Open Orthodoxy

Where Open Orthodoxy Ends: Your final destination for open review of fringe Orthodox Judaism. If you have comments, send them to

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ad finem

The previous topic of interdenominational pluralism brings me full-circle to the core reason I started examining Open Orthodoxy. A year ago, I never heard of Open Orthodoxy, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, or the name Rabbi Avi Weiss (except maybe in some reference to Soviet Jewry). At that time, I read in the local Jewish newspaper that a local "Open Orthodox" rabbi, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg (spiritual leader of Kidma) joined the faculty of a pluralistic kollel, called Kol-El.

Kol-El was founded by a rabbi (Reform) who wrote a scathing sermon about "Jewish fundamentalists". That sermon was well-known by local Orthodox leadership. In my opinion, that sermon was an affront to all Orthodox Jews. At the Shabbos grand opening of the Kidma storefront shul, to my dismay, I personally saw Kidma's non-normative "Orthodox" practices and publicly heard Rabbi Kleinberg declare the Kol-El founder (who was in attendance) as his mentor. I entered Kidma because of curiosity. I exited with a strong belief in principle #6 of the Open Orthodox Creed: Public Protest.

Before attending the grand opening of the Kidma shul, I approached multiple "Open Orthodox" related parties with my concerns of Orthodox participation in Kol-El, but to no avail. I also know others who attempted to reconcile the local issues with Open Orthodoxy. Their result was no different. Initially, I was cautiously hopeful (or maybe naive) that issues with Open Orthodoxy were resolvable - as illustrated in my letter to the editor about the Kidma grand opening, KiDMa shakes things up in Phoenix:
Although I staunchly disagree with some of KiDMa's shul practices (e.g. Torah reading facing congregation) and Rabbi Kleinberg's alliance with non-Orthodox denominations, I praise Rabbi Kleinberg for doing something.
I do not feel that way today.

Based on my experience, research, and personal perspective, I have come to believe that Open Orthodoxy is quite closed. When you profess ideology that is not Orthodox and adopt extreme non-normative Orthodox practices, you have severed and closed yourself from Orthodoxy. Why bother to label yourself Orthodox? Why mislead?

Maintaining this blog has been time-consuming, as I stated in Winding down. I have completed my initial list of topics that I felt were important to discuss, so I am, im yirtza Hashem, done. If someone truly has the urge to continue this blog, please contact me at We can discuss it. I encourage readers to review the following YCT links on a regular basis:
- YCT Home page (lists dvar Torahs on the weekly parsha)
- Parshat HaShavuah
- Newsletter
- Alumni
- In the press
- You can Google the names listed at the following pages: Alumni, Administration, Faculty

There is plenty of information I haven't posted: provocative divrei Torah, controversial hashkafa and halacha, former Open Orthodox participants, unwarranted publicity hounding, and more. I leave it as an exercise for you, the reader, to investigate further. As Rabbi Saul J. Berman says "We must shine a light of truth on the corruption around us."1

In a disturbing dvar Torah about Chanukah, Ari Weiss (YCT '07) asks rhetorically "Do we speak a language of war of a clash of civilization, or of light, of enlightenment?"2

In honor of Chanukah starting tonight... in protest against all modern manifestations of the ancient Yevanim...I say "Be all that you can Maccabee."

Good Shabbos, freiliche Chanukah.
Good night, and good luck.

1 The Pope, Islam, and Chanukah 12/14/2006
2 Chanukah Revisited: A Festival of Light or a Festival of War? 12/14/2006; enlightenment link added by me

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Interdenominational Pluralism: Open Orthodoxy style

In Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky states, "Orthodox rabbis have practically disappeared from interdenominational boards of rabbis. In some communities, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council actually forbids its members from joining interdenominational boards." However, one Orthodox sub-category where interdenominational participation is increasing is Open Orthodoxy - specifically Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduates and proteges of Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of the Open Orthodox movement. This is not unexpected as Open Orthodoxy encourages pluralism.

To understand the root hashkafa of Open Orthodox interdenominational pluralism one should read Open orthodoxy! A modern Orthodox rabbi's creed and an article by Rabbi Weiss presented on the Orthodox Union web site, Preaching a Common Message.

Pragmatic reasons why Orthodox participation on pluralistic board of rabbis is problematic:
- Pluralistic board of rabbis address issues and represent values that are antithetical to Orthodoxy.

- In a practical sense, Orthodoxy does not recognize the ordination of non-Orthodox rabbis. Nor does Orthodoxy bestow the title of Rabbi to a woman. So, I will assume that Orthodox participation on a pluralistic board of rabbis is to foster a spirit of Jewish unity with recognized non-Orthodox spiritual leaders. But what if members of the board weren't halachically Jewish?

