Years ago Rabbi Avi Weiss published a long article on his new religious philosophy (in a Conservative journal of all places, I guess the Yated turned him down?) called "Open Orthodoxy". Since that time the term has been applied to the form of Judaism taught at and practised by YCT graduates and their colleagues. However, despite the word "Orthodox" it has become quite clear over the last few years that the emphasis is more on Open than on a faithful adherence to Jewish tradition.
Now, there are different levels of evidence for various Jewish practices. Some have "hard" evidence. For example, not eating pork or two males engaging in anal intercourse. It's pretty hard to argue with what is written in black and white in the Torah and to justify contrary behaviours is basically an admission that the Torah is not authoritative in one's life but just a book of stories and potential suggestions on behaviour. The Reformers, witht their nearly free-for-all approach to Judaism exemplify those who reject all normative Jewish practices including those with hard evidence.
The next level is "pretty hard evidence". This is the Oral Law which is not part of the Written Torah but brought to us in its present form by the Sages of the Talmud. For Orthodox Jews this is as much an authority as the Written Torah but for those outside that community the Talmud holds somewhat less authority. This is typical of the Conservatives who, until recently, were loathe to contradict the Written Torah but were quite happy to dismiss any rules the Gemara might have propounded as being out of date or too inconvenient to observe.
Then there's the "medium evidence" level which consists of the Shulchan Aruch along with the other Rishonim and Acharonim. Again, for the Orthodox community this level is completely authoritative and comes with complex rules as to how to understand what the psak is in any given case. Outside the Orthodox community there is no authority given to this level at all. Tell a non-Orthodox Jew that something is forbidden because the Chasam Sofer said it is and his opinion is accepted as normative and he's likely to stare blankly at you.
Finally there's what I call the level of "soft evidence". This is the trickiest to deal with because, as opposed to the other three levels for which written materials can be found, there is little to back up practices in this category. A quick example: the very first paragraph in Yorah Deah states that women can shecht animals for kosher consumption. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a woman shochet today and, in fact, most reuptable kashrus organizations would never hire a woman to do the job. Various reasons are brought by the poskim but the bottom line is that women simply don't shecht.
Another example would be women wearing tzitzis or t'fillin. Again, the legal codes have no problem with a woman putting on either but it is simply not done today and a woman who insists on doing either is crossing a line.
The problem with the "soft" evidence is that anyone can stand up and say "Well it doesn't say anywhere that it's not allowed" or "Well I can show you where it says it is allowed!" The person saying that would be perfectly correctly from a strictly legal point of view but from a more holistic halachic viewpoint they would be wrong. If something is not done according to the standards of a group or community then it is not done.
One of the failings of Open Orthodoxy is that it seems not to understand the level of soft evidence. Indeed, in its zeal to mutate Orthodox practice into something more acceptable to secular liberal standards it seems determined to assault all those practices with soft evidence it finds objectionable on the grounds that "it doesn't say anywhere that this isn't allowed".
Thus a few years ago Rabbi Asher Lopatin announced on his blog that he was changing the morning blessings said in his synagogue to the Conservative versions. (He recently recycled many of his arguments here and then decided to go with a hashkafic basis to his position instead) Instead of negative "that thou hast not made me" he was promoting the "that thou hast made me". In that way he saw a more positive expression of gratitude to God and also eliminated the blessing about not making me a woman which has always been a tricky one for those who call themselves Orthodox but wish to be seen by society as enlightened and modern.
At that time I reviewed his arguments and showed how they were all, to the last, based on a selective reading of some poskim or simply based on ignorance as to why the blessings were formulated as they were. Instead of reflecting deep spiritual concepts as described in the Gemara, they were adjusted to satisfy a liberal guilt at not fitting in well with the amoral egalitarian society around us.
