Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Another Step Towards Formal Separation

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?


Jennifer in MamaLand said...

Ah, Rabbi Roy. Remember him well from Calgary.

Anyway, jobs is not the point. Doesn't it say in pirkei avos, "Do not make the Torah into a ... spade with which to dig."

Just devil's advocate here, but perhaps they see the need as so deep, so great, that the employment end of things is just not relevant?

Just read the CJN article. With the support of Tony Blair, what can go wrong?

SJ said...

Keep pushing everyone away and noone will be left.

Rye said...

I get a feeling this Yeshiva is being launched under the premise "you gotta start somewhere" and "the best time to invest in Real Estate is today". This might just be an exercise in resume building. Like you said, we are in an economic downturn. This is, the best time to launch a business. People glom on to news of growth and renewal. I think this Yeshiva will focus more on marketing itself than obtaining authentic credibility.

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

read my blog XD (

Nishma said...

The problem arising from the fact that anyone can use the term "Orthodox" emerges, in fact, from a legitimate issue, namely the very definition of "Orthodox" itself. Given the reality of eilu v'eilu it is indeed difficult to clearly define what is outside the pale and what is not. On the very issue of the parameters themselves you have the challenge of eilu v'eilu.

The eventual yardstick may have to be how one relates to those who are clearly beyond the pale. The answer to the question "with whom do you associate" may have to be the final yardstick. What YCT has done, and the reason it is still on the fringe, beyond calling itself Orthodox is that it has maintained some type of distance from those who are not Orthodox. Much of he critique of YCT has been, though, that many of their graduates do identify with those outside the pale of Orthodoxy. You can't define yourself as Orthodox because you call yourself Orthodox but you can clearly challenge any self-definition of Orthodox by identifying with those who are not.

This is the real challenge for this new "yeshiva". Many of the founders are associated with the Conservative movement (although they may now find themselves somewhat uncomfortable with this identification). The appointment of Rabbi Sperber as Chancellor is attempt to still allow the yeshiva to be defined somewhere within liberal Orthodoxy just as YCT -- and then from there to go to attempt to influence all of Orthodoxy. The problem is not only that YCT itself has failed in this attempt but that YCT has failed in spite of ensuring that it not be identified with the other branches of Judaism. This yeshiva already has factors that identify it with these branches -- how can it expect to do better that even YCT? What may happen is exactly the opposite. Associating with this yeshiva may be the issue that leads to Rabbi Sperber being defined as non-Orthodox by even those who now see him as within the pale.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

SJ said...

I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. XD

RAM said...

"Orthodox" must be more popular than we realize, if the un-Orthodox charlatans keep using the term as a recruitment tool.

Garnel Ironheart said...

RAM, that's an important observation. Perhaps "Orthodox" has come to seen as synonymous with "genuine".