Sunday, May 31, 2015

What is wrong with Open Orthodoxy? by R' Moshe Brody

 (posted with permission)

Parshas Naso 5775 

What is wrong with Open Orthodoxy?

by R' Moshe Brody

  1. This week a whole snafu emerged over open orthodoxy in Eretz Yisroel1. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a long time modern orthodox rabbi-turned Open orthodox rabbi has had his position which he has kept for dozens of years as chief rabbi of Efrat put into question by the Chief Rabbinate. Many Rabbanim in the chief rabbinate are duly concerned of his direction he has taken in recent years in which he has openly defied halachic norms and appointed women into the rabbinate etc., and are willing to take him to task for it.
  2. While little will probably come from this, it raises some key questions-what is wrong with appointing women rabbis? Wasn’t Devorah a wise women who judged klal yisroel? Does it not say in the pischai teshuva in CM (7:5) that women may pasken shailos if they are knowledgeable? What then are they doing wrong?
  3. As Rabbi Riskin has argued I do not understand the whole issue,” he said back in 2014. “Yes, I think there is a (Torah) commandment of ‘you shall love the convert.’ Yes, I think that the Chief Rabbinate until now did not know what it is to get someone who wants to convert treated properly, with love and care,” he fired. “How dare they say that my conversions were not done according to Jewish Law?”
“…The halakha itself talks about love. Don’t you know a very simple mishna: ‘be disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace?’ Love people and bring them closer to Torah through love… I’ll tell you, in my opinion the chareidim are the biggest ‘Reformers’, in many, many things, including opposition enlistment into the army because ‘there is nothing but Talmud (study)… There is no (early halakhic authority) who says that learning Torah physically protects peoples’ lives,” he said. What is wrong with this whole approach?
  1. In order to understand Open Orthodoxy one needs to look at the history of it. Originally there was Modern Orthodoxy. Modern Orthodoxy said that Judaism and modernity are able to coexist. While many doubted such a union could ever be a happy one, (could you really be truly modern and truly orthodox?) it survived as an orthodox movement for over a hundred years because no one doubted that the Torah is the final authority. When push came to shove, even if the laity was not completely observant, it was more out of am haartzus than by design. By and large, the movement has stayed true to the letter and spirit of the Torah.
  2. However as the world has devolved morally over the past 20 or so years to a point where the outside culture is a sheer moral toxic cesspool, many proponents of modern orthodoxy have increasingly turned inward and become more like their insular chareidi brothers. YU, the flagship of modern orthodoxy now does not have enough room for hats and jackets, a staple of chariedi lifestyles. The world is changing and so have those that are loyal to the Torah.
  3. Yet unfortunately there was/is an element in the modern orthodox camp that could not let go of their devotion to living a modern and orthodox lifestyle. To these people, there is an axiomatic belief that just as one must be Jewish, he/she must be modern no matter what the modernity means. To these people, if the world was to become ovdai avoda zara (Buddhist) tomorrow, Judaism would have to be able to reconcile, partner and adapt to this new modernity and embrace it as well. To these people2, Judaism must be pliable3 and if it isn’t, they will make it.
  4. And so they broke off and formed their own community of like-minded people called Open Orthodoxy. The title is very interesting. Open orthodoxy sounds very nice and high minded. After all-the connotation of open means forward, positive, accepting-all words meant to make you feel good towards the idea.4 Aren’t you for being truthful, honest and open? Of course! Then what could be wrong with it? The answer is-it’s a sham. It’s not Open Orthodoxy-it’s an open fraud of orthodoxy. Yet to understand why, we must first examine what is orthodoxy? What are the components of orthodoxy? Let us examine.
  5. If I could-I would split orthodox practice as a mix of three components-mesorah, minhag and halachic analysis. Mesorah means traditions-those hanahagos that date back centuries and millennia and make up the bulk of our practice until today. It’s largely a mimetic tradition that is or isn’t based on written sources. For example, who and when do people were tefillin. Most people don’t know what the textual sources are not to wear tefillin on Shabbos, but know that this is what we don’t do. The same goes for women not wearing tefillin. Most people may not be aware of the textual sources on this matter but are content with following the majority of people and not to wear it.
  6. Then there is minhag-practices that have arisen and continue to arise on contemporary issues and practices. For example the decision by most frum Jews-whether textually based on not-not to use electricity (or devices that use electricity) on Shabbos or yomtov. Did the averge frum baal habus sit down and work out the intricate sevaros in Rav shlomo Zalman’s work on aish on Shabbos? No. Rather he just follows the standard practice (minhag) that is in place across the Jewish world.
  7. Finally it’s halachic analysis by laymen, scholars and Gedolim alike that work out the details and publish them which then informs the public what and what not to do.
  8. In all three areas, there is room for debate, discussion and tolerance. In fact, this is what makes Judaism so diverse and colorful. There are Sefardik, Ashkenazic, Yeminite, Bukharian (and others) mesorahs. And even within mesorahs there were regional mesorahs such as the yekkishe mesorahs and the Hungarian mesorahs. And then there are the ideologically driven mesorahs such as chassidishe and litvishe mesorahs (and even beginning now-a modern orthodox mesorah) – and you have quite a nice amount of diversity in Judaism.
