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Open Orthodoxy, Outright Heresy and the Orthodox Rebirth of the Conservative Movement

Avrohom Gordimer

A tremendous amount of literature has been penned about the Open Orthodox movement, depicting and detailing its countless, hair-raising deviations from traditional Orthodox practice and thought, ranging from Open Orthodox rabbis lobbying for same-gender marriage, to Open Orthodox synagogues hosting and promoting partnership minyanim (prayer groups in which women lead parts of the service), to a vanguard Open Orthodox institution ordaining women for the rabbinate, to the founders of Open Orthodoxy advocating for the right to non-halachic conversions in Eretz Yisroel, to Open Orthodox interdenominational and interfaith initiatives that violate widely-accepted and precedent halachic rulings, to Open Orthodox rabbis espousing heresy of the highest order. 1

While the last aforementioned item - the embrace of heresy by Open Orthodoxy rabbis - would appear to be one of the many consequences of a movement that has made the reform of Orthodox Judaism its focus, rebranding and reshaping Orthodoxy to fit a liberal, egalitarian vision, the hard and tragic truth is that outright heresy is at the very core of the intellectual engine that powers the Open Orthodox movement.

In a May 22, 2014 Facebook posting, R. Ysoscher Katz, chairman of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), the Open Orthodox rabbinical school founded by R. Avi Weiss, demonstrated his belief that Torah She-b’al Peh, the Oral Law of the Talmud, is not Mi-Sinai/Divinely- given. Posting on Facebook about Maseches Sotah, Katz writes:

I just finished teaching a year long class on masechet Sotah, one of the most difficult tractates in the Talmud. Simply read, the Biblical procedure seems capricious and patriarchal. The rabbis drastically reinterpret the process to make it sensitive and egalitarian. They were the progressives of their times, and, relative to their milieu, they were quite radical.

As I was wrapping up the class I realized how lucky chazal were that they were writing about two thousand years ago. If they would have been writing today, a Chareidi essayist might have dubbed them radical feminists, a MO essayist might have called them resha'aim, and a MO blogger might have "warned" people not to be photographed with them. (And, who knows, they might have even gotten a Mir Rosh Yeshiva upset enough to call for their murder.)

In other words: our tradition was always about progressive change, radical conservatism is actually a deviation of our historical norm.

Katz asserts his belief in the insensitive and bigoted presentation of the halachos of Sotah as featured in the Written Torah, and his view that Chazal fabricated or reshaped the Biblical Sotah procedure into the version presented in the Talmud, in order to reform the Sotah procedure toward an egalitarian vision.

1 Readers are advised to see shmuly-yanklowitz/ and to open the links for extensive elaboration and citations.

Katz again expressed his belief that Torah She-b’al Peh was concocted by Chazal and is not Sanaitic, in his critique of, a website run by self-defining Orthodox Jews that rejects the divinity of the (Written) Torah. Katz writes:

Unlike the website which chose to discard traditional notions of divine authorship, the Rabbis realized that these textual difficulties are an invitation to embark on an aggressive attempt to reevaluate notions of textually, truth, fact and hermeneutics without necessarily discarding the text's status and stature. They were able to offer innovative hermeneutics which allowed them to maintain optimal fidelity to the notion of the text's divinity.

They did not take the easy route of rejecting the tradition, negating its authority and then letting the "chips fall where they may" (as some bloggers have suggested). They instead realized that religious texts, and theological tenets have a built-in amorphousness that allows for and perhaps even demands perpetual reinterpretation. 2

This denial of the objective Mi-Sinai authorship and character of Torah She-b’al Peh, portraying the Oral Law as something concocted or manipulated by Chazal to serve a social agenda, is highly problematic, to put it lightly. See Rambam Hil. Teshuva 3:8, Kesef Mishneh ibid., par. 1 of introduction to Mishneh Torah, and par. 4 of Rambam's introduction to Peirush Ha-Mishnayos.

Shortly after issuing his remarks about the authorship and agenda behind the halachos of Sotah, Katz spent Shabbos as the scholar-in-residence at the Conservative Synagogue of Fifth Avenue, where he delivered the d’var Torah at morning services and spoke several times about the Sotah issue, including an address entitled, “Are Rabbis Proto-Feminists? A Critical Reading of Tractate Sotah”. 3

Although the notion of a high-ranked Talmud lecturer in a yeshiva’s semicha program spending Shabbos at a non-Orthodox congregation is baffling, it is a testament to the theological posture of Open Orthodox leadership. (Not to mention Katz’ thesis and theme of discussion, which certainly fit better with a Conservative orientation than with an Orthodox one.)

Many of us are familiar with the words of R. Dov Linzer, rosh yeshiva and dean of YCT, in an article 4 about perceived inequities in the Talmud toward gentiles. Linzer wrote that although some Talmudic opinions can be read to grant gentiles more favorable standing in the limited area of the article’s discussion,

the halakha follows the interpretation that the Gemara gives to the statements of the Tana’im and Amora’im. Nevertheless, many committed Jews are often left feeling that even when halakhic solutions are being found, they run counter to the ethos of the system, and are to some degree disingenuous and lacking in integrity. "Should we be bending the halakha to conform to our modern notions of


3 Katz is serving as scholar-in-residence again at this Conservative congregation:

egalitarianism?" is a reasonable question to ask and a hard one to answer. An honest answer requires finding within the Talmud those voices that articulate those same values that are driving us.

Linzer’s statement that "'Should we be bending the halakha to conform to our modern notions of egalitarianism?' is a reasonable question to ask and a hard one to answer" is shocking and speaks for itself.

Linzer has taken the theme of challenging Torah authority several steps further. In a similar vein to the Katz approach, Linzer writes (emphasis mine) regarding the mitzvah of Mechiyas Amalek/Obliterating Amalek:

Three mitzvot: One, remember. Two, do not forget. And three, sandwiched in between you shall blot out their memory. Kill them, wipe them out. What possible message can we learn from this mitzvah?

God is a vengeful God.

descendants of the original nation - can be slaughtered by the hand of Israel when Israel is following God’s command and is the agent of God’s justice. Is this the message of Amalek? Is this the story that we tell?

Violence must be met with violence. Even innocents the infants and the future

We know that it is not. It is not the story that we as a people have told. Having as a people been persecuted and slaughtered in the name of religion, and as witness today to the evils that can be perpetrated by a murderous, fundamentalist religious belief this also is not the story that we can ever tell.

The mitzvah to blot out the memory of Amalek is surrounded by two other mitzvot, two mitzvot of memory. Zakhor, remember, and lo tishkach, do not forget. The latter, according to the Rabbis, is a command to remember in our hearts, whereas the former is a command to verbalize that memory, a mitzvah to tell a story. How do we live up to these obligations? What is the story we choose to tell and what is the story we choose to remember?

It can be heard in the words of Rav Yakov Chayim Sofer of Bagdad (1870-1939) who writes in his halakhic magnum opus the Caf HaChayim that we made no brakha when we do the mitzvah of remembering Amalek, because how could we make a blessing over the story of the destruction of God’s creatures? And this he says about a mitzvah that God has commanded!

It is a story of a grappling, yes, but not one that leads to resignation or rejection, but to transformation. It is a story about how Amalek stops being a people whom we must physically destroy, and instead becomes a symbol, an idea, that we must fight against, peacefully and without violence.

This story can be heard in the words of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who states that we must destroy not Amalek, but zekher Amalek, the glorifying of all they stood for. 5 This is a mitzvah about opposing the sword, not wielding it. Amalek represents a culture that valorizes violence and the sword. Such a culture

5 Rav Hirsch most certainly does not write that we must not physically destroy Amalek. Rather, he writes that the thrust of our opposition to Amalek is the eradication of the philosophy represented by Amalek; Rav Hirsch in no manner or sense posits that Amalek not be physically destroyed. Please see Rav Hirsch’s comments on Devarim 25:17, in which he explains regarding the military operations against Amalek which we are commanded to perform that B’nei Yisroel assume the role of soldiers of Hashem rather than as soldiers fighting their own war.

is pernicious for the moral future of mankind, and it is such a culture, not a people, which must be wiped out and obliterated.

This story can be heard in the writings of all those halakhic authorities who, through various halakhic devices, make the mitzvah to destroy Amalek moot. From Rambam’s claim that if they accept the Noachide laws they are not to be destroyed, to the consensus amongst poskim that such a people can no longer be identified, this mitzvah has effectively been erased. We have erased not Amalek, but the mitzvah to destroy them.

It is a story of moving from the passage in Devarim, from the charge of timche that you shall blot out to the passage in Shemot, and the declaration of macho emche, that I, God, will blot out. It is the transferring of the war, from B’nei Yisrael to God. Milchama laHashem bi’Amalek, a war of God against Amalek. Midor dor. The story that we have chosen to tell, from generation to generation, is the story of Shemot, the story of God’s war, not of ours. The story of a war not against a people, but against violence, against evil.

