Open Orthodoxy

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's at stake

I read a comment on a blog that I think sums up what's at stake for YCT:
[The Yated article criticizing YCT] is a pretty big deal, or at least has the potential to be. Legitimacy is socially defined, and a concerted campaign by the Chareidim and countenanced (for their own political/economic/turf reasons) by YU and other MOs will land YCTers and their ilk outside the pale, and pronto. No more davening at their shuls, eating at their homes, edus issues, the whole kit and caboodle. - a comment from Taking each other down a peg
One thing I don't agree with is the commenter's rationale for the alleged YU/MO "campaign" criticizing YCT. I believe most criticism of YCT is well-intentioned and theological in nature.

Is the aforementioned quote merely conjectured hyperbole, or will answers to the following questions illustrate something else?:
What is the RCA policy concerning YCT musmachim? Do all local Orthodox Rabbinical Councils accept YCT musmachim? Do Orthodox synagogue organizations, such as Young Israel have any particular policy concerning YCT musmachim? What is the general relationship of "Open Orthodoxy" to the diverse expressions of Orthodoxy? Is it "open" and friendly, or something else? I have heard others ask these questions, and I wish to know the answers as well.

From an Orthodox communal perspective, this situation may get worse for YCT and its musmachim unless YCT publicly addresses the public credible criticism levied upon it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A time for answers and action!

This was just published on Hirhurim: "Rabbi Zev Farber, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and the Orthodox Community" by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde.

Rabbi Broyde's letter rebukes Yehivat Chovevei Torah in a polite, articulate, and highly credible manner. Rabbi Broyde states "Yeshiva Chovevei Torah is in its infancy and has, in my view, made a number of mistakes, which if not corrected will ultimately undermine its credibility within the Orthodox community." He presents serious issues that YCT must publicly redress.

Rabbi Broyde states "The creation of additional yeshivot which serve the Modern Orthodox community is good, both because competition creates intellectual vibrancy and because variety is important for serving many different students' needs." Who doesn't agree? Who doesn't want another Orthodox yeshiva ordaining dedicated, passionate rabbeim serving spiritually hungry Jewish communities? However, for a Yeshiva to be credible in accomplishing that mission, it must act in a non-ambiguous, proactive manner when serious issues are brought to its attention, as fully articulated by Rabbi Broyde.

I'm not saying that YCT specifically is able or not able to be a credible, positive force within the Orthodox community at large. The greater Orthodox community will ultimately decide that. One thing I will say, is that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah's message of "transforming Orthodoxy" is disturbing. Concerning the "creation of additional yeshivot which serve the Modern Orthodox community", while I don't agree with certain aspects of the Modern Orthodox message, it is clear that MO is widely-recognized as one of the credible mainstream expressions of Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Broyde says that "it is important to me that YCT speak publicly and directly about five matters". I couldn't agree more. Four of Rabbi Broyde's issues "B,C,D,E" were publicized on this blog.

Because Rabbi Broyde is a highly respected Modern Orthodox authority, I believe his letter represents a critical turning point for YCT. YCT will either "eradicate the wrong within [its] midst" or irrevokably "undermine its credibility within the Orthodox community".

I think it is important for YCT to also present its viewpoints on the following:
- Haskalah 2.0
- Open Orthodox rabbis further radicalize left-wing Orthodoxy
- Mechitza magic: now you see it, now you don't
- Now playing in synagogue theaters: Shonda, Shonda, Shonda
- Is your rebbe the "Golden Calf"? (this "apology" does not negate the original premise)
- Stand up (what is YCT policy on agunah issues? A YCT musmach (the rabbi of "Kidma") has aligned with a radical approach that completely ignores the strides made with the RCA mandated prenup)
- Pesach: Celebrate or Cancel
- Weeping for Psalms
- Interdenominational Pluralism: Open Orthodoxy style
- Interfaith pluralism: Open Orthodoxy style (specifically, interfaith prayer)
- Woman rabbi receives ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah...
- Yated exposes YCT as a "Threat to Halachic Judaism" (YCT should address the allegations in the Yated article. Also discussed in this post, YCT should elaborate on its views of the Rambam's "13 Principle of Faith".)

The first part of Rabbi Broyde's letter addresses criticism of Choosing a Wife - Did Yaakov Get It Right? by Rabbi Zev Farber. I never thought Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah represented "halachic heresy", as I inferred in Rabbi Zev Farber responds to Yated. I accept Rabbi Broyde's remarks concerning the dvar Torah and Rabbi Farber except those items which overlap with my brief criticism - which I believe still stands. (Who cares about my opinion anyway?) Regardless, I believe there has been ample productive discussion for this matter to be considered as concluded.

Hashem works in mysterious ways. If it wasn't for Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah, there might not finally be credible MO criticism of YCT.

Here is Rabbi Broyde's letter in it's entirety:

Rabbi Zev Farber, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah
and the Orthodox Community
A Brief Statement

Michael J. Broyde

A number of people have asked me about the Yated Neeman article criticizing Yeshiva Chovevei Torah generally and Rabbi Zev Farber, the director of the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel. The criticism of Rabbi Farber focused on a dvar torah he wrote which can be found at (For the sake of full disclosure, I note that I am among the founders of the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel, and that it learns every day in the Young Israel of Toco Hills, where I am the rabbi.)

I write this brief note to share my views.

  1. It is clear to me that Rabbi Farber's dvar torah is far from heretical and certainly does not make him a kofer. Even if one disagrees with the way he formulated the ideas he presented (and I do in a detail, as I explain below), it is a sad reflection on our Orthodox society that these disagreements are manifest in allegations of heresy. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Jewish tradition ought to know that the ideas Rabbi Farber presented were not heretical at all. Indeed, each of them has echo in the remarks of commentators from previous generations. There is no heresy in his writing.