  9. Then in minhag of contemporary practices there are differences based on communities and lifestyles. Some communities adopt to their surroundings in different ways and therefore practice is different there as well. There are modern communities with more openness to the outside world which affects the way they practice Halacha and those that adopt a more insular approach and that affects their approach to the Halacha.
  10. Then there is halachic debates. Here, as everyone that follows these emails are aware, are full of divergent types of analysis which can really produce a plethora of opinions and practices. These are all healthy and kach hi darka shel torah-zeh matir vizeh ossair. What isn’t kosher and what isn’t correct is what open orthodoxy is doing to Orthodoxy.
  11. What open orthodoxy has done is turned the word open onto orthodoxy and has and continues to destroy the fabric of mesorah, minhag and halachic analysis. By using clever technological tools, they have dug up all type of rejected sources and methodologies and injected them into the halachic analysis. Furthermore, they have misused sources and relied on singular opinions (daas yachaids) as the basis of establishing normative Halacha. In many cases, they adopt radical leftist views to as the basis to justify their deviations-other times they are silent but is clearly the underlying vibe. The upshot of all this is that they have jettisoned the mesorah completely out the window. If one goes to a shul and sees mixed members of a church choir singing songs of carlebach, and can claim somehow that the mesorah accepts such kind of behavior, then you have essentially thrown mesorah out the window. For no one-and I mean no one in any mesorah ever had such a practice-no matter when and no matter where. One cannot throw away one of the pillars of orthodoxy-mesorah and claim be called orthodox by using sophistry and sources-no matter how holy and valid those sources by themselves are.
  12. And they haven’t done this just once or twice (of which almost every group in klal Yisroel has done because of various reason) but do it on an ongoing basis.5 Examples are numerous and outrageous. To list just a few:
  1. They recently called on their followers to omit shefoch chamascha al hagoyim because it isn’t PC6
  2. They have recently allowed and even encouraged women to openly nurse in shul even in full view of men.7
  3. The head of the Talmud department at YCT has suggested that Chaza”l choose to reinterpret the bible in a progressive way-suggesting that it wasn’t misinai8
  4. They have ordained “female rabbis” multiple times-something no mesorah has ever done.9
  5. They have broken all roles regarding engaging with other non-orthodox denominations and have members of their faculty from non-orthodox movements10
  6. Their “rosh yeshiva” said in an article that the mitzvah of mechiyas amalaik-being not PC must be erased and that we need to find the voices in the Talmud that are more tolerant towards goyim11
  7. They have fought for the Palestinians and one YCT graduate even made up a beracha davening for peace both for the Palestinians and Jews.
  8. In many instances, they have used radical leftist and feminist views to argue against almost everything holy in the Torah that demands kedusha.
  9. Their star talmid (Dr. Zev Farber- the only one to be conferred with yadin yadin by YCT) (and many other graduates as well) recently rejected Torah misinai, nevuah, the historicity of the Torah including doubting if the avos or imahos ever existed and wrote “teshuvos” explaining why he thinks its ok to have a homosexual unions and divorce without a get. Yet still YCT keeps him on their advisory committees etc.12
  10. Two of their rabbinical students at YCT are married to either a conservative rabbi or a Reconstructionist rabbi while another has denied the Mosaic authorship of the Torah.
  11. Another rabbinical student wrote in a reconstructionist journal that the Torah’s approach to homosexual relations should be overturned R”L. Other times YCT has presented lectures entitled “transgender issues in Halacha” and “can a person can say kaddish for a gay partner”.13
  12. Rabbi Asher lopaitin argued that besides for believing in Torah and the Talmud-everything else is open to change including having women be included in a minyan. On this end, OO (open Orthodox) congregations now have women as the makri for tekias shofar, for leining the megillah, bas mitzvah girls serve as ballas? kriah and chazzoanot?, women doing a quasi badeking of the chassan and reading the sheva berachos by weddings, and have promoted various suggestions to change the beracha of shelo asani isha
  1. And the list goes on and on. This list was compiled just last year and since then even more deviations have come down. To call these people orthodox is a sham. They are the new conservative movement. This is also the opinion I heard directly from Rav Belsky (although he didn’t call them outright kofrim-he said that that they don’t belong to any Torahdike machneh in klal yisroel), Rav Dovid (called them kofrim) and Rav Reuvain Feinstein shilit”a (called them the new conservative movment). And as unfortunate as it is, and as hard as it is to remove long time and long serving (even well-meaning) rabbis from the orthodox fold, the integrity of the Torah is more important than those considerations. May the people see the folly of their ways and turn back to Torah true Judaism.
1 Which is the place where this battle will be fought although its roots are found here in America and not there. The reason is, and this would explain why there is silence here over these renegades, is because in eretz Yisroel, religious battles are not personal choices-they are public choices. Over there, there are rabbis that follow a certain ideology and there are communities with certain ideologies and those communities fit into a public structure which are tied closely to one another. And so what affects one group affects the whole country. Here in America, if one rabbi or community does something different-then you just don’t go to that shul etc. and sholom al ysiroel.
