Open Orthodoxy

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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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