservative Judaism and contemporary Reform and Conservative clergy.
Sefaria’s newly-announced Jewish Women’s Writing Circle, led by Dr. Erica Brown and Sara Wolkenfeld, the latter of whom is a rabbinic fellow of the David Hartman Center and is chief learning officer at Sefaria, consists of many Open Orthodox “rabbas” (female rabbis), and faculty members at Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS – Conservative), Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Maharat, and other fringe and non-Orthodox institutions.
Again, this is all public information that has been voluntarily posted by Sefaria.
Some have addressed the concerns by stating that Sefaria does not claim to be Orthodox; while this may be true, Orthodox people use Sefaria with the assumption that it is indeed Orthodox, and my goal here is simply to inform people of what Sefaria contains and represents.
Koren Publishers is known for its many great sefarim, which almost all of us have and perhaps do use on a regular basis. Recently, I wrote a Times of Israel blogpost which addressed in part some problematic material found in the new Koren Lev Ladaat Humash. While one might have assumed that this was an odd exception to Koren’s normative adherence to tradition, attention must be drawn to some of Koren’s other publications, a few of which are cited in my Times of Israel post and others which do not appear there.
For example, Koren produces the Halakhic Realities series. Edited by Rabbi Zev Farber, who has publicly rejected the Torah’s Singular Divine authorship (see here and here), and issued under the auspices of International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), an organization of male and female Open Orthodox clergy, this series includes articles by Rabbis Dina Najman and Shmuly Yanklowitz and other Open Orthodox figures.
Similarly, Koren publishes the Hilkhot Nashim series, edited by Rabbi Rahel Berkovits, under the auspices of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA). Koren is likewise the publisher of a relatively new book by Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, whose views on Halacha and whose post-Holocaust theology and more have placed him well outside the mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinate and community.
Robert Friend was gay, and his sexuality found expression in his poetry well before the Stonewall era. According to Edward Field in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry, Shadow on the Sun is “remarkable in that, for its time, it contains so many poems about the author’s homosexuality.” Friend’s openness continued throughout his writing career.
This is all very disturbing, as while Koren publishes the works of some of the generation’s Torah luminaries, and it produces prominent sefarim for great and mainstream Orthodox organizations and institutions, it also disseminates the works of those whose views are decidedly not Orthodox, which can seriously mislead readers.
Again, it truly pains me to write this, but people need to be aware of the facts.
As we approach Shavuos, let us pray that Hashem grant us clarity and purity in our understanding of His holy Torah.