There may be a time in the near future when much of the non-Orthodox representation on pluralistic board of rabbis is not considered Jewish by Orthodoxy (e.g. via patrilineal descent or non-Orthodox conversion). Currently, intermarriage is rampant. There already may be non-Orthodox rabbis that meet that criteria. If so, membership on a pluralistic board of rabbis epitomizes the acceptance of intermarriage, at least in perception. If an Orthodox rabbi embraces non-Jewish (according to Orthodoxy) rabbis as bona fide fellow members of a board of rabbis, then from an Orthodox perspective it appears that rabbi is trivializing the Orthodox Jewish status criteria to participate in the Jewish community. I believe it's that type of laxed attitude that has contributed to the general scrutiny of Orthodox conversions by the Israeli Rabbinate.

For a halachic discussion why Orthodox rabbis should not participate in religious pluralism, see Einei Haeda.

Related links:
- Religious Movements in Collision: A Jewish Culture War?
- Who is a Jew?
- Conversion to Judaism

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg
- Rabbinic peer group
- Denominational Landscapes

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
- Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role
- Jewish Journal - Letters - Orthodoxy’s Role
- Bnai David - Judea - Rabbi Profile

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
- Board of Rabbis gets first Orthodox member
- A Rabbi's Unorthodox Revival

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hiring a rabbi: caveat emptor

If your Orthodox synagogue is evaluating rabbinical candidates, whether from YU, Chovevei Torah, or other yeshivos I encourage you to ask the following interview questions:

- Does the Rabbinical Council of America recognize your smicha? If no, why not?
- Will you be granted membership to our local Orthodox board of rabbis?
- Do you plan on joining an interdenominational board of rabbis?
- What are your halachic, ritualistic, and hashkafic visions for our shul? For example, what do you think of Shira Hadasha minyanim?
- What are your conceptions of God? Is he perfect? Does he make mistakes?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

When will YCT be admitted to the RCA?

In my previous post, I discussed that Rabbi Asher Lopatin, an RCA member rabbi was a faculty member at an interdenominational religious conference attended by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah students. As stated in Rabbi Lopatin's profile, he is also a member of a pluralistic board of rabbis. So are some YCT graduates, as pluralism is a prominent theme of Open Orthodoxy. Rabbi Lopatin is also listed as a member of the YCT Honorary Alumni Board.

Are there differences between YCT graduates and current RCA members? If so, what are they? What (if any) are the obstacles preventing YCT institutional admission to the RCA?

When will YCT be on the RCA list of Approved Semichas from Yeshivot? Maybe the RCA can publish a statement clarifying the current status of YCT admission to the RCA.

Related link:
- Orthodox Rabbis Eye Liberal Seminary
- Join the RCA

Interdenominational pluralism: retreat or embrace?

Click here for original source

The previous picture evokes strong disparate emotions depending on your point of view. If you are a religious feminist, the pictures may evoke emotions of pride - reflecting the religious liberation of women. If you are an Orthodox Jew you may feel something different.

The picture was taken at a Jewish interdenominational conference, Panim's Re-Imagining the American Synagogue rabbinical student retreat.

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah participation
The retreat was attended by three YCT students as discussed by YCT seminary student Drew Kaplan:
There, I, along with two other students from YCT, came together with students from several other rabbinical seminaries.
I enjoyed it, as I got to spend time working on trying to create some sort of vision towards my rabbinate and future shul(s), which was good.
-Re-Imagining the Synagogue Rabbinical Student Retreat
Drew Kaplan made it convenient to find pictures of the retreat, as photo gallery links were posted by him. For more Panim photos check out: set one, set two

RCA participation
On Dec. 7, the Rabbinical Council of America published a policy statement condemning the ordination of gays and lesbians, and same-sex "commitment ceremonies" in response to the recent acceptance of those practices by the Conservative movement.

On Dec. 8, the RCA published a Meet the Chaverim profile of RCA rabbi, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, a faculty member at the Panim retreat with other Jewish denominations that permit/accept gay and lesbian ordination, same-sex unions and corresponding sexual behaviors. So, it is possible that there were Reform or Reconstructionist gay and lesbian rabbis at the retreat. In the future, there may be Conservative G&L rabbis at such conferences. I assume that the RCA is aware of Rabbi Lopatin’s participation in the retreat as it published that information in his profile.

Is there an incongruity between RCA policy and practice?

