Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

On The Way Out Of Orthodoxy

As if world Jewry didn't have enough to worry about, apparently amidst the general turmoil in the Middle East, the ongoing low scale intifada, concerns about economic disparity and the worries about ties with the United States there is actually a real crisis occuring - the advent of Open Orthodoxy and the need to determine whether or not it's actually Orthodox.
For those late to the party, here is my biased summary.  Rabbi Avi Weiss, a YU grad and student of the Rav, zt"l, has started his own religious movement.  Calling it Open Orthodoxy he and his colleagues advocates for women clergy, more egalitarian rituals and consideration of acceptance of homosexual marriage in Jewish law.  His insistence on making these the identifying features of his movement while calling it Orthodox have raised the ire of the more traditional leaders of the Orthodox community, both the Agudah and the Rabbinical Council of America.  In recent weeks both groups have issues statements condemning Open Orthodoxy and labelling it as non-Orthodox.
Me?  I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.
Does Open Orthodoxy defy the traditional definitions of Torah observance and obedience?  Despite repeated claims by its leadership council to the contrary, the answer is clearly affirmative.  Their number one posek openly writes about his view that the Torah is not a Divine document and that the historical events and people detailed within it are all fictional.  That, in itself, takes Open Orthodoxy out of Orthodoxy in general.
But here's where it gets murkier.  Does Open Orthodoxy pose a threat to the Torah observant community?  I would venture that it doesn't since the population it's reaching out to is not one that fits into the more right wing Orthodox population.  The OO leadership isn't concealing its aims and beliefs.  Rabbi Asher Lopatin is open about his opinion that Jewish Israel should be replaced by a binational Jewish-Arab state.  Others write about changing the siddur and litury to bring it into line with secular liberal values.  Unless one is not paying attention when the chazzanit starts chanting the Kabbalas Shabbos service one is not likely to miss that there is something very different about this form of "Orthodoxy".
The concern is often raised that small town shuls looking for an Orthodox Rav might instead hire an OO rabbi.  I can, in response, point out that most small shuls might have an Orthodox set up but don't have an Orthodox laity.  Yes, giving women aliyos is beyond the pale of acceptable ritual behaviour in the Torah observance community but if most of the congregation drives home after Mussaf on Shabbos morning, is that really such a big deal?  And if the incoming Rabbi asks if her husband can also use the local mikveh that should be obvious enough what kind of clergy the place is getting.
Missing in all this is the underlying concern.  Social movements, as I've written before, always arise in response to a need.  OO is one such movement and given its slow growth in size one must ask: what are its adherents looking for that they're not getting from the traditionally Torah observant?
On the negative side it's probably a big of selfishness.  We live in a society where rights and entitlements define a person's needs.  "I want" and "I need" become equivalent and JFK's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you" becomes "I ask what my country can do for me and my country better not ask for anything in return".  The moves of OO to become more egalitarian serve the segment of the community that says "Unless you adjust Orthodoxy to my wants/needs, I'll leave and go fulfill them elsewhere". 
On the positive side, that same desire can be seen in a positive light.  A few generations ago Jewish life was much simpler.  It's not so longer ago, relatively speaking, that women weren't even given a primary education or taught to read on more than a basic level if at all.  Now women are educated as much as men and have shown what anyone paying attention could have expected: they are just as accomplished and capable as men.  This leads to women wanting greater participation in the ritual life of Torah observance.  It also begs the question: if a woman studies the same semicha curriculum as a man and passes the same exam as a man, how is it conceivably fair that he is granted a degree and title while she gets nothing?  This is, in my opinion, a valid question.