We are truly an amazing people. We have taken the mitzvah to destroy Amalek, a mitzvah that disrupts our moral and religious order, a mitzvah that embraces violence and, through interpretation, through choosing how we will tell the story, we have transformed it into a mitzvah of memory, a mandate to restore moral order and to repudiate violence

When we tell the story of the Akeida do we tell the beginning of the story, or the end? Do we tell the story that one must be prepared to commit murder in the name of God, or do we tell the story of the angel’s intervention, the story that God will never in the end command us to do such a heinous act?

As partners in the covenant, we will choose to hear the voices that resonate with our deepest sense of probity and morality, which we believe to reflect the Torah’s deepest sense of morality and of justice. But we cannot lose sight that there are others who hear other voices. Others for whom the fundamentalist and extremist voices are the most attractive. Others who are more prepared to hear the mitzvah of mechiya and milchama, of war and destruction. Others who will tell a very different story from the one that we would tell.

Remember. Do not forget. We have a responsibility of memory and a responsibility of speech and of


We, each one of us, will choose the story that we will tell. 6

Linzer presents the Torah’s command about Amalek as vicious and repulsive to our sensitivities, 7 explaining that we reformed the general mitzvah, in line with the (otherwise) deeper sensitivity of the Torah, into a mitzvah of symbolism and passivity. Linzer both offends the Torah’s articulation of Mitzvas

7 Linzer takes a similar approach to the Akeidah; see

Mechiyas Amalek and posits that Torah authorities contrived a different manifestation of the mitzvah, departing from the Torah’s command in favor of a more civil approach. 8

Linzer’s irreverence toward the “raw” Biblical narrative is demonstrated repeatedly in his writings, as he regularly disparages the greatest personalities of Scripture in his weekly divrei Torah, such as writing that Avrohom Avinu was a negligent father who did not love Yitzchak, 9 that Yaakov Avinu was socially inept and unable to deal with conflicts, only knowing how to lash out in response, 10 that Moshe Rabbeinu presumptuously and insensitively mishandled Korach’s rebellion, 11 and so forth. 12

Linzer shared more about his approach to halachic authority in remarks delivered at the May 29, 2014 YCT semicha ceremony:

Not long ago I lost a dear friend, Rivka Haut, z"l (co-founder of Women of the Wall, and outspoken orthodox feminist - AG), a woman who was my conscience in so many ways. Rivka attended my daf yomi, and would never fail to challenge me when we encountered a morally problematic passage in the Talmud. I remember one day when I was attempting to defend or explain away a certain passage. She said to me, "It is not your job to defend the Talmud. The Talmud says what it says. It is your job to take responsibility for how it is taught, if it is taught as unquestionable, God-given truth, or if it is taught with an acknowledgment of its problems and challenges."

This is what it means to take the Torah out of heaven and bring it to the earth. This is the Torah that we must teach and represent. We must be leaders who can hear the cries of the daughters of Tzelafchad, ערגי המל, or of those who could not bring the Korban Pesach, ערגנ המל, "why should we be excluded," "why should we be marginalized," and rather than seeking to protect the Torah and to silence them for their impertinence, we must be able to respond םכל 'ה הוצי המ עמשאו ודמע- let me go back, let me go back and see, let me see how this can be a commandment that is lakhem, that is true to you, that hears your challenges. 13 (emphasis mine)

For a rosh yeshiva to concur that the Oral Law, the Talmud, should not be presented as unquestionable, God-given truth”, but rather as a text featuring problems and challenges, such that it must be taught

8 It is clear that the most basic of sources affirm the eternality of the mitzvah to obliterate Amalek, not only symbolically, but also physically. See Rambam Sefer Ha-Mitzvos m.a. 188, Hil. Melachim 5:5, Sefer Ha-Chinuch 604, et al. Furthermore, the mitzvah to remember that which Amalek did to us includes the perpetual arousal of enmity against Amalek and, according to the Rambam, serves as a preparation for the mitzvah to obliterate Amalek; see Sefer Ha-Mitzvos m.a. 189. Linzer's presentation, even absent its objectionability from a religious perspective, is blatantly contradicted by these basic, primary texts. Readers are directed to Sefer Hararei Kedem 1:185,186 for a beautiful analysis of the relationship of the mitzvos of Mechiyas and Zechiras Amalek and the eternal nature of the mitzvah of Mechiyas Amalek.

12 See also footnote 72, infra.

and applied in a way that accommodates and is palatable, is quite troubling. 14 Hilchos Teshuva 3:8 and the other aforementioned sources come to mind once again.

It is thus no wonder that when YCT Yadin Yadin musmach Dr. Zev Farber publicly denied the Divine authorship of the Torah, the existence of prophecy, and the historicity of Torah narratives, including the existence of the Avos and Imahos, the existence of Yetzi’as Mitzrayim and the existence of Mattan Torah at Sinai, 15 YCT leadership defended Farber 16 , and International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), the Open Orthodox rabbinical organization, retained Farber as the coordinator of its geirus committee for months beyond the publication of his heretical views. Responding to criticism of YCT for failing to condemn Farber’s views, Katz wrote:

In this endeavor, we recognize the possibility that, on occasion, a graduate might entertain a non- conventional answer, not in keeping with our shared Orthodox beliefs. We believe that ultimately they will end up in the right place, embracing a modernity that is deeply steeped in the Tradition. Our confidence is based on the fact that each and every one of our graduates leaves the Yeshivah after four years infused with Yirat shamayim, ahavat Torah, emunat chachamim, and a deep-seated commitment to avodat Ha’shem.

We try to prepare our YCT graduates to confront that challenge (of faith). And we are aware that in the process they are likely to experience their own periods of uncertainty as they continue to sort out the content of their own beliefs…

Our willingness to grapple and confront the challenges faced by the majority of klal Yisrael has clearly rattled some in the Orthodox world. They, in turn, have critiqued us, oftentimes harshly and unfairly. We pray that we, nevertheless, listen to those critiques and when appropriate acknowledge our mistakes. We are traversing a less travelled path; there will inevitably be bumps in the road. While we strive to improve, we intend, however, to stay the course. We will continue to graduate students who make us proud in their mesiras nefesh for klal Yisrael and in their willingness to model genuine, modest, and honest grappling in the attempt to serve Ha’shem.

Religious wrestling is in our DNA. That is what our forbearer Yakov did (Genesis 32) and we carry on that torch. Yakov was scarred by his encounter with the angel and we sometimes get scarred as well. We will not, however, let these scars prevent us from responding to our calling to serve God and His people. Ultimately our goal is to reach the day when םיסכמ םיל םימכ ’ה תא העד ץראה האלמו (Isaiah 11:9; Maimonides Kings 12). 17

14 Linzer fails to note that it was God Himself and not Mosaic modification that was responsible for accommodating the requests of B’nos Tzelofchad and those who could not bring the Korban Pesach. Moshe needed to ask God for a ruling on these matters and was not in a position to adjust the Law to accommodate the people.

Whereas one would expect a yeshiva faced with the horror that one of its star graduates has abandoned Torah belief to condemn and disassociate from the beliefs of such a graduate, Katz downplays the matter and includes it as one of many “bumps in the road”. Not a word stating that Farber’s views are unacceptable. 18

In consonance with this approach, one of the young men ordained at YCT this May is married to a Conservative rabbi. 19 This young man has just been hired as a rebbe at YCT starting in the fall. 20

It has been revealed that a current YCT student recently penned numerous articles in which he denies the Mosaic authorship of the Torah and other foundational elements of Orthodox belief. In one such article, after reviewing six recent books about the Bible’s authorship and literary value, the student puts forth his own approach, in which he accepts the idea of multiple human authors of the Torah, with a divine unity behind it something very much like the Conservative approach:

…one may still acknowledge the evolutionary nature of the Bible’s composition, and one may still recognize the archeological, philological, historical and ethnological findings that indicate the Pentateuch’s multiple authorship, while still believing (in a theological sense) in the divine unity of the Torah… 21

In this article, the YCT rabbinical student writes that

…the Bible is also not a work of “philosophy” or “theology” because the biblical writers were similarly unfamiliar with such logical, systematic disciplines; to impose our familiarity with these disciplines upon the biblical writers is to commit an anachronism. 22

This YCT rabbinical student further writes that Chazal’s account of the origins of the Bible is “ahistorical”, and he postulates that accepting the Bible as literal truth may be an affront to the unity of God (!). 23

18 Farber has continued to promulgate the denial of a Singular Divine Author of the Torah; for example, and Farber is still a member of the Yeshivat Maharat Advisory Board and writes for Keren, the Yeshivat Maharat journal. He is also still a staff writer for Morethodoxy, the Open Orthodox website, and his weekly shiurim are posted in his shul’s newsletter (, under Learning Opportunities at YITH).