Related links:
- What is [Reform] Judaism's view on homosexuality?

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Public protest is important for achieving change

In a dvar Torah for parshas Vayishlach, Two Important Elements in Achieving Change (12/7/2006), Rabbi Avi Weiss illustrates with Yaacov that public protest is an effective means of achieving change:
The message of the dual name [of Yaacov/Yisrael] is clear; both the Yaakov approach of behind the scenes discussion with authority and a willingness to negotiate and compromise and the Yisrael component of outspoken advocacy are crucial.

Rabbi Weiss elaborates on the crucialness of public protest in principle #6 of his creed on Open Orthodoxy:
What we have learned from fifty years ago is that public protest does not render our community more vulnerable, rather, it protects our community.
- Open orthodoxy! A modern Orthodox rabbi's creed

Concerning the modern churban perpetrated against Torah Judaism by "open" advocacy, I couldn't agree more.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What does the "Y" think of the "U"?

Picture description: Rabbi Avi Weiss and & Mr. Richard Joel at the 2003 Areyvut Annual Inaugural Lecture given by Mr. Joel at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Rabbi Weiss is founder & dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and rabbi of HIR. Mr. Joel is president of Yeshiva University.

“With so much to be done for the Modern Orthodox community I view [Chovevei] and RIETS as complementing each other. While our academic and professional curriculums may differ we share a common goal — the strengthening of Modern Orthodoxy and the whole of the Jewish community. I especially look forward to working together with my dear friend President Richard Joel.”
- Rabbi Avi Weiss, Philanthropist Attacks University for Right Turn, Forward 4/2/2004

Related links:
- Richard Joel Elected Yeshiva President in Board Vote

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Megillah 28a

This past Sunday, I attended a lecture by Rabbi Avi Weiss (founder & dean of YCT, rabbi of HIR). Since I blog about Open Orthodoxy, I thought it would be an interesting experience. I also brought my oldest (young) daughter with me. I thought it would be a good learning experience for her.

Rabbi Weiss started off by singing a Carlebach niggun (melody). He sang the tune several times, encouraging audience participation. The second time he sang the tune he requested audience members to hold hands (with no qualifier) with the person sitting next to them. It was a mixed-seating audience of men and women.

I asked my daughter if anything was wrong with what Rabbi Weiss said. She informed me that it was not tznius and that men and women who are not married should not hold hands, but father and daughter like us was OK. My daughter asked me why that man was telling people to hold hands. My answer was a lengthy discussion with her on Megillah 28a that pertains to eyesight. Out of concern for her vision, my daughter wasn't sure whether to close her eyes or not.

Although trivial and possibly laughable to the non-Orthodox, from an Orthodox perspective, the hand-holding directive is unOrthodox, even in a kiruv (outreach) setting.

Most of Rabbi Weiss' lecture was focused on Israel. He also told a few stories and anecdotes. It was a packed house with approximately 70-90 middle-aged attendees. I recognized maybe five people there. The demographic of the crowd was not reflective of the local Orthodox community which is comprised of Modern Orthodox, Chareidi, Bukharian, and Lubavitch. On many occasions I have seen crossover from all those groups at minyanim and at community events. At those events, everyone is a familiar face. Kidma, the local Open Orthodox shul that Rabbi Weiss spoke at, is a pariah to the local Orthodox community as it represent left-wing halacha and hashkafa that is contrary to basic, mutually shared values of the greater Orthodox community. Kidma and its rabbi's hashkafic and halachic viewpoints have been discussed in earlier blog posts.

In my opinion, Rabbi Weiss insulted the entire local Orthodox community, as an apparent response to the shunning of his brand of Orthodox Judaism. Rabbi Weiss stated that there are Orthodox sects that are moving further to the right and "becoming more insular" and "circling the wagons". Rabbi Weiss depicted the local community as an example of this. He also stated that there are Jewish sects moving further left, such as the Conservative movement shifting towards Reform. Weiss depicted Open Orthodoxy as centrist, mainstream Orthodox Judaism.

I find it interesting that every other local Orthodox group can co-exist and interact in relative harmony with the exception of Open Orthodoxy. It appears if you don't accept the values of Open Orthodoxy, you're labelled as right-wing and insular ("closed").

On this blog, I have been critical of Kidma and its spiritual leader Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, a Yeshivat Chovevei Torah musmach. It is apparent that Rabbi Weiss disagrees with my assessment. Rabbi Weiss addressed Rabbi Kleinberg as "brilliant in Tanach and Oral Law", "best of the best [of YCT graduates]", and a "pastoral genius".

