What makes one Jewish person Orthodox, another Conservative, and a third Reform? What is it that has defined Orthodoxy ever since that term was formulated to describe our way of life?
When the Reform movement began, its proponents claimed that they were simply interested in reorganizing davening to make it more orderly and beautiful. They shortened the tefillah by removing parts that they claimed were no longer understood, relevant or necessary. There was absolutely no attempt to tamper with the fundamental underpinnings of Yiddishkeit or make any readjustment to the doctrines at the foundation of our religion. Nor did they amend any halachos or observances.
That all came later. It was in 1885 that the Reform rabbis, meeting in Pittsburgh, issued their proclamation to do away with all the “rituals” that they deemed to be “relative” and “dispensable.” They discarded the Torah and removed it as an influence in their lives. They did away with awaiting a return to Eretz Yisroel and established, for all intents and purposes, a new secular religion.
The Conservatives also began as a seemingly harmless group devoted to maintaining halachah but concerned with tweaking a few observances here and there so that they would conform with the times. Everything else came later. At their founding, they referred to themselves as “Historical Judaism,” as they sought to counter the radical inroads of the Reform.
Conservatives sought to implement certain minor changes and amendments, and promoted them all as being consistent with biblical and rabbinic precedent. They maintained fidelity to the traditional form and precepts of Judaism and did not deviate by changing any of the laws, not even the language of prayer.
Eventually, the Conservative movement also degenerated and became a religion without a G-d, constantly seeking to amend its observances and conforming with the prevailing notions in style at the moment. To them, the mitzvos of the Torah, which we cherish and observe as the word of Hashem as we seek to draw closer to Him, are the stuff of legend that are followed in order to feel good and feel part of some glorious ancient tribe with fabulous customs and recipes.
The Conservative yeshivos and rabbinic organizations became tools of the secularists. Although they may have been founded with good intentions and employed Talmudic scholars, they became pedestrian-level institutes of sophistry, doing little more than providing a cynical religious cover to a meandering, secular, assimilationist organization.
Orthodoxy was the term given by Maskilim to those who remained loyal to the Torah, halachah and minhagim as handed down through the generations. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, “Orthodoxy looks upon attempts to adjust Judaism to the ‘spirit of the time’ as utterly incompatible with the entire thrust of normative Judaism, which holds that the revealed word of G-d rather than the values of any given age are the ultimate standard. The Orthodox community, institutively realizing that liturgical reforms were only the beginning of a long-range process designed to change the tenets and practices of Judaism…reacted with an all-out effort to preserve the status quo.”
Orthodoxy regards with great alarm even the slightest tampering of any part of the tradition. It refuses to recognize or participate in any united collective religious organization that deviates from – or reforms in any way – traditional halachic Judaism, which is based upon observance of the Shulchan Aruch.
We have repeatedly written about Rabbi Avi Weiss and his innovations. We have written exposÃ©s about his yeshiva, Chovevei Torah, and its graduates. We feel that it is about time that he be considered outside of Orthodoxy. Once and for all, the collective bodies of Orthodoxy should declare that he has driven himself out of the camp.
One can’t help but detect the gleeful tone of a Jewish Week report that opened with the breathless lead, “The Orthodox world is one letter – the letter “i” – away from calling a woman ‘rabbi.’”
The report continues: “Sara Hurwitz, who has for almost a year filled rabbinic roles at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale alongside the Orthodox shul’s longtime rabbi, Avi Weiss, recently took on the new title, ‘Rabbah’(pronounced ra-BAH).”
A similar report on the same matter was issued by the JTA: “Sara Hurwitz, who has been performing rabbinical duties at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York City, last year had been given the title of Maharat – a Hebrew acronym that stands for a leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters.”
The report goes on to state, “Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute and Hurwitz’s mentor, said the acronym had failed to take hold and that Hurwitz would henceforth be called ‘rabbah,’ a feminized version of the title ‘rabbi.’
“‘This will make it clear to everyone that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff, a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice,’ said the statement issued by Weiss’ office.
“Hurwitz, who has served at the Hebrew Institute for nearly seven years, has completed the same course of training and examination as male Orthodox rabbinical students.”
Her curriculum was modeled after that of the male students at Chovevei Torah in Riverdale.