19, A current YCT student is married to a woman studying to be a Reconstructionist rabbi (, and an early YCT graduate is married to a Reform cantor (

21 Sacred Scriptures, Secular Interpretations: The Bible as an Anthology of Philosophy, Psychology, Literature, and Religion; Religious Studies Review 39:4, p.231

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

In another article, this YCT rabbinical student, presenting the theology of R. Jonathan Sacks, radically takes that theology one step further and writes:

The approach toward science and religion that is fashionable in contemporary mainstream Orthodoxy presupposes an omniscient, all-knowing God who authored both the Bible and science. However, this approach can easily run into problems of circular logic in which the Bible itself is taken as the source of scientific knowledge… 24

And in another article, published in June, this YCT rabbinical student disavows the traditional attitude toward Torah and mitzvos and denies the kedushah of Eretz Yisroel (and of almost everything), as he presents his view of what future religious faith should be:

Religion cannot, nor should it, attempt to explain how the world was created, nor should it attempt to explain how the universe works. Science, not religion, possesses the answers to these questionsThe faith of the space age will not believe in the sacrosanct nature of any physical structure, even planet eartheven, yes, the Holy Land”….The value in religions’ rules and restrictions lies not in cherishing the rules as ends in and of themselves, but in the power that flows from living with discipline… 25

Another article written by this YCT rabbinical student, published by Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, shockingly argues that the Torah's prohibition against homosexual relations should be overturned. 26 It is unbelievable.

YCT executive administration was contacted about most of the above articles by this student and advised that it is following up. Although the follow-up has been slow, we look forward to the outcome. Irrespective of the outcome, the fact that the student published these articles on the internet and on his own public web page, and wrote the articles while enrolled in YCT, raises many concerns, to put it mildly.

In a very recent interview, R. Asher Lopatin, president of YCT, affirmed commitment to classical belief in Torah Mi-Sinai, yet declined to address the unacceptability of any theological views or approaches to Halacha:

In sharp contrast to Agudah, and to rulings by YU-affiliated rabbis, Rabbi Lopatin doesn’t see the need for sharp lines to distinguish kosher belief from heresy. Nor is he fazed by the prospect of a slippery slope.




Take the question of women in Jewish law. Could women ever be treated simply as equal to men in halacha leading services and being counted in a minyan?

Rabbi Lopatin doesn’t want to preclude anything as being out of bounds.

The basic principles of his Orthodoxy, he said, are belief in the Torah and the authority of talmudic sages. Beyond that, he is willing to enter halachic debates with an open mind. 27

Lopatin also seeks to reintroduce into Orthodoxy discussion of views and positions that had been banished from mainstream Modern Orthodoxy decades ago and were basically relegated to non- Orthodox classification:

Rabbi Lopatin has put aside the term “open Orthodoxy,” coined by Rabbi Weiss, in favor of the older “modern Orthodoxy.”

“We’re about reclaiming modern Orthodoxy,” he said.

“There was a rich modern Orthodox environment and culture that is coming back,” he continued, citing debates waged more than 40 years ago in the pages of YU’s student newspaper between Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and Aharon Lichtenstein, at the time both YU faculty members, and at the convention of the Rabbinical Council of America between Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Emanuel Rackman.

“Arguments are good. Let’s argue about it,” he said. 28

In another recent article, Lopatin fleshed out his vision of Open Orthodoxy as a throwback to some of the controversial aspects of Modern Orthodoxy of half a century ago, in his quest for such controversy to return:

Important and controversial Orthodox thinkers, including Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and David Hartman, were being shunned by the so-called Modern Orthodox establishment…There was a sense of despair that the Modern Orthodoxy of the 1950s and 1960san era in which Rabbis Emanuel Rackman, Yitz Greenberg, and Eliezer Berkovits, and (in Israel) the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, were household nameshad been lostThere was legitimate concern that the (Modern Orthodox) movement was coming to represent an ossified and unimaginative type of Judaism, always looking fearfully over its right shoulder. Hence “Open Orthodoxy”. 29

The notion that Torah is not the absolute and objective Divine Truth has found its way into other segments of the Open Orthodox community. R. David Almog, an early YCT graduate, has come up with an experiential view of faith that enables one to be Torah-observant even if one does not accept that Mattan Torah ever occurred. 30 R. Herzl Hefter, posting on the Open Orthodox website Morethodoxy, 31

28 Ibid. Greenberg’s highly controversial theology and Rackman’s untraditional approach to Halacha precipitated the effective ouster of these two personalities from Yeshiva University and the Orthodox institutional rejection of their approaches, which are not considered acceptable approaches by mainstream Orthodoxy.

has posited that the Torah was not dictated by God to Moshe, but that Moshe intuited the words of Torah in his heart; once again, the event of Mattan Torah is denied. 32

The pattern of blatant challenges to Halacha and Mesorah endemic to Open Orthodoxy can in large measure be traced to the faith ideology of the movement’s intellectual leadership; rejection of the fundamentals of halachic authorship and Torah authority has given license to unthinkable breaches, with no end in sight.

Dr. Yoram Hazony, who identifies himself generally with the Orthodox Left, posted an important essay about Open Orthodox beliefs in the May 27 edition of Torah Musings. 33 In this essay, Hazony depicts the sentiments and beliefs of those assembled at a recent Open Orthodox synagogue event:

But here I want to describe a particular event that I attended recently at an Orthodox synagoguean event in which friends and colleagues of mine who have devoted their professional lives to the critical study of the biblical texts presented their work to the congregation, in what was explicitly touted as an example of “Open Orthodoxy” by the rabbi who hosted it

The event I’m going to describe took place on a Friday night during an academic conference in North America…The synagogue invited the scholars visiting their community to put together a program for the congregation discussing their work, much of which was concerned with the history and archaeology of ancient Israel. Perhaps seventy or eighty members of the congregation attended the event, in which four of the visiting scholars spoke from the dais, and a fifth served as moderator.

One of them (the event's speakers) explained that only the books of Samuel and Kings can be considered to be historical, whereas everything from Genesis to Judges is “not historical” (this is an academic buzz- phrase meaning that little, if any, of the biblical account up to Samuel actually happened); another explained that according to his findings, there was no conquest of the land by Joshua, but just a “gradual infiltration” by Israelite tribesmen; a third said that the religion of the biblical period was “not Judaism” but a different “ancient Israelite religion,” and that Judaism was only invented later. All the speakers treated the biblical texts as comprised of “different traditions” or “strands” that historians have been able to identify. At one point, one of the speakers asserted that there were in fact multiple different gods in ancient Israel that went by the name of YHWH, and that these different gods were only later combined into one

There were a number of things that did surprise me, even more than the fact that all of this was taking place at an Orthodox synagogue

One scholar told the audience: “You should know that there are people out there who don’t want you to hear this. There are those who are against your being allowed to even have an event like this.” Another scholar confided in the audience that a student even had to drop his course because the student’s rabbi

32 Please see beyond-when-will-it-stop/ for discussion of this and a variety of articles by Open Orthodox rabbis that pose similar problems.

had told him not to take it. “Why the rabbi said that, I do not know. The student had already paid for the course, and didn’t know what to do.”

The presentations were followed by a lengthy question and answer period. To my surprise, the questions from the congregation were nearly all supportive of the visiting Bible scholars and their work. (At least all of those that were coherent!) No one suggested that perhaps what the Bible scholars had presented wasn’t good science. No one suggested that perhaps what had been said was a problematic fit with religion. As far as you could tell from the questions, every single person in the congregation thought that everything they had heard was perfectly good stuff that could just be accepted without raising any difficulties of any kind.

Every single person, that is, except one. There was one white-haired, elderly gentleman, a veteran member of the shul, who raised his hand. When called upon, he asked the scholars on the dais the following question:

“Don’t any of you believe that God gave the Torah to Moses at Sinai?”

Finally, someone had raised the uncomfortable fact that the viewpoint being presented and discussed and elaborated all evening long might in some respects be at odds with traditional Judaism. Here, at last, was a chance for some real discussion, I thought.

But it was not to be. Sensing the danger, the moderator, himself a Bible scholar whose work I in fact very much admire, wheeled about in his chair and let loose the following response:

“I am going to use the prerogative of the chair to answer this question myself. And here’s my answer:

There are some people who think that they can tell God what he can and cannot do. There are some people who think they are so clever that they can know, on God’s behalf, whether he had to give the Torah to one person at one time, or whether he could have given the Torah gradually, in an unfolding fashion, over the course of many generations. And that’s the answer to that question. Next question.”