  2. Having said that, I think that Rabbi Farber did not present his dvar torah in the proper form or format and the absence of sources within Chazal documenting his insights was an error of style. In general, claims of moral imperfection of the Avot are complex to advance and ought to be diligently supported by references to rabbinic literature and done in the course of lengthy essays on topics with long explanations of reasons and rationales This type of mistake in style and expression on his part comes from lack of experience and nothing more. Anyone who has read his defense of his comments sees that his comments are well vested in the approach of tanaim, amoraim, rishonim and achronim, in fact -- even if he did not tell us this in his initial dvar torah. I hope he has learned the lesson of providing supporting sources for the less than obvious to readers who are sometimes ignorant of the breadth and depth of Chazal's insights. Let me add something else. Anyone who knows Rabbi Farber, knows very well that he is a learned, God-fearing, young, Torah-scholar who, although he wrote this dvar torah in the wrong tone, has a wonderful future ahead of him and could go on to greatness and accomplishment.

  3. The creation of additional yeshivot which serve the Modern Orthodox community is good, both because competition creates intellectual vibrancy and because variety is important for serving many different students' needs. Thus, I view the creation of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah in a positive light, even as my own primary loyalty resides with Yeshiva University, where I was privileged to learn for fourteen years. Indeed, I have spoken at Chovevei Torah a number of times, and I arranged for a YCT musmach to direct the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel (see above).

  4. Yeshiva Chovevei Torah is in its infancy and has, in my view, made a number of mistakes, which if not corrected will ultimately undermine its credibility within the Orthodox community. To me, the biggest mistake Chovevei Torah is making is the policy of never announcing that it made a mistake and letting accusations fester against it without either a rebuttal or an acknowledgement of error. Orthodox institutions (like all others) err and they sometimes engage in conduct that with hindsight was far from ideal or even just plain wrong and assur. When that happens, it is important that they note such conduct publicly, so that all can understand that what happened was not proper. Silence confuses people as to whether what occurred was ideal or less than ideal or simply wrong. YCT's policy of silence in the face accusations of impropriety by its musmachim, staff, Chairman of the Board, and others in its institution or its publicity is simply unwise and misleading about what YCT is. Because YCT is a leftward leaning yeshiva, YCT bears a special responsibility to make sure that those who speak for YCT are representing YCT accurately and when a misrepresentation of YCT occurs, it needs to actively correct it. (Let me be equally clear that YCT should not be judged because of the actions of others and YCT is not in the rebuking business -- nor is any yeshiva. However, when someone affiliated with YCT speaks in the name of YCT, it is reasonable to assume that unless YCT speaks to the contrary, that is YCT’s view.)

  5. In particular, it is important to me that YCT speak publicly and directly about five matters, so that the Modern Orthodox community can hear the authentic voice of YCT on these matters. I do not mean to imply at all that YCT’s conduct in each of these cases has been incorrect (indeed, in some of them, I am comfortable with YCT's conduct and in others, not) -- what I mean to note is that YCT is not sharing with the community its full views on these issues, and a reasonable person who simply reads what YCT itself has done or published can not determine were YCT stands on many of these issues. (For those who are unfamiliar with the details of these particular five events, see the note here.)

    1. First, it is important that YCT address the comments of its Chairman of the Board from three years ago about Yeshiva University and a number of its erudite scholars. Do those statements represent YCT or not? These comments, said publicly from the dais in the course of the YCT annual dinner, sound like the official pronouncements of YCT. Are they?

    2. Secondly, it is important that YCT address the question of the publicity YCT has itself put out with regard to one of its musmachim's work with the gay and lesbian community and its hagadah. YCT needs to tell us whether the publicity it shared with the community represents the YCT ideal as a reasonable person could conclude from the way YCT publicized this work?

    3. Third, it must address the questions related to its vision of am hanivchar and the perfection of our Creator, so as to inform our community whether the comments of a particular YCT musmach is representative of YCT, as he has indicated he is.

    4. Fourth, YCT must address question of interfaith cooperation and interfaith interactions -- was the Cardinals’ visit to YCT a manifestation of the ideal or something less.

    5. Finally, it must present a consistent vision to the community of its vision of inter-denominational interactions within Judaism. Are the non-Orthodox clergy on the faculty of YCT part of the YCT approach?

    I recognize that one of the hardest mitzvot in the Torah is to eradicate the wrong within one's own midst, and that it is very hard for anyone or any institution to speak about mistakes. Writing this note pains me, to be honest. But without such guidance by YCT as to its own philosophy, it is reasonable to assume that YCT's own conduct speaks for itself. I, for example, will not support any Yeshiva that publicly attacks my own teachers at Yeshiva University or is supportive of creating a gay and lesbian hagadah or denies the notion of am hanivchar. Others might have other criteria -- and YCT ought to share its own vision so as to clarify the reality.

    A little bit of light drives away a lot of darkness is an old rabbinic adage, and YCT has the chance to clarify its views in a public and open way. That light will drive away much darkness and ought to be done.
Sources listed from the article:
(A) Philanthropist Attacks University for Right Turn
(B) summer 2005 newsletter (page 7)
(C) Reaching for perfection
(D) Cardinals Study with Orthodox Students
(E) list of the YCT faculty

Pesach: Celebrate or Cancel

Celebrate Pesach
Yesterday, YCT rabbinical student Ben Greenberg stated:
The narrative of the redemption from Egypt is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful accounts of human liberation.The call from Rabban Gamliel in the Mishnah in Pesachim to "view oneself as if they had personally been redeemed from Egypt," and all the theology that is attached to that becomes irrelevant if the actual account of the redemption from Egypt is not viewed as truth.
While Ben Greenberg has posted views on various blogs that I disagree with, his sentiments on the Exodus appears to be one that we fundamentally share.