It must be noted that the rabbinic training program that this woman and her male colleagues undergo at YCT is not close to the level of scholarship required to become anything that even resembles a rabbi who is a competent religious leader and halachic decisor. Chovevei Torah students learn an approximate average of 67 minutes of Gemara per day. Contrast that with Yeshiva University’s Undergraduate Yeshiva College Mazer Yeshiva Program, which requires a minimum of approximately 4.5 hours per day of Gemara, or a yeshiva like Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, which has a minimum of some 8 hours a day, and you start to realize what the extent of Ms. Hurwitz’s “same…training and examination as male Orthodox rabbinical students” really is.
What is really important is that even if she would truly be qualified, the title is an oxymoron. The word “Orthodox” cannot possibly be joined with the terms “female rabbi,” “rabbah,” “maharat,” or whatever one chooses to call the position, because authentic halachah does not permit such an arrangement, period.
The concept of an “Orthodox female rabbi,” which both Rabbi Weiss and Ms. Hurwitz claim to be legitimate within Orthodoxy, is actually anything but Orthodox. Indeed, it follows that not only is Ms. Hurwitz not an Orthodox rabbi or rabbah, but Weiss himself, by setting her forward, behaves in a clearly un-Orthodox manner and should no longer be called an Orthodox rabbi.
The sad truth is that we are not surprised by this development, and, if things continue with little reaction from authentic Orthodoxy, we will not be surprised when Weiss releases his future press release saying that they have decided to do away with the “rabbah” title and have chosen to make things simpler by calling her “rabbi.”
Avi Weiss has a long history. He kept on pushing the envelope as far as he could and waited to see if anyone pushed back. When there was no push-back, he took the next step, and the next, and the next. By now, he has clearly stepped off the cliff of Orthodoxy and descended into a different realm.
His establishment of his so-called “Open Orthodox yeshiva,” Chovevei Torah, and the “maharat” title were ways of testing the waters. He waited to see if anyone would cry out and protest. No one did, so he advanced to the next step.
The truth is that for a long time there was one solitary cry of protest – by this newspaper. Over the years, Yated Ne’eman has been consistently chronicling Weiss’ aberrations and raising its voice in protest, but sadly the Yated was a lone voice in the wilderness. Orthodoxy in general, right, left and center — with a few notable exceptions, had been deafeningly silent on all of this. Weiss hears the silence as one hears a thunderbolt. He obviously determined that if the only one who really cares is the Yated, then certainly he can move forward with his agenda. And he did.
We cannot allow someone whose guide is 20th-century feminism, rather than halachah as codified by Chazal and practiced by religious Jews throughout the ages, to continue to hijack and attempt to redefine Orthodoxy. The rabbinic ordination of Sara Hurwitz was the culmination of a clever campaign that surreptitiously sought to synthesize feminism with normative Judaism through a series of incremental steps.
In fact, the actions of the Open Orthodox have been even more brazen than those of the original reformers, and for years they succeeded in evading the eye of scrutiny and were permitted to parade as Orthodox with little serious opposition.
Why should we care? For the same reason Jews cared for the past three hundred years when reformers of all stripes advanced their agendas. We fought back and evicted them out of the normative community. There is no reason that Weiss should be permitted to speak in our name. There is no reason that students of his rabbinic institute should be allowed to label themselves as Orthodox and compete against frum candidates for open pulpits in synagogues across the country.
Having learnt from the Maskilim of previous centuries, the students of that movement in this century demonstrate that they have learned from the mistakes of the former. Without seeking to entrap the masses on an individual level and convert them to their beliefs, they concentrate their efforts on a communal level, aiming to conquer pulpits in communities across the United States and Canada in their bid to corrupt Orthodoxy.
Zacharias Frankel, referred to as the Conservative movement’s intellectual progenitor, wrote, “The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.”
Weiss and Open Orthodoxy were not condemned and therefore did not stop with “maharat,” or “rabbah,” or whatever other silly name he coined. He knew that with time those titles wouldn’t be considered silly anymore, and there will be more and more aberrations, if the phenomenon is permitted to take hold.
Yes, it is late. We should have dealt with this earlier. But it is not too late.
They have succeeded for too long in trampling, with impunity, on our most prized possession. We cannot just stand on the sidelines and watch.
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Since 2007 the Yated has extensively documented Open Orthodoxy’s extensive and growing list of deviations from Torah Judaism, such as granting semichah to women, conducting services led by women in Open Orthodox shuls, accepting and promoting lifestyles that the Torah refers to as to’eivah, conducting interfaith programs banned by all poskim, retaining people who openly deny Torah Min HaShomayim as rabbinic leaders, and changing parts of davening to conform with a pluralistic liberal agenda.
