Open Orthodoxy

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Weeping for Psalms

Rabbi Josh Feigelson (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah class of 2005) reviewed two books on the translation of Tehillim (Psalms) in his article for Zeek Magazine titled “Singing God's Praises: Psalms and Authenticity”. One book was "Psalms in a translation for praying: A work in progress by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the other was "Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms" by Norman Fischer.

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is the primary leader and a significant founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement. From Wikipedia, here's a brief excerpt describing Jewish Renewal:
Jewish Renewal is a new religious movement in Judaism that attempts to reinvigorate what it views as a moribund and uninspiring modern Judaism with mystical, Hasidic, musical and meditative practices drawn from a variety of traditional and untraditional, Jewish and other, sources.
In seeking to augment Jewish ritual, some Renewal Jews borrow freely and openly from Buddhism, Sufism, Native American religion, and other faiths; this is termed syncretism. Many Jews outside this movement view religious syncretism as outside the bounds of Judaism.

Norman Fischer is a Jewish-American Soto Zen Buddhist priest. He is what some refer to as a Jubu, a Jewish Buddhist.

Here are quotes from Rabbi Feigelson's article, with my commentary:
Zalman frequently switches God's gender back and forth between male and female, highlighting the limitations of our language and our thinking about sexuality and its ascription to God. Also, more often than not he addresses God in the second person, as You, even when the Hebrew original is in the third person. Take Psalm 77, for instance. The JPS opens, "I cry aloud to God; I cry to God that He may give ear to me." Who is being addressed here? The reader, who is told that the Psalmist is crying out to God, and is perhaps invited to participate, or comforted in knowing that someone else also wants to cry out to God. But Zalman dispenses with the middleman: "I raise my voice to cry out to You, God. I raised my voice and You gave ear to me." This is good stuff, helpful stuff-it brings the davenner, the person doing the praying, to a much more personalized encounter with God through the text. It is certainly a more comfortable translation for our non-traditional Jew than a traditional translation.
Response: Rabbi Feigelson states that in Schachter-Shalomi’s translation of Tehillim he “…switches God's gender back and forth between male and female” and “…addresses God in the second person, as You, even when the Hebrew original is in the third person.” Concerning this approach, Rabbi Feigelson states that “This is good stuff, helpful stuff…” Should an Orthodox rabbi critique Schachter-Shalomi’s approach with these affirmations...or maybe condemnations instead?

Fischer addresses God as "you," not "You." The style is comfortable and intimate, almost conversational, but still at enough of a remove to feel set-apart and holy.
Response: From a lashon hakodesh (Hebrew) perspective, addressing God as “you" or "You” in English seems to be a silly semantic point. However, it is not silly when an Orthodox rabbi discusses and affirms this convention in a context that is completely misaligned with Orthodoxy.

A better translation [of Psalms] from a language standpoint, however, is Norman Fischer's Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms. Fischer is a poet, as well as a Zen abbot, and he acknowledges in his excellent introductory essay that his is not a translation directly from the Hebrew: "Since I am a poet and a religious practitioner, and not a Hebraist, my work with the Psalms rests largely on the work of translators. In that sense they are 'versions' rather than translations, perhaps as much original English-language poems as faithful replicas of the Hebrew text."

He [Fischer] is not quite translating Psalms, as he admits-so is this Psalms at all? Does it matter? If it doesn't, what's the point of this project?

Fischer answers this question in his introduction, with a sharp insight: "Buddhism begins with suffering and the end of suffering." In contrast, "the Psalms make it clear that suffering is not to be escaped or bypassed… I would go so far as to say that for Western Buddhist practitioners, a sensitive and informed appreciation of the problematic themes included and so powerfully expressed in the Psalms is probably a necessity." (pp. xvi-xvii) Fischer is starting from Buddhism and using the Psalms to inform his Buddhist practice, and thus he has less at stake in the question of the authenticity of his translation. His work feels more comfortable in its own skin than Zalman's as a consequence.
Response: To a certain degree, Rabbi Josh Feigelson legitimizes Norman Fischer's book by reviewing it analytically instead of critically, and sometimes affirmatively. Why would an Orthodox rabbi bestow credibility onto a religious book written from a "Jewish Buddhist perspective", to be used by Buddhists? Why would an Orthodox Rabbi review this book at all?

