Monday, January 12, 2009

Building Bridges

The following statements were made about an event that involved a combined event that took place between Orthodox and Reform communities:

… if we refuse to speak with one another, we ultimately suffer from our own insulation. If Torah is truly not in the heavens, but rather in our mouths and hearts, then we find completion only in engaging the Torah found in the other.

And so we present this tale as an example of collaboration, in the spirit of the psalmist: Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to come together in unity.

We look forward to continuing our effort to live up this lofty promise of achdut, a connected peoplehood.

Was this comment made by Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, the ‘renegade’ Musmach of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah? No. It was made by a Chabad Rabbi in San Fransisco as reported here.

This seems to be counter the oft expressed Orthodox position of not participating with any Heterodox movements. Events such as these are what many Charedi leaders of both past and present object to so strenuously – including Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. There can be no unity with them.

When Rabbi Kleinberg held an event such as this he was heavily criticized for it. His Alma Mater, Yeshivat Chivevei Torah (YCT) defended him for facilitating such events. In fact YCT endorses them. It is in the spirit of what they call ‘Open Orthodoxy’. This is a philosophy that promotes the idea of interacting with them (even to the extent of discussing theology).

This is anathema not only to Charedi rabbinic leaders but even to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik who mentored the founders of YCT. YCT leaders acknowledge this but add that - were Rav Soloveitchik alive today, he may have seen things differently and changed his mind. That is at best debatable. Most of Orthodoxy, including Centrist Orthodoxy are still opposed to it.

There was however an incident a few years ago where I think rabbinic leadership seemed to go too far. Rabbi Yosef Reinman was heavily criticized for collaborating on a book with a Reform rabbi and then going on a promotional tour. They said it was granting a Reform rabbi legitimacy. Rabbi Reinman was forced by Charedi rabbinic leaders to withdraw from the tour and disavow his book. He later publicly apologized for that book and tour saying that they were right. But he also lamented that it was an enormous missed Kiruv opportunity.

I felt – and still feel - that Charedi rabbinic leaders went too far in their interpretation of ‘granting a Reform Rabbi legitimacy’. Rabbi Reinman was right about that lost opportunity. What was gained? What was lost? Was Judaism better served by Rabbi Reniman’s withdrawal and disavowal?

How far should one go for Kiruv? Chabad seems to think one may go as far as necessary – as long as it doesn’t involve Halachic violations. That has been my observation in the past and I believe that was the operating principle in the above quote. Apparently the Lubavticher Rebbe had agreed to this idea too.

One may ask, are we allowed to teach Torah to Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders? My answer to that is why not? What can possibly be wrong with teaching another Jew Torah – even if he is a Conservative or Reform rabbi?

I believe that was the position of my own Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichick. Rav Moshe, his oldest son used to do exactly that with his father’s blessing. He used to personally give a weekly Shiur to Conservative and Reform rabbis… basically providing them with their weekly sermons. I’m sure that Rav Ahron saw this as a matter of Kiruv.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I have my issues with Lubavitch and have written about them extensively. But on this issue they seem to be right. Their successes seem to argue in favor of their approach.

Which brings me back to the question of YCT’s ‘Open Orthodoxy’. Is what they do any different than what Lubavitch did here? And if so, how?