In the past, we have written that YCT and those who adhere to its philosophy should not be considered Orthodox and should not be afforded its benefits. Every public step the group takes strengthens our position.
The question remains: After so much deviation from Torah, halachah and mesorah, why does YCT and the Open Orthodox movement insist on referring to themselves as Orthodox? Their deviations are reminiscent of the Conservative movement at its founding, when its leaders proclaimed a progressive fidelity to halachah. Addressing this phenomenon – their desperate need to be considered Orthodox – we suggest two possible factors.
Firstly, YCT’s rabbis have, in general, been careful to obtain some type of quasi-halachic sanction for their actions so they can continue the charade that they are Orthodox and their actions are halachically sound. For example, Rabbi Zev Farber relies on the halachic rulings of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ book, Women at Prayer, to justify feminist davening rituals, and Yeshivat Maharat, the YCT affiliate that gives women semichah, relies on Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber, who calls himself an Orthodox posek yet serves as the chancellor of the non-Orthodox Canadian Rabbinical School. Rabbi Farber, with his Yodin Yodin semichah from YCT, has likewise issued halachic rulings to somewhat sanction to’eivah activities and tamper with davening to serve feminist goals. Despite the fact that Open Orthodoxy’s “poskim” are radical, fringe rabbis, who do not have any halachic gravitas in the Orthodox world, Open Orthodoxy feels justified in its actions due to the blessings and heteirim of its rabbis.
Other objectionable actions of Open Orthodoxy, such as its interfaith programs and pulpit exchanges and rabbinic interactions with non-Orthodox clergy, are defended by them as non-halachic and therefore permissible.
What is so obviously missing in all they do is a sense of mesorah, meaning that there are actions and attitudes that violate the spirit of Torah and are contrary to the way ehrliche Yidden have conducted themselves throughout the centuries. One of the very many examples is the concept of mechitzah, which is so basic to the way we daven and lead our lives, and which is based on the structure of the Bais Hamikdosh, where men and women were separated.
The application of mechitzah as a halachic concept is based on mesorah, and although it does not appear in the Torah, it is as an absolute requirement for tefillah. There is a mesorah for how we daven, how we think, and how we act. The attitudinal aspects of Torah life are wholly based on mesorah, not on anyone’s whim or fancy. Mesorah doesn’t bend to conform to any zeitgeist or prevailing social theory.
Open Orthodoxy has gone down the road of Judaism without mesorah. So long as there is no technical halachic violation (according to left-wing fringe “poskim” or an unaccepted daas yochid from years past), YCT’s rabbis give the go-ahead.
In the mind of YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin’s, apparently, holding strong against deviation of a Divine script is a sign of weakness. He writes, “Think about it: Why should the huge Hareidi community fear a few women – on the women’s side of the Kotel wearing a tallit and singing and dancing once a month for an hour? Do they really think that all women will start wearing tallitot and tefillin and will start coming to the Kotel all the time and daven all the time? Do they see a revolution on the part of Hareidi women about to take off?”
The reason our sensibilities are offended when a radical fringe group engages in non-traditional behavior is not because we feel threatened that their example is about to overwhelm Orthodox practice. We take offense to defiling the holiest place in the world and using the Kosel as a backdrop for a ridiculous show. The posuk says, “Sheker soneisi vo’asaeivah – I hate and despise lies and deceitful conduct.” Distortion of our religion is something that rankles us and shakes us to our core.
They claim to be following the ways of Avrohom and Sarah, who passionately and confidently opened their tent to all, as opposed to “preservationist” chareidim, who fear the non-Orthodox and their influences. Their claim that they mingle with the so-called other branches of Judaism in order to be mekareiv them is spurious. Is that a reason to invite their clergy to address YCT students? Is it even permitted according to halachah?
Lopatin mocks chareidim, writing that there “is not true pluralism in the Hareidi world; the families don’t necessarily want to learn about Kant or feminism from their [non-religious] guests, but they do want to connect with them, and it is an encouraging first step towards the openness of Abraham and Sarah’s tent.”