…There were closing comments by the young rabbi, who enthusiastically expressed his pleasure over having had such an event in his synagogue. His comments included not a word of demurral with respect to the what had been presented or the way the evening was conducted. His view of the event, as I remembered it twenty-four hours later, was this:

Here in our synagogue we advocate what we call Open Orthodoxy. What we mean by that is that unlike others who avoid dealing with the issues presented by modernity and academic thought, we want to confront issues like this by meeting them head-on, presenting the scholarship here in the synagogue so that we can wrestle with the hard issues instead of avoiding them.” (emphasis mine)

Just as those who seek to compel others to make inappropriate concessions and unjust compromises often use catchphrases such as "dealing with the challenges rather than avoiding them" and "wrestling with the hard issues" to slyly justify their aims, so too has some Open Orthodox leadership employed such crafty verbiage to defend denial of the Torah and capitulation and embrace of secular values that are wholly antithetical to the values of the Torah, as exemplified by the rationalization proffered by the Open Orthodox rabbi in the above scenario reported by Hazony.

The unOrthodox tendencies of the intellectual engine of Open Orthodoxy, aside from finding expression in irreverent characterizations of the greatest of Biblical personalities and of God Himself, have begotten a culture that lacks basic inhibitions regarding matters traditionally considered highly inappropriate from the perspective of Torah sensitivities. For example, a female sex therapist was brought to YCT this winter to address the (male) students on the topic of "Marital Sex and the Rabbi's Role”, 34 a recent presentation in the YCT class on Modern Orthodoxy included "Transgender Issues in Halakha", and "Saying Kaddish for a Gay Partner" was among the topics featured in YCT's study of death and mourning. Respect and equal treatment of lifestyles which the Torah terms an abomination have become a cardinal principle of Open Orthodoxy. 35

Prior to Yom Kippur, the YCT rosh yeshiva delivered a very provocative lecture:

Listen to Rabbi Dov Linzer’s shiur exploring the topic of the erotic imagery surrounding the Kohen’s Gadol’s entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, with a brief look at the encounter God has with the Temple on Sukkot. 36

In this lecture, we are told that the Kohen Gadol performed a symbolic form of sexual intercourse, that the Paroches shel Kodesh Ha-Kodoshim (Curtain of the Holy of Holies) represented the curtains of a bedroom relating to the sexual act, and that the Ketores (Incense) burned in the Kodesh Ha-Kodoshim was symbolically associated with an aura of sexual seduction. While it is true that the metaphoric physical connection between Hashem and B’nei Yisroel as depicted in some Torah sources is representative of an immense chibah (endearment) between Hashem and the Jewish People, with the sources applying physical references in order to make this chibah relationship understandable to man and appreciated for its intensity (and such is the foundation of Shir Ha-Shirim/Song of Songs), Linzer, on the other hand, goes the opposite direction, with his focus and language more interested in a suggestive, physical, graphic erotic act than in the chibah. In his lecture, Linzer debases the subject and entertains his audience with the bold implication that, "Guess what? There is a lot of sexual stuff in the Yom Kippur Avodah (Service). Let's talk about this erotica and get into the graphic imagery of it. It is "

'kosher sex'

The referenced recording of this lecture speaks for itself.

As classical Orthodox theology and traditional Torah attitudes/Mesorah play an increasingly lesser role in the brains behind Open Orthodoxy, an informal rebranding of sorts has occurred; it is something that the Conservative movement tried to do but failed, and Open Orthodoxy is now giving it another shot.

This something is called “Halachic Judaism”, meaning that one claims to be fully committed to halachic observance, distinguishing oneself from movements which have abandoned Halacha and have thus forfeited their Jewish gravitas in the eyes of those who claim fealty to Torah tradition, yet one is not Orthodox in the normative sense. By laying claim to the mantle of Halachic Judaism, one can anchor oneself to the perceived rock of legitimacy, while at the same time thereby free oneself to depart from Torah tradition and values in varied and profound ways.

Let’s take a look at some sample cases:

Feminization of Orthodoxy

Yeshivat Maharat, founded by R. Avi Weiss, ordains women who complete its course of study. Ordination certificates, which refer to the ordination as “semicha, 37 are signed by Weiss, R. Jeffrey S. Fox (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat), and R. Dr. Daniel Sperber - whose title on the semicha certificate is “Posek”, and who serves as advisor for a major Israeli partnership minyan and as chancellor of the (non-Orthodox) Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School an institution led and staffed by graduates of Jewish Theological Seminary. 38

Originally, Yeshivat Maharat referred to the women who complete its course of study as “confirmed as spiritual and halachic leaders”; later, the verbiage changed to that of “ordination as clergy”; at this year’s Yeshivat Maharat graduation, Weiss repeatedly utilized the term “semicha” to refer to the title conferred upon the women. 39

Yeshivat Maharat claims that its four-year program equips its students to be “poskot” by the time they graduate:

Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud and halakhic decision-making (psak), our graduates are authorized to be poskot (legal arbiters) within the boundaries of halakha. During their four years of study, our students also gain superior training in pastoral counseling and leadership development so they can lead with distinction… 40

Aside from Yeshivat Maharat’s highly ambitious claim that the women who graduate its four-year program qualify as poskot, it should be noted that a substantial ratio of Yeshivat Maharat’s students are enrolled in demanding graduate school programs and/or are pursuing careers simultaneous to their Yeshivat Maharat studies. Furthermore, quite a large percentage of Yeshivat Maharat’s students live in remote parts of the US and overseas, and they complete their Yeshivat Maharat coursework long- distance. 41

Even though Yeshivat Maharat graduates are considered poskot upon completion of the four-year program, entrance to the program does not require any prior halachic knowledge; mere Jewish textual proficiency is necessary. 42

Yeshivat Maharat’s graduates are now eligible for admittance to International Rabbinic Fellowship, and thus far, one Yeshivat Maharat graduate sits on the IRF board. 43

Yeshivat Maharat claims license to ordain women based on Sperber’s position that there is nothing in Halacha clearly specifying that women cannot serve as rabbis, and from other contemporary liberal Orthodox rabbis who derive from the example of Devorah the Prophetess the notion of women serving

as halachic leaders. 44 At the most recent Yeshivat Maharat graduation, Sperber articulated a rationale which sounds like something taken directly from the playbook of Conservative Judaism:

Rabbi Sperber noted, “The argument [against ordination of women] has been that it is a breach of tradition.” But, argued Sperber, “Innovation is the hallmark of Jewish halakhic tradition. The petrification, the stagnation, of halakhic tradition that is the breach of tradition. The very word halakha from halakh — means ‘to progress.” 45

These sentiments fly in the face of fealty and submission to the halachic system, and they reflect a shallow attempt to sweep away very serious concerns with the swish of a flimsy wand and the performance of locutionary acrobatics.

In 2013, Yeshivat Maharat ordained the three members of its initial graduating class, and all three women were immediately hired by Open Orthodox congregations. The rabbi of one such congregation, Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue (Washington, D.C.), has expressly stated that hiring a Maharat ordainee is a natural next step in introducing feminist reforms to his congregation, which already has women serving as Makri(ah) for Teki’as Shofar and allows women to publicly read Megillas Esther for men. Bas mitzvah girls also serve as chazzan and baal(as) keria’h at this Open Orthodox congregation, with men in attendance. 46

At another Washington-area Open Orthodox congregation (Beth Sholom, led by R. Nissan Antine, YCT ’06), the wife of the rabbi read Megillas Rus this Shavuos at the main minyan. 47 And this Purim, women read Megillas Esther at numerous other Open Orthodox congregations, including Mt. Freedom Jewish Center (led by R. Menashe East, YCT ’05), where “the night reading is a communal reading where men and women will be reading alternating perakim as they read for the whole community”, 48 and Cong. Bnei David Judea (whose rabbi is the current president of IRF), where “one of the readings in the evening will be for men and women, with a woman reading. 49

In the same spirit of feminism and egalitarianism, Open Orthodoxy has promoted numerous changes to the wedding ceremony, such as the bride performing a quasi-Badeken procedure to the groom (using a tallis), the couple altering the traditional wording of the Kesuba, and women reciting the Sheva

44 These arguments have been compellingly proven irrelevant by eminent halachic authorities. See, for example, Rav Hershel Schachter’s article on the subject in Hakirah Journal, vol. 11. Please also see http://www.cross-

49 Ibid. One Open Orthodox rabbi, who describes himself as a universalist, depicted his visit to the Western Wall prior to his visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and lamented the fact that “Orthodox Judaism seems to dominate the Western Wall, and any display of religiosity that departs from normative practicesay a woman dancing with the Torah in the women’s sectionelicits extreme aversion at best, and harsh legal retaliation at worst. What’s wrong with us? Where is the love between Jews? Where is the recognition that we all wish to serve God and revere God’s Torah? And where is the love and mutual understanding between members of different faiths?

