Sunday, November 22, 2015

Another Voice in Opposition to Open Orthodoxy

Guest Contribution by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

Three recently ordained Open Orthodox Rabbis (Ha'aretz)
Spare me your tears. This might be the response I get for expressing my sentiments about the direction taken by the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy. I understand the umbrage. If I were in their shoes I might feel the same way. But I can’t help it. I am sad - depressed even. I cannot think of a more devastating blow to observant Jewry than yet another break away from it. Especially if it attracts otherwise observant Jews. 

And yet that is exactly what has happened. Open Orthodoxy (OO) has broken away and created a new denomination… for the same reasons the Conservative Movement was created. The latter having been a reaction to the excesses of Reform and designed to appeal to the melting-pot spirit of the times. I am not going to re-hash the problems inherent in OO. I have done that more times than I can count. And as far as this post goes it is almost irrelevant.

What is relevant is that they are becoming increasingly ostracized from mainstream Orthodox movements and rabbis. It is plainly obvious to me that they will never be accepted in their current incarnation. Unless they return to their roots and abandon their questionable compromises in pursuit of current trends, they will become just another heterodox movement. I cannot tell you how much this pains me. I have close relatives that support and are even a part of Open Orthodoxy. Relatives that I love and who are among the finest and most sincere people I know. But then again I also have relatives that belong to the Conservative movement – and I can say the same thing about them.

There are many that ask, ‘Why should they care what those to their right think’? That may be a valid question. But they do care. They would not be fighting so hard to retain their status as Orthodox if they didn’t. That’s what’s so frustrating. I want to retain them under the big tent of Orthodoxy. There is a place for the left just like there is a place for the right. But they have chosen to be divisive while accusing mainstream Orthodoxy of it by their strident opposition to them.

Well I guess it depends which side of the fence one is standing on. But it is they who are departing from the mainstream. The rest of us are just reacting to it. It is with that in mind that I present a submission by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky. He is yet another voice in an increasing number of voices across the spectrum of Orthodoxy to oppose them. He is responding to an article written in their defense in Ha’aretz. His words follow.

Criticism has been directed at the RCA resolution about ordaining women as being politically based, rather than Halachically based. Rather than obfuscating the issue, I believe the RCA should own up to that accusation, since the justifications given for ordaining women, and for most of the Open Orthodoxy agenda, is political in nature, rather than Halachic. Politically based decisions deserve politically based responses.

A recent article by Yehoshua Looks, published in Ha’aretz, shows just how much the Open Orthodox (OO) agenda is governed by politics, and how little by Halacha and authentic traditional Jewish sources. There is nothing wrong with a Jewish group basing their decisions on sources that are not rooted in Torah. But it can’t be called “Orthodox Judaism”, Open or Otherwise.

Some excerpts from that article make the political nature of their arguments clearer than anything we could accuse them of.

In posing the question about the authority to define Judaism, the author introduces two models of Judaism, implying that both are rooted in the foundations of our tradition: authoritarian and democratic. This certainly smacks of politics, and moving us away from a discussion of religion, since the authority to define Judaism is supposed to be the Torah. What he probably meant was “who has the authority to interpret the Torah.” But the dialectic he presents demonstrates without a doubt the he is not speaking about Judaism, but about a politically based aberration of it.
“The authoritarian model views Judaism as theology and dogma. The democratic model is more nuanced (isn’t that a nice-sounding adjective – sk); it views Judaism as process oriented, as a journey, the goal of which is to discover one’s authentic voice (by what measure? – sk) within the tradition.”
While the “democratic” model he describes has no basis in our traditional (authoritarian?) Torah sources, and “process” has always been the foundation of Talmudic study and authentic Halachic decisions, the historical example used to illustrate this “democratic” model demonstrates the complete inverse of his thesis.

In an almost breathtaking sleight of hand, he contrasts...
“…the authoritarian mitnagdim (those opposed) and the original Hasidim, the Baal Shem Tov and those that followed him. The Baal Shem Tov saw the holiness in all human beings, as a spark waiting to be ignited.”
So original Hasidim and the Baal Shem Tov serve as the source of this “democratic model” in contrast to the authoritarian model! The Baal Shem Tov, and most Hasidic Rebbes must be turning in their graves. Hassidut was always a completely authoritarian model of Judaism – the Rebbe’s voice was THE authority, unquestionably followed.

What Hassidut introduced was the emphasis placed on daily actions of the simple Jew, in contrast to the emphasis on a more intellectual practice of Judaism. But to use this as a model to justify the free-for-all that OO is creating in the Halachic decision making process is a perversion of Jewish history and Jewish philosophy. Calling this “democratic” is one of many indications of the truly political dimension of OO.
After misrepresenting Hasidut in a way that was sure to make the Baal Shem Tov turn over in his grave, he quotes Hertzel Hefter quoting Eric Fromm about proper way for the Halachic system to operated, implying that our great poskim from Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Moshe Feinstein back to the Vilan Gaon, with their “authoritarian “view, create the danger that our relationship with God was becoming stagnant and ossified.

Anyone delving in to the finely tuned balance of fidelity to our sources and penetrating vision of the contemporary situations manifest in the complex responsa of these poskim, would find it an uniformed insult to accuse them of being “blind to the unique circumstances of the present. And instead seeing them only in terms of the past, …incapable of appreciating the challenge of what is new and fresh… characterized by fear and lack of faith in the Torah’s ability to meet the challenges of the present authentically.

Really amazing words.

It is of course the OO people who have no faith in the ability of the Torah to authentically meet those challenges. That is precisely why they need to import political arguments to justify their positions, while casting doubt on the Divine nature of the Torah and Talmud on which we base our Judaism. We have been through this before. The arguments they use are not new. They are valid from a political and even religious perspective. They just have nothing to do with Orthodox Judaism. Their insistence to the contrary leads them right in to historical revisionism and logical fallacies.

Public discourse is wonderful for political decisions. I don’t think the author would want a cardiologist or oncologist to throw open life and death decisions to public discourse influenced by political agendas. And he would certainly insist that “seats at the table” to make these decisions not be open to doctors whose credentials are based on internet degrees or access to searchable databases.

In medicine we want our opinions coming from great doctors with many years of rigorous study, training, and field experience. We want their qualifications screened and acknowledged by a broad spectrum of other experts. The foundation of Orthodox Judaism is the belief in a Torah, both written and Oral, that is a Divinely revealed system. The transmission and interpretation of that system was given over by God to human beings who are completely immersed in the study and continuity of that system, and our standards for “seats at the table” are very high. 

If Open Orthodoxy wants to be a player in influencing the ongoing development of Torah Judaism, it has to start by being Orthodox. Otherwise, it will suffer the same fate we are witnessing with other heterodox movements in Judaism.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky is co-founder and Dean of Shapell’s/Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya in Jerusalem. He has been involved in the education of English speaking Ba’alei Tshuva for 35 years, and has over 3,000 graduates. (Bio from Klal Perspectives)