If Kant’s apikorsus is of no value and meaning to us, we are lacking in the eyes of the Open Orthodox. If we don’t invite Conservative and Reform clergy to preach in our shuls and yeshivos, we are lacking in self-confidence. Lopatin advocates having Conservative, Reform and Renewal rabbis as mentors, as if we have what to learn from them. Obviously, he and the Open Orthodoxy crowd are unfamiliar with the halachos that forbid learning from apikorsim.
He lectures us, writing, “It is the responsibility of those in the outreach community and the pluralistic Orthodox community, who are comfortable counting Conservative, Reform or Renewal rabbis as mentors and teachers, to find a way to show other Orthodox Jews that pluralism is only going to strengthen an already strong Orthodoxy, not destroy it.”
This is a recurring theme for him. He writes, “There is no need to apologize for the Hareidi or Centrist or even Modern Orthodox community. We just need to speak from a loving and caring place. I am a pluralist: We need to learn from all Jews, and connect and relate to all Jews – Reform, Conservative, Renewal; I believe it is critical for Judaism that we engage with the greater society as well…”
At the same time, with twisted logic, he dreams of impacting “our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Lakewood, Brooklyn and Monsey…”
They aren’t content with their small group. They seek to expand it and to transform our communities as well. We must ensure that that doesn’t happen.
For over a decade, we have been hearing about the radical reforms of YCT and its affiliates, yet our machaneh has been complacent. With a few notable exceptions, we haven’t done much to address the growing deviant group in a concrete way. We have failed to treat this dangerous Open Orthodox movement the way we should – as non-Orthodox.
It is that gratifying to note that the proclamation issued by the Moetzes to formally declares that Open Orthodoxy is not Orthodoxy. It follows that anyone involved with Open Orthodox institutions risks being ousted from leadership positions in the Orthodox community.
No longer can we look the other way and allow the deviationists to hijack the Orthodox mantle for further distortion and compromise of Judaism in the name of Orthodoxy. The privilege of calling oneself Orthodox must be reserved for those who seek, rather than undermine and reject, Torah norms, both in halachah and hashkafah. Reformers under any guise shouldn’t be granted that.
Kol Yisroel areivim zeh bozeh. We have an obligation to offer tochachah and seek to return these people to where they belong, bevais Hashem.
Secondly, while we stand idly by, they are drawing adherents and gaining control of shuls, schools and organizations.
Today, we might say that they have little influence on what goes on in the frum world, but if things continue on the current trajectory, pretty soon it will be difficult to relegate them to a dark left corner. We have to take a strong stand much the same as we have responded to deviant movements throughout our history.
We recently studied Parshas Lech Lecha and learned about the chessed of Avrohom Avinu, his tolerance and acceptance of other people, and his wide-open tent. Many of the modern-day Maskilim claim to be following in the footsteps of our first forefather, embracing people who are different than them, liberal and open-minded to the extreme. Any such comparison is a false manipulation of Avrohom Avinu’s middah.
The Avrohom Avinu who we revere, study and seek to emulate was not just some nice, gentle soul who espoused love and peace. The av of chessed was the same person who took a hammer to his father’s idols and alienated himself from his family and friends in his pursuit of truth.
The posuk at the end of Parshas Noach states simply, “Haran died in the lifetime of Terach, his father, in the land of his birth, in Ur Kasdim” (Bereishis 1:27-28). The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 38) relates that Nimrod threw Avrohom Avinu into a furnace and taunted him to pray to his G-d to save him. Haran watched the spectacle, unsure of whom to support. Unable to choose a side, he arrived at a compromise. He said that he would take a wait-and-see-position. “Im Avrohom menatzeiach, ani mishelo, im Nimrod menatzeiach, ani mishelo.” He would support the victor, quickly joining forces with whoever would triumph.
The Medrash relates that when Avrohom emerged from the furnace unscathed, Haran joined his team. Nimrod promptly threw him into the fire and he was burned to death.
Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel (Bereishis 11:28) states that Haran was killed not by the heat of the furnace, but by a bolt of fire that came down from heaven.
Apparently, Haran incurred Hashem’s wrath because he refused to take a position on ikrei emunah. The mindset of “Im Avrohom menatzeiach, ani mishelo, im Nimrod menatzeiach, ani mishelo” was offensive. Haran lacked principles and ironclad beliefs. He embraced the right and the left, wanting to be adored by all. He wanted to be everywhere and he ended up nowhere.