A few days ago Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky went down the same track and then went even further, declaring that the blessing about not being a woman was actually a chilul HaShem in this day and age. In a piece called "Adieu To 'For Thou Hast Not Made Me a Woman" Rabbi Kanefsky approached the subject, declared his unending distaste for the blessing and then triumphantly announced that he would no longer say it.
Over at Cross Currents Rav Dov Fischer deals decisively and eloquently with the degree to which Rabbi Kanefsky is, far from taking a bold new "Orthodox" position is actually attacking it wholeheartedly and showing great contempt for it.
Such was the storm over the piece that his blog actually pulled the post and replaced it with this to clarify his position. In the new post he clearly demonstrates Open Orthodoxy's method of decision making, one I call "Pick a Posek". For example:
We are familiar from our siddur with the blessing “For You have not made me a non-Jew”. In our printed versions of the Talmud however, (see Menachot 43b) the blessing appears not in the negative formulation, rather in the positive language “for You have made me an Israelite” (שעשאני ישראל). While the majority of Talmudic commentaries and Codes nonetheless maintained that the correct version is the one we have in our siddur, two prominent Sages demurred. Both Rosh (Brachot 9:24) and the Vilna Gaon prescribe the recitation of “for You have made me an Israelite” , in accordance with our version of the Talmud.
As I noted when commenting on Rabbi Lopatin's piece, the attribution to the Vilna Gaon is incorrect. He simply states that he'd seen prayer books with the blessing in that forumaltion, not that he was endorsing it. No matter, what if he was? The accepted halacha as demonstrated in pretty much every proper siddur today is "that thou hast not made me a woman". Is Rabbi Kanefsky suggesting we are allowed to customize our prayer books to fit our personal sensitivities as long as some posek, somewhere, has said it's okay?
Bach (O.C 46) , while aligning himself with the majority position, rules that if in error you said “for You have made me an Israelite”, then you should OMIT THE TWO BLESSING THAT FOLLOW, including “for You have not made me a woman”.
Again, how is this any proof? Is Rabbi Kanefsky trying to pasken a l'hatchilahi from a b'dieved?
And his justification for misusing the halachic system in such a blatant fashion?
As I wrote in my original post, I believe fervently that Orthodoxy has yet to grapple fully or satisfactorily with the dignity of womankind.
He "believes". He "feels". He "thinks". He "opines". All various ways these types of thinkers justify the inner voice saturated by non-Torah viewpoints that feel more instinctively morally comfortable to demand that Judaism change. Is there a problem with how Orthodoxy treated womenkind (as if they're a separate species from mankind?)?
The answer requires a subtletly that rabbi Kanefsky perhaps lacks. Orthodoxy does a great many things to accomodate the dignity of women. Many Orthodox Jews might not, having perverted Orthodoxy in the exact opposite direction from Rabbi Kanefsky and shamefully too many examples of frummer-than-thou types behaving badly towards women grace the news services on a regular basis but there is the messenger and then there is the message. Rabbi Kanefsky seems not to recognize the difference. Again, in some of his final statements:
Our society has accordingly decided to treat both genders with equal dignity, and has opened all professional, political and communal endeavors to both genders equally. I believe that our community however, falls short of this goal in many ways. We are, of course, committed to operating within the framework and rules of halacha. But it is not hard to construct a halachik universe in which women’s physical space in shul and intellectual space in day schools and Study Halls are not lesser, but equal.
This betrays a complete lack of understanding of what Judaism is. Judaism does not encourage equality between the sexes while noting that inequality does not imply a "superior vs inferior" relationship. To try and create a model in which equality is emphasized is therefore not Judaism but an unreasonable facsimile of it. It is, in short, what Conservativism sometimes pretends to be but more openly and blatantly.
It is time for Rabbis Kanefsky, Lopatin et al to realize they have become non-Orthodox in their thinking and beliefs even if they remain nominally Orthodox in their daily practice. Perhaps it is also time to rename their philosophy. I would suggest: Open Orthopraxy.