Cancel Pesach
One year ago today, YCT musmach Rabbi Josh Feiglson stated (which I am very surprised has not been removed from his blog):
The point of the Exodus is less whether or not it happened than the fact that the Jewish people has made the story of its enslavement and liberation the central story of its existence.
Feigelson further states in the comment section:
Do I believe the Exodus happened? Absolutely. Does it matter to me if someone digs up archaeological evidence to the contrary? No, because even if the story did not happen just as it is related in the Torah, we have observed the mitzvah to tell the story and make it our own for generation upon generation. And that story tells a much larger truth about what it means to be human than the small question of whether or not the Exodus "really" happened.
To requote Greenberg, celebrating Pesach "becomes irrelevant if the actual account of the redemption from Egypt is not viewed as truth." Specific parts of the Torah may be viewed as allegorical. The Exodus is not one of them. Notwithstanding the purported archaeological/historical context of "How to read the Bible", the presented standalone statements allow for the rejection of the Exodus as a masoretic fact originating from the first-hand experience of an entire nation.

updated: 3/26/07

- Emunah/Faith
- How to read the Bible
- Weeping for Psalms

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Go, go "Modern Conservative"!

In this weeks Jewish News of Phoenix, I read this interesting Letter to the Editor:
I have been closely following the emergence of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and its leadership for some time. Your city and your newspaper are fortunate to have the enjoyable writing and avant garde thinking of Rabbi Darren Kleinberg.

The emergence of Chovevei Torah reminds me of the aspirations of the Conservative movement of yore. As a former seminarian myself, I hear in the voice of Rabbi Kleinberg and his brave YCT colleagues the voices of "reform" from an antiquated Orthodoxy and "conservation" of an essential, but modified, halachic framework that motivated the common path of my generation away from traditional observance. I applaud them for reigniting the theological flame of the early Conservative movement and wish Rabbi Kleinberg continued success in spreading a "modern" Torah in your city.

I only wish he and his leaders would call this brave venture the more apt "Modern Conservative" that I, at my age, believe it to be.

Alan Siegel
Netanya, Israel

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Less than golden apology

In this week's Jewish news of Phoenix, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg apologizes for something he wrote in an op-ed titled "To not know":
In my most recent Torah Study article ("To not know," Jewish News, March 9), I chose unfortunate wording. The sentence including the words "that rabbi has become the golden calf" may have given the impression that I was suggesting that the revered Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim") was synonymous with the golden calf.

I should have written "the rabbi has become the golden calf." My intention was that viewing rabbis as authorities in all areas of a person's life (commonly understood as the sociological phenomenon know as "da'as Torah") is an error of judgment.

I ask forgiveness from those who may have taken offense at my unintended slight of one of the great rabbis, teachers and role models in Jewish life.

Darren Kleinberg
Rabbi, KiDMa - The Southwest Community
To be clear, my and other people's issues with the "Golden Calf" dvar Torah was not with the replacement of the definite article "the" (referring to any rabbi), with the pronoun "that" (implying the Chofetz Chaim specifically). see My rebbe is not the "Golden Calf"!

I was offended that Rabbi Kleinberg disrespected the Chofetz Chaim and every great rabbi that ever represented daas Torah, as was done in "To not know". I forgive him because he requests it, but that is really unnecessary because I nor the general public are the ones he owes an apology to. Although the great Chofetz Chaim is no longer with us, Kleinberg should have fallen down on his hands and knees and cried in front of the Aron Kodesh begging for posthumous mechila from the Chofetz Chaim and every great rabbi past who can no longer receive corporeal forgiveness. That is what he should have written about, and maybe every reader would have cried with him. Or, maybe a simple apology directed towards the Chofetz Chaim would have sufficed.

A rabbi friend told me that if he had disrespected (I assume even in negligent error) someone as great as the Chofetz Chaim, he would fear divine retribution from Hakadosh Baruch Hu. He was dead serious, no joke.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Normative Orthodoxy

In How Do You Look For Chometz?, R’ Pinchos Lipschutz, the editor of America’s Yated Ne’eman clarifies the intent of the Yated article that criticized Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

The Yated article provided awareness of those that label themselves as Orthodox but are non-normative or worse. R' Lipschutz states " is our compassion for the hapless targets of this [non-normative] approach who are being fed a forged version of Torah and halacha which motivates us. It is our concern for the integrity of Torah learning which drives us to publicly reject their approach", "We must not sit silently in the name of peace when a mockery is made of divrei Chazal", and other statements.

The similarities between Yeshiva (aka Chareidi) Orthodox and Modern Orthodox are defined by the word "Orthodox", or better yet the term "normative Orthodoxy". R' Lipschutz infers that both YO and MO pass as "normative Orthodoxy" while any group that "that does not even attempt to tie itself to any defining authority, but which accepts the practices of anyone calling themselves Orthodox", does not pass. Normative Orthodoxy is the catalyst for YO and MO Jews to religiously interact.

In my opinion, sadly the engagement between YO and MO isn't as cohesive as it should be (see Of Shtieblach and Kiddush Clubs). Just as Yated criticized YCT, which I believe was very appropriate, so too Yated should be constructive and build bridges with legitimate Modern Orthodox leaders. I digress...

R’ Pinchos Lipschutz's article is long, so I only excerpt the latter half which is the heart of the discussion. I bold passages of particular interest to me:
A recent Yated article titled “Is It Orthodox?”, which raised the alarm regarding the threat posed by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, elicited a voluminous response from readers, some of which reminded us of Churchill’s failure to grasp the essence of Jewish survival.

Words of support and encouragement for our position flowed from a wide spectrum of readers. The response from the YCT camp and their supporters, however, made it clear that they appeared to totally misconstrue the basic premise underlying our opposition.

That premise - both the foundation and a powerfully protective guard to Yiddishkeit - can be summed up in a word: mesorah.