At the conclusion of the lecture there was a Q&A session. A question was asked about the inclusivity of women in religious services. Rabbi Weiss prefaced his response by stating that he operates within the confines of Orthodox Halacha. Rabbi Weiss then discussed the concept of Shira Hadasha minyanim. His response seemed to advocate this style of communal prayer, if not many aspects of it. Rabbi Weiss also said that he did not see anything halachically wrong with women leading pesukei dezimra. Whether technically correct or not, it is a significant deviation from a normative Orthodox service.

I am fascinated to know whether Rabbi Weiss' viewpoints are sanctioned and aligned with the OU and RCA. Rabbi Weiss is an RCA rabbi, and Rabbi Weiss' congregation (HIR) is an OU shul.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Batter up

I was hoping to "wind down" this blog but I heard multiple things this weekend that were very disturbing to me.

I also attended Rabbi Avi Weiss' lecture as I stated that I might in my blog post, "Free advertising for Open Orthodoxy". I'm working on a blog post about that experience. Here's a quote I heard from Rabbi Weiss that I couldn't agree with more, "There are countless examples of the mighty who have been on the wrong path who have fallen." After listening to Rabbi Weiss it is apparent that Open Orthodoxy is on the path to Shira Hadasha...falling down, falling down, falling down. Of course, Rabbi Weiss was clear to say that he only operates within the framework of Orthodox halacha.

To protect anonymity, I won't mention any names in the following two items:

The root of all evil
I was informed that an Open Orthodox rabbi showed the documentary "The Root of All Evil?" to his high school "philosophy" class. This documentary was "written and presented by [renowned atheist] Richard Dawkins, in which he argues that the world would be better off without religion. "

The school is a pluralistic Jewish high school, and the class was for seniors. When I heard this, it sent a chill through me as I reflected on the sickness of this.

I was told that a Jewish counter-view was presented and that many of the students may already be agnostic. But why, why, why would such anti-Torah material be presented to impressionable Jewish young people? We should inoculate them with Truth, not defile their minds with anti-religious rhetoric.

Young people ask lots of great questions. Questions should be answered. In a controlled forum such as a religious school, we should provide the Torah tools they need to answer those challenging questions. We shouldn't inadvertently reinforce contrary beliefs by proactively presenting heretical ideas then expect to undo the damage by rebutting them. Young people will have a lifetime of anti-religious influences to contend with.

It's your problem, not mine
Another person informed me that someone he knew contacted one of the main rabbinical leaders of Open Orthodoxy about religious concerns with a local Open Orthodox rabbi. To paraphrase, the rabbi responded back to the person, "What are the local Orthodox rabbis doing about it?" The person said to the rabbi, "What do you mean? He's one of your's your problem!" The rabbi apparently did not think so.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Yaacov led astray by his infatuation with Rochel

infatuation n. A foolish, unreasoning, or extravagant passion or attraction. An object of extravagant, short-lived passion.

The title of this blog post, "Yaacov led astray by his infatuation with Rochel", is my blurb describing a recent Vayetzeh dvar Torah, "Choosing a Wife - Did Yaakov Get It Right?" (11/27/2006) by YCT musmach Rabbi Zev Farber. I believe my title accurately distills that dvar Torah, using contextually correct verbiage from the dvar Torah. The ultra-humanization of the Avos is a style of divrei Torah that is prevalent and acceptable by left-wing Modern Orthodox adherents. However, it is quite revolting by right-wing Orthodox standards. Here is an excerpt from the dvar Torah that evokes that dichotomous response:
An even deeper look reveals that Yaakov’s infatuation with Rachel and her beauty, leads him not only to favor her over her sister, but most probably carries over into his infamous favoring of Yosef and Binyamin over his other children, almost leading to a permanent rift in his family.

If Yaakov had followed the example of Avraham’s servant, and chosen personality criteria as opposed to physical ones, perhaps the story of Bereishit would have gone differently, avoiding much of the tragedy and pain our ancestors suffer throughout the Joseph narrative. Would Yaakov have chosen Leah?

Would he have married both of his own accord? It is impossible to know the answer to such questions.

Nevertheless, it would seem that the Torah is unfavorably comparing Yaakov’s process of choosing a wife with that of the servant of Avraham. Perhaps this can be a lesson to us all. If one of our forefathers [Yaacov] could be led astray by external criteria at such a momentous occasion [marriage], we must articulate our own values before we undertake those decisions that may set the course of our lives.

Related links:
- Stressful God of "tension" and "anxiety"
- Raiders of the Lost Dvar Torah

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