Open Orthodoxy

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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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