Mesorah is meant here not merely as the transmission of texts from one generation of teachers to the next, replaceable by a capacious hard-drive. Rather, mesorah refers to the contextual basis for understanding the words of Chazal. Mesorah refers to the process by which uniquely Jewish mores, values and sensitivities, which define us as a nation, are passed down from one generation to the next.

Only through mesorah can we grasp the unalterable elements of a true and timeless Torah philosophy.

The article presented examples in the teaching and practices which are departures from mesorah. It showed how a student of Torah at that school, sundered from his moorings to traditional Torah thought, is left in his studies to bob on a sea of “Torah-Relativism.” In that nebulous terrain, he is buffeted by the waves of other theologies, swept by the winds of value systems anathema to Torah.

It is our conviction that the rank and file of contemporary Orthodox Jewry - Modern, Chareidi and everything in between - still possess authentic Torah sensibilities which are repulsed by the erasing of historic conceptual boundaries on the part of YCT faculty and students.

Torah values are not acquired through academic study alone, but through immersion in the atmosphere that once permeated every frum home. They are absorbed from studying at the feet of rabbeim who themselves personify fealty to traditional values. And it is this value system which is eroded by the philosophy of YCT as previously illustrated in these pages.

A pair of responses to the Yated article has been circulated on the internet. Sadly, rather than address the concerns that were raised, these “rebuttals” serve only as further illustration of the failure of this new approach to learning Torah. Having burnt their bridges to traditional Torah thought and values, the authors prove themselves incapable of grasping the simple nature of our objections.

As an example: We expressed repugnance at the portrayal of one of the Avos that dragged the patriarch of the Jewish people down to a base level. What to us is an act of desecration is dismissed in their response as a mere stylistic lapse. We are asked to accept a portrayal of impure motives that, were it ascribed to the author’s teachers at YCT, would be slammed as cynical and offensive. Yet, this twisted portrayal is given a pass as “poetic license” when applied to Yaakov Avinu.

We lamented the state of affairs in which a yeshiva allows the publication, under its official imprimatur, of statements that are clearly contrary to the Torah. In response, we are told that due to “a whole panoply of issues,” this travesty must be tolerated.

When a yeshiva shirks its primary responsibility for guiding its students and graduates in the ways of the Torah and still persists in calling itself a yeshiva, it makes a mockery of a term which denotes a sacred link to the historic system of Torah learning and transmission begun at Volozhin. Such an institution perverts the meaning of “yeshiva.” It redefines it to mean a free-wheeling bazaar of ideas and practices culled from various theologies and cultures.

In our critique, we pointed out the deceptive practice of labeling deviations from accepted halacha as Orthodox. We were told in response of this or that Orthodox rabbi or professor who also deviates in the same way. How do these deviations confer legitimacy? Are we really expected to accept an amorphous definition of Orthodoxy that does not even attempt to tie itself to any defining authority, but which accepts the practices of anyone calling themselves Orthodox as determining what passes for normative Orthodoxy?

We are told that we are mean-spirited and “lacking in ahavat Yisrael.” Actually, it is our compassion for the hapless targets of this approach who are being fed a forged version of Torah and halacha which motivates us. It is our concern for the integrity of Torah learning which drives us to publicly reject their approach. And we are deeply troubled that fellow compassionate, hard-working and dedicated Jews are being trained in a fashion that denies them the ability to appreciate true Torah values.

Ahavas Yisroel does not require turning a blind eye to the blurring of mesorah and the sacred values that have traveled down the centuries. Our trailblazing kiruv programs testify to our solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. But we trod the path laid out by rabbonim muvhakim and our bubbes and zaydes. We dare not compromise our values in the name of kiruv rechokim. We must not portray a dishonest version of the Torah in order to be more attractive to the world at large.

We must not sit silently in the name of peace when a mockery is made of divrei Chazal. It is precisely by remaining true to our mesorah, and by our intolerance of ziyufim, that we will be zoche to the siyata diShmaya to succeed in spreading the light of the Torah, intact and unsullied by winds of change.

So, erev Pesach, when you stand there grating the horseradish and tears flow down your cheeks, think of your grandparents performing the same function, the same way, in some little town in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary or Syria. On Sunday night, when you go from room to room with the candle in your hand, remember that living in the 21st century has not made you smarter than the generations that preceded you. It is presumptuous and naïve for anyone to try to modernize and improve upon the mesorah.

Think of the strength of the Jewish chain and remember that it is you who makes it strong. It is the faith-imbued traditions that you pass on to your children which will guarantee you the merit to welcome Eliyahu Hanavi when he arrives with his joyous, long-awaited message: higiah zeman geulaschem.

Open Orthodox shul is officially closed

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: KiDMa
Date: Mar 20, 2007 2:32 PM

KiDMa - The Southwest Community will be suspending regular Shabbat and holiday services,
effective immediately.

KiDMa will be redirecting its energies towards
Jewish learning and programming.

We hope to see you all at future events.

For further information, please e-mail us at

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stop calling yourself Orthodox

In "What 'Modern Orthodoxy' means", Yeshivat Chovevei Torah musmach Rabbi Darren Kleinberg claims that his shul Kidma and himself are "Modern Orthodox". Here are some quotes from "How Big, the Tent of Modern Orthodoxy?" by Rabbi Harry Maryles (of the popular blog Emes Ve-Emunah) that disagree:
[Kleinberg] seeks to distort Orthodoxy into something that is unrecognizable. And this is quite in concert with why he says YCT was founded:

“YCT was founded in 2000 by Rabbi Avi Weiss "to transform Orthodoxy. "From the role of women in ritual, to recognition of the value of non-Orthodox movements…”

To his credit, he does admit that he does “not speak on behalf of the institution.” He doesn’t want any aspersions to be cast due to any of his own innovations. But the fact is that he simply put into practice the mission statement of "Open Orthodoxy" of his school.
Accepting Rabbi Kleinberg’s approach de-legitimizes YCT’s claim to be Modern Orthodox. They would do well to remove the word “Orthodox” from its identity.
One of the things that really bothers me in Rabbi Kleinberg's op-ed is the way he disingenuously attempts to distance himself from YCT with the disclaimer, "To be clear...while I am a graduate of YCT, I do not speak on behalf of the institution."