An authentic translation, like any authentic and true human expression, cannot take place on the page. It can only-maybe-happen inside the mind and soul of a human being relating to the Other: God, human, or text.
Response: An authentic translation of Jewish holy writings begins with an accurate written lexical translation. An accurate translation can certainly convey emotion and elicit spirituality without compromising the content and context of the original text. Mistranslations may result in serious halachic ramifications. Rabbi Feigelson’s statement that an authentic translation “can only-maybe-happen inside the mind and soul of a human being relating to the Other...” epitomizes relativism.

Here is a partial list of related articles listed at the end of Rabbi Feigelson's article:
- Hasidism and Homoeroticism Jay Michaelson July, 2004
- How I Finally Learned to Accept Christ in my Heart Jay Michaelson June, 2000

To say the least, Zeek Magazine is an interesting choice of publication for an Orthodox rabbi to be published in...

Here are some quotes from the Zeek "About" page:
We welcome the heretical, honor the sincere, and are generally bored by in-jokes, apologetics, and irony.
We find the smugness of the cynic and the soft-mindedness of the believer equally repellent to truth. 'Secular' and 'religious' are idols of identity, which we wish to efface.
We are committed to building a new form of Jewish community and identity, one which is serious, playful, pluralistic, committed, inclusive, and cosmopolitan. We are interested in wherever the new Jewish cultures lead.
We are suspicious of any truths that claim to be universal...and any ideologies which reduce the complex to the simple.
Here is a sampling of articles published by Zeek Magazine:
- Star Wars, George Bush, Judaism, and the Penis
- God on Ecstasy
- Wrestling with Esther: Purim Spiels, Gender, and Political Dissidence
- How can you be gay and Jewish?
- Am I "Religious"?

Rabbi Feigelson's rabbinical alma matar, YCT, certainly respects his religious insights, as they have recently published a dvar Torah of his, "The Spirit of Song" (9/30/2006).

Relevant links:
- Josh Feigelson Northwestern Hillel Campus Rabbi
- The Feigelsonian Theory of Smurfian Communism in the Post-War Era

From Rabbi Josh Feigelson's Blog:
- Aaron's is Treif
- Slavery and Kashrut
- How to read the Bible

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Madda uTorah instead of Torah uMadda

I came across interesting comments by a Ya'akov Simon. The email address of the commenter corresponds to Rabbi Ya'akov Simon, a Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduate (at the time, he was a YCT student). The commenter responds to "negative reactions" of the Jewish Week op-ed article, "Choosing Public School Over Yeshiva" by a Ms. Bat Sheva Marcus (a founding board member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance). The synopsis of the Jewish Week article is that Ms. Marcus sent two of her three children to public school instead of a Yeshiva/Jewish school because of secular considerations.

My commentary is interspersed within the commenter's text:
I am shocked at the negative reactions to Ms. Marcus' Op-Ed piece in the Jewish Week. I grew up non-observant and attended public school in the 80's. I agree with the critiques that the challenges that are faced in public school are difficult, but I do not think that they are insurmountable.
Response: Should an Orthodox Jew view public school as a viable educational alternative to Jewish school, but with challenges that can be overcome? Whether or not a Jewish child/teenager can successfully integrate within a secular educational system and still be a Torah-observant Jew is irrelevant. Public schools represent values (e.g. immodesty) that a young Jewish person should not have to contend with on a protracted, unrelenting basis.

Day-School education is very expensive and it is understandable that a family would choose not to spend money on it.
Response: "Day-School education is very expensive." That is obvious. The Jewish educational system is very broken in this regard. However, it is not "understandable that a family would choose not to spend money on it." That is a cop-out. There are options (e.g. scholarships) to make the finances work better. It's unfortunate that the finances of Jewish education can be a burden, but that is an issue to be dealt with, not disregarded by leaving the system.

If a child has a n'tiah [proclivity] for secular subjects that are taught better in a public school, then let them learn in public school and receive private tutoring for liumdei kodesh.
Response: I am troubled that this statement prioritizes secular over religious studies. Why not hire tutors for secular subjects instead? There are other great ways to supplement both limudei chol and kadosh outside the confines of standard school. For example, computer-learning, and some Torah-observant Jews may disagree with this secular suggestion - supplemental classes provided by a public school or university. The primary schooling must remain Jewish.

