Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Open Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy, and Rav Aharon Feldman

OO founder Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabba Sara Hurwitz
There is an interview (excerpted from Hamodia) with Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva and Agudah Moetzes member, Rav Aharon Feldman - on Cross-Currents. It is on the subject of Open Orthodoxy - in response to the Agudah Moetzes condemnation of the movement.

I have had more than one disagreement with Rabbi Feldman. For example on the subject of banning the books of Rabbi Natan Slifkin which deal with Torah and science, he supported the ruling of Rav Elyashiv. Who banned those books calling them Apikursus (heresy). That was an abrupt change for Rabbi Feldman, who until Rav Elyashiv’s ban endorsed those books.

On the other hand, Rabbi Feldman’s poignant words about homosexuals struggling with same sex attractions are something I agreed with.

On the issue of Open Orthodoxy, he and I are in general agreement. If what he has quoted them saying is true, I don’t see how anyone can consider them Orthodox at all. Here is what he said in response to a question of what Halachic bounds they have crossed: 
The basis of Orthodox Judaism is a belief in the Divine origin of both the Oral and Written Torah. Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s (YCT) leaders or their graduates have said clearly or implicitly on many occasions that they do not accept that the Torah was authored by Hashem, that parts of the Torah can be excised, and that the Oral Law was developed by Rabbis to adjust the Written Torah to the realities of the time that they lived in. This basic philosophy is what writes them out of Orthodox Jewry. 
He later added: 
The positions their leaders have espoused put them unmistakably beyond the pale of Torah Judaism, and have made them no di­fferent than the Reform or Conservative movements who admittedly deny the divinity of the Torah. One of their lecturers wrote that the Divine Word depends on man’s moral consciousness and that the moral compass of man writes the Torah. This idea, which was praised by Asher Lopatin, president of YCT, is total kefirah. The foundation of Torah Judaism is the belief in the divinity of the entire Torah, and by such statements they have openly written themselves out of the Torah community. 
These are sentiments I have expressed on this subject before. Many times. I was challenged by those sympathizing with Open Orthodoxy saying that Modern Orthodoxy itself is considered outside the pale and that as a Centrist right wing member of Modern Orthodoxy I too would be considered outside the pale! That was addressed by Rabbi Feldman as well. And he clearly stated that Modern Orthodox Jews are clearly  well ‘within the pale’: 
Modern Orthodox leaders are clear about their belief in Torah miSinai. Their core beliefs are the same as those of anyone else in the frum world. But Open Orthodoxy is a movement purporting to be Orthodox while espousing the theology of the Reform and Conservative movements. That’s something that the world has to be made aware of… 
(C)hareidim are not an isolated group. We are one Jewish people. This is especially so as regards the Modern Orthodox, who share our fundamental belief system. Open Orthodoxy is something that is cutting away at the fringes of Am Yisrael. It’s the business of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah to care about Klal Yisrael. We cannot only be concerned if our Shabbos kugel comes out well; we must worry about the Jewish people as a whole. 
My only quibble with Rabbi Feldman is what he said about the RCA. That their rejection of female rabbis misses the point - which is their denial of the fundamentals of belief in the Torah. While I agree that this is indeed where Open Orthodoxy went wrong (and have said so repeatedly) it is unfair to label the RCA as missing the point. 

They were not addressing Open Orthodoxy. I'm sure that the most members of the RCA would agree that denying the fundamentals of belief is a game changer. They just targeted an issue that felt was concretely undermining Modern Orthodoxy. Some Modern Orthodox Shuls were beginning to hire female rabbis (Maharats, Rabbas...) as interns and the like. They wanted to nip this in the bud by making a clear statement that Shuls what do this undermine the ideals of Modern Orthodoxy.

One can ask why they didn't address the larger issue of Open Orthodoxy. But it is unfair to say they missed the point.

The interview published in Cross-Currents is well worth reading. I’m sure that it will generate a lot of push-back from Open Orthodox supporters. Some of it heated. Which is fine. I have no issue with that. But I will again state the obvious. All disagreement should be respectful. Please leave the vitriol out of it.