Let me be clear, while Rabbi Kleinberg may not be a formal representative of YCT, he certainly represents YCT. Also, YCT legitimizes and endorses Rabbi Kleinberg and his shul Kidma:
1) Rabbi Kleinberg is a musmuch of YCT. Orthodox smicha (rabbinical ordination) is not like receiving a college degree. With smicha, whether the musmach likes it or not, he represents the person or institution he received smicha from. If Rabbi Kleinberg converted to Christianity, you can be certain that YCT would revoke his smicha. Some rabbis formally make their musmachim sign a document that they will adhere to certain values. YCT has done nothing to publicly distance itself from Rabbi Kleinberg. In fact, it has done the opposite.

2) Rabbi Kleinberg's picture and bio is listed on a YCT web page titled "Bringing Open Orthodox Rabbinic Leadership to a Community Near You".

3) On multiple occasions Rabbi Avi Weiss (dean & founder of YCT) has promoted Rabbi Kleinberg and Kidma with his live presence (at Kidma), declaring the highest praises of Rabbi Kleinberg as a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Saul Berman has also lectured at Kidma.

4) As a showcase of "Open Orthodoxy", the YCT newsletter presented a full-page Community Profile of Kidma, "YCT Alumnus Brings Open Orthodoxy to the Southwest". Rabbi Kleinberg was that alumnus.

5) Rabbi Avi Weiss has explicitly stated support for Kleinberg and Kidma in an interview for Canonist:
Rabbis Kleinberg and East are developing communities where there was no Modern Orthodoxy in effect, certainly, no Orthodoxy that we would call ‘open’ and inclusive. Development of new open Modern Orthodox congregations is an important aspect of YCT’s vision. In fact, the yeshiva [YCT] finds it so critical that we assist by financially supporting these new communities [e.g. Kidma].
I wonder if Rabbi Kleinberg's attempt to distance himself from YCT was his idea or YCT's.

Another statement by Rabbi Kleinberg that I have an issue with is, "Ultimately I have come to understand that I am a member of the Jewish people before I am a member of Orthodoxy, that my personal religious convictions cannot stand in the way of my responsibilities to the entire Jewish people."

In my opinion, the obvious way to read that statement is that Rabbi Kleinberg's religious beliefs (assumedly driven by some form of Jewish Law) are trumped by his responsibilities, his personal authority. If that is correct, that is definitely not Orthodox. If Rabbi Kleinberg wishes to clarify this specific point with direct non-ambiguous language, I welcome his communication. I have emailed him recently but received no response, so he will have to contact me.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

My rebbe is not the "Golden Calf"!

In "To not know", Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduate Rabbi Darren Kleinberg denegrated "daas Torah", and in affect every Orthodox rabbi past and present.

In the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix were a couple of responses to Rabbi Kleinberg:
In last week's Torah Study ("To not know," Jewish News, March 9), the author accused the Orthodox establishment of encouraging its members to submit to rabbinic authority on all decisions - of essentially demanding that they give up independent thought. That has not been my experience.

The institutions that I attended all placed a heavy emphasis on taking personal development and life decisions seriously. As part of that, we were given an appreciation for the opinions of those who were older, wiser and more righteous than we. But our teachers and counselors more often than not did not directly give opinions; rather, they brought up issues that perhaps the young student had not considered, and in that way not only guided a particular decision but helped mature our decision-making process. They sought to develop deliberate and well-grounded graduates.

Perhaps, looking from the outside, it appears as if this method of education strips the student of independence of thought; in reality, it endows wisdom. This stands in stark contrast to the conditioning of many of today's youth to resist the guidance of others because they believe it interferes with their freedom of choice; instead it leaves them uninformed and unable to relate to others' points of view.

Rabbi Raphael Landesman
Phoenix Community Kollel

Kudos to the Jewish News for correctly listing KiDMa and its rabbi as a new category of Judaism on your Area Congregations page.

In Rabbi Darren Kleinberg's last three Torah Study pieces in Jewish News, he has stated that Moses carelessly presided over the murder of the biblical blasphemer ("The blasphemy of injustice," May 12, 2006), that God is imperfect ("Reaching for perfection," Nov. 3, 2006), and that the Hafetz Haim's respect for rabbinic authority is a modern-day golden calf ("To not know," March 9).

These errant explanations are examples of a Judaism that cannot be found under the heading of classical Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or any other previously known label.

Leo Rozenberg
Here's the response I sent to the paper. They didn't publish it. Maybe they didn't like the word "vomit"?
In "To not know", Rabbi Darren Kleinberg references the Chofetz Chaim (an exceptional rabbi of the 20th century) to provide a definition for Daas Torah. Kleinberg distills the concept of Daas Torah to one myopic sentence: "The idea of Da'as Torah is that, for any given problem, there is a Torah answer." Rabbi Kleinberg then berates Daas Torah with snide embellished rhetoric, "There is a political election taking place and you don't know who to vote for? Ask your rabbi. You want to know where to give charity? Ask your rabbi. You want to know who to marry? Ask your rabbi". Finally, Rabbi Kleinberg states that in the Daas Torah model of Judaism the "rabbi has become the golden calf".

To millions of Orthodox Jews, the Chofetz Chaim and countless other great rabbis (including Moses, Maimonides, etc.) throughout the ages, represent Daas Torah. The implication that those rabbis are the "Golden Calf" is the epitome of disrespect and apikorsus, and makes me want to vomit.

