As I've bemoaned on prior occasions, the fact that there's no patent on the term "Orthodox Judaism" is an endless source of annoyance. Once upon a time people were more open and honest - the Reformers never claimed to be "halachic" and only die-hard old fashioned Conservatives still live under the illusion that they practice any real fealty towards traditional Jewish legal tradition.
Of concern nowadays are those at the extreme left of the political/religious spectrum of Orthodoxy, those who are called "left wing Modern Orthodox" or LWMO for short. Over the last few years the leadership of this groups has been taking the membership further away from anything considered traditionally Orthodox and into the murky area between proper Torah observance and right-wing Conservatism. With recent initiatives like allowing women to lead parts of the synagogue service and annointing female rabbis, albeit under a different title, one has to wonder when the breaking point will come.
At this point the group still insists on calling itself Orthodox. It still claims obedience to halacha even though its method of using Jewish legal books is more "pick a posek" than a systematic use of the sources. But perhaps a new development will create the final push that LWMO needs to formally leave proper Orthodoxy and set up a movement of their own.
As JTA reports, a second LWMO yeshivah to train rabbis in the tradition of Rabbi Avi Weiss' YCT is coming to Toronto:
For now, the plan is for the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School, which calls itself “traditional yet modern,” to open fully by 2012.
The idea of opening the rabbinical seminary is to train liberal halachic rabbis who will be well suited to meet the needs of Canadian Jewry. Organizers say they are aiming at a middle ground between Conservative Judaism and what they describe as an increasingly rigid Orthodox movement.
“I’m somewhat disenchanted with what’s happening in the rabbinic establishment in the United States, especially the direction Yeshiva University has taken, which has moved to the right,” said Rabbi Daniel Sperber, Talmud professor at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and 1992 winner of the Israel Prize.
Note the repeated use of the word "liberal" throughout the article. Indeed, the founders are concerned that in the absence of qualified "liberal" Orthodox students and teachers, they'll attract a slightly different crowd:
Sperber, who is on the advisory board of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in New York founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss, says the major hurdle will be attracting more Orthodox faculty. If the new school becomes identified as a Conservative institution -- a possibility, given that most of its leadership is Conservative -- Sperber said he will withdraw.
Noting that the Rabbinical Council of America, the main body representing Modern Orthodox rabbis in North America, does not accept graduates of Chovevei Torah, Sperber said, “It is precisely for that sort of reason that one has to support [halachic] institutions of a more liberal nature.”
One should recall that once upon a time Rabbi David Hartmann also called himself Orthodox. He has long since stopped pretending, especially after he opened a rabbinical school to both men and women, religious and non-observant. Is this new school going to be going down the same track? When the inevitable happens and women show up applying for the rabbinical program, will Rabbi Sperber pasken that it's okay? When someone uses the "pick a posek" method to justify mixed seating during services, will he provide the hechsher for it? Will he attend during "interfaith" sessions?
And for those who are bothered by my predictable opposition to such a school calling itself Orthodox, let me raise a final, far more practical point. The recent economic downturn and lack of suitable recovery has left Jewish dayschools, both Torah observant and not, in radical financial trouble across North America. Where are the funding priorities? Is there that much spare money floating around the Jewish community to fund a new rabbinical school that can't even tell us where its graduates will find jobs? Shouldn't the remaining money go to supporting primary Jewish education instead?