Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Questions Not Asked

With the recent news that Rabbi Avi Weiss has finally pulled the trigger and pulled out of mainstream Orthodoxy there is much discussion across the Torah observant community with how to interact with this new "denomination".  Is it a form of Torah observance, as its adherents claim?  Is it simply right wing Conservatism with a mechitzah as its detractors point out?
Based on what I can see from my lonely perch out here in the Jewish hinterlands, I think the entire discussion is missing a very important point.  Rav Avraham Gordimer's critique of this recent move on Rabbi Weiss' part exemplifies it perfectly.  He points out Rabbi Weiss' various innovations which are certainly openly to criticism for their lack of halachic fealty, for example.  No argument here.  Rabbi Weiss has made a career out of being controversial, sometimes for excellent reasons (his support of Israel and Soviet Jewry back in the day) and sometimes for politically correct ones (his obsession with creating women rabbis and somehow normalizing homosexuality within Torah observance).  All along he has acted with the authority reserved for a major posek or Gadol haDor, positions for which he is unqualified but which he has arrogated to himself.  Yet he seems completely mystified by the hostile response genuine Torah-observant leaders have given him and seems to have concluded that their approach is "ossified".
He certainly makes his goals sound laudable.  He wants to be more inclusive, he wants a greater spectrum of observance and these are all great things but the problem occurs when people announce that their Torah observance must accomodate their personal preferences, not the other way around.  A lax approach, a "customizable" denomination might attract more people but it is not proper Torah observance.
But all of this focusing on women's ordination and legitimizing "alternative lifestyles" misses the important point and here it is: can I still eat in Rabbi Weiss' house?
Not that I'm in danger of getting invited, you understand but the question stands.  Recall that the three pillars of Jewish life are kashrus, taharas mishpacha and Shabbos observance.  They are not shul, tikun olam and Carlebach-style services.  By focusing critique on these areas we fall into the trap of redefining the priorities of Judaism and change it from a national-religious system in which the home is the centre and preserve of the faith to a synagogue-based ritual system in which Judaism is practised in certain parts of one's life while being irrelevant in the others.
In all the writings of the YCT crowd that I've seen there is no mention of redefining Shabbos observance.  The Rabbi Kanefskies of the world who are so troubles with the blessing of Shelo Asani Ishah don't recommended that husbands and wives do mikveh trips together or any abrogation of niddah requirements.  There is no call to certify non-Jewish wine or cheese like the Conservatives did. 
So can we eat in their homes?  And should that not matter?  After all, the reason Torah-observant Jews feel cut off from Reformatives is because of their rejection of the authority of the Oral law.  Off the top that means that any claims they make to have "authentic" Jewish practice in things like food and Shabbos can be swiftly rejected. 
With the Open Orthodox this will be much trickier.  If someone insists that they accept the truth of Matan Torah and the authority of Chazal along with the Shulchan Aruch then I might strongly disagree with some of their decisions but I still have to accept that many of their practices have an authentic legtimacy.  If they don't but still act Orthodox in many areas of their lives is it still as acceptable?
For all I know, Rabbi Dov Farber keeps a strictly kosher home.  On the other hand he rejects the truth of Matan Torah which means that he lives a Jewish lifestyle not out of any sense of a binding legal obligation from God Himself but because he thinks it's just what the right thing is for Jews to do.  Is his kosher home a real kosher home?
By focusing on public roles and community rituals we obscure these more important questions.  It is entirely possible that Open Orthodoxy is a new "stream" of Judaism, a right wing Conservatism with a mechitzah.  if that's the case then they join the other Reformative groups and sit outside true Torah-observance.  But if they are still genuinely Orthodox in some way, are they not worth the effort to keep them within the fold?


RAM said...

You might not be able to eat in their houses, but you could sing a happy tune.

The Bald Guy said...

One of the best posts on the subject. The gist here sums up my position on this as well - making a mountain out of a molehill.

Mr. Cohen said...

Since the “Open Orthodox” tolerate and accept “Rabbis” who reject Matan Torah and “Rabbis” who accept homosexuality, I would not count one of them as the 10th man to make a minyan, even in an emergency situation when no other 10th man is available.

Judaism is defined by the Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith (which is so important that it is printed in most sidurim).

The so-called “Open Orthodox” have rejected Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith, therefore all loyal Jews must reject the “Open Orthodox,” and not eat in their homes even if their food is kosher.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Mr. Cohen's statement raises the full depth of the issue. He is right that we must draw a line based upon principles of faith but then 2 necessary, and difficult, questions emerge. First, what is the effect of the drawing of this line? Should individuals who do not accept Torah MiSinai not be counted in a minyan? What about a tinok she'nishba and how does one define a person within this category? This is a complex issue with a myriad a different approaches across the spectrum based on the nature of the question. I believe Mr. Cohen is correct in raising but should be more circuspect in giving an answer. It is important to recognize that the statement that he would not count a person in a minyan is a psak and he is declaring himself to have the ability to determine a halachic conclusion on a very difficult issue.

This leads into the second question, defining the line. That is also a difficult issue as evidenced by the Slifkin Affair of a few years back. Judaism is not defined by the 13 principles of faith presented by the Rambam, especially as they are presented in the Siddur. The Ani Ma'amin, for example, clearly do not express the ideas of Rambam -- and that is a statement from Gedolim. Of course, the non-acceptance of Torah MiSinai is outside the pale of Orthodox Judaism but that demands further clarification and we must be cautious not to write out acceptable positions as was the case in the Slifkin Affair.

Rabbi Ben Hecht