Monday, May 30, 2016

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein Responds

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein (Patheos)
How many prominent Charedi rabbis would join a Catholic nun and together - see a remake of the movie, The Ten Commandments – and then do a review of the movie from an Orthodox perspective? I know one such rabbi. Which is just one of many reasons that I admire him. His name is Yitzchok Adlerstein, and doing things like the above is part of his job.

Rabbi Adlertsein is the Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. He is a Musmach (rabbinic ordainee) of Chafetz Chaim, a Charedi Yeshiva. And the founder of and CEO of Cross Currents.

I personally heard this story from him during a visit to his office last year. It shows that there is a place for interfaith interaction even in the Charedi world. Both Rabbi Adlerstein and I agree that the  Torah world’s view of  Catholic and Christian attitudes towards us is heavily skewed as being negative, when the reverse is more often the case (As always - there are exceptions). One of the things he’s been trying to accomplish is to change that attitude to a more realistic one.

As a suma cum laude graduate of Queens College in New York, and the Sydney M. Irmas Adjunct Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School, …and based on the kind of job he has, Rabbi Adlerstein could be described as the quintessential ‘moderate Charedi’. And I am a huge fan.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
I bring this up in light of a lengthy comment he made on my post dealing with Chabad, and Rabbis Gordimer and Eliezrie. Since that thread is several days old, I felt it best to feature it here because I think there are important things in it that should be read by all. Here it is in full:

Harry – I’m going to take responsibility for the back-tracking on R Gordimer’s piece. It had nothing to do with any of the reasons people offered.

There was no pressure from Chabad. Nada. Not a syllable.

None from R Eliezrie either – although he is a good friend, and he could have tried. Before we accepted his piece, we told him that there would be lots of criticism, and he would have to deal with it.

I asked R Gordimer to declare a truce (with or without withdrawing the original piece; that didn’t matter as much) because I felt that people would not understand his intentions.

Klal Yisrael owes him a lot for assuming the thankless job of chronicling just how far removed from Orthodoxy is the entire Open Orthodox enterprise. He gets lots of flack for it. While many understand why a line in the sand has to be drawn between genuine Torah practice and belief and the OO (Open Orthodox) distortion, many still do not. They attribute all sorts of nefarious motives to Rabbi Gordimer.

The truth is that he is a sweet soul with an unusual sense of emes. He is aware of the stance taken by Gedolei Yisrael, by his own rabbeim, and by rov minyan and rov biyan of the Torah world who regard OO as both illegitimate and confusing enough to the undiscerning to be a threat to their emunah and practice. He speaks not for himself, but for a constituency that numerically swamps any adherents that OO will be able to generate.

I didn’t want people to think that R Gordimer is some sort of passive-aggressive contrarian. He is anything but. He pointed out some issues with Chabad. Some had merit; some I would personally disagree with.

But they are not as front-burner issues as demonstrating why OO as an ideology must be kept at arms length (while we daven that its adherents should keep up their practice of mitzvos, and gain the clarity to come back to the fold.)

Pulling back from the Chabad issue was a statement that any issues we have (and we do) are issues we have with those who clearly share the most important aspects of Orthodox thought. His criticism, however valid, should not be regarded as coming from some font of negativity. He could pull back in an instant. He couldn’t from the condemnation of OO. He couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Rabbi David Eliezrie (Torah Cafe)
Rabbi Eliezrie read the piece before it came down. So did thousands of people from within Chabad. Maybe a few of the lines hit home, and some will give the criticism some thought. At least on the surface, there was mutual admiration, and mutual concession that not all is perfect. That’s positive.

At the same time, I fear that many misunderstood what R Eliezrie meant by new “center” and “realignment.” He did not mean that Chabad is replacing the ideological center – taking over for Modern Orthodoxy. I believe that he meant that there are tens of thousands of Jews who are neither Orthodox nor effectively heterodox. They have joined something in between, and thus are part of that new center.

Granted, they are not fully shomrei mitzvos. Many are hardly that even in any minimal sense of mitzvos bein adam l’Makom. Many are intermarried. Many drop by for the socializing or the kiddush. But they are aware that what stands behind it is a Yiddishkeit whose goal-posts don’t move (as he put it), and places Ahavas Yisrael on a pedestal. That means that many of their kids will go to a Chabad school, where at least some of them will move on to something more. And many, many more will be slowed in their exit from Judaism, c”v. By increasing their identification with Judaism and Jews, many (and their children) will not be taking the final step so quickly.

The rest of us have not been interested in this kind of triage. We’ve had different priorities. But we are now at the end of the eleventh hour for millions of Jews. Chabad, at the moment, has the only game plan for those masses.

They deserve credit for it.

I mostly agree with Rabbi Adlerstein here. My only quibble is that he should have left the original post up. So that Rabbi Gordimer’s and Rabbi Eliezrie’s responses to it would make more sense.

I stand by what I wrote in that post about Lubavitch – which I do not believe contradicts anything Rabbi Adlerstein said – even as we might disagree with a point or two I made. But Rabbi Adlerstein’s comments go far beyond the issues with Chabad and addresses one of the hottest topics of discussion in the Orthodox world: the legitimacy of Open Orthodoxy; its institutions, and its products.

I believe (as does Rabbi Adlerstein) that the overwhelming majority of legitimate rabbinic opinion about OO is that it is not a valid ‘stream’ of Orthodoxy for reasons I have stated here many times (which are beyond the scope of this post). For the record, however, I do not impugn their motives… which are in essence a form of outreach. Just the unacceptable compromises they have made in order to achieve that goal.