Sometimes things happen that just make you wonder: what was this guy thinking? As a follow up to the previous post, I would like to discuss this article from The Forward which deals with another Morethodox rabbi who, caught between doing "the right thing" and following halacha chose to do the former.
What was once an auspicious future leading Maine’s Jewish community became an uncertain world filled with passions almost entirely and forever out of reach. But then a hand reached out from the blurry abyss. Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, of Portland’s Modern Orthodox synagogue Shaarey Tphiloh, straddled the denominational aisle and invited Goldfinger to help him lead Friday night services and say Kaddish for her mother, who died when Goldfinger was 15.Once again, it is quite clear that Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld is not trying to rebel against God, rule against halacha or give the finger to anyone. I'm willing to bet, in fact, that he's the kind of guy who will let everyone else rush the post-Yom Kippur food table while he stands back so as not to get in anyone's way. This is therefore not meant to be a personal criticism of him.
The nine-mile drive to Shaarey Tphiloh from Goldfinger’s home is too far for her to make on her own, so we rode together — past Portland’s tree-lined streets and New England-style homes. Herzfeld greeted us at the synagogue, with open arms and fresh pita made by a local Iraqi refugee. Then he led us inside to talk.
“I tried to imagine what it would be like for me to be a female Reform rabbi. I thought, what if I were her and she was me? I would want him to ask me to lead services,” said Herzfeld, 34, who joined Shaarey Tphiloh, Maine’s oldest synagogue, five years ago. He spoke effortlessly, almost motionlessly, his red hair and pale skin standing out against stained-glass windows behind him. Goldfinger sat nearby, listening to the man who helped guide her spiritual ship of state.
There is so much in this story it's hard to know where to begin but it's easy to know where to end.
One of the things that bothers non-Orthodox folks about the frum world is our lack of acceptance of non-Orthodox practices as being genuinely Jewish. We are not like Chrisians who, while they spread across dozens of denominations, don't deny that other groups are legitimately Chrisian as well. We Orthodox do. We don't think that non-Orthodox rabbis are real rabbis. We don't think it's okay to have mixed seating at services and we don't think that driving to shul is more important than keeping Shabbos properly. It's not that we don't do such things. We think it's wrong for other Jews to do it, especially when they create a hyphenated Judaism for themselves and say that in their version of Judaism it's okay.
And this lack of acceptance is one of the hallmark features of Orthodoxy. You don't want to keep kosher? That's between you and God but don't tell me and expect my response to be "Well that's perfectly fine".
It seems to me that this is where Morthodoxy diverges from Orthodoxy. Reading this story one gets the feeling that Rabbi Herzfield, while personally committed to halacha in his own life, does not see that Orthodoxy does demand a certain judgementalism, that he can tolerate different "streams" of Judaism without having to accept their legitimacy. For him there is Jewish moral relativism. A rabbi is a rabbi is a rabbi in his worldview so he would have little problem, his meagre protestations in the article notwithstanding, treating her as "one of the crowd". It would be no different, one imagines, if a Conservative rabbi visited a Reform temple or vice versa. Herzfield, in a dealous effort to be empathic and kind, has reinterpreted Orthodoxy to allow in those for whom the Torah is a nice book but certainly not authentic or authoritative.
One can be welcoming and tolerant, after all, without going too far. A kind welcome, a mention that there was a distinguished visitor, letting the visitor say kaddish, all this could have been done but despite Herzfield saying he was going out of his comfort zone in letting Alice Goldfinger lead services one gets the feeling that the opposite was happening. This was a chance to be progressive, inclusive, to make a positive impression on someone non-Orthodox and he was going to grab the opportunity.
That no one in his congregation complained is hardly a surprise either. If this is how he practices his rabbinical position the folks who care about proper Orthodoxy probably decamped to the Chabad shul a while ago.
It seems therefore that we finally have a definition of Morthodoxy that pushes them out of genuine Orthodoxy. The moral relativism that places halachic Jewish observance on the same level as make-it-up-as-you-go Judaism would be the breaking point.