Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Open Orthodoxy: The Next Generation (and the RCA)

Over the course of the past several years, the Yated has had the distinct displeasure, yet felt the obligation, to document for the tzibbur the various deviations of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and “Open Orthodoxy,” the pluralistic brand of Orthodoxy created by Rabbi Avi Weiss and the leadership of YCT. In previous issues, the Yated, citing original sources, documented the many reforms to halacha and minhag that have been advocated and implemented by YCT and the leaders of Open Orthodoxy, such as “partnership minyanim” (prayer groups led in part by women), the intentional omission or abolition of certain brachos, the ordination of women as rabbis, relaxing the requirements for geirus, banding together with Reform, Conservative and non-Jewish clergy for interdenominational discourse and interfaith prayer, the celebration of deviant lifestyles, and other sweeping changes to traditional Torah practices and values.

Whereas earlier Yated articles about YCT and Open Orthodoxy focused on and warned the Torah-adherent public about reforms to halacha and minhag that were advocated and introduced by the originators of YCT and Open Orthodoxy, the Yated now must turn to the students of this group, as these students have grown to assume leadership roles in Open Orthodox congregations and institutions, and have continued down the road of Reform, crossing more red lines and further diluting Orthodoxy. This article will focus on the works of YCT’s most prominent graduate and up-and-coming star, Rabbi Zev Farber.


Rabbi Farber is generally considered to be YCT’s most scholarly graduate, having been ordained by YCT with Yadin Yadin semichah after training with a well-known dayan of the Beth Din of America. Rabbi Farber is also the coordinator of the Vaad Ha-Giyur of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), helping define geirus standards of this Open Orthodox rabbinic organization and licensing conversions performed by its members.


Rabbi Farber, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Emory University in Atlanta while also overseeing a Jewish educational initiative, is projected to be one of the future central leaders and poskim of Open Orthodoxy. Let’s take a look at some of Rabbi Farber’s Torah writings.


In a May 9, 2012, article published in “Morethodoxy,” the website of Open Orthodox thought, Rabbi Farber compares Orthodox synagogues to silly men’s lodges in cartoons:


“Watching the Flintstones with my children one day, it struck me that our synagogues have an uncanny resemblance to lodge no. 26 of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, where Fred and Barney go to have a men’s night out. I say this in jest, but it is illustrative. The men of the LOWB wear a special garb, they have a special code and gestures which they use, and there are no women. Although our synagogues are a step advanced from the Stone Age lodge – we let our women watch – the resemblances are worth noting; only the men have the special garb, only the men know the secret handshake, and when the Grand Poobah speaks, his podium faces only men.


“Of course, the placement of the podium is only one way – albeit an obvious one – that Orthodox synagogues communicate to their participants that women are not really in the room. This message is also communicated by access to the holiest and most central feature of the synagogue, the Torah scroll, which is removed from the ark, inevitably by a man, during Shabbat morning services.


“Traditional garb is another way Orthodox synagogues send the message that the men are the real participants. Men’s ritual accoutrements, special prayer shawls around their shoulders or over their heads, and leather straps and boxes on their heads and arms, are significant ritually and spiritually. Needless to say, the average Orthodox woman does not wear tzitzit or t’fillin and has no ritual equivalent of her own.


“Other ways the second-class position of women in the synagogue is communicated are even more complex, as they appear hardwired into the halakhic system and changing or tinkering with them would be more than a little problematic for the halakhically observant.


“Firstly, for the prayer service to start, or at least for certain special prayers to be said, there needs to be a minyan (a prayer quorum) of ten men; women do not count. Without ten men, services cannot be held, but services can run from beginning to end without even one woman present. This, of course, is in compliance with the halakhic rulings found in the Talmud…”


The satirical mocking of the structure, hanhagos and mitzvos of the bais haknesses is incredible. Has any other Orthodox rabbi ever dared write such things? Although Rabbi Farber does not seek to straightforwardly scrap halacha, his irreverent depiction of it and of our mesorah are startling. It seems that Rabbi Farber has serious problems with the halachic system and the mesorah of tefillah and the bais haknesses, and/or he totally fails to understand the halachic underpinnings of what goes on in a shul. What does this tell us about the future leadership and direction of Open Orthodoxy?


In an August 16, 2011, article on the “Jewish Ideas” website, run by YCT Advisory Board member and IRF co-founder Rabbi Marc Angel, Rabbi Farber staunchly defends the effort to banish the “Shelo Asanibrachos from Birchos Hashachar. Rabbi Farber commences by quoting a Tosefta that explains the basis for these brachos:


“Gentile – for it says: ‘All the nations are like nothing before Him, like naught and void they are considered by Him’ (Isaiah 40:17). Ignoramus – for an ignoramus does not fear sin. Woman – for women are not obligated to perform mitzvot.”