So where did Orthodoxy go wrong fo this to occur?
I would suggest the following: the four basic foundational areas of Torah observant Judaism are kashrus, Shabbos, taharas mishpacha and chesed.  One can live in a small town and be an observant Jew just fine without a shul but not without Shabbos, kosher food or a mikvehChesed is a defining principle of Orthodoxy as well since imitatio Dei is an important value for us and we achieve this by acting kindly to others and spreading that kindness around.  Most importantly, all of these are home-based mitzvos where the family is the centre and responsible together for maintaining their proper observance.
But if you look at the Torah observant community today, where does the emphasis lie?  On ritual, ritual and more ritual.  As I noted in my acclaimed (at least by me) series, Ritual Ubber Alles, Orthodoxy today is completely defined by the superficial.  We have created a community system whose centre is the beis medrash/beis knesses, not the home.  The family is pushed to the side and the centre of authority, the parents in the traditional model, is replaced by the Rebbe, Rosh Yeshiva or "Gadol".
Observers have long understood the rush towards egalitarianism taken first by the Reformers and then the Conservatives.  Having dumped most personal observances from their list of "Thou shalts" all that's really left to them is what goes on in their synagogues and temples.  If that is pretty much their entirety of their religion then it's not shocking that women would want to play an equal part in what goes on there.  Orthodoxy, in contrast, used to emphasize that Jewish life is rich and multifaceted with shul and ritual only a small part of the whole which mean that women were valued and important contributors.  By drifting towards the Reformative position and empahsizing ritual over everything else we fell into the same trap. 
There is also the matter of authority.  Here's something that should not be a shock to anyone with knowledge of the subject: Rabbis today don't have any real authority.
No, really.  The position of Rav holding authority in a binding fashion ended when genuine semicha died 1600 years ago.  Yes we still grant the title to those who pass their exams and yes, since we respect and honour Torah knowledge, we defer to those who have demonstrated a superior mastery of it but at the root of it the system is voluntary.  All the titles are just that, titles without a direct connection to Sinai which is where real authority is derived from.
As a result we do submit to the authority of our rabbinic leaders but there is an element of consensus and agreement to be led amongst the masses that underlies this.  A person with the title Rav simply cannot show up in town and issue orders simply because he has the title.
And yet that's exactly what's happening.  Whether it's the Moetzes of the Agudah styling itself as the central legal authority of the Jewish people in North America or the ranks of the "Gedolim" in Israel issuing psaks even without be asked the shailos first, we are incresingly being ruled and without our ongoing consent.  How else to explain that I need to know what Rav Eliashiv's, zt"l, last psak was on an issue?  He wasn't my Rav and I never asked him a shailoh.  Yet his askanim insisted he paskened for the entire Jewish people.  Did I miss the election for Jewish Pope?
Perhaps understanding this also helps us understanding where Open Orthodoxy came from.  In a shul-dominated culture women are excluded and shoved to the periphery.  In an autocratic leadership system people who are educated and used to having a say in how their lives are run will feel resentment.  Both these factors have led to Open Orthodoxy and until the traditionally Torah observant leadership understands this and addresses these needs in a proper halachic fashion, OO's appeal will continue to grow.


