Friday, May 17, 2024

Kabbolas HaTorah and Modern-Day Rejectionists

As Klal Yisroel relives Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos, we unfortunately read of groups of our brethren for whom Kabbolas HaTorah is a foreign concept, either because they have no connection to Torah or, even worse, because they have a connection to Torah yet they distort the Torah to meet their own agendas.

Such was the case with the heretical movements of old, from the Tzedukim to the Karoim, and from Abraham Geiger to Solomon Schechter to the current leadership of the Reform-Conservative-Reconstructionist-Renewal movements, and, regrettably, such is the case with the current Open Orthodox movement. Unlike the other movements, which have long fizzled out and whose spiritual heirs are struggling to stay in business, as their adherents intermarry and leave the movements en masse due to lack of interest and inspiration, realizing that the movements are devoid of substance and offer nothing true, the nascent Open Orthodox movement is gaining steam, as it branches out, establishes new institutions, graduates new clergy, and takes over more rabbinic positions. The deafening silence of Orthodoxy to their deviations assists them in their growth.

We dare not ignore this fifth column, as it expands and seeks to make inroads in all of Orthodoxy. The rabbinical school of Open Orthodoxy, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (known as YCT), is holding its upcoming Yemei Iyun program at Manhattan Day School (“MDS,” a mainstream Modern Orthodox school), and among the scheduled speakers are rabbis affiliated with Yeshiva University, Chabad, YULA, Michlelet Herzog/Yeshivat Har Etzion, and Yeshivat Petach Tikva. The other speakers, who comprise the majority of the staff, are affiliated with YCT, Yeshivat Maharat and similar Open Orthodox institutions. Many of the speakers ordain women, run shuls in which women lead parts of the davening, and dabble in kefirah to varying degrees.

Open Orthodoxy is blazing new trails and breaching new boundaries. There are too many to enumerate in this context, so we will focus on a few. The common denominator, though, is that they reflect dangerous inroads being made and successfully projected far beyond the borders of the Open Orthodox camp, as the Yemei Iyun roster of presenters itself demonstrates. 

Women “Rabbis” 

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is the rabbi of Bnei David-Judea (BDJ) Congregation of Los Angeles. He is also the outgoing president of International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), the Open Orthodox rabbinical organization created for YCT rabbis, since the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) will not accept them. Rabbi Kanefsky recently hired Alissa Thomas-Newborn to serve as clergy at BDJ. Ms. Thomas-Newborn is being ordained at Yeshivat Maharat – the Open Orthodox rabbinical school for women – next year and was given the title of “Moratenu” by Kanefsky.

In Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a Open Orthodox rabbi and a member of the YCT Rabbinical Advisory Board, recently appointed Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld as Mahniga Ruchanit in Efrat, where he serves as rabbi. Riskin trained Rosenfeld at the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership, which he founded and which certifies women with the equivalent of Yoreh Yoreh and Yodin Yodin semichah.

Yeshivat Maharat ordained three women in 2013 and two women in 2014. This year, it will ordain six women. Although Riskin’s program does not publicize the number of women it graduates, there are hundreds of women enrolled in its various tracks, aimed to realize Riskin’s goal of changing the Israeli rabbinical landscape by filling it with female poskot and dayanot in the time to come.

The Yated has previously reported that YCT ordains young men who deny ikkrei ha’emunah. One such person, to be given semichah by YCT next year, has written extensively that the Torah was composed by men, that there will be no formal religion or mitzvos in the future, and that the Torah’s prohibition on certain relationships should be rescinded.

Next month, Yeshivat Maharat will ordain the author of a book that describes halachic marriage – kiddushin and nisu’in – as discriminatory and something to be avoided, and encourages women to seek alternative types of unions instead of kiddushin and nisu’in. The other five women to be ordained next month are similarly involved with radical, non-Orthodox and fringe feminist endeavors.  

As we were about to go to press, we learned that IRF appointed a female clergy member, ordained at Yeshivat Maharat by Rabbi Avi Weiss, as its vice president. The feminist agenda of Open Orthodoxy is steamrolling forward at full throttle, crashing through all boundaries of tradition, as the movement seeks to zealously reform and redefine gender roles in Judaism from the very top.  


Cong. Ramath Orah, a large Modern Orthodox shul in Manhattan, hosted a May 17 symposium titled “Conversion Crisis: Is the System Broken? Presented by the Union for Traditional Judaism.” Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ) is a non-Orthodox movement that broke away from the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary three decades ago. Nonetheless, this UTJ program, which features the head of UTJ, as well as Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Marc Angel (also a YCT Rabbinical Advisory Board member) to address why geirus procedures must be changed. Angel has come out repeatedly against the kabbolas mitzvos requirement for geirus.

Parallel to this, a new “vaad” of Open Orthodox rabbis has formed in the Washington, DC, area. The Beltway Vaad consists of four males and one female Open Orthodox clergy members. It grants hashgachah to restaurants and offers geirus, priding itself on its deficient geirus standards: “We respect and strongly adhere to the notion that local clergy should be empowered to do their own giyur (conversion) without the need to work through a centralized rabbinic body, and each of our synagogues has its own conversion guidelines.”

The rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, Rabbi Jeff Fox, and Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, Chairman of the Department of Talmud and Director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies at YCT, wrote groundbreaking “teshuvos” a few months ago, arguing against Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Moshe Sternbuch and virtually all gedolei Yisroel, in which these two young rabbis ruled that a bais din need not witness the tevilah of geirim and can lechatchilah perform conversions without the bais din in view. Open Orthodox rabbis are now using this new standard to convert people, wreaking havoc on geirus and the definition of a Jew.

Avodah Zarah

A few years ago, Rabbi Riskin appeared in a long video produced for Christian audiences, in which he referred to the founder of their religion as an Orthodox rabbi and extolled his virtues. Riskin also stated that the Jewish and Christian visions of the Messiah are indeed very close, with the difference merely being whether the Messiah will come for a first or second coming when he arrives.

The president of YCT, along with several other YCT rabbis, participated in a large gathering of rabbis, priests, bishops and cardinals in the Galil a few weeks ago at the Domus Galilaeae Church and Catholic Center. This event featured joint prayers of the rabbis and Catholic leaders, a symphony about the Holocaust and the suffering of the founder of the Christian religion, and a Lag Ba’omer dance and seudah. The seudah was held in the church’s courtyard under the shadow of an immense gold statue of the pope. It was a terribly shocking image, of rabbis and priests singing and dancing, as they partook in a barbecue feast with a bonfire, under a large and imposing molten image of an idolatrous figure. The fans of Open Orthodoxy, viewing this tragic and shocking photo, cheered it on.

Distortion of Torah

“When the Torah does not fit into our progressive, liberal vision, we need to change it so that it fits.” This is the motto of Open Orthodox “Torah.”

In her devar Torah on Parshas Emor, Rabba (female rabbi, ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss) Sara Hurwitz wrote that the megadaif, the blasphemer, “became the scapegoat, sent to his death because of the sins of his neighbors… Perhaps if the community had embraced the ben-isha yisraelit, rather than pushed him away – if they had welcomed him, sat next to him in shul, shown him the correct place in the siddur – he might not have been compelled to blaspheme G-d’s name.” The Rabba apparently did not read the words of Rashi, who quotes Chazal and says the exact opposite.

Similarly, in a recent post on Parshas Emor, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz of YCT objected to the Torah’s formulation of those whom a kohein may marry. He is pained that a kohein can’t marry a divorcée. “Why should we ostracize someone whose sole crime is that their marriage dissolved? The fact that those divorcees are sometimes our sisters, moms, daughters, or ourselves makes the insult all the more painful…”    

Last month, a YCT rabbi in New Orleans publicly excoriated the governor of Louisiana for the latter’s support of The Marriage and Conscience Act, proposed legislation that would protect people and businesses from litigation arising out of their refusal to service events that violate their religious beliefs.

This was followed by an open letter signed by over 50 Orthodox rabbis to Governor Jindal supporting his legislation, as well as a few articles doing the same.

The failure of some organs within Modern Orthodoxy to take a clearer stand has, in fact, enabled the comfortable defection of rabbis such as Riskin and Kanefsky to full-blown Open Orthodox identity and practice. While it is true that these and other rabbis were for years at the left fringe of Modern Orthodoxy, lack of unequivocal condemnation by Modern Orthodoxy made it easy for these rabbis to veer off the cliff, as there was insufficient outcry and affirmation of standards.

Rabbis such as Avi Weiss, the founder of Open Orthodoxy, Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads a pluralistic Washington, DC, shul with a Maharat female rabbi, and Asher Lopatin, who succeeded Avi Weiss at YCT, all started off in Modern Orthodoxy but migrated into the world of Open Orthodoxy, as the Modern Orthodox voices of condemnation were present but not comprehensive and uniformly firm.

“Rosh Kehillah” Dina Najman, who leads The Riverdale Kehillah, where men and women serve as gabba’im and share in many shul kibbudim during davening, serves as the head of the Gemara department at SAR Academy High School, the main Modern Orthodox day school in Riverdale. The associate principal at SAR Academy High School is a YCT rabbi. SAR is clearly, like so many other places, coming under the influence and control of Open Orthodoxy.

Kabbolas HaTorah is not merely to receive the Torah. It is, rather, to accept upon oneself the ol, the yoke, of the Torah, and to subject oneself to Hashem as an eved, leaving out personal ideologies. Kabbolas HaTorah also means to embrace the values of the Torah and make them one’s own values, rather than forcing one’s own values upon the Torah.

May we be steadfast mekablim of the Torah, and may Hashem protect us and those in the broader frum world from the modern-day “Orthodox” reformers. May Hashem help us keep our eyes open and our minds alert to deviation, and may he draw all of His children back to His Torah. 



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