If we are willing to send our children to secular universities, then one could make a convincing case that it is similarly acceptable to send our children to secular secondary schools. Because a high school student will live at home, unlike a university student. And a strong home environment and influence can counterbalance the influence of secular culture in public school.
Response: A Jewish way of life is a Torah way of life that rigorously revolves around time (e.g. daily prayers and Jewish holidays), religious observance and service, and community. Should pre-college Jewish students be placed into a daily environment that is antithetical to that way of life? At the college level, there are very few Orthodox Jewish options available and one would expect a college student to have a less-influenceable established pattern of behavior than a secondary school student living at home or not.

However there is one important caveat, education is unique to each child. One child can thrive in public school where another will fail. How do you know that this child, Yedidyah, would thrive in day school. It is possible that he could be intellectually bored and frustrated and have a negative Jewish experience. I have met many adults that were turned-off to Torah and Mitzvot because of their Jewish Day School experience. I agree that as a general rule it is better to send a Jewish child to Day School than public school. But exceptions can and should be made. I am not saying whether I agree or disagree with Ms. Marcus' specific decision, but I think that a blanket rejection and personal attacks are unwarranted.
Response: Personal attacks are unwarranted. Blanket rejection of full-time public school attendance by pre-college age Torah-observant Jews is warranted. A Torah-observant Jew should prioritize religious education and environment over secular.

There are reasonable extenuating circumstances why a (pre-college) Jewish student would attend a secular school instead of a Jewish one. For example, a student may be denied admissions to a Jewish school because of insurmountable behavioral problems. Or, a child may have severe special needs that cannot be met by a Jewish school. Lack of an exceptional secular education is not a "special need" that warrants leaving the Jewish school system. Parents should expect academic excellence in both religious and academic subjects from Jewish schools - with the presupposition that Jewish education comes first.

I wonder if Yeshivat Chovevei Torah or Yeshiva University concur with the idea that secular academic standards are a valid reason for a Jewish child/teenager to attend a public school over a Jewish one.

Jewish Week letters to editor, responding to "Choosing Public School Over Yeshiva": Relevant links:
- Evanston Jew: Orthodox Poverty and Wealth

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Now playing in synagogue theaters: Shonda, Shonda, Shonda

In September 2006, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduate Rabbi Darren Kleinberg organized a screening of "Sentenced to Marriage" in conjunction with his shul Kidma and the Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. Here's a description of the film:
...this shocking documentary exposes the Kafkaesque process of divorce for women in Israel where secular law does not exist, and divorce is dealt with according to archaic and fundamentalist orthodox Jewish law. Filmmaker Anat Zuria, maker of the award-winning Purity, gained rare access to the rabbinical courts to follow two women caught in the demoralizing legal labyrinth. Though husbands can live with other women and even withhold child support, wives are forbidden contact with other men. In some cases, these very modern, independent and well-educated women are forced to buy a divorce from their husbands for huge sums. As a result, thousands of Jewish women have lived in limbo indefinitely, both in Israel and in other communities around the world.
This is not the first time that a controversial video has been shown by a protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss. Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld organized screenings of "Trembling before G-d", a film that deals with Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality. Rabbi Herzfeld, assistant rabbi of HIR at the time, screened "Trembling before G-d" for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx. Rabbi Kanefsky screened the film for his synagogue.

Rabbi Kleinberg appears to have taken a different approach, screening "Sentenced to Marriage" in a pluralistic manner (see Reform Temple Chai Newsletter page 15). Kidma not only partnered with a "secular" film festival, but the film was shown at a Conservative synagogue. Afterwards there was a discussion panel of three rabbis that included Rabbi Kleinberg (Orthodox), and a Conservative and Reform (woman) rabbi.

The Orthodox agunah issue is a serious one that must be addressed. That said, whose issue is it? Why would an Orthodox rabbi spearhead the screening of a film (that portrays Orthodoxy negatively) with those whom the issue is not pertinent to? Conservative Judaism has its own way of dealing with their agunah issue. Reform Judaism does not adhere to the Orthodox or Conservative concepts of agunah. Regardless, "Sentenced to Marriage" deals with the Orthodox agunah issue.

Should Orthodox Jews proactively engage Conservative and Reform Jews (who may have been completely oblivious what an agunah is) about sensitive, Orthodox-specific issues such as agunah? Should an Orthodox rabbi seek opportunities to coordinate events with and at non-Orthodox places of worship to promote hotbutton Orthodox issues that are irrelevant to the non-Orthodox?