Related Links:
- The Haredim: A Defense

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Haskalah 2.0

To understand the Open Orthodox agenda, I recommend the following dvar Torah by YCT student Ari Weiss (class of '07) on the YCT Web site this past Chanukah: Chanukah Revisited: A Festival of Light or a Festival of War?

I've been meaning to post this for a while. I thought I was going to eventually post a lengthier response, but I think the piece speaks for itself. This is the most disconcerting dvar Torah I have read at the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah web site and I would have been remiss not to give it some attention.

A brief excerpt from the article:
...while we have to continue translating the Torah into Greek, we have to open up the possibility of translating Greek thought into the language of Torah!

Instead of understanding the message of Chanukah as a war between competing ideologies [Judaism and Hellenism], we should understand Chanukah and the symbol of the menorah as the possibility of being nourished and enlightened by two sources. While at times we have to fight wars, and have commitments which life would not be worth living if we could not fulfill them, we have to realize that this is not ideal.
Rhetorical final questions from the article:
The question which we have to ask ourselves as Chanukah approaches is what symbol of Chanukah do we see as primary and which symbol do we see as secondary? Do we speak a language of war of a clash of civilization, or of light of enlightenment?

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Rabbi Zev Farber responds to Yated

The Yated newspaper criticized Rabbi Zev Farber's dvar Torah, Choosing a Wife - Did Yaakov Get It Right?. I would not be suprised if the Yated became aware of Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah from my post, Yaacov led astray by his infatuation with Rochel.

Here is Rabbi Farber's lengthy response: A Letter from R. Zev Farber: Maligning a Rabbi – Did Yated Ne’eman Get it Right?

Rabbi Farber introduces the core of his rebuttal by hesitantly conceding "...I admit that a few statements could have been phrased less provocatively. The title was chosen specifically to catch the eye. In retrospect, I probably should have been less flashy in my presentation." This acknowledgement almost seems like teeth-pulling, and is quite ambiguous.

Rabbi Farber states that his rebuttal is focused on "an approach found in classical meforshim". Rabbi Farber's non-specific concession statements, plus the sources in meforshim (even the "extreme interpretation" of the Zohar) do not negate or account for the problematic idea that Yaacov was "led astray" by his "infatuation" with Rochel. If Rabbi Farber would have been specific as to what he would have changed in retrospect that may have provided some real clarity.

In my opinion, while Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah was inapproriate and his rebuttal does not sufficiently alleviate that assessment, I concede that there appears to be merit in his statement,
...if I had had no basis in Chazal, it would still not have been a heresy. The question of whether one is bound to interpret a story in the Torah – as opposed to a mitzvah or halakha - the way Chazal do, is an old question. The consensus amongst the Geonim, backed up by many Rishonim and Aharonim, is to unequivocally permit it.
I am not sure whether the Yated was referring to the halachic concept of kefirus, or a definition of heresy that is more contemporary. (e.g. heresy - "any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.")

Here are selected responses to Rabbi Farber's letter (they are from the Hirhurim comments section of In Defense of YCT II):

from Ojoe:
The issue is not whether Chazal and the Rishonim spoke about the mistakes of the Avos. Of course they did! The issue is that a young fellow like Farber has come up with a new fault, unmentioned before.
Comments such as "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...If one of our forefathers could be led astray by external criteria..." are not defended simply by saying that Chazal also criticized the Avos.

I am disappointed in this 'defense' and think it hurts his case more than helps.

from C.T Hirsch:
The problem is that one needs a tradition or a mesorah in order to understand how statements by chazal which are negative of the avos and other spiritual giants in tanach are supposed to be understood.
At any rate, one needs a mesorah in order to understand the seemingly harsh statements of chazal, and we certainly ought to be very cautious before we invent our own.

from Gil Student:
I just read R. Farber's devar Torah, finally, and I have to say that I find it in very poor taste. Not deserving of the hysterical reaction in Yated, but not something I'd allow on my blog or, when I was editing Mesukim Mi-Devash, in my parashah sheet.

Related Links:
- Musings on the Proper Way to Learn Chumash


Friday, March 09, 2007

Is your rebbe the "Golden Calf"?

Here is an excerpt of a dvar Torah (hot off the presses) on parshas Ki Tisa by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah musmach Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, titled "To not know":
One of the central ideological aspects of Orthodoxy has been the ideology of Da'as Torah. Da'as Torah is perhaps best defined in this statement attributed to Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, the Hafetz Haim: "The person whose view (da'as) is the view of Torah (Da'as Torah) can solve all worldly problems, both specific and general. However, there is one condition attached. The Da'as Torah must be pure, without any interest of bias." The idea of Da'as Torah is that, for any given problem, there is a "Torah answer."

There is a political election taking place and you don't know who to vote for? Ask your rabbi.

You want to know where to give charity? Ask your rabbi.

You want to know who to marry? Ask your rabbi.

This is a model of Judaism that says, "We know." In this [Daas Torah] model of Judaism, that rabbi has become the golden calf.
Daas Torah can be best distilled in two words: Torah Authority. Daas Torah is the empowerment of Gedolim (exceptional Torah scholars including Moshe Rabbeinu, Rambam, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, etc.) with authoritative guidance because of their vast Torah knowledge which instills broad insight.

To millions of Torah Observant Jews, the Chofetz Chaim and countless other Gedolim throughout the ages, represent Daas Torah. The implication that those rabbis are the Egel Hazahav ("Golden Calf") is the epitome of disrespect and apikorsus (by being mevazeh talmidei chachamim).

