Sunday, October 15, 2017

Open Orthodoxy - Truth Versus Exaggeration

Orthodox Jewish billionaire and philanthropist - R' Shlomo Rechnitz
Even though he is Charedi, and I am a Centrist - Modern Orthodox (MO) Jew,  I tend to agree with Shlomo Rechnitz on many matters.   As I did a couple of years ago when he expressed empathy for the pain experienced by parents in Lakewood who could not get their children registered in even one of that town’s Charedi schools. I also laud him for his generous philanthropy to causes inside and outside of Judaism. But I have to part company with him on recent public statements with respect to Open Orthodoxy (OO).

I say Open Orthodoxy even though Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) head Rabbi Asher Lopatin now prefers to simply call it MO. I cannot agree to defining his movement that way since MO is a broad category that isn’t limited to his definition. I’m not even sure that a movement that is rejected by virtually every legitimate Posek within Orthodoxy  (e.g. Poskim of institutions like the RCA, OU, YU, Agudah,  the CER (The Conference of European Rabbis ) , and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate - can use the prefix ‘Orthodox’.  You can’t insert yourself into a group that whose primary rabbinic leadership so clearly  rejects you – no matter how much you claim to be a part of it. So for purposes of this essay and no alternative term, I will be referring to them as Open Orthodox or OO.

It might seem ironic that I am criticizing R’ Shlomo for criticizing Open Orthodoxy  since I have been critical of them myself.  But the fact is that he has gone too far. It’s one thing to say the movement is wrong  in being guided by the current Zeitgeist of things like egalitarianism. But calling them ‘Fake Jews’ crosses a line.

The people that populate OO are anything but fake. I believe they are sincere Jews that have fallen victim to the spirit of the times and are trying to reconcile that with Judaism.  OO Rabbis try mightily to to accommodate that. That they do so by going too far does not take away from their legitimacy s Jews. They want to be observant and egalitarian. Rabbis like Asher Lopatin believe they have found a way to accommodate them. There is nothing fake about that. It is just misguided.

And yet this is what R’ Shlomo has said about them. From Arutz Sheva
(G)oing to synagogue doesn't make you religious, just like standing in the parking lot doesn't make you a car... There is nothing Orthodox about them, and the only thing that is 'open' about them is their stores and businesses which are open on the Shabbat and Yom Kippur. 
… if someone doesn't want to keep Torah and mitzvot [commandments] according to tradition but still be called 'Orthodox', he can join the 'Open Orthodox'… 
It is one thing to criticize them even strongly. It is another to make up ‘facts’ about them which are not true. Open Orthodoxy clearly does not approve of Chilul Shabbos or Yom Kippur in any form. To say that they do is by itself ‘fake news’.  This is not to say there aren’t members of that movement that are not observant. I’m sure there are. But there are non observant Jews in all of segments of Orthodoxy. That they exists doesn’t mean that Orhtodoxy is defined by their non observance. Orthodoxy does not define itself that way and neither does OO.  

That they welcome non observant Jews is no sin. That is called ‘Kiruv’ – reaching out to Jews and showing them that observance - which is the hallmark of Orthodox Judaism - is the correct path to take. 

We should all welcome non observant Jews that approach us. If someone wants to learn about  Orthodox Judaism we should welcome them with words of encouragement and tell them that if they choose that lifestyle, they should begin to observance Halacha at their own pace. Which means that they will not necessarily be fully observant right away. In fact someone that comes from a completely secular background with no religious training whatsoever - and suddenly becomes completely observant overnight –will likely just as quickly drop out in very short order.

I doubt that that Open Orthodoxy has a different approach to outreach. That they also extol the virtues of egalitarianism to the extent that they reject tradition - and the views of all major Poskim is a tragic flaw that – among other things -  has caused them to be rejected. But to call them tolerant of Chilul Shabbos and Yom Kippur is both wrong and untrue.

As unlikely as it is, my sincere hope is that this movement comes back home and sees the error of their ways. If they want to be considered Orthodox by their rabbinic peers in the rest of Orthodoxy they have no real alternative.  As I’ve said many times. Orthodoxy needs a left wing. But not one that has crossed so may lines. 

R’ Shlomo’s exaggerated  over-the-top  comments pushes them even further away. Making this goal more remote than ever. Even when rejecting a movement, one must be truthful about who they are and why they are being rejected.

So, yes, R’ Shlomo and I see this movement as problematic. But in no way do I see them as tolerating Chilul Shabbos and Yom Kippur at any level. Lo Zu HaDerech. Truth requires that R' Shlomo reconsider his remarks.