The mesorah community is attached enough to the past to firmly believe in the future. We are a nation living with a three-dimensional vision: Hashem melech, Hashem moloch, and Hashem yimloch l’olam vo’ed. So while we toil for tomorrow, giving the best of our time, money and resources to chinuch in the fervent hope that our children will follow the path that stretches back to Sinai, it is with confidence and an assurance that lo yomush haTorah mipicha umipi zaracha.
Just two years ago, the largest funeral in Israel’s history was held for Rav Ovadiah Yosef, the nosi of Shas and towering figure of the Sefardic community in Eretz Yisroel and across the world. Chareidim, dati-leumi and chilonim, who had gathered across the country to beseech Heaven for the life of the beloved chacham, streamed to Yerushalayim from all corners of the country to bid him farewell. They connected with him, they loved him, and they felt his love for them.
YCT claims that they are selling an innovation, a rabbinate that engages the people and “teaches talmidim how to navigate the world with mentschlichkeit and a commitment to tradition and halachah,” in the words of Rabbi Lopatin.
Chacham Ovadiah, like other gedolim, roshei yeshiva and rabbonim, embodied a commitment to halachah. Brilliantly fluent in the responsa of the last thousand years, he was largely responsible for bringing a generation of Sefardic Jewry back to living halachic lives in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch. A tremendous masmid, fidelity to Torah was the hallmark of his life. Yet, the centerpiece of his leadership was his willingness to go out and speak to people, delivering shiurim and words of chizuk to Jews anywhere.
During Elul, he would travel across the country giving chizuk to wayward Jews, sharing stories and mesholim, speaking on the level necessary to inspire his listeners. In a hesped for his wife, it was recalled how she would stay up until after midnight on those Elul nights, knowing that her husband wouldn’t eat supper until his work was done. She would wait up for him to return home so that she could have the honor of serving him that late-night meal.
During the month leading up to the deadline for school registration, he would go from home to home, persuading parents to register their children in religious schools. Sometimes he was successful, sometimes not, but never for lack of trying, never for lack of hard work and concern for every Jew.
The secular Israeli media had great difficulty understanding how the Sefardi chareidi rabbi merited the largest funeral in the state’s history. They had a hard time understanding why Ilan came from Kiryat Malachi, Erez came from Dimona, and Dudu traveled from Eilat, not to get close to the aron or even hear hespeidim, but simply to show their respect and enduring love for the chacham they viewed as their Maran.
After failing in their attempts to deny the size of the levayah, the secular media began positing that the display of support was because Rav Ovadiah was the one who gave halachic backing for the concept of trading land for peace, thus earning his place as a hero in the peacenik camp. Others said that the settler crowds turned out because Rav Ovadiah condemned the Gush Katif expulsion and cursed Arik Sharon for his role in it.
Anything they said didn’t come close to explaining why and how somewhere between eight hundred thousand and a million people, on a moment’s notice, dropped what they were doing and headed for Porat Yosef.
The real answer is one they can’t articulate, because they themselves don’t understand it. It has to do with the Jewish soul, with a feel for authenticity, for mesorah, for Torah itself. It is what sets our leaders apart. It is what made Chacham Ovadiah not just a halachic or political leader, but a beloved father figure.
His rabbinic record, like that of so many rabbonim, provides an example for the YCT crowd to study. The enduring image of the chacham is of him sitting in his study, learning and writing, learning and writing, and learning and writing – a picture of genuine chavivus haTorah. Yet, despite his many outreach efforts and his binding love of Jews, he remained fiercely loyal to the precepts of the Shulchan Aruch and minhogim of Yahadus Seforad.
Not only him, but every one of our leaders whose ideals Open Orthodoxy mocks.
Rav Aharon Kotler, the firebrand torchbearer of uncompromising Torah, founded Chinuch Atzmai to save a generation of Israelis and inspired Israeli bnei Torah under the P’eylim banner to fan out across the country and sign up children for Torah schools. He would say that the time of rishum, enrollment, is the yom hadin for thousands of children. He never rested from his mission of reaching out to all types of Jews and bringing them into the tent of Torah.
That legacy was continued by Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach, another Torah giant who brooked no compromise when it came to fidelity to Torah and mesorah. Under his leadership, the P’eylim were reconstituted under the Lev L’Achim banner. He selected Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin to head the organization and provided direction and inspiration to its yungeleit and bochurim, who dedicate time to bring Torah to tens of thousands of Jews. Their dedication and tirelessness caused a revolution of teshuvah. Today, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman is their primary rabbinic guide.