I personally heard Rabbi Avi Weiss (dean of YCT) describe Rabbi Kleinberg as "brilliant in Tanach and Oral Law", "best of the best [of YCT graduates]", and a "pastoral genius". Those comments were said sometime after two other very controversial (to say the the least) divrei Torah by Rabbi Kleinberg. (Here are letters to the editor commenting on those divrei Torah: To stone or not to stone and Debating the nature of God)

I can only assume that now Rabbi Avi Weiss will compare Rabbi Kleinberg to Moshe Rabbeinu or declare Rabbi Kleinberg as Moshiach.

For a Torah discussion of Daas Torah, please see: Da'as Torah & Emunas Chachamim.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Yated article reaches intended audience

From The kids are Actually Rabbis:
Founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale,NY, ( Chovevei is attempting to create a generation of "open Orthodox" rabbis and leaders. Not everyone is: a) accepting of them and their ideas; and b) tolerant of their existence. I provided a link in an earlier post that referenced a recent article about how Chovevei is evil and dangerous. (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah: Is It Orthodox?) This was an article that was referenced over and over again last night as the "kids" [YCT rabbinical students] spoke [at the YCT 4th annual dinner].
Here's some left-wing rhetoric from the same blog post as above:
There was a post I read yesterday, about a religious woman riding an Egged bus to the Kotel for sunrise services. Without a long winded explanation, she refused to move to the back of the bus, (which is where women are supposed to sit apparently, according to a recent halachic ruling) and was beaten severerly by a group of Charedim. She did not go quietly, and attempted to have the perpetrator arrested, and scolded those on the bus for allowing a religious woman on her way to davening to be beaten.

And this is why we need Chovevei. So that our women will not be beaten because they want to daven.
I see this blogger's point of view...we need Yeshivat Chovevei Torah to fight the rampant epidemic of right-wing/Chareidi misogynistic women beaters! This problem is especially virulent in the U.S., where YCT is based and has focused its musmachim. Thank you YCT for working hard to end the violence against our Jewish women.

I think Chovevei Torah needs more advocates like this blogger.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Defending the indefensible

Rabbi Nathaniel Nethaniel Helfgot, Chair of Departments of Bible and Jewish Thought at YCT, responded to the recent Yated article that addressed issues with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. This is not the first time that Rabbi Helfgot has responded to criticism of YCT.

Here are my responses to Rabbi Helfgot:

Rabbi Helfgot:
"R. Linzer’s quote about struggling with difficult mitzvot that challenge our ethical notions and our conception of a just God (a conception that emerges from many parts of the Torah) is a badge of honor...Gedolei olam from time and immemorial struggled with difficult mitzvot such as the commandment to obliterate Amalek."
There is a difference between a person's internal struggles and making public statements which give the perception that Hashem is unjust. Rabbi Linzer's public "challenging" statements open the door to disregarding those "difficult" laws. Stating that Rabbi Linzer's statements are a "badge of honor" is shocking. Rabbi Linzer is not one of the "Gedolei olam". Rabbi Linzer is the Rosh Yeshiva of a liberal institution whose clear agenda is the liberalization of Orthodox Judaism. For YCT's general audience, are Rabbi Linzer's statements geared to strengthen someone's emunah or weaken it?

Rabbi Helfgot:
YCT has never claimed it follows in the footsteps of the Rav zt”l as Hasidim follow a rebbe.
YCT takes inspiration from the teachings of the entire panoply of great rabbinic figures of previous generations as well as the current generation.
We now see that YCT professes that it does not follow RYBS and that it follows whichever Gadol for which it can find support for a practice or custom-despite the absence of any evidence that the Gedolim cited had any knowledge or familiarity with the American Jewish community after WW2. (from a quote by Steve Brizel)

Rabbi Helfgot:
First, let us get some facts down correctly, irrespective of reports on blogs or newspapers. As far as I understand, The World Jewish Congress asked YCT (as well as Yeshiva University) to host a visit of prominent Catholic cardinals who also wanted to see how a beit medrash functions and what hevruta learning is.
...Yeshiva University-Stern College for Women hosted the Cardinals the very next day and they also learned Gemara be-hevruta with some of the women in the Stern Graduate Talmud program as I recall it was reported in the YU-Stern College Observer.
Here are some very interesting comments from someone called member of stern Grad Program:
...the cardinals were not invited to study b'chavrutah with the Stern women- they were merely observing. Some cardinals did ask questions of the women as the women studied. This is very different than organizing a joint text study. Rabbi Helfgott constantly tries to justify chovevei with what YU does but is sometimes not accurate with his facts. Also Menachem [another commenter] correctly noted that Rav H. Schachter had never given a shiur or even visited the Stern Graduate Program until the visit with the cardinals that morning.
Rabbi Helfgot introduced his defense of YCT by nobly stating,
There is something profoundly disturbing and unethical and lacking in basic derekh eretz and kevod ha-beriyot in a “Torah “newspaper not doing basic fact checking nor in engaging in the simple journalistic (and ethical) protocol of calling up the subjects of one’s reportage for comment, reaction, clarification, questions before publishing a lengthy and harsh attack.
This may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Regardless, YU never participated in the kind of interfaith dialogue that YCT participated in. For example, here's Rabbi Avi Weiss, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical students, cardinals, and bishops dancing around the YCT bais midrash (see Interfaith pluralism: Open Orthodoxy style):

Based on the verified differences between YU's and YCT's interfaith engagement, Rabbi Helfgot's attempt to make an equivalency between YU and YCT concerning interfaith dialogue is misleading, disingenuous, and reprehensible.