Rabbi Farber then proceeds to dissect the Tosefta:


“Here each blessing comes with a short explanation. It is better to be a Jew than a Gentile, since Gentiles are entirely discounted by God – an offensive enough statement which inspired the alternative text of ‘who has made me an Israelite’…”


We here have Rabbi Farber labeling a statement of Chazal, taken directly from the words of Yeshayahu Hanovi, as “offensive.” Shomu shomayim! Even Reform rabbis do not typically write such things about the words of Chazal and the nevi’im.


After then proceeding to call Chazal prejudiced, but not to blame for such prejudice, as Chazal were simply following the prejudicial sentiments of their time, writes Rabbi Farber, he addresses the notion of reforming our liturgy and eliminating the bracha of Shelo Asani Ishah:


“I myself have an article in the works on this subject that attempts to show that the formulation of these blessings has been fluid throughout our liturgical history and that there should be little problem adjusting their formulationas has been done throughout the ages when necessary.”


Rabbi Farber continues:


“First of all, it (the bracha of Shelo Asani Ishah)does not reflect our worldview; it feels false to say it. Even worse, the statement is actually offensiveto fully half of the people in our community. “


In another article (Morethodoxy, January 11, 2012), whose title and details we are not able to quote due to the toeivah topic it addresses, Rabbi Farber presents a “brief halachic analysis” in which the concept of “oness” (compulsion) is shockingly pushed to the limits to permit things that no posek has ever permitted. Rabbi Farber concludes this discourse with advice that rabbis should usually not try to discourage people from living deviant lifestyles, and that people with deviant inclinations should generally be encouraged to establish families based on their deviant lifestyles. A shocking p’sak, indeed!


(In the introduction to this article, Rabbi Farber writes condescendingly concerning a ruling by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, referring to the ruling as “sad” and influenced by prejudices of his time. Whoa! And is it not sad that YCT’s star posek, Rabbi Farber, turns halachic and hashkafic protocol on its head to permit aveiros chamuros based on a gross misapplication and misunderstanding of basic Torah law?)


Vague, yet carefully-worded remarks by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, current president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), made last year during his installation to the RCA presidency, were taken by some as a signal that the RCA, which does not admit YCT graduates, may change this policy (Thethejewishweek.com/news/new_york/open_orthodox_yeshiva_moves_toward_acceptance May 25, 2011). Furthermore, some have interpreted recent goings-on within the RCA, in terms of the composition of its leadership, as another indication of a projected shift toward eventual RCA admittance of YCT graduates.


Why should this matter to anyone who is not an RCA member? Is it not an internal, localized issue?


Nothing could be further from the truth. The RCA serves as the most powerful Orthodox rabbinic placement service in the world. Rabbis with RCA membership are granted access to top, influential positions in rabbonus and in chinuch. Additionally, the RCA has carved an agreement (Geirus Standards and Policies – “GPS”) with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate that has substantially heightened and tightened the standards of geirus as they relate to converts who move to Eretz Yisroel. This GPS agreement assures that only conversions performed by specific botei din, as approved together by the Rabbanut and recognized American poskim, will receive automatic Chief Rabbinate approval. Individual RCA members who opt not to send prospective geirim to botei din approved by the GPS agreement do not have automatic Rabbanut recognition.


The GPS protocol has raised overall standards for geirus and has discouraged rabbis who are not qualified to perform geirus from doing so. The GPS protocol is also a prime target of YCT and IRF, whose rabbis are infuriated that local Modern Orthodox rabbis throughout America no longer have real autonomy to perform geirus as they see fit, each rabbi with his own standards. Rabbi Marc Angel has penned numerous articles against the RCA’s GPS geirus system, assailing its strict insistence on kabbolas ohl mitzvos as an absolute stipulation of geirus, and arguing, against the greatest of poskim, that kabbolas ohl mitzvos is not really a requirement of geirus.


The picture should now be clear. Should the RCA admit YCT graduates, not only would there be a watershed of radical left-wing YCT rabbis, who view Rabbi Zev Farber and his likes as role models in the quest to reform halacha and tamper with mesorah, poised to take over rabbinic positions throughout the US and beyond, but there would also be a new and powerful force within the RCA to rescind the current GPS geirus program and thereby dilute geirus standards, wreaking havoc and halachic doubt in this most chomur area of halacha, and potentially threatening to split Am Yisroel due to the presence of sofek nochrim among us, as a result of deficient conversions.


The stakes are really high. YCT and the Open Orthodox mission to reform Torah can hit home on many fronts. Let us daven that the RCA and the larger Orthodox public sideline and avoid association with YCT and Open Orthodoxy, and that the present and future leadership of YCT and Open Orthodoxy find no audience for their wayward preachings. May Hashem protect Klal Yisroel from these radical-reform rabbis and their errant movement.



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