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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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