Rabbi Helfgot:
...there is much to be gained in the areas of pastoral counseling, leadership training, speaking skills, making life-cycle events meaningful, homiletical ideas and even in selected areas of Jewish thought from non-Orthodox speakers and clergy. While the core faculty of the Yeshiva are classical talmidei hakhamim and fully Orthodox rabbanim and professionals, we appreciate and value the insights and experiences of others beyond our immediate community when they can help us train our students to be effective, compassionate and professionally trained rabbis. In that context, in addition to inviting other Orthodox rabbis and professionals to occasionally speak to our students in various areas of the curriculum we have also opened our doors to non-Orthodox rabbis and professionals in areas where they can contribute positively to the education of our students.
YCT is supposed to be an Orthodox Yeshiva! YCT's curriculum is not academic, it's theological. Teachers are not teaching mathematics and English, but how to relate to congregants, hopefully from an Orthodox Torah viewpoint. Shouldn't the entire YCT faculty be Orthodox? Why not hire Orthodox professionals exclusively for pastoral educational positions? What is gained by conscientiously staffing non-Orthodox women "rabbis" in those roles? Rabbi Helfgot's attitude is mind-boggling. If someone wants to become a secular psychologist, there are many fine universities to enroll in.

Rabbi Helfgot:
[Rabbi Zev Farber's] essay analyzing some of the life choices of Yaakov Avinu raised the ire of the author of the Yated essay. I do not want to address the cogency of the specific ideas of the essay or whether I would have used this or that formulation or more nuanced language. These are all issues which one can calmly debate. The issue at hand, however, is much more fundamental. Learning and teaching about the greatness, achievements, holiness and stature of our biblical heroes such as the Avot and Imahot coupled with an honest and rich understanding of the human dimension, feelings, as well as struggles, mistakes and errors of those very characters has been discussed in many forums. It is one of the dividing lines between contemporary Hareidi (and Hardal and right wing-Modern Orthodox) parshanut and classical modern-and contemporary open Orthodox parshanut.
What is fascinating to me is that in this issue it is really the Hareidi position which is really "modern” as Hazal and the Rishonim were much more open to these nuances than contemporary Hareidi writers. Indeed if one reads Bereishit and Shemot Rabbah systematically one sees Hazal's deep assessment of the humanity, struggles, failings, emotions of the greatest of the great.
Rather than address the content of Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah, Rabbi Helfgot averts the discussion with the tangential issue of Avos/Imahos analysis. Rabbi Helfgot seems to imply that it is acceptable for YCT students to engage in broad psychoanalytical drash because it is in the tradition of Chazal to assess “the humanity, struggles, failings, emotions of the greatest of the great.” Are YCT musmachim the modern manifestation of Chazal? I think not.

Rabbi Helfgot:
All of us are human and occasionally a young musmach can and does make a mistake in p’sak or in a d’var Torah or in dealing with a difficult text or attempting to formulate a theological concept.
...sometimes, in a desire to present an idea in a meaningful and arresting way young musmachim and students do not judiciously choose careful language.
Here and there, there have also been formulations that I would consider have crossed some lines. Whether, when and how an institution should respond to such phenomena is a difficult issue touching on serious issues that include a whole panoply of considerations. One thing I am sure of, the forum for such a discussion is not a mean-spirited attack article that reflects no generosity of spirit nor understanding of the real people involved, the work and context in which they operate and the world-views and perspectives that they come from.
Rabbi Helfgot is ambiguous whether he believes Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah "crossed the line" or not. However, Rabbi Helfgot seems to have missed the reason of why Rabbi Farber was "singled-out" by Yated. Yated merely epitomized Rabbi Farber’s dvar Torah as a key example of hashkafic improprieties concerning YCT musmachim. What should Yated do? List every example? That would take an entire newspaper. The Yated also presented divrei Torah from YCT musmach Rabbi Darren Kleinberg. I find it interesting that Rabbi Helfgot did not explicitly defend Rabbi Kleinberg who certainly had much more Yated coverage than Rabbi Farber. Why is that?

Rabbi Helfgot's position and tone are defensive. What he subjectively labels as a "mean-spirited attack article" I label as a blunt public service message in the spirit of principle #6 of Open Orthodoxy, "Public Protest".

Rabbi Helfgot:
The attempt to somehow tar YCT and some of its faculty with the taint of being anti-Israel is beneath contempt.
Guilt by association is not an honorable tactic and in America is usually associated with the specter of McCarthyism. It is a fact that some of the faculty of YCT spoke last year at a conference on human rights abuses in the United States at the invitation of the North American Rabbis For Human Rights. The conference was to focus on the American front and not on issues related to Israel (that being the condition that the YCT faculty agreed to participate in the first place). The fact that this group is also allied with a group in Israel that has harshly critiqued the IDF and the Israeli government does not in any mean that everyone whoever has anything to do with the North American branch magically agrees with every or anything posited by the Israeli organization (That is guilt by association squared!) Furthermore, the fact that one or two students in our history participated in a left-wing rally or signed on to a petition five years ago critical of the tactics of the IDF (positions, that despite my personal opposition to them, are part of the legitimate discourse that takes place amongst committed Zionist and supporters of Israel both and in the Israel) no more means that this is the position espoused by a majority or even a significant minority of students at YCT.
The comparison of Yated to McCarthyism is offensive. Rabbi Helfgot indicted the Yated article as a "mean-spirited attack". The McCarthy label is "mean-spirited".

Rabbi Helfgot verbosely vents, but simply misses the point. The point is not whether a hundred, fifty, or even one YCT student attended a rally they shouldn’t have. The point of Yated is not to indict everyone at YCT "with the specter of McCarthyism" because a couple musmachim do any one inappropriate thing. The point is that each item Yated referenced is part of a larger tapestry and preponderance of evidence that YCT has serious hashafic problems that are rapidly precluding it from mainstream Orthodoxy.

Lastly, it is interesting that Rabbi Helfgot glossed over issues with two other YCT musmachim presented in the Yated article:
- Rabbi Darren Kleinberg
- Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow

Rabbi Farber is less controversial than those two YCT graduates. Maybe Farber was easier, or more palatable to defend?

I hope that other YCT senior faculty respond to the Yated article. They can do no better job of revealing what "Open Orthodoxy" is truly about.

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