Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Avrohom, Marc, Asher, and Me

Professor Marc Shapiro
There has been a lot of buzz about a blog-post written by Professor Marc Shapiro entitled Open Orthodoxy and Its Main Critic.  One might suspect from the title that Professor Shapiro was defending Open Orthodoxy (OO). But a careful reading will show that he was not so much defending Open Orthodoxy as he was sharply criticizing ‘its main critic’, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer. Nor was he even challenging Rabbi Gordimer’s opposition to OO, granting that he has every right to criticize them.

In fact in response to a comment made on his blog, Professor Shapiro said, ‘I probably am much closer in some ways to Rabbi Gordimer than to the Open Orthodox’.

His main objection is the way Rabbi Gordimer criticized them.  Among that criticism is his perception that Rabbi Gordimer is so obsessed with destruction of OO,  that he refused to recognize the good they have done. Of which he provides some examples.

Another criticism is Rabbi Gordimer’s alleged  obsession with OO, to the exclusion of serious problems in the Charedi world. And though he acknowledges that Rabbi Gordimer himself tries to stick to the issues, comments to his posts ‘which have to be approved before being posted, sometimes do contain derogatory and insulting remarks about individuals’.

There are other issues that Professor Shapiro has with Rabbi Gordimer, but I think this is the main thrust of his complaint.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
Rabbi Gordimer has responded in a Cross Currents post. But I have my own take on all of this.

First let me say that I generally agree with Rabbi Gordimer’s views on  Open Orthodoxy. Although I am not as strident as he is, I do believe that his views on OO’s lack of legitimacy as an Orthodox movement reflect the mainstream views of the entire Orthodox rabbinate.  In both the Charedi (Agudah)  and Modern Orthodox (RCA) world. As well as the Chief Rabbinate and Charedi world in Israel.

This is not an opinion. It is just a reality. An unpleasant one no doubt for the leaders of OO.

I completely understand why Professor Shapiro feels this way about Rabbi Gordimer. He explained that well. But I accept Rabbi Gordimer’s defense of his position. That although he sees the wrongdoing to his right, it is by individuals acting irresponsibly and not the Movement itself that is unacceptable. Or just evil interpretations by some individuals. Or simply the crooks and deviants among them. Which every movement has. Professor Shapiro actually alludes to that. But there are problems with  the Charedi world as a group. And he cites some example of that too.

While I think Professor Shapiro is correct about problems in the Charedi world, I don’t necessarily fault Rabbi Gordimer for not dealing with those issues. He might even agree that such problems exist. But he believes as I do that OO as a religious movement has to be identified as unaccepted by Orthodoxy. So that people who seek to be Orthodox know that they are not an option. Joining the Charedi world on the other hand – even with all of its problems – will still make you a member in good standing of Orthodoxy. Is he a zealot? Perhaps. But he believes that issue so important that it is something one must be zealous about.

And yet while I defend Rabbi Gordimer, I am also an admirer of Professor Shapiro. I applaud his work on researching and publishing works on the truth of history. If we are to know where we are going, I think we first need to know from where we came. We have to be honest about that. Omitting the truth of history when it is inconvenient to one’s agenda is the quickest way to turn people away from that agenda, when the truth becomes known. Lies of omission are still lies, no matter how noble the intent.

I understand why he felt the need to criticize Rabbi Gordimer. He sees ihm  as unfairly attacking only one side – hurting good people and their families in the process.  So while I agree with Rabbi Gordimer, I know where Professor Shapiro is coming from. He is not only a brilliant scholar, he is a good man with a good heart.

I’m not sure how Professor Shapiro feels about my own criticism of OO. Which has been very strong. But no one can accuse me of ignoring Charedi misdeeds. My goal is seeking Emes as I understand it wherever I find it.

I have no pleasure in OO’s departure from Orthodoxy. They have a lot to offer. For example OO’s Yeshiva Chovevei Torah has a superb practical rabbinics program, where rabbis are trained how to be rabbis. Most rabbis in the Charedi world have little practical training. The vast majority of Charedi rabbis had no ‘programs’. They simply studied the pertinent texts of the Shulchan Aruch after having spent many years learning Gemara in depth, and if the pass the exams, they get Semicha.

Modern Orthodoxy is a bit better. HTC and especially YU have Semicha programs that involve some practical rabbinics. But  I think YCT probably does a more thorough job of it. It’s too bad they have gone off the reservation in so many areas. YU and HTC would do well to look at YCT’s practical rabbinics programs and incorporate their own version of them into their Semicha programs.

On a tangential but significant note, one of the biggest issues I have with YCT is their tolerance of Kofrim in their midst. Deniers of Torah MiSinai that have bought into the bible critics argument that the Torah was written by man at various different times in history. And that the events at Sinai never actually took place. Nor that the Torah reflects any historical facts at all.
Even though they do not teach that, YCT has not done enough to make clear that they reject that notion as Apikurisus.

A couple of days ago I had a discussion with YCT President, the very talented Rabbi Asher Lopatin. It included among other things this very issue. Here is what he said - an exact quote:
I don't agree with those who reject a traditional understanding of Torah MiSinai.  They haven't figured how to properly interpret academic source criticism in light of our emunah in Torah Misinai [which is non-negotiable]. 
YCT President, Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Non-negotiable! I’m glad to hear that. Unfortunately that is not enough to get back into the good graces of the rest of the Orthodox rabbinate. They have rejected OO and its Yeshivos (YCT and Yeshivat Maharat); their ordainees; and much of their agenda as an unacceptable break from tradition. Nonetheless it is a step in the right direction, away from Apkirsus.

I have been very clear that I lament this whole development. There is a need for a left wing that can appeal to a type of Jew that would be lost in the Charedi world. A type of Jew that values egalitarianism and seeks an Orthodox way of practicing it.

My view is the same as Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. As much as he opposed left wing innovations like Women’s Tefillah Groups, he realized that – right or wrong - there are Orthodox women to which that has an appeal. And that they might leave Orthodoxy for the more egalitarian Conservative Movement without it. So when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin asked him for guidance in how to create one that was within the framework of Halacha, Rav Soloveitchik told him how to do it.

That option has now been compromised by the way the left has evolved. A way that was clearly rejected by Rav Soloveitchik – by their founder’s own admission. Now that OO is not recognized these sincere but in my opinion misguided Jews are left without a recognized Orthodoxy to find what they are looking for. This is a huge loss that should trouble us all.