2 Many of the proponents of open orthodoxy originally came from secular backgrounds. My in laws used (he was unfortunately niftar) to have a friend who davened in Avi Weiss’s shul (I don’t give him the appellation of Rabbi-I am sure as an open orthodox person-he doesn’t mind the lack of traditional respect accorded to Rabbanim) in Riverdale and he used to tell us that a great majority of his members were like him-a person who was originally secular and becoming more religious. This also seems to be what is said anecdotally about YCT. Even Shlomo Riskin was originally secular and became more religious until recently where he has slid back to his secular beginnings. See here It is no surprise that this is the case. Anyone from a frum heimishe background cannot fathom having a women lead their Torah services and the like. It is only those with a secular (or more secular) background, where women are afforded a more prominent place in society, who would feel comfortable with these deviations from traditional life. Furthermore, many of those who have not grown up frum have no idea what tradition means and are more likely to be accepting of deviations being that to them, they aren’t even deviations in the first place because they don’t know better.
3 Of their favorite catchphrases that they use-“we must struggle with this Halacha, tradition, idea etc.” is at the top. In reality, that means the Halacha will have to bend to modern sensibilities.
4 As Rabbi Belsky has said many times, when people who wish to distort tradition and need to retain some dignity, they always use certain words that dress themselves in cloaks of righteousness and high moral values. This we learn from Korach who said-kol haam kulam kedoshim uvisocham Hashem umaduah tisnasu al kehal Hashem. Such rhetoric. Such high mindedness! How could you challenge those words of democracy and opposition to seeming corruption? Yet we all know that these words were the height of deceit! Yet people followed him! This teaches us that all a person has to do to get something acceptable is attach words of universal values (or desires) and you are set. (like if you want to sell more of your product-put a seductive looking, half-dressed lady next to it-and poof you connect your product subliminally with sex and your mundane product suddenly becomes much more desirous-even if it has nothing to do with women!). For example, when proponents of abortion argue their case-they never make a moral argument to counter the fact that they are killing a person. Instead they hijack the word of freedom and call themselves people who are fighting for “freedom of choice”. Freedom of Choice-what a nice set of words. Who isn’t for freedom of choice? Would you say be against stocking your local supermarket with different kinds of baked beans? Or lasagna? Or different brands of ketchup? What type of ogre are you then that is trying to stop a women from having freedom to choose? By using these sophisticated techniques, they suddenly muddle a very clear issur, and counter an odious practice by simple sophistry and spin.
The same goes for toeva marriage. Instead of focusing on the worldwide practice in place for Millennia that banned and severely punished Toevea practices and marriage, they hijack the words equality and suddenly-you are a Neanderthal if you oppose it. Or when people run amok with the law and then the people meant to keep peace and order do a not so perfect job-there is suddenly calls for justice. Thus police suddenly become confused with the criminals. (While there is no doubt that many policeman are at times brutal and should be held accountable for their brutality-to suddenly muddle the world and confuse the good with the bad is equally abhorrent. Just look at what Baltimore looks like now that the police have left these dangerous neighborhoods-its ish es rayahu chaim belo. See here for more on what’s happening in Baltimore. ) What a sham and a mockery of all that is clear and straight.
5 And while this tends to muddle things a bit (for they say-well look-you see Kolel never existed in history-and was established by the Chareidim etc.) in truth it doesn’t at all. For one, many of these changes go lichumra-not likula chas vishalom. Many people who don’t serve in the army do out of fear of sinning-not because of a desire to eliminate the mitzvah of defending Jews. For them, the excuse if oinais rachmana patrai. (Whether its justified fear or not-that is their feelings and is supported by Torah giants). You can’t compare that to people who desire to change the mesorah of women in shul by allowing them to lain the megillah out loud-a problematic stance on many levels and not supported by even one Torah giant. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, nothing is exactly static in life. Of course adoption and adaption occur in Yiddishkeit, but on a very minute and case by case basis. There is no ideology or halachic process that that argues for change. To the contrary, yiddishkeit, like many religious traditions, rely on traditions handed down from one generation to another and to a large degree like to remain static. The changes then that happen, do so slowly and organically. No one pushes it-they occur on a local level because it seems natural that this is what should happen. And even if individuals do push it-it’s so to make yiddishkeit stronger (like ais lasos Lahashem hafaru sorasecha) or correct a wrong that is wrong because the Torah says it’s wrong not because secular society says it’s wrong. The Chofetz Chaim wrote hilchos lashon hara-a change from the mesorah (kind of-it is brought down in the Ramba”m) to fix a issur torah. The Chassidim argued for more simcha-a chiuyv demanded by the Torah. Rav Hirsch argued for Torah im derech eretz-a chiyuv demanded by Chaza”l and the Torah. This in no way is what these modern day reformers have attempted to do.
9 Ibid-see there the many examples
10 Ibid-see there the many examples
12 ibid