Some might say that we should do everything possible to promote understanding between the different sects of Judaism. However, profound culturally contextual issues such as agunah can only generate an unwarranted negative perception of Orthodoxy when addressed within the confines of a 1-2 hour film and discussion. Why not embrace issues that accentuate Orthodox similarities with the non-Orthodox instead of spotlighting culture-shock issues that radicalize our differences?

I reliably heard that Rabbi Kleinberg contacted other local Orthodox congregations to participate with this video presentation. They declined. I can't imagine why they said no...

Relevant links:
- Temple Chai Newsletter page 15
- "Till Death Do Us Part..."
- The Rabbis Respond contains interesting comments by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld about "Trembling before G-d" (for a commenter: you shouldn't assume that my intention is controversy or condemnation merely because I list a link. I am merely providing relevant information of interest.)
- "Trembling before G-d" review

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why did Rabbi Avi Weiss/YCT hire Rabbi Saul Berman?

Recently (Sept. 2006), Rabbi Saul Berman was a special Shabbos weekend guest lecturer at the local "Open Orthodox" shul, Kidma. As a point of interest, I Googled Rabbi Berman. Instantly, I saw surprising information that I was unaware of: Rabbi Saul Berman (former director of Edah) defended Mordechai (Marc) Gafni (an admitted sex abuser) on multiple occasions. Even more surprising was that Rabbi Avi Weiss, dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah hired Rabbi Berman (as Director of Rabbinic Enrichment) with no apparent regard for or acknowledgement of Rabbi Berman's role in the Gafni fiasco.

One only needs to Google "Saul Berman Marc Gafni" to see dozens of related links.

Considering the controversy surrounding Rabbi Saul Berman, Kidma's choice of lecturer was at the very least, questionable. However, I am not surprised, since Kidma's spiritual leader is Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, a YCT graduate and protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Based on Rabbi Berman's adamant support for Gafni, there are individuals who believe that Chovevei Torah should not have hired Rabbi Berman. So, why did Chovevei Torah hire Rabbi Berman?

Rabbi Berman is a preeminent liberal Modern Orthodox scholar and former director of the flag-ship liberal Modern Orthodox Edah organization. Rabbi Berman's viewpoints complement and support YCT's philosophies. With Edah closing, the hiring of Rabbi Berman was a major recruit for YCT. Due to Rabbi Berman's extensive credentials and compatibility, did YCT deliberately overlook certain factors in their hiring decision?

Related sources/links in date sequence:
Rabbi Saul Berman defended Gafni when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Yosef Blau wouldn't: The Re-Invented Rabbi The Jewish Week 9/22/2004

Defending Rabbi Gafni By Rabbi Saul Berman, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Rabbi Tirzah Firestone - Jewish Week (NY) Letters - 10/8/2004:
We pray that this unfair, scandalous moment will soon be forgotten and that Rabbi Gafni will be able to free his spiritual energy and formidable intellect in order to help build Jewish consciousness and commitment.

Letter from Rabbi Saul Berman presented by The Awareness Center (undated but presumably after 2004 and before the 5/26/2006 Jewish Journal article, "Rabbi Gafni Ousted for Misconduct"):

Indeed, I firmly believe that the notion suggested by Vicki Polin of the Awareness Center that he [Marc Gafni] poses any danger whatsoever is patently absurd.
I urge the readers of this letter to continue to support Rabbi Gafni's work, including his public teachings, writings, television projects and social activism. We are in need today of hearing the emerging voices of the next generation of Jewish leadership, and Rabbi Gafni's voice is one of them. I look forward to learning what he has to teach in the decades to come.

Gafni's Letter to Aleph 5/15/2006:
I want to say I understand I have made grave mistakes. I made choices that clearly hurt people I love. I am infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain I have caused.

I take full responsibility for all the pain I have inflicted. Clearly all of this and more indicates that in these regards I am sick. I need to acknowledge that sickness and to get help for it. That is what I am doing in this letter.

Rabbi Saul Berman Must Be Removed From Public Jewish Life Immediately Failed Messiah blog 5/18/2006

Rabbi [Marc Gafni] Fired Over Sex Claims, Defenders Offer Mea Culpa Forward 5/19/2006

Rabbi Gafni Ousted for Misconduct Jewish Journal 5/26/2006:
Rabbi Saul Berman, the founder and director of Edah in New York, has been an outspoken defender of Gafni. In a letter taking this reporter to task for writing about the controversy in 2004, Berman, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and ethicist and author Joseph Telushkin said they had looked into past allegations and found them “totally unconvincing.” They described the article as “unfair” and “scandalous.”

