Friday, November 27, 2015

Why We Can’t Remain Silent

Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe
One would think that the differences between Open Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism are in fact significant at some level. Even though many of us have said that Open Orthodoxy is just a newer version of an old song. 

For the most part I believe that’s true – as Rabbi Avi Shafran pointed out in a Jewish Week article that was republished on Cross-Currents. Part of the reason for all of these protests coming from just about all of Orthodoxy to their right is that Open Orthodoxy’s members are in fact observant of Halacha. And that is how Orthodoxy has always been defined. Their female rabbis who are married cover their hair. And obviously observe Shabbos, Kashrus, and Taharas Mishpacha.

But as those of us to their right keep saying their ideology departs from tradition so radically that it takes them out of our orbit. Especially their tolerance for the kind of bible criticism that too easily leads one to conclude that the Torah was written by man.

They retort - often with a degree of anger - that Orthodoxy was always about observance. And they observe Halacha no less meticulously than any other Orthodox Hashkafa. I will go them one better and say Open Orthodox Jews are probably more sincere than many to their right. There are a lot of us to their right that may not be as meticulous in some areas of Halacha as they are. That is human nature. 

It is the nature of large groups of people of a particular ideology to have a spectrum of belief and observance of it’s tenets. Which makes some of them more meticulous than others. So whether Charedi or Centrist we have our share of slackers. I tend to believe that Open Orthodox Jews by their very nature are sincere people and are as meticulous about their observance of Halacha as they are sincere about their ideology of abandoning those traditions they feel are no longer relevant.

That is why it is important to speak out. To assure anyone listening (or reading) – including those who may consider Open Orthodoxy a real option in Orthodoxy – to realize it really isn’t. That virtually the entire rabbinic body of Orthodox Jewry to their right rejects them. It must be made clear that observance of Halacha while rejecting centuries old Mesorah (tradition) because of the currents of 2015 is problematic. Traditions should never be changed except in rare cases of existential threat.

Which brings me to an article in the Huffington Post (republished in the Jewish Journal) written by Conservative Rabbi, David Wolpe.  Some of Rabbi Wolpe’s message could have been written by almost any Orthodox Rabbi. He described his life in terms that any Orthodox Jew would describe. For example he said that he Davens 3 times a day. But then he says the following: 
Conservative Judaism is quintessentially the Judaism of relationship. Balancing relationships with other Jewish denominations, reaching out to the non-Jewish world, and most important, understanding our tradition as one in continuing dialogue with God. Every relationship is both a legacy and a promise; it depends upon what has gone before, but if it does not grow and change, it cannot live. 
This is where it gets dicey. I suppose one can debate exactly what he means by ‘Balancing relationships with other Jewish denominations,(and) reaching out to the non-Jewish world…’. But what I think he meant is what Open Orthodoxy means. Embracing all denominations – thus legitimizing them. It isn’t too difficult to embrace those to your right as legitimate as does the Conservative Movement with respect to Orthodoxy. But what about those to your left? Both Rabbi Wolpe and Open Orthodoxy say we should embrace them too.

Let me be clear. There is no Jew that I would not fully embrace no matter what their denomination. It is ideology I am talking about. Not people. And by embracing their spiritual leaders we are in essence tolerating their ideology. And the greatest rabbis of the 20th Century including Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, ZTL, the universally recognized leader of Modern Orthodoxy forbade it.

Often I have heard the claim that times are different now and the dangers of appearing to recognize their theology no longer apply. But I doubt they would have changed their minds. To illustrate - feminism was already making inroads into other denominations in Rav Soloveitchik’s heyday. Heterodoxy responded by beginning to ordain female rabbis. 

Rav Soloveitchik was adamantly opposed to it despite the changing cultural climate of his time. He would not permit the innovation of female rabbis any more today than he did then. And yet Open Orthodoxy has bowed to the demands of the times and has begun ordaining women.

Interestingly, Rabbi Wolpe seems to use the same argument that Open Orthodox rabbis do. That tradition is a ‘continuing dialogue with God’. I assume that he means that we can change tradition as part of that dialogue in effect ‘presenting our case to God’ that the times mandate changing tradition in order to remain relevant to the modern Jewish mind. Same thing that Open Orthodoxy believes.

My understanding is that Rabbi Wolpe is an observant Jew that follows Halacha. At least the way the Conservative Movement defines it. Which to the average eye, would appear to be no different than how Orthodoxy defines it. And I recall an article he once wrote urging Conservative Jews to become more observant. I have also been told that he accepts the conclusion of many bible critics that say the Torah was written by man – different parts in different eras.

I have to ask: In what way is Rabbi Wolpe any different than the rabbis who lead Open Orthodoxy? It is no wonder they seek interdenominational cooperation with Conservative rabbis. It’s because there is no real differences between them.

Which is why so many of us consider them Neo Conservative. It’s because they so obviously are.