13 ibid


  1. I would take issue with his comments regarding the "slow and organic" changes that "are not pushed by anyone" in the Chareidi community. From my experience as a member of a particular sector of the Chareidi community, I can say that, at least in my sector, his characterization is far too idealistic. For one thing, my community has largely taken on the isolation formerly imposed upon the community by outside anti-Semitic forces and turned it into a Jewish mandate. As such, all hashkafos--Torah-based as they may be--that do not fit with the newly-created isolationist stance are considered completely heretical. This has meant that TIDE is essentially ossur. Similarly, works such as the Tiferes Yisroel that show the greatness of Torah by admitting to the existence of a scientific world are strictly forbidden. So too, any and all "English" books are forbidden, as is any real contact with the world beyond the walls of our self-created ghetto. While the intention may be to "strengthen Torah", one need not look any further than the warnings of Rav Hirsch, zt"l, Rav Dr. Breuer, zt"l, and Rav Schwab, zt"l, to understand that the real result is quite the opposite. Rav Dr. Breuer's warning that while TIDE may see some lost to Judaism, but that the alternative isolationist stance will see more lost to Judaism has proven true. In my community, people have been left so completely defenseless against the outside world, science, and that which calls itself Western "culture", that even the most benign exposure to these things has a serious threat at sending one down a deadly slope.

  2. In a similar vein, within my community, there has been an out-and-out war against Oberlander Jewry, as well as Jews originating in Moravia, Bohemia, and Silesia who happened to have fallen in with this broader Chareidi sector in which I live after the Second World War. Because these Jews did not practice the more "spiritual" and therefore "holier" minhogim, they were considered to be worthy of being debased. The kehillos and yeshivos of these "broadly Oberlander" Jews were filled with those who showed no respect to minhog Ashkenaz, ridiculed those who davened nusach Osterreich, and openly mocked bochurim in talleisim. This, combined with marriage between the groups, led to a forced assimilation. Today, many of the descendants of these sadly ridiculed Oberlanders speak of "mesoros avos" and "inzere heiliger zeides" when referencing the new minhogim and practices thrust upon them, which is a busha. The forced assimilation of those practicing minhog Ashkenaz, and the rewriting of their history and mesoro, can hardly be classified as a set of changes that weren't pushed, nor can I even entertain the idea that the abandonment of minhog Ashkenaz serves to "strengthen the Torah".

    Even those elements of the community that still cling to their true mesoro are viewed by much of the broader heimishe sector with suspicion. The one or two yeshivos that still follow this path offer too much secular education, the families too comfortably speak English, too readily enjoy the kosher aspects of technology and society, too commonly travel and work in the "outside world". They are often marginalized because they haven't gotten on board with what the more "purely Torahdig" elements would have them do.

    I think that the same can be said of the "Lakewoodization" or "Litvishization" of the Yekkishe world as well, as the changes introduced to bochurim who learn outside of YRSRH not only change their minhogim, but their entire hashkofo.

    So, yes, though the existence of Chareidi Judaism is not in and of itself a complete rewrite and "reform" of Jewish practice, there are certainly sectors of the community, and broad swaths of the population existing within those sectors, that have been, for lack of a better word, "forced" to drop a more TIDE, nuanced approach to non-Jewish society in favor of a more extremist, isolationist one.

  3. My guess is that he'd agree with you on those points. I think he's talking about hard core halacha that the OO people are changing.