Berachos. 50 Although most if not all of these Open Orthodox modifications do not render a wedding procedure halachically invalid, they are motivated by a progressive, secular attitude that seeks to bring Judaism in line with liberal, cosmopolitan values, 51 all the while technically complying with halachic requirements. The value system of Halacha is dismissed and discarded, while the necessary legalities are retained. Halachic Judaism but not Orthodoxy.

Yeshivat Maharat is not shy about its ambitions, as a significant amount of its leadership and student body allege that the halachic system is misogynistic and must be tempered by a feminine touch. Rabba (female rabbi ordained by Avi Weiss) Sara Hurwitz, dean of Yeshivat Maharat and rabbinic staff at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Weiss’ congregation, has compared herself to Nelson Mandela in her battle against the bigotry she apparently believes is inherent in the halachic or rabbinic system. 52 Various articles and interviews by leaders of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and others, posted on the Yeshivat Maharat website, 53 affirm a similarly negative view about Halacha and express


51 Although not a focal point of this article, much of Open Orthodox leadership, in sync with left-wing liberal political and social views, has embraced a position of moral equivalency in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In response to the battle between the State of Israel and Hamas, an assortment of prominent Open Orthodox rabbis in the Washington, D.C. area recently joined Muslim clergy in a 17 th of Tammuz/Ramadan observance of prayer and fasting “in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision.” One YCT graduate just composed his own beracha (I am not sure how he avoids the halachic problems with this), loaded with sentiments of moral equivalency, to stop the violence: “Help us to return to You fully, so that we will finally understand that there is no hope in perpetual violence…hatred as intense as death itself between the Children of Yisrael and the Children of Yishmael…And may wickedness disappear from the face of the earth. For you are the Master of compassion and forgiveness. Blessed are You, YHVH, Master of Peace and reconciliation”.

people-by-rabbi-samuel-feinsmith/ Yeshivat Maharat posted a link ( to another joint Jewish-Muslim 17 th Tammuz/Ramadan prayer and fasting observance, organized by one of its

students, who is praised by Yeshivat Maharat for “building bridges during this difficult time”. The link contains a text, signed by the Yeshivat Maharat student and her Jewish and Muslim friends, that includes: “In recent weeks, as our co-religionists in Israel and Palestine began waging war, we turned to each other in fear and


consecrate their fasts toward breaking the cruel grip of violence that afflicts the nations of the Holy Land. While our brothers and sisters in the Middle East suffer and inflict suffering, we will come together in solidarity and in peace…In this month of Ramadan, a long time ago, Muhammad fasted in the Cave of Hira as he received the word

of God…This month is not the first Ramadan or Tammuz to witness nonsensical, unholy violence in the Holy Land.” (It is fascinating that this future Open Orthodox clergy member affirms the prophecy of Muhammad!) The most shocking events in the long list of Open Orthodox endeavors that represent compromising the security of the State of Israel are the recent New Israel Fund function at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), the shul led by R. Avi Weiss (, and an article in Al Jazeera by an HIR clergy member equating Israeli policy in Judea and Samaria with Arab terror. A whole array of statements and actions on the part of Open Orthodox leadership expressing moral equivalency in the Arab-Israeli conflict can be accessed at

52 A Jewish Pathbreaker Inspired by Her Countryman Mandela, New York Times, July 26, 2013


Cohen, an Israeli settler and peace activist, has called upon Muslim and Jewish congregations to

hope that Yeshivat Maharat’s graduates can equalize the system. This negativity toward Halacha is at times expressed with contempt and disdain. 54

Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik did not mince words in condemning such attitudes. He explained that the Rambam’s classification of one who is “Mak’chish Maggideha” (Hil. Teshuva 3:8) as a Kofer refers to a person who attributes bias, subjective motive or personal fault to the Chachmei Ha-Mesorah. It is heretical to claim that a rule or interpretation of the Sages is flawed or is the product of prejudice. The Yeshivat Maharat attitude that there is a bias within Orthodox Judaism which its graduates need to overcome is highly objectionable, particularly in light of the Rav Soloveitchik’s words, and further in light of the fact that the Yeshivat Maharat women assign fault to ancient and binding halachic principles.

In the spirit of defying those aspects of Orthodoxy which are not in consonance with feminist and

egalitarian, liberal social mores, several high-ranking Open Orthodox rabbis have argued for the excision of the “she-lo asani” berachos recited each morning, to be replaced by an alternative beracha. 55 In this

same vein did a very prominent Open Orthodox rabbi issue a scathing attack on the Talmudic attitude toward women as reflected in the beracha of “she-lo asani isha”. 56

A new edition of Keren, the Yeshivat Maharat Torah journal, has recently been published. 57 Continuing

the discussion about the beracha of “she-lo asani isha”, all of the articles in this edition of Keren (164 pages) are dedicated to discussion of this beracha:

When the words of the siddur clash with our worldview we are faced with a classic halakhic problemWe recognize that communal change comes from two directions simultaneously. The first step is a deep engagement with the halakhic system followed by a communal conversation. We invite you to be part of the discussion. What do you think about the berakha of she-lo asani isha/השא ינשע אלש? 58

All of the articles in this new edition of Keren discuss the propriety/impropriety (sic) of the beracha, and various writers express their discomfort and opposition to the beracha and their rejection of the traditional values (of Chazal) associated with the beracha. Some writers suggest eliminating or replacing the beracha, and such is the personal practice of a few of the writers. One prominent argument that is proffered several times in Keren against recitation of the beracha is the requirement to be truthful; if one feels that the message of the beracha is false, there is halachic reason not to recite it, argue some of the writers! Other writers in Keren propose an halachic trick of intentionally reciting other Birkhos Ha- Shachar out of order, in defiance of Halacha, so as to compel exemption from reciting the beracha of "she-lo asani isha", and some other writers in Keren suggest alternative, less "offensive" replacement texts in place of "she-lo asani isha". The very lengthy article by Zev Farber in this edition of Keren, deferentially referenced and lauded by other writers in the publication, presents bases for adopting replacement beracha texts.

Were the Open Orthodox proponents of eliminating the beracha of "she-lo asani isha" to consistently apply their approach to other areas of Halacha, the entire halachic system would be dismantled. The approaches suggested in Keren are more radical in their reform of Halacha than many Conservative writings advocating halachic modification, and the comfort with which many of the Keren writers condemn the traditional Talmudic values expressed by the beracha of "she-lo asani isha" is downright frightening. Keren is a perfect example of how Open Orthodoxy is rapidly becoming the new Conservative movement.

Thus, to the extent that Yeshivat Maharat and Open Orthodox leadership have claimed that the ordination of women and the feminization of synagogue practice reflect technical fealty to Halacha, has there been a conscious effort to undermine and even assault the halachic system, alleging its bigotry and unfairness. When Reform and Conservative rabbis make such allegations, Orthodox Jews shrug them off, but here we have people who claim to be Orthodox and halachically-committed making those same allegations and adopting the same attitude toward Halacha as the heterodox movements, yet being taken seriously by some Orthodox Jews, for the statements emanate from Open Orthodox, halachically-observant clergy rather than non-Orthodox clergy who do not claim to observe Halacha.

By claiming fealty to Halacha and using the Orthodox brand, the Maharat system has been able to influence how some view and (now dis)respect Halacha, while radially challenging traditional gender roles in Judaism and feminizing synagogue protocol.

Readers should also note the very close relationship between Yeshivat Maharat and JOFA, the latter of whose leadership in large measure populates the board of directors of Yeshivat Maharat and is among the major contributors to Yeshivat Maharat. 59 Yeshivat Maharat’s leadership and graduates are also heavily involved with JOFA, and Yeshivat Maharat’s online presence is cluttered with links to JOFA articles and events. 60

While this all should come as no surprise, JOFA has exhibited a total abrogation of commitment to Torah values. For example, a recent JOFA Facebook post, linked by the Yeshivat Maharat Facebook page, reads:

Dear Orthodox Jewish Day Schools: Please frame homosexuality as an identity, rather than as a sin. If you don't, you risk alienating LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) students, as well as their siblings, friends, and families. 61

Another such recent JOFA post linked by Yeshivat Maharat reads:

How can Orthodox feminists create authentic alternatives to Kiddushin that will resolve the issues of the man acquiring the woman as property, and the ever-looming possibility of iggun? 62




And another JOFA post linked by Yeshivat Maharat:

Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David: "If the goal of feminism is indeed for women to be changed by men and for men to be changed by women, and for society as a whole to be changed as a result, then we have no choice but to open ourselves to becoming the 'New Jews' with a totally new, untraditional, relationship to mitzvot." 63

And another:

An orange on the seder plate? Timbrels and a cup of water in honor of Miriam? A woman saying Kiddush? How do you incorporate women and feminism into your Pesach seder? Use The Torch to get your voice out there! 64

And another:

Whether it’s Haredim serving in the IDF, bombs falling in Gaza, misogyny in the workplace, income inequality or a myriad of other issuesthere is something about Israel that makes you upset. There is something about Israel you wish you could disown. We all have an obligation to work on changing these things, but we don’t have the luxury of pretending that the Israel we love and support doesn’t include them. We can’t have the hike through Ein Gedi without grappling with the armored bus to Ariel. We can’t have the yeshivas in Jerusalem and the cafes in Tel Aviv while trying to ignore the conditions in Ramla or the deportations of Ethiopian refugees.