This month, Berman said he is “deeply regretful” of his prior support for Gafni, and worried that his past defense may have prolonged the rabbi’s “predatory behavior against women.”

“I was clearly wrong in stating that Rabbi Gafni’s continued role as a teacher within the Jewish community constitutes no risk to Jewish women,” he wrote in a statement.

Rabbi Saul Berman Hired by Chovevei Torah - letter from Rabbi Avi Weiss 7/2/2006:
Coming in at the unprecedented time of growth for the Yeshiva, Rabbi Berman will shape the way for the institution's support of the growing number of chevre in the field.
I am proud and delighted that Rabbi Berman, a person of great brilliance, integrity and sensitivity, has agreed to come on board [YCT].

Should the Community be Concerned About YCT's Berman Hiring? Canonist 7/4/2006:
Berman hasn't made any significant apology for his conduct, and when I left repeated messages for him seeking comment on Gafni, he did not return my calls. If he'd made an effort to immediately and fully apologize for his conduct after the recent Gafni revelations, and had made a full accounting of where he'd gone wrong and how he'd hope to avoid such missteps in the future, one could argue that this episode shouldn't factor into an assessment of his ability to "enrich" dozens of future rabbis, but that simply hasn't happened. At this point, the question for those concerned about clergy abuse is more about why Berman should be allowed in this position than why he shouldn't be.

Open Letter regarding Rabbi Saul Berman (addressed to Rabbi Avi Weiss) by Jewish Whistleblower, reprinted at Jewish Survivors blog 7/4/2006. This letter harshly questions the hiring of Rabbi Berman by Chovevei Torah.

Does Rabbis Saul Berman, Joseph Telushkin, Tirzah Firestone and Psychiatrist, Stephen Marmer have the courage to do Teshuva? Jewish Survivors blog 9/28/2006

Other related links:
- Case of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni - The Awareness Center
- Rabbi Saul Berman Profile - Like Ford
- Mordecai (Marc) Gafni Profile Part 1 - Luke Ford
- Mordecai Gafni Profile Part 2 - Luke Ford
- "Secular spiritualists" have the common-sense to repudiate Marc Gafni: A Statement About Marc Gafni from "What Is Enlightenment?"


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Alternatives and Replacements

An anonymous commenter stated the following about my post "Is Open Orthodoxy the future of Orthodox Judaism?",
you are grasping at straws-rabbi weiss does not say "open orthodoxy is what the future is about", but rather, "the future is what open orthodoxy is about." he is so clearly talking about having open orthodoxy as an alternative in the jewish world...
The discussion of Open Orthodoxy as an alternative to Modern or Chareidi Orthodoxy is not equivalent to whether you like Coke and I like Pepsi. Sometimes an alternative is a replacement.

A devout Coke drinker may drink Pepsi if he is thirsty and there is no other alternative. I doubt that any Chareidim (and many Modern Orthodox) would ever attend an Open Orthodox shul.

I say tomato, you say tomahto...


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Open Orthodox rabbis further radicalize left-wing Orthodoxy

Before Simchas Torah, I received an email that contained the following:
We [Kidma] are proud to announce that all men and women will have an opportunity to be called to the Torah on Simchat Torah.
If you have any questions regarding this, contact Rabbi Kleinberg at
I contacted Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, rabbi of the Open Orthodox Kidma synagogue with following email message:
I received an email that you are offering aliyos for men and women on Simchas Torah. Per the email, I am contacting you for further information.
As a member of the Orthodox Jewish community, I am intrigued by the idea of aliyos for men and women. What will be the aliyos procedure for men and women? For example, separate Torah readings or mixed?

A general this the direction that Kidma is moving in:
Rabbi Kleinberg did not respond to me. I confirmed with a couple of Kidma Simchas Torah attendees that women read and were called to the Torah on the women's side of the sanctuary. Kidma has one main sanctuary separated by a mechitza. If someone would like to provide me with a detailed description, please send it to me via blog comments.