Hannah out loud said...

Hi Garnel

This is a bit of what I'm thinking:

Okay I've been doing a lot of rethinking and thibking on this one. For me , this isn't about the issues such as gay marriage or women's leadership. It is the basis of orthodoxy which is the crux of the contention as much as the practical matters of women Rabbis etc, although they are subsidiaries flowing from sincerely held positions.

The dividing line is between disagreement and heresy. Indeeed to borrow a political phrase the difference between being "Her Majestys loyal opposition" and being a treasonous force or to fit it into this context, between being theologically left wing orthodox- but being loyal to Torah in sincere dissent to the right wing Haredi Lithuanian school phase the Torah world is going through- and being a heretic .

If one goes back to the Shloshah Asar Ikkarim, one will see open orthodoxy or at least key leaders thereof, have disregarded the immutability of Torah and the divine origins of Torah. Sadly therefore as soon as they argued this was the case, they automatically excluded themselves from orthodoxy or at least the leadership and those who agree the Torah was not given by God in her totality. This theology is basically conservative to reform and they'd probably be happily accepted by both groups(although they'd probably, ienoically, be seen as the right wing of these denominations).

In terms of the issues and brushing aside my own viewpoints, the biggest mistake practical mistake open orthodoxy made was trying to put a top down secular as much as halachic "coach and horses" through -at least in the Sephardic village- onto a very small c conservative community on many cherished traditions.

A community which, I'd add, doesn't react well to what's perceived as at best fast paced revolutionary change: accepting women Rabbis etc is tough for a community which always has divided, for public worship the sexes, sometimes with a physical barrier and allows only men to read from the Torah in synagogue....

As for the rest ..... I agreed wholeheartedly. Never do get why people say you're so right wing (:

RAM said...

I was reading a magazine aimed at Orthodox communities and saw a large ad by the magazine disclaiming any involvement in some forged announcement going around. The ad said "Daas Torah" had been consulted and had recommended not naming the perpetrator. This was a strange use of language. I can see checking with a posek or other trusted rav, or to more than one. However, Daas Torah is a quality that some have, not a specific person or persons. This points to basic confusion about rabbinic authority. We can't defer to a concept, only to a halachic or hashkafic expert with a name and a track record. Why was the ad so coy?

micha berger said...

My own diagnosis, from Torah Musings: Tools and Goals (something of a manifesto):

We teach conforming to halakhah, the art of walking (הלך = go, walk), but neglect inculcating having a derekh, a “path”, to pursue, feel passion for, and make one’s religion and life about. Even if we usually call those who give up conforming to the religious norms of our community “off the derekh“, we could more literally say our community as a whole is “off the derekh” in that we don’t focus on having a derekh to actually be on.

How would this play out communally?

is an idealistic community, but one whose ideals are not Torah derived. In such a community ideals would be taken from some segment of the surrounding culture, and halakhah would be reduced to a means of “blessing” goals that we assimilated from the outside, that at times will resemble the holiness Hashem has readied for us, and at times will differ.

And now for my first and third communal portraits, my description of Open O was #2 (which it why it began "Another possible outcome"):

One possible outcome is that we would find a community of very committed, very observant Jews, but who do not show all the signs of the holiness the Torah is supposed to bring us to. This could happen if there is insufficient attention to the entire notion of a goal beyond the halakhah, so that black letter halakhah — that which can be measured, laid out in clear obligated or prohibited terms — takes center seat without any attempt to become the kind of person more capable of fulfilling the full breadth of its commandments. There would be mixed reports of business ethics, scandals of respected rabbis committing fiscal crimes, others unable to control their lust, yet others abusing their power over their students in other ways.

A third possibility is particular to a community that teaches the need to engage the world around it, to risk the battle of its challenges in order to use what’s positive in the surrounding society to further our sanctity. Without a firm eye and a constant striving toward an ideal, the energy it takes to maintain this delicate balance too easily collapses into a life of compromise. And so, for too many in this community the negative elements of modernity are incorporated into their lives, and also for many strict observance itself suffers.

Do these portraits sound familiar?

The typical Orthodox Jew knows that Hashem is “our Father in heaven” and yet also that he is the Omnipresent, but never even think of the question of how He can be described as both remote and also everywhere because we never realize we hold two different truths on the subject. And we all know that the goal of Judaism is to cleave to the Creator and we also know that it’s perfecting the “image” of the Divine that is our souls, and yet few of us even notice that dialectic either. Few of us therefore end up exploring our own solutions to dealing with these two goals when they contradict.

Unknown said...

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Shira Salamone said...

Garnel, I think your points make sense.

Speaking as a Jewish woman, I think it's quite likely that Jewish women become dissatisfied with our role because of the increasing focus on ritual, from much of which we women have been traditionally excluded.

Speaking as an outsider looking in--I'm a Conservative Jew--it makes sense that the centralization of authority, coupled, in many cases, with an increase in the level of Jewish knowledge resulting from a good yeshiva/midrasha education, could breed resentment among those who feel that, given their education, they're perfectly capable of making their own halachic decisions in many cases.