Orthodox Feminists are often asked (from both the left and the right) why we remain Orthodox. If we are so troubled by certain interpretations and applications of halakha, why not just jump ship? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to keep the parts we like and drop the parts we don’t? The answer is obvious. This is our heritage, and this is our history. We understand that as members of this kehillah, community, we can’t ignore the problems. We will remain committed to the halakhic process, while working to fix it, because it is oursfor better or worse. 65 (emphasis mine)

JOFA is radically redefining and reforming Judaism, and its close partnership with Yeshivat Maharat is extremely telling. To claim that JOFA is more on a Conservative trajectory than on an Orthodox one is an understatement. JOFA’s trajectory and that of its close partner, Yeshivat Maharat, must be viewed identically.

The future of Open Orthodoxy’s feminist agenda portends more extremes and greater challenges to normative Orthodoxy:



But the maharats-in-training, it seems, have a bit more fire. Dasi Fruchter, who at 24 is one of the yeshiva’s youngest students, is easy to spot as she sits poring over a Talmud in the beit midrash: She’s the one wearing bright red lipstick. When I ask her if she considers herself a feminist reformer of Orthodox Judaism, she simply says, “Yes.”

She also tells me that, whereas the inaugural cohort of graduates has to be somewhat careful, because “whatever they do will be much more scrutinized,” the next generation of maharats “will have the luxury to ask harder questions.” It’s like a chess game, where each tiny strategic advance lays the groundwork for the next, more daring move. For Fruchter, the fact that the religion is slow to change isn’t annoying; it’s comforting. “I love the molasses nature of Orthodoxy,” she laughs. “It’s sweet and gooey and slow and rich.” 66

The danger of a movement with an agenda to incrementally and calculatingly reform Orthodoxy speaks for itself.


The writings of Zev Farber and Open Orthodox leadership's limp reaction to these heretical public writings were addressed above. Under Farber, a total dichotomy between Halacha and belief emerges, and the halachic mantle is utilized to the point of absurdity and outrageousness: Farber authored halachic analyses sanctioning homosexual unions, 67 the nullification of all marriages without gittin or the involvement of a centralized beis din, 68 and promoting revolutionary feminization of the synagogue. 69 Were a non-Orthodox rabbi to issue such writings, they would be dismissed by Orthodox Jews. However, when an Open Orthodox rabbi with Yadin Yadin ordination is the authority here, many in the Orthodox camp find justification, as the writings are presented to reflect an academic, Halachic Judaism, in which adherence to technical legalities is retained, albeit sans the other features of Orthodoxy.

Other Open Orthodox rabbis have penned extremely problematic writings pertaining to Ikkarei Ha- Emunah (Cardinal Principles of Faith), including denial of the existence of Moshiach, denial of a future Bais Ha-Mikdash, denial of the veracity of the Torah’s narratives, and much more. 70 The case of Farber is far from solitary, but the perceived license to bifurcate Torah deviation and Orthodoxy while at the same time retain Orthodox authority stems from a professed fealty to Halacha.

Expressing condemnation toward the greatest personalities in Scripture is increasingly common among Open Orthodox leadership. Sara Hurwitz shockingly stated this year in her Rosh Hashana sermon: The

sacrifice of Isaac, however, I would like to suggest, is sacrifice without purpose. Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak, went too far, and therefore, could not be a sacrifice with the intent to bring about change


Avraham who is willing to murder, is almost unrecognizable from the Avraham we have encountered up to this


surrendering to God, unaware of the moral implications of sacrificing his child. Avraham hasn’t just changed his

name, as Rambam may have suggested he should do. Rather, he has become utterly unrecognizable, losing his

essence, his moral intuition. Avraham was willing to sacrifice. But he transcended the normative expectations for

giving something up. He went too far

of another soul. Not Avraham’s that could have lead (sic) to death. We must make a sacrifice that brought us “tefilat chana” the prayer of chana whose formulation evolved into the amida, the shomenei esrai that we recite today. Not the sacrifice of Avraham that resulted in God’s silence, in a God that did not speak directly to Avraham

again." 71 (emphasis mine)

must make the sacrifice of Chana, a sacrifice that resulted in the birth


Avraham of the Akeda, has changed so completely that he is now submissive, unconditionally


Another leading Open Orthodox rabbi wrote that Avrohom Avinu failed the test of the Akeidah, for he should have thereupon refused God’s command, 72 and Zev Farber labeled the words of Yeshaya Ha-Navi that “All the nations

are like nothing before Him, like naught and void they are considered by Him” (40:17) as “an offensive enough statement [which inspired the alternative text of ‘who has made me an Israelite’]”. 73 There is an endless stream of writings by Open Orthodox leadership disparaging the greatest Scriptural and Rabbinic personalities. The aforementioned are but a few of the countless examples. 74

Precisely following the path of the Conservative movement, much of Open Orthodoxy’s leadership has taken license to deny and even assault fundamentals of the Torah, be they the Torah’s Divine authorship, the veracity of the Torah’s narratives, the truth of the Torah’s portrayal of the eschatological era, and the righteousness of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Prophets. Aside from the inherent problems with this extraordinary disbelief and irreverence, it is bound to cause further erosion of Torah commitment within Open Orthodoxy, as that which should be treated as true and holy is instead treated as untrue and profane; such attitudes inevitably precipitate great laxity and pervasive non-commitment. Such occurred within the Conservative movement, and Open Orthodoxy is positioning itself for a repeat of this seismic religious meltdown. (It should also be noted that many of the drastic and fundamental departures from tradition which took the Conservative movement a century to complete have been achieved by Open Orthodoxy in a mere decade. While the parallels between the Conservative and Open Orthodox movements are striking, the speed at which Open Orthodoxy has introduced its reforms is unprecedented.)

Same-Gender Relationships


74 See, e.g., Linzer’s denunciation of Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership in

REV.pdf, and see violation-of-our-society/, in which, based on a gross misunderstanding of the nature of midrash, a popular Maharat accuses Rashi of condoning sexual abuse. Entire volumes can be compiled of such shocking castigation and disparagement of eminent personalities in our Mesorah on the part of the Open Orthodox rabbinate.

Although we must treat all people with dignity and show sensitivity to those who have same-sex attraction, we dare not condone, endorse or promote the homosexual lifestyle. Open Orthodoxy, however, has blurred this critical distinction.

Open Orthodox leadership has been at the forefront of advocacy for same-gender marriage rights and marital protection. From lobbying state legislatures to recognize same-gender marriages, to celebrating homosexual marital-style relationships, to hosting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) sensitivity- training Shabbatonim at their synagogues, Open Orthodox rabbis have taken up the cause with great enthusiasm. 75 (One prominent Open Orthodox rabbi joyously proclaimed that the legalization of same- gender marriage in his state is a victory akin to the story of Chanukah. 76 ) Always careful to state that the technical homosexual act is not permissible when committed fully voluntarily, Open Orthodox rabbis have gone where no self-identified Orthodox rabbi has gone before in the battle to legitimize public homosexual expression and marriage rights.

Steven Greenberg, who calls himself “the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi”, and his male partner, are members of a congregation in the Boston area:

Greenberg, who lives in Boston, found a religious home at Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Boston, where he said he and his partner and daughter feel welcome. He credits the synagogue’s rabbi, Yonah Berman (YCT ’07), with encouraging an inclusive atmosphere. Berman, who said he is expressing his own views and not speaking for the congregation, noted that Massachusetts is identified as a welcoming place for same-sex couples. “While Orthodox synagogues and rabbis are bound to an interpretation of Jewish law that does not recognize these marriages as religiously valid, that does not change the realities that these couples and their children are part of the social fabric of our community,” he said. “We therefore have a responsibility, both religiously and ethically, to embrace them.” 77

The congregation’s publications recognize Greenberg and his male partner as a couple, 78 and Greenberg was among the congregation’s rabbinic presenters on Shavuos night, where he delivered a lecture entitled “A Marriage Made Under Sinai?” 79

Recently, a member of the inaugural YCT graduating class posted his objection to the Torah reading of Mincha on Yom Kippur, concerned that it promotes “homophobia” and bigotry:

…I got to thinking ahead to the Torah portion we traditionally read in the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This portion is comprised of a list of sexual prohibitions (Leviticus 18:1 30). Why would we read the

primary religious source used to substantiate homophobia on our most holy day of the year? While I might not have an answer to this question, I do feel that silence on this issue is its own sin.