Rabbi Kleinberg distributed a hand-out, titled "Women, Torah Reading and the Dignity of the Congregation: A Halachic Analysis". It referenced Talmud, Shulchan Oruch and other sources. His source material was clearly extracted from the following sources:
- Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity - Hebrew
- Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity - English
- Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis

"Women's Krias HaTorah" is only one of the non-normative Orthodox practices that Rabbi Kleinberg has instituted in his Open Orthodox congregation.

Kidma's non-normative Orthodox practices include:
  • Replacing the three "shelo asani" brochos with "Se'asani Yisrael"

  • Before Torah reading, a woman carries the Torah onto the women’s side of the mechitza

  • The Bima is located on the men’s side of the mechitza but beyond the end-point of the mechitza

  • The Baal Koreh reads the Torah facing the congregation with his back to the Aron (Ark)
Kidma's practices are not unique. It appears that Rabbi Avi Weiss' (Rabbi Kleinberg's mentor) congregration (HIR) recently had a Kallat Torah and Kallat Bereishit (presumably on Simchas Torah). This is not surprising, considering that HIR has instituted extensive Women's Tefillah.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky (another Rabbi Weiss protege) also has a woman carry the Torah onto the women’s side of the mechitza before his congregation's Torah reading.

Orthodox rabbis that I have spoken with believe that "Open Orthodox" synagogues will eventually become Shira Hadasha congregations/Partnership Minyanim. From what I've seen first-hand, I can't say that I disagree.

Aside from non-normative Orthodox religious practices, Rabbi Weiss proteges also profess radical left-wing hashkafa (ideology). That has been and will be addressed in future blog posts.

I find it intriguing that the Orthodox Union (HIR is an OU congregation) and the Rabbinical Council of America (contemplating YCT membership) have not yet either publicly embraced or repudiated "Open Orthodoxy" and its adherents.

Relevant links:
- Women, Simhat Torah, & Drew
- Quick Musing On Simhas Torah
- What's wrong with the women?
- Women's Prayer Groups: Rav Soloveitchik's Position
- Women and communal Torah reading - I

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

From the right: Kosher and treif Jewish music

Although I am focused on ultra-left-wing Orthodoxy, occasionally there will be something from the right that MUST be reviewed.

Concerning Jewish music concerts, I find this VERY disturbing:
We encourage instruments that can produce authentic, Jewish sounds, mainly clarinet and violin," Blau said, revealing his own taste or that of the rabbis in whose name he has built up his power in the Haredi community.

What about electric guitars? "Electric guitars are fine as long as the sound isn't loud and strident. The important thing is not to 'Judaize' all sorts of songs from abroad that are, well, unkosher. No rap, no jazz. If there's a singer whose style is authentically Hassidic but there are lapses here and there, we make sure to set his playlist before he comes to perform at an approved event.
Sanctity Guard vets all music at Haredi Sukkot events / Beware of 'some John Lennon with a kippah'
There are Orthodox individuals who believe that Jewish music concerts are a completely inappropriate Jewish event. That's their perspective. However, it's apparent that contemporary music styles are being "banned" at some Jewish concerts. I think it's inferred that those supposedly non-Judaic styles should be completely banned.

Based on the standard presented in the article, MOST of the Jewish music at should be banned -- contemporary a capella, rock, pop, reggae, children's and novelty/parody music like Uncle Moishy, Shlock Rock, Gershon Veroba...

Lipa Schmelczer has a lot of contemporary sounds in his music. I think he's really great, but oh well, ban him too!

I don't think this issue is wide-spread in the Orthodox community...yet.

Relevant links
- Rabbi Mordechai Blau:Tznius Cop Emes Ve-Emunah blog

Monday, October 09, 2006

Woman rabbi receives ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah...

...that is what the newspaper headlines may be in the future. There is interesting circumstantial evidence that this is the direction that YCT may eventually go in.

The Past: Let's start at the top of the slope...
The 1998 cover story from Religion & Ethics, "Women Rabbis" (Episode no. 124. 2/13/1998) featured the first Orthodox woman "Congregational Intern" at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, instituted by Rabbi Avi Weiss (rabbi of HIR and founder and dean of YCT).
MARY ALICE WILLIAMS: What you are looking at is a revolution, an innovation in Orthodox Judaism, and it's embodied in this 24-year-old. Sharona Margolin Halickman has broken through a gender barrier unbreached for 5,000 years. She is one of the first women to serve in a professional role like this in a Orthodox synagogue. Her title is Congregational Intern. She is not a rabbi, but she's darn close.
Rabbi MOSHE FASKOWITZ (National Council of Young Israel): What we've always learned is that it starts very innocently, very quietly and eventually -- there's an agenda here, and eventually what will happen is this internship will grow into a different kind of position, and it will be a different job definition, and it will include those areas in which women are absolutely prohibited.