And speaking as a Jew living in the 21st century, I think it's perfectly logical for anyone who *earns* his/her stripes to have those stripes recognized with a title.

Should you happen to be interested in reading a little regarding the (dis?)loyal opposition, I recommend my Conservative Judaism: one name, two movements.

Shira Salamone
On the Fringe—Al Tzitzit

Shira Salamone said...

I've been avoiding linking to posts and other sources regarding the Orthodox community, to avoid being clobbered, as I often am, by my readers for not minding my own business. But I'll take a chance on this one: You’re linked.

Mr. Cohen said...

Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 3, paragraph 8:

If any Jew denies that even ONE WORD of the Torah is Divinely-revealed, then he or she is a heretic [apikuris].

In the same paragraph, Rambam teaches that any Jew who denies the Oral Law [Torah SheBeAl Peh] is also a heretic [apikuris].

In paragraph 6 of the same chapter, Rambam teaches that a heretic [apikuris] has no place in the afterlife of the righteous, and will be punished eternally.

What percentage of Open Orthodox Jews qualify for these categories?

Mishnah Berurah, siman 126, sif katan 3:
“Understand that according to all opinions [literally, according to the entire world], that if we know that he [a Jew] denies the resurrection of the dead [Techiyat HaMetim], or that he does not believe in the future redemption [Geulah HaAtidah], and how much more so if he does not believe that the Torah is divinely revealed [Min HaShamayim], or [if he does not believe in] reward and punishment; [then] according to all opinions is he is a complete heretic [Apikuris Gamur], and it is forbidden to allow him to act as prayer leader [Shaliach Tzibur]…”

What percentage of Open Orthodox Jews qualify for these categories?

PS: * * * *

micha berger said...

The Rambam has an Aristotilian view of the role of knowledge in personal redemption. I think he is unique in placing theology and metaphysics as more central to our task in life than moral development. He therefore is far stricter about what defines a heretic than the other rishonim. For example, he does not consider second-generation onward Qaraites to be punishable for their heresy, because they are products of their environment. But the Rambam still considers them to be heretics; not having the right ideas means lacking the spiritual quality to enter heaven.

In contrast, the majority holds like the Ridbaz, where a heretic (min, kofer, or apiqoreis) is defined as a rebel who went as far as rejecting core beliefs. This is what the Raavad talks about when he defends Rav Moshe Taqu (presumably this Tosafist was the "great rabbi" he was talking about) from the charge of being a heretic. A belief that comes from an honest attempt to understand the Torah may be wrong, one might even split hairs and call the belief itself heresy, but the person who reaches the belief that way isn't a heretic.

According to R' Aharon Soloveitchik and R' Moshe Feinstein (to site posqim relevant to the community in question), the only beliefs that bar a non-rebel from being counted toward a minyan are beliefs that make the notion of his prayer absurd -- an atheist or a deist, for example, who have no god who listens to prayers.

The job of sheliach tzibbur should be given to the less sinful among the minyan anyway. Denying someone that role requires far less of a sin than heresy; just that it be more aggrevious than most.

Very few Open O have gone on record denying essentials of the faith. Zev Farber, who denies the historicity of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah during that Exodus is the most famous case. Open O an an institution was more accused of the fact that Farber was kept on in an important role in the IRF and the actual leadership of YCT and the IRF defended him as a talmid chakham. Not heresy, but tolerance for heresy.

Judging just from blog comments and Facebook, I know Farber is not alone. But I would still bet we're talking about a small minority. After all, it's only a minority of any movement that get overly concerned about ideology to begin with, never mind pushing its envelope.

micha berger said...

Shira Salmone wrote on 25 Nov 2015 at 15:31, "I think it's quite likely that Jewish women become dissatisfied with our role because of the increasing focus on ritual, from much of which we women have been traditionally excluded."