As a human being, I feel a need to speak out on this because there are those for whom it is not just their comfort or happiness that are at risk, but their very health, safety, and actual lives. As a Jew, I cannot stomach senseless hatred toward people because of who they are. An integral part of our Jewish identity comes from our experience as victims of the world’s hatred. We cannot stand idly by as other people suffer from bigotry. As a Rabbi, I feel a need to speak out for justice. 80

The fact that this rabbi, who is married to a cantor 81 and whose website is featured on the YCT website, 82 identifies more with the homosexual cause than with Torah values, is wrenching.

It is the specious claim to halachic fidelity that has enabled these Open Orthodox rabbis’ statements to gain traction and be taken seriously by many. These rabbis’ invoking of commitment to the Torah’s prohibition on homosexuality is not merely a disclaimer or a clarifier; it is, rather, a statement of self- empowerment, for it grants a sense of deemed Torah legitimacy to the rabbis’ undertaking of the homosexual cause. By the same token, the bifurcation of Halacha from Torah values, such that matters which the Torah describes as abominable have been effectively stripped of such connotation by Open Orthodoxy, attests to the movement’s agenda to reform Orthodoxy in a most radical manner. This is strikingly similar to the approach taken by the non-Orthodox movements in their dilution of Torah values and practice.

Interdenominational and Interfaith Initiatives

Open Orthodox rabbis continue to push for changes to the contours of Orthodoxy, engaging in interfaith endeavors that significantly breach the accepted, precedent guidelines established by Rav Soloveitchik in his seminal essay Confrontation, which barred interfaith religious discussion and activities. The Elijah Interfaith Institute summer program, consisting of joint textual study and religious lectures and discussion with Christian seminarians, co-sponsored by YCT and Union Theological Seminary, 83 and the hosting of church choirs for performances in the sanctuary of Avi Weisssynagogue, 84 are among the many problematic activities in this regard. (Readers may also recall the report of Catholic cardinals and bishops visiting YCT, replete with a beit midrash session and hand-in-hand singing and dancing with YCT faculty and students. 85 )

Treating non-Orthodox clergy as colleagues and learning Torah from them is very much part of the agenda of Open Orthodoxy. One of the countless examples of such endeavors is the Community Beit Midrash program, in which YCT and Yeshivat Maharat participate with Mechon Hadar (non-

denominational), Jewish Theological seminary, Hebrew Union College and Drisha Institute (non- denominational) in an interactive lecture series on Torah texts and thought, hosted and led by the above institutions and their faculty on a rotating basis. 86 Here are a few samples of the program’s offerings:

Please join Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, Mechon Hadar and Yeshivat Maharat for an Open

Beit Midrash program on Tuesday nights this fall!

Submission and Serving God An evening with Erin Leib Smokler, Rabbi Dov Linzer and Rabbi Ethan Tucker The Binding of Isaac raises many core religious questions: Is true service to God achieved through submission? What is God trying to communicate in asking Abraham to sacrifice his son? What is achieved when God cancels that command? Join us for an evening of spirited conversation as our three

panelists engage in a live collaborative reading of Genesis chapter 22 that aims to probe the depths of this text while grappling with its ongoing relevance for contemporary religious life. Participating

Institutions The Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School Ï HUC - JIR New York Jewish Education 87

Reading and Rereading the Akedah: Ethics,

Drisha Institute for

Co-Sponsored by Yeshivat Maharat, Drisha Institute, Mechon Hadar, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, and the Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical school with support of the Wexner Foundation Graduate Alumni Collaboration Grant. Please join us for a night of open Beit Midrash learning on Tuesday nights! Each night of learning will be capped by a shiur by the faculty of the sponsoring organizations. Open Learning beginning at 7:00 pm. Shiur from 8:15-9:00 pm. Free of charge and open to the public…Jan. 28:Purim and Pluralism, Unveiling our Communal Masks, Jeffrey Fox [Yeshivat Maharat] Feb. 4: Sex and Freedom, Noah Bickhart [Jewish Theological Seminary] Feb. 11:Who Says I Have To? What Mitzvah really means, and why it matters, Jason Rubenstein [Mechon Hadar] March 11- April 1 @ Jewish Theological Seminary-3080 Broadway Mar. 11: The Dangerous Sisters of the Torah, Amy Kalmanofsky [Jewish Theological Seminary] Mar. 18: 127 countries for 127 years: Between Sarah and Esther, Dena Weiss [Mechon Hadar] Mar. 25: Lot and the Destruction of Sodom: A Prefiguring of Exodus, David Silber [Drisha] Apr. 1 Modernity, Minhag and Machine Made Matzah, Dov Linzer [Yeshivat Chovevei Torah] 88

YCT participates in the annual Pearlstone Center Beit Midrash Retreat, in which rabbis and rabbinical students from seminaries of all denominations gather for three days to learn and pray together, with topics of ecology being the focus. 89 Here is some information about the program:

An inspirational Shabbaton weekend filled with Jewish learning, communal prayer and groundbreaking thought. Join an intergenerational, pluralistic community of Jewish farmers, rabbis, educators and scholars from across the countryThrilled to partner this year with RRC - Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Mechon Hadar, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, Hebrew College, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, The Macks Center for Jewish Education, The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Interfaith Power & Light -- This will be the best Beit Midrash retreat ever! 90

YCT and Yeshivat Maharat participate in the Global Day of Jewish Learning, which features Torah lectures delivered primarily by Reform and Conservative clergy, as well as by some Open Orthodox clergy. The program is sponsored by Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Mechon Hadar, YCT, Yeshivat Maharat, and a host of non-Orthodox and fringe Orthodox congregations and organizations. 91

YCT, along with Yeshivat Maharat and about a dozen non-Orthodox rabbinical groups and seminaries, participated in a JCC Manhattan program entitled Shmita Yom Iyun: An Afternoon of Exploring the Sabbatical Tradition”. In the best of Open Orthodox pluralistic tradition, several leading Open Orthodox rabbis spoke at various sessions, in rabbinic camaraderie with non-Orthodox clergy. The program’s flyer reads, in part:

2:303:50 pm Keynote Session Moderated by Nigel Savage and Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen With Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Rabbi Dov Linzer, and Rabbi Julian Sinclair

4:005:50 pm Break-out sessions With Shraga Bar On, Sarah Chandler, Orly Dabush Nitzan, Avital Geva, Noam Geva, Mirele Goldsmith, Rabbi Ari Hart, Amichai Lau Lavie, Rabbi Joy Levitt, Rabbi Dov Linzer, Orli Moss, Dan Nadel, Shuli Passow, Joe Perlov, Zeevik Shafrir, Rabbi Julian Sinclair 92

All over the country, YCT graduates are inviting non-Orthodox clergy into their congregations to teach Torah and practice rabbinics, and YCT graduates are going to non-Orthodox congregations to participate in religious services. Here are a few of many examples of such interdenominational endeavors:

Recently Truboff (R. Zachary Truboff, YCT ’10) invited a Reform rabbi and two Conservative rabbis to join him and community members at his shul to discuss the holiday of Succot. After each rabbi gave a d’var Torah (Torah lesson), Truboff concluded, “the beauty of a succah is its inclusiveness.” 93

A graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary whose mantra is openness, (R. Uri) Topolosky said he was drawn to New Orleans by the prospect of cooperation with Gates of Prayer (Reform temple) and, beyond that, with the entire New Orleans Jewish

community…“After leading Beth Israel’s services in the chapel, Rabbi Uri walked through the building to our (Reform) sanctuary, where our Shabbat services were just beginning, and he sat down in one of our pews,” Loewy recalled. “When I heard him singing along to the Reform tunes of the service, I knew he would become a partner. And even though I had driven my car to the synagogue that night, I walked

him home.”

congregation breaks ground for its new building — to be built on the Reform synagogue’s property. 94