Rabbi Avi WEISS: I respectfully disagree. I think that this enhances spirituality and brings more women into our fold. But look, when you do something that's different, it's bound to create controversy.
Ms. HALICKMAN: If we use the term "rabbi," you know, for something similar to what I'm doing, it would really exclude most of the Orthodox community, and it wouldn't become accepted, and we want to keep it accepted within the Orthodox community.
The Present: What's good for the faculty is good for the students
Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson was listed as a member of the YCT adjunct faculty. She received ordination from Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary. Rabbi Naomi Kalish, a Conservative woman rabbi, has also been listed as a member of the YCT adjunct faculty. All YCT instructors teach seminary-related classes. YCT is a rabbinical seminary, not a 4-year university.

By listing the title "Rabbi" before a man's or woman's name, YCT is certainly acknowledging that anyone with that title is recognized as a rabbi. I see no YCT distinction in the rabbinical title of their women rabbi faculty from that of Rabbi Avi Weiss (Dean) or Rabbi Dov Linzer (Rosh Yeshiva).

Based on their Reform and Conservative women rabbi faculty precedents, YCT may eventually hire an Orthodox woman rabbi. Recently, a woman received Orthodox rabbinical ordination (it was not from YCT, and it was noted that it was not exactly the same as for men). More Orthodox woman rabbis may follow.

If women rabbis are good enough to teach YCT male seminary students, then why shouldn’t YCT also ordain those same women? At a private religious seminary, doesn’t the student body typically reflect the faculty?

Anything you can do, I can do better
Ms. Dina Najman, an Orthodox woman, was appointed spiritual leader of an Orthodox-oriented congregation.

Concerning Ms. Najman’s appointment, Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh Yeshiva of Chovevei Torah, stated “She can do a better job than a large number of rabbis just coming out of rabbinical school.”

I will assume that Rabbi Linzer is referring to male orthodox rabbis ”just coming out of rabbinical school”. So, doesn’t his comment imply a rhetorical follow-up question…”Why not make her a rabbi?”

Rabbi Linzer’s comment can also be perceived as a backhanded compliment that Ms. Najman may better qualified than many men, but because she is an Orthodox woman she can never obtain the status/title of Orthodox rabbi.

Why even compare Ms. Najman to male rabbis? Why not compare her to learned men and women - focusing on her abilities instead of titles? Or better yet, why compare at all?

The Future...
Will YCT or a YCT sister school eventually ordain women rabbis? Only time will tell…

Side point: In the Hebrew language, the title "rabbi" may not be grammatically correct for a woman, however "rabbi" is unisex in the English vernacular. See On the Grammatical Question of Women Rabbis by YCT student, Drew Kaplan

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It's milah time!

Break out the icy cold Manishewitz, it's milah time...

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld (protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss1) approves of the idea of circumcising male children born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother:
Herzfeld approvingly cited a 19th-century rabbinic ruling concerning a case of intermarriage in America, where a man married to a non-Jewish woman had his son circumcised despite the objections of the local rabbi."Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer though the child should be circumcised, offering two arguments which should be taken seriously by the Modern Orthodox community today," explained Herzfeld. First, though the offspring is not a legal Jew, on a mystical level the child retains a Jewish element. Not only does he argue that it is a mitzva to perform that circumcision, he also states that it's a mitzva to convert that child, and implies that it's important to bring the non-Jewish child to Judaism."His second argument is much more practical. If we ever want the father to return to Judaism, the only way we can do that is to embrace the family as well. If we want to bring back the father, we have to embrace the child in communal life."Herzfeld's provocative presentation epitomized the challenges and opportunities of Modern Orthodoxy--plumbing the past to consider seemingly modern-day issues, seeking leniency in ways that accord with Jewish law and reality."Open Orthodoxy" is the term Edah program director Rabbi Bob Carroll prefers to highlight his organization's ideological position.
- Who's "Modern" It's Academic: A Conference Offers a New Definition for a Movement of "Centrists"
I have issues with Rabbi Herzfeld's "approval" of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer's psak:
  • Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer's opinion was a lone dissenting opinion and not binding. Hence, one should not actively endorse Rabbi Kalischer's ruling in a way that gives the perception that a non-normative halachic viewpoint is one that is potentially acceptable in practice.