The banner of Lev L’Achim was initially carried in this country by many leading roshei yeshiva, primary among them Rav Elya Svei, a talmid of Rav Aharon Kotler in so many ways, including his uncompromising, fierce dedication to halachah.
The torch of Lev L’Achim is proudly carried today by virtually every Israeli rosh yeshiva and proudly and prominently supported by bnei Torah around the world.
Yet, none of what Lev L’Achim has been able to accomplish comes at the expense of violating even an iota of halachah.
The Open Orthodox people crticize us for being selfishly insular and say that we don’t care about the people they refer to as serious, Jewishly-engaged Jews who seek meaningful and inspiring lives. They claim that they engage with the non-Orthodox in order to share Orthodoxy with them. They ignore the contributions of “insular” organizations such as Lev L’Achim, Shuvu, Arachim, Ohr Somayach, Aish Hatorah, Oorah, Gateways, Acheinu, Chabad and the numerous frum people engaged in kiruv activities around the globe. They ignore the contributions of the day school movement, founded and led by old-fashioned insularists. They make no mention of the kollelim spreading Torah and kedushah, bringing people tachas kanfei haShechinah without compromising any of our ideals.
Rashi in Parshas Noach (7:7) states that Noach was “miktanei emunah,” meaning that he lacked in his belief. “Ma’amin v’eino ma’amin sheyavo haMabul.” He wasn’t entirely sure if the flood that Hashem promised to bring to destroy the sinners of the world would materialize. He didn’t enter the teivah until the floodwaters forced him in.
Noach, we know, dedicated 120 years of his life to building the teivah. How can it be said that he didn’t really believe it would come?
In a hesped on the Steipler Gaon, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik explained that Noach believed in Hashem’s word and didn’t doubt it. However, Noach made cheshbonos and reasoned that, ultimately, Hashem would have mercy on His creations and not bring the flood. Therefore, he didn’t enter the teivah when he was told to. For this reason, he is called a “kotton b’emunah,” because we are required to follow the word of Hashem and not make cheshbonos.
We are to follow halachah and the precepts of Chazal and the rabbinic leaders of each generation. If the halachah is to engage in a certain action, then that is the way we should conduct ourselves. One who calculates why he should act differently to achieve a greater good or rationalizes that the will of Hashem is different in this instance is “miktanei emunah.”
As we learn the parshiyos of Bereishis and study the lives of the avos, let us heed the admonitions of Chazal and follow in their ways of Torah, avodah and gemillus chassodim without tempering them with deviant philosophies. Likewise, when we hear of neighbors, friends and others in trouble, let us seek to practice the chessed of Avrohom without cheshbonos. Let us daven for them and help them in every way possible.
Let us all ensure that we remain loyal to Torah, halachah and mesorah in the spirit of Avrohom Avinu and his progeny throughout the generations until this very day.
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In an ideal world, we would only publish articles praising other Jews and focusing on the positive developments in the Torah world. We don’t enjoy arguing with other Jews or writing negatively about them.
However, we have a responsibility to our readers and to the visionaries who established this newspaper, and the voices of Torah media through the ages, to warn people about prevalent dangers.
The “innovators,” who profess fidelity to halachah, are no different than Moses Mendelsohn, Solomon Geiger, Solomon Schechter, Martin Buber, Saul Lieberman, Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel and others, who claimed to be all for halachah and mesorah but simply wished to tweak and modernize them.
No one wants to be a prophet of doom. Everyone wants to be liked, shake hands, and slap shoulders all around, but those who claim to love truth have a responsibility to stand for it. We take a forceful stand on matters vital to safeguarding Orthodoxy in communities across this country.
A while back, a musmach of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah wrote what can only be referred to as outright divrei kefirah, crossing a red line by anyone’s account. Instead of disowning him, the school’s leadership slammed the Yated. The school’s president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, and its dean, Rabbi Dov Linzer, wrote that their “Modern and Open Orthodox yeshiva… [teaches] our Torah in a way which allows our talmidim to speak freely and openly, without fear, as they seek to grasp in their own ways the very basic theological foundations of Judaism… Our talmidim are thriving in our open, non-judgmental approach, to be the future rabbonim who will carry on our tradition.”