Before this whole kerfuffle reached Orthodox shores, I had a friend who noted just that. Sociologically, we considered three mitzvos to be the bellwether of Orthodox observance: Shabbos, kashrus and taharas hamishpachah (obeying the laws of niddah and miqvah). Always repeated in that order; and I wonder how anyone (other than the "miqvah lady") would know who observes taharas hamishpachah and who not? Still, it says something about self-perception.

Notice that in practice, women end up bearing the burden for all three. In most homes, even today -- never mind during my childhood -- the women do/did most of the cooking, and so preparing for Shabbos and keeping kashrus was their job. Taharas hamisphachah all the more so.

And so my friend opined that perhaps the reason why non-O women were clamoring for ordination was because they lack that notion of the center of Jewishness being women's.

Implied in this observation is that ordaining women does not dovetail with a tradition that asserts gender role differences, and it is also outside a tradition that firmly asserts that ritual is secondary.

At some point that conflict will come up: we are reaffirming the idea that synagogue ritual participation is the measure of religious experience. But since at some point there will be a ceiling hit when the halakhah's notion of gender roles can't be avoided, we are more convincing women they are second-class Jews than if we can eliminate this two misunderstandings of the tradition.

Aside from the outright problem that we're trying to preserve the tradition, not create practices at odds with its overall trend and flow.

A third difference in values is touched later in Shira's comment. "And speaking as a Jew living in the 21st century, I think it's perfectly logical for anyone who earns his/her stripes to have those stripes recognized with a title." While this aspect of Jewish values is sadly neglected, it is true that people are supposed to avoiding the limelight; it's a duty, a sacrifice of oneself for the needs of the community, not a reward.

Rav Herschel Schachter illustrates this value with the halakhah that a man is supposed to turn down the initial request to serve as chazan, reluctantly rise at the second request, and only take the lectern at the third. Although, this would be unfair to volunteer gabbais if everyone lived up to it.

So, men who are obligated to study Torah, who are ordered to set up courts, rabbis and all that, have a countervailing duty to offset that value. But women? It would seem they should be leaving the duty to the obligated.

Shira Salamone said...

" . . . Although, this would be unfair to volunteer gabbais if everyone lived up to it."

In other words, the duty to avoid the limelight applies to all Jews in theory, but mostly to women in practice.

Which brings us right back to my point: Why is it that Jewish men are allowed to take credit for their accomplishments, while Jewish women are expected to hide their achievements--or, at least, their Jewish ones--under a lampshade? For a Jewish woman, Dr. is fine, but Rabbi or Rabbah or Maharat is not? One can't make a living by studying "lishma" (for its own sake)--one still needs that PhD.

micha berger said...

Well, let's fix the guys rather than try to further enshrine the problem.

I think that R' Herschel Schachter's argument about "mesorah" at least in part boils down to saying that the halachic process has no room for permitting something against Jewish values. So, the difference is that one requires innovating a new ruling, and the other does not. Which really does get back to my opening sentence, except adding the teeth that the further enshrining the problem is against halakhah. That route to fairness is outside the rules of the game.

There is also the difference that men are required to study, and there is (obviously) no question of whether they can be authorized in hora'ah, so the have more countervailing "pro" to outweigh the "con".

I think there are ways to create positions of authority for women that satisfy existing needs and therefore come with their own "pro"s. The way yo'atzot enable more couples to observe family purity laws properly. Add to that teaching her pastoral counseling, and more women would be helped. Women as teachers, albeit mostly to all woman audiences, is also well within Orthodox norms across the left-right map.

And while this does raise the limelight issue, it addresses needs that are like those that in the past justified requiring someone to come to the for. Nor would such an invented role imply errors about halachic gender roles (which are far from egalitarian over many other issues -- starting with my being obligated in waking up for tefillah, tzitzis, and tefillin), nor ones about the role of synagogue and rite in Judaism.

And as for the l