Open Orthodoxy

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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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