Now the partnership is set to receive concrete expression, when the Orthodox

Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld (YCT ’07), of Portland’s Modern Orthodox synagogue Shaarey Tphiloh, straddled the denominational aisle and invited (Rabbi Alice) Goldfinger (who was disabled and recently fired from her congregation - AG) to help him lead Friday night services… “I tried to imagine what it would be like

for me to be a female Reform rabbi. I thought, what if I were her and she was me? I would want him to ask me to lead services,” said Herzfeld, 34, who joined Shaarey Tphiloh, Maine’s oldest synagogue, five years ago…That’s exactly what happened on a Friday evening in November 2011, when Herzfeld and Goldfinger stood side by side in Shaarey Tphiloh’s cavernous sanctuary…Goldfinger led parts of the Kabbalat Shabbat service welcoming the Sabbath, as congregants sang along…“When she sang, you just got drawn into it and you could feel the spirituality,” said Fran Schneit, a friend and former congregant of Goldfinger…“When I invite[d] her to lead services, it [meant] some people [would] question me,” Herzfeld admitted. “They might say I’m not doing a good job preserving tradition, but it’s more important to stand up for someone who needs you to stand up for them.”…This was one of the only times Herzfeld had ever heard a woman lead services. “It’s irregular and out of my comfort zone,” he said, looking at Goldfinger. “But it was important to let her know that I was with her in her struggle to be strong and… that I was going out of my comfort zone —”…“And that’s when he said, ‘One of us had to be uncomfortable; why should it have to be me?” …After I told this story to Rabbi Avi Weiss, dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, where Herzfeld studied (he also has degrees from Yeshiva and Columbia universities), Weiss was silent for five long seconds…“As you speak, I am filled with pride and tears. You have given me one of my proudest moments,” he said. “Judaism is not just a system of the head, but a system of the heart. It’s a balance, and Akiva gets it.” 95 (emphasis mine)

(Weiss himself gave an elderly woman an aliyah on Simchas Torah: "After the melody ended, Rav Avi asked Gella if she would like an aliyah. And so we read again. ‘And there was evening, and there was morning, another day.’“ 96 )

R. Saul Strosberg (YCT ’05), from his Nashville, TN pulpit, has undertaken to spread the message of Open Orthodoxy in the Deep South. As part of his cross-denominational work, Strosberg attends bat mitzvah services at a local Reform temple, where he prays from a Reform siddur and speaks from the bimah, as he extolls the philosophy and practices of Reform Judaism, including the idea of choosing which mitzvos to observe (“the autonomy to choose those mitzvoth which one finds meaningful and compelling”), the beauty of the Reform siddur, the praiseworthiness of davening in English rather than in Hebrew, the virtues of Reform temples, and the greatness of the local Reform temple’s rabbis, whom he calls his mentors and has arranged to teach High Holiday classes and deliver the Shabbos morning sermon at his shul. 97 Please read the referenced sermon delivered by Strosberg at the Reform temple, in which he enthusiastically confers upon Reform Judaism a stamp of complete legitimacy and endorses Reform Judaism as equally acceptable and appealing as Orthodoxy, if not more so; it is utterly shocking.

(This year, Strosberg led a pre-Pesach seder at a local Methodist church: What if our family’s collection of thankful stories started in Egypt about 3,500 years ago? It is now known in the Jewish community as

the Seder Meal.

p.m. we will be blessed to share this special feast in our Welcome Center. Rabbi Saul Strosberg,

It is a Jewish feast celebrating the beginning of Passover. This year on April 9, at 6:00

97 Friday Night at the Temple, Nov. 6, ’09

of Congregation Sherith/Israel, Nashville, Tennessee, will be our host as we gather to worship and learn about the meal Jesus shared with his disciples. This is a special opportunity to walk into our “Upper Room,” sit at a table with those we love, and share in a worship experience filled with the long-ago story of God’s redemptive love. 98 )

YCT recently proudly announced that one of its graduates has launched a new Torah learning website:, a unique online Jewish learning resource founded by Rabbi Ben Greenberg (YCT '09), has launched. Read more about this impressive new initiative and Rabbi Greenberg's goal to make Jewish learning more readily available around the world. 99 The impressive website brings together fifteen experts in Jewish learning to teach virtual classes in English, Spanish, and French. 100

Who are the experts brought together by this YCT rabbi to teach Torah to a worldwide audience?

Rabbi Pamela Gottfried: “rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary”, Rabbi Larry Bach: “Rabbi of Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, Texas… ordained in 1998 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion”, Rabbi Rebecca Wolitz Sirbu: “ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America”


About half of the Torah teachers of this initiative proudly announced by YCT are non-Orthodox rabbis.

The above programs and endeavors are among the countless initiatives by Open Orthodoxy to promote Torah learning from non-Orthodox clergy and to interact with such clergy as rabbinic colleagues. The sentiment of rabbinic camaraderie harbored by Open Orthodox leadership toward clergy of the heterodox movements was aptly expressed by the YCT president:

"But my dream is to have Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hadar, and Chovevei on one campus, to move in together. We’d each daven in our own ways, but it could transform the Upper West Side.” 102

Let us contrast the Open Orthodox approach toward rabbinic initiatives and identification with heterodox clergy with the position of Rav Soloveitchik regarding such endeavors:

It is my opinion that Orthodoxy cannot and should not unite with such groups which deny the fundamentals of our weltanschauung. It is impossible for me to comprehend, for example, how Orthodox rabbis, who spent their best years in yeshivos and absorbed the spirit of Torah Shebaal Peh and its tradition, for whom Rabi Akiva, the Rambam, the Rema, the Gra, Rav Chaim Brisker and other Jewish

sages are the pillars upon which their spiritual world rests, can join with spiritual leaders for whom all

this is worthless

Reform Judaism much greater than that which separated the Perushim and the Tzedukim in the days of

From the point of view of the Torah, we find the difference between Orthodox and

Bayis Sheini, and between the Kara'im and traditionalists in the Gaonic era. Has Jewish history ever recorded an instance of a joint community council that consisted of Kara’im and Torah-true Jews? 103

Open Orthodoxy has made a clear and dramatic break from the guidelines and policies formulated by Rav Soloveitchik. Open Orthodoxy's maverick approach to interdenominational and interfaith issues glaringly lacks the endorsement of any recognized rabbinic authorities.

It must be noted that, unlike other religious groupings, which are bound to contain fringe deviants who

bring shame to those groupings and do not represent the groupings’ authorities or teachings, the deviations from Orthodox theology and halachic fidelity on the part of Open Orthodoxy largely emanate

from the very leadership of the movement. Denial of the objective Mi-Sinai character of the Oral Law, ordaining women as clergy, reforming core and halachically-mandated components of our liturgy, feminizing synagogue practice, and so forth, come directly from Open Orthodox leadership and not from

a few low-tier deviants on the fringe of Open Orthodoxy. Furthermore, the percentage of Open

Orthodox rabbis who have publicly deviated from normative Orthodoxy is astounding. Although Open Orthodoxy is a relatively young movement with a limited number of rabbis, the quantity, range and severity of deviations from normative Orthodoxy is mind-blowing.

While it has been suggested by a few defenders of the Open Orthodox movement that Open Orthodoxy

is actually a Kiruv movement, marketing Orthodoxy in a package that is appealing to Jews who are not

ready for a full, uncompromised dose of complete Orthodoxy, such logic is spurious. The notion of diluting and even assaulting the foundational components of Orthodoxy so as to create a reformed, compromised and new version of Orthodoxy, all done into order to better market Orthodoxy to those who cannot embrace full-fledged Orthodoxy, is without basis, and an argument to defend such is clearly fallacious.

The historical and religious parallels between the Open Orthodox movement and the Conservative movement have been compellingly demonstrated by R. Dov Fischer, 104 R. Steven Pruzansky, 105 and R. Moshe Averick. 106 Judaism that is stripped of Mesorah, in order to bring it in line with secular values, all the while undermining Torah belief by incorporating secular academic approaches to Torah authorship, degenerates into a movement that is at stark odds with authentic Judaism. As such, any distinction between Open Orthodoxy and the traditional Conservative movement is rapidly disappearing.

The long-term projected impact of the Open Orthodox movement cannot be underestimated. Open Orthodox rabbis are rapidly being hired as the spiritual leaders of congregations and as day school administrators and teachers all over the country; in many communities far from the major Orthodox population centers, Open Orthodox rabbis occupy the pulpits of the only Orthodox synagogues in town. 107 In some rapidly growing communities, the Open Orthodox rabbinate has established a

103 From 1954 Yiddish article by Rabbi Soloveitchik in Der Tog Morgen Journal

considerable presence, and in New York, precedent was just set, as a very prominent Modern Orthodox high school in Riverdale has hired a YCT graduate as assistant principal. 108

Several people involved in the hiring of rabbis have related that YCT pays synagogues the full salaries of its graduates for the first several years of their employment, thereby compellingly enticing synagogues to hire YCT rabbis. The current hiring dynamic, coupled with the proactive reform agenda of Open Orthodoxy, portends substantial challenges to normative Orthodoxy across the United States and beyond.

It is not our goal to malign others; rather, by taking a hard look at the theology and trajectory of Open Orthodoxy, it is our hope that those who yield power within the movement will do what is necessary to rein in its outliers and steer the movement to the path of normative Orthodoxy.