According to Rabbis Lopatin and Linzer, in our yeshivos the talmidim aren’t permitted to speak openly and freely. They are afraid to express their thoughts and aren’t permitted to ask and question as they try to understand the ikrei emunah. We are backward, according to these rabbis.
They are advanced. They are modern. Their talmidim are all sweet and loving, non-judgmental and open. Everything is good and everyone is good.
Walk in to any bais medrash in the middle of seder and listen to the song. You will hear voices rising and falling. You will be exposed to passionate arguments, energetic give-and-takes, proofs and questions, all with genuine excitement as lomdei Torah debate the finer points of a sugya.
I feel sorry for those who don’t get to feel the cadences of ameilus baTorah and witness the intense drive for the truth. Go and see our heilige yeshivos, the pride and joy of our nation. You will find people attaching themselves to the eitz chaim, ignoring every other pursuit and focusing only on the one that brings them closer to the Creator.
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, “Ram and head of the Talmud Department of YCT,” defends the YCT graduate who expressed outright kefirah. “For several years now,” he writes, “the Chareidi newspaper Yated Ne’eman has attacked our yeshivah, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, on average once every couple of months… The common denominator in these attacks is the shared format: after a brief, often skewed review of some recent activity by one of our Rebbeim or graduates, we are inevitably tagged with some synonym for apikores: heretics, Reformers, neo-Reformers, etc.”
And then he gets cute.
“Like R. Akiva in the story told in Makot (24B),” he relates, “I find myself reacting differently than my colleagues and students. While many of them are disturbed and hurt by these critiques, I find myself smiling and feeling reassured. If we are being critiqued so harshly and so often, it is a sign that we are doing something important and having an impact.”
He is reassured when he is attacked, because it makes him feel that he is doing something important. He is about as important as the shualim who were defiling the Bais Hamikdosh. Rabi Akiva wasn’t happy to see the holiest place in the world in a state of ruin. He was horrified by it, but unlike his contemporaries, he saw in the churban the fulfillment of a prophecy and thus comforted himself with the knowledge that just as the prophecy of doom was realized, so would the prophecy of rebuilding come to pass.
Rabbi Katz claims to be qualified to take solace in the Yated’s attacks, because, as he says, “I do have first-hand experience with the average Yated reader. (I grew up in Williamsburg and studied in Satmar and Brisk Yeshivot.)”
And there’s more: “Their community, in Israel and abroad, is having serious difficulties, trying to stem the high level of attrition they are currently experiencing. A significant number of those who leave that community do so because they are confronted with serious questions and debilitating doubts about Judaism. Ideological confusion is a universal – across the denominations – crisis.”
I don’t know if he’s referring to the Yated community, Satmar or Brisk, nor do I care.
There are problems, to be sure, and we’ve never shied away from addressing them. Truth be told, I am proud to have learned and grown in Yeshivas Brisk, as have my sons, and neither I nor they are aware of anyone from that great yeshiva who fell away, but that’s beside the point.
I’m not sure if his insinuation that YCT is the solution to our problem is delusional or simply arrogant. It’s about as false as his statement that “YCT is a yeshiva like any other yeshiva. Like any other serious semicha programs,” he says, “we too teach punctiliousness in Jewish law, optimal observance of Mitzvot, and a commitment to learning Torah.”
We have been documenting the falsehoods of YCT ever since we began focusing on the dangers of that institution and the hypocrites who lead it.
There are battles and there are wars. Sometimes, the Torah community loses a battle and sustains defeat.
But victory and defeat are relative. It depends on what your goal is. If you are focused on the bottom line, then it’s absolute; either you get what you want or you lose. But if your battle is simply to ensure that Hashem’s will is being fulfilled, then even when it appears that you have lost, you accept that His will is different than you thought it is and with humility you move on.
Battling our enemies is not always easy or ever pleasant. Sometimes the victory is easier to perceive than at other times. In all instances, however, we are not the arbiters of victory. We do what we can to fight the good fight, following the dictate of the Torah of “Lo saguru mipnei ish,” fearing not that the intelligentsia will mock us.
We forge on, because we know that our course is correct. Our path is well-trodden by the gedolim and askonim of this generation and preceding ones. There will be bumps along the way. We will witness campaigns that we appear to lose and some that we appear to win. We know that our goal remains the same: “Umalah ha’aretz dei’ah es Hashem.” Our sole objective is to prepare the world for better days and for Moshiach.
