Sunday, March 18, 2007

How Big, the Tent of Modern Orthodoxy?

YCT graduate and spiritual leader of KiDMa, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg has moved me to challenge his co-opting the use of the term Modern Orthodox. Rabbi Kleinberg explains his reasons for choosing to list himself as a Modern Orthodox Shul.

He then rather benignly suggests that the reason he defines himself that way is as follows:

“We are a community guided by Jewish law; Shabbat is observed in the traditional Orthodox fashion, dietary laws are observed and prayer follows the traditional liturgy.At the same time, we encourage greater involvement on the part of women, we welcome Jews of all levels of observance equally and we see non-Orthodox movements as our partners.The qualifier "Modern" (as in "Modern Orthodox") refers to each of these and other distinguishing characteristics. We are not "Traditionally Orthodox" as it were; we are “Modern Orthodox.”

At first glance, it sounds quite normal. It even sounds laudable, Shmiras HaMitzvos, inclusiveness for women, outreach to non-Orthodox Jews. What’s wrong with that?

But as is often the case “the devil is in the details”. As was pointed out in an earlier post, Rabbi Kleinberg is far from just a rabbi of a Shul that is more modern in outlook than other Modern Orthodox Shuls. His Shul is about more than outreach to non-Orthodox Jews. He 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.

The radical departure from the traditional roles for women that YCT advocates and Rabbi Kleinberg implements is not what disturbs me. That would just make his version of Orthodoxy a very left wing modern orthodox one. It would still be technically Orthodox.

What disturbs me is his declaration that his version of Modern Orthodoxy includes a partnership with other denominations. This goes much further than having dialogue with them which is by itself a departure from the near universal condemnation of such a practice. It grants them total legitimacy… equal partnership. I do not see how anyone with htis view can claim as part of their title “Orthodoxy”. It is modern…. but is it really Orthodox? How can recognition of those who deny Torah MiSinai; those who accept the view that the Torah was written by man, or that none of the events listed in the Torah actually happened…as an Orthodox approach? This approach cannot be sanctioned by anyone who calls himself Orthodox in any way. And this says nothing of his flirting with non Jewish denominations as equals “praising” and “praying” with them at an ecumenical event not long ago.

And this is the danger of YCTs open Orthodoxy. The slippery slope of dialogue quickly deteriorated into recognition via partnership.

There may be a place in the Torah world for a left wing Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary. But such an institution must be clear about legitimizing heretical movements. It cannot allow its graduates to remain in good standing if they declare partnerships with them. 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.

Modern Orthodoxy should be a big tent. It should include the right and the left. But it cannot include partnerships with the heretical.