  • In modern times, would Rabbi Kalischer still rule the same? During Rabbi Kalischer's time period of the 19th century, intermarriage was almost non-existent. His ruling was only applicable to a small percentage of the Jewish population. Since intermarried couples were an anomaly, his ruling would provide a way for those families to return to Judaism instead of suffering complete alienation. That is not the case today. Today, intermarriage is an accepted reality of the unaffiliated, conservative and reform Jewish population with a combined rate of 30 to over 50%, depending on the study. In today's world, Rabbi Kalischer's ruling would add fuel to the fire, giving the appearance of Orthodox acceptance of intermarriage.

  • The article stated that Rabbi Herzfeld is "seeking leniency in ways that accord with Jewish law and reality." That is problematic. Rabbis should seek/provide a normative halachic leniency to alleviate reasonable hardship, not for mere convenience. Seeking a leniency for someone who made a free-will choice to intermarry, is antithetical to that ideal. Also, "seeking leniency..." implies a leap from mere approval of non-normative (yet not invalidated) rulings to actual practice. Concerning fundamental halacha/hashkafa, do attitudes like that disintegrate the undercurrent of cohesiveness between Orthodox sects?
  • Should Orthodox Jews encourage circumcision where none is required or expected?
1 "Herzfeld, a New York native and graduate of Yeshiva University there, is the protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y., where Herzfeld was associate rabbi for the past five years."
- A Rabbi's Unorthodox Revival The Washington Post

Intermarriage links
"The Jewish intermarriage rate in Hesse [Germany] slowly rose from under 1 percent in the early 1870s to about 3.4 percent in the first five years of the twentieth century."
- Jewish Intermarriage and Conversion in Germany and Austria
- Out-marriage
- Re-examining Intermarriage: Trends, Textures and Strategies, Bruce A. Phillips. Phillips, Bruce A. (1997)

Other relevant links
- Conversion Is Not An Outreach Strategy
- You Never Know
- Intermarriage Ask the Rabbi - Union for Reform Judaism

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Is Open Orthodoxy the future of Orthodox Judaism?

According to Rabbi Avi Weiss, dean of the Open Orthodox YCT seminary, the answer may be yes:

Both Weiss and Pollak preach the doctrine of open Orthodoxy, with Weiss arguing that the future is "what open Orthodoxy is all about."
- Rabbi says his shul and Orthodoxy are both open The Villager, September 20 - 26, 2006

Concerning the Open Orthodox YCT seminary, Rabbi Weiss stated the following in an interview at Canonist:
With Orthodox rabbis who are open and non-judgmental and inspired to reach out all Jews, YCT will, God Willing, transform the future of the Jewish people.
From my perspective, the success that we have had in placing rabbis is beyond what we ever imagined. We are succeeding because we clearly identified a need. Our vision of placing at least 100 rabbis over the next 10 years is becoming a reality.
-Chatting With R’ Avi Weiss About Chovevei,, 4/12/2006

Rabbi Weiss also stated the following in a NY Times article:
"We can literally transform the fabric of the Jewish community in America," he said in an interview. "And that's our goal."
- A Challenge to an Orthodox Bastion", reprint of NY Times article, 4/19/2004

Michael H. Steingardt (founder of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation), a guest lecturer at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, corroborates the idea of "open Orthodoxy" creating an "alternative" and "new kind of Orthodoxy":
I want to acknowledge that the philosophy of “open Orthodoxy” represents the alternative Orthodoxy that the Jewish community badly needs. However, Orthodoxy has let the separatists and the judgmentalists come to dominate community policy and public perception. I appreciate the ethic of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, with its commitment to engaging the world, and I see the students and graduates here as part of a new kind of Orthodoxy. I only ask that you join the rest of us to ensure that the joy in Jewish experience is felt by more than a minority of Jews. With the right attitude and with an urgent and massive effort, I believe that we may usher in a Jewish renaissance.
- A Challenge to Orthodoxy: Remarks at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, February 9, 2006
Does YCT have an agenda to monopolize Orthodoxy with "Open Orthodoxy"? I wonder what the expected future is for Modern Orthodox, Chareidi, Chassidic, and other Orthodox Jews with "narrower" viewpoints...