Following the Holocaust, very few people gave Torah and halachic Judaism any chance of survival. The realists compromised and eventually lost their way. Leaders such as the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov and the Ponovezher Rov in Eretz Yisroel, and Rav Aharon Kotler and the Satmar Rov in this country, brooked no compromise. They fought depression and apathy. They responded to those who claimed that all was lost. They hewed to an ancient creed and refused to make concessions.
They were mocked, vilified and given little chance of success. They had little money and virtually no influence over the broader community, yet they persevered. In Eretz Yisroel, their followers were beaten as they fought for religious rights. But they refused to accept defeat or to view every battle as a zero-sum game. They did their best and left the rest to Hashem, confident in His promise that “netzach Yisroel lo yeshakeir.”
An oveid Hashem forges on, identifying chillul Hashem and pointing out for derision those who make a mockery of the Torah.
Avi Weiss has repeatedly called for the acceptance of non-halachic conversions and weddings in Eretz Yisroel: “For this reason, Israel as a state should give equal opportunities to Conservative and Reform communities. Their rabbis should be able to conduct weddings and conversions.”
Weiss and his faux-Orthodox group are strongly lobbying for a churban of yuchsin and Torah standards. By enlisting the help of lawyers, politicians, secular and general media, and non-Orthodox Jewish groups more than happy to assist in this attempt to destroy the Orthodox rabbinate, along with his threats to take the Rabbanut to the Israeli Supreme Court, Weiss has bullied and terrorized the Rabbanut and tried to menacingly foist his vision of halachah upon it and Israeli society as a whole.
As we have been reporting for years, Avi Weiss began a snowball series of pirtzos of Torah. He ordained women rabbis, watered down geirus standards, and had a female cantor for Kabbolas Shabbos davening at his shul. He introduced women’s krias haTorah, haftorah and megillos. He has brought heretics and gentiles to speak at his synagogue, with these guests singing and dancing in the sanctuary and his yeshiva’s bais medrash. He has headed a movement that supports non-traditional marriage and defends rabbis who deny Torah MiSinai.
In the name of Orthodoxy, schools allow female students to wear tefillin. Despite the accepted ban on this practice, as found in the Shulchan Aruch (Rama on 38:3, Gr”a, Aruch Hashulchan and others), schools are now permitting it and are being cheered on with great fanfare.
The pattern set by Weiss and Chovevei Torah – ignoring past custom and tradition – is evident. Portraying themselves as the heroes and the chareidim as villains, Open Orthodoxy pushes the envelope yet further, gaining for themselves much positive press and liberal accolades. Fiercely hanging on to the Orthodox appellation, they search for the next area of halachah and mesorah to be challenged.
For years, the Orthodox establishment largely ignored the outrages of Avi Weiss. Fear of making him into a martyr, or causing more attention to be drawn to him and his antics, kept many quiet, wishing he would just go away and fail to draw much of a following. Invariably, each new step away from halachah and mesorah by Weiss and his group was met mostly by a quiet yawn or a rare hand slap.
That approach failed. Weiss continued to press on with his agenda and widen the goal posts, winning battle after battle. Is there a breaking point? What will be the next halachah to be trampled upon?
We must take a stand. Silence has backfired. Let’s not fear to take a strong, public stand and finally stop the hemorrhaging in the name of Orthodoxy. If we don’t, we may wake up to find that yuchsin, geirus, halachah and mesorah have been set back so far that we will have to be defending every one of our hallowed traditions and halachos.
There are many fragmentations in our society. There are many different ways to look at many different ideas. But when certain unalterable principles are toyed with, we must all stand together to protest the breach.
Many of the improvisers have good intentions as they endeavor to improve Judaism. Throughout the generations, there have been countless people who thought that they knew better, that Judaism had to be tailored to conform to modern social norms, and that Yiddishkeit had to be viewed by the surrounding society as “proper” and “socially acceptable.”
These misguided people, who left the Torah weltanschauung behind, are gone, while authentic Judaism lives. They assimilated and there is no zeicher of them. We have an obligation to try to help save today’s innovators from meeting the same fate. We have to do all we can to prevent them from doing more damage to themselves and to Klal Yisroel.
If we stand proud and firm, the Shomer She’airis Yisroel will surely help guide us back to Zion and Yerushalayim, and the nation of remnants, survivors and holy people will rise once again.