Wednesday, Jun 12, 2024

Open Orthodoxy's Expanding and Dangerous Quest For Legitimacy

For several years, the Yated has (sadly) been the lone voice warning the larger Orthodox community of the dangers of “Open Orthodoxy,” the newly-minted movement associated with Rabbi Avi Weiss and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah that seeks to redefine Orthodox Judaism so as to include and accommodate that which is foreign to it on all counts. The Yated has documented and detailed Open Orthodoxy's attempts to change Orthodoxy by changing the nusach of brochos and altering tefillas hatzibbur to reflect feminist interests, as well as Open Orthodoxy's validation and celebration of the Reform and Conservative movements, its quest to condone and the establishment of families based on a to'eivah lifestyle, its fight to wrest control of geirus from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and American poskim and place it into the hands of anyone who calls himself a rabbi, and so much more, all pushing the envelope and redefining what it calls Orthodoxy to reflect a pliable set of practices that can and should change with contemporary secular values.


YCT is currently on a mission to achieve recognition by the larger Orthodox community that it is a legitimate mokom Torah and that its Open Orthodox ideology is really kosher. Earlier this year, YCT sponsored an alternative Siyum Hashas, which included a non-Orthodox rabbinical seminary and mesaymim. YCT’s strategy was clearly to obtain a hechsher for itself, all the while holding fast to its validation of non-Orthodox rabbinic voices.


YCT has also been sponsoring Tanach and Jewish thought symposiums, which now feature speakers affiliated with Yeshiva University, Young Israel, and prominent Israeli Hesder yeshivos1. We assume that the speakers are unaware of what YCT and Open Orthodoxy really represent, that by speaking there they are abetting the cause of Open Orthodoxy and damaging the position of mainstream Orthodoxy.




In an April 5, 2013 post by Rabbi Dov Linzer, the YCT rosh yeshiva writes as follows:


“We were also thrilled to begin some new classes on Jewish Thought for this final zman. On Wednesday, Blu Greenberg and Dr. Judith Plaskow began an eight-part series on Judaism and Feminism. The first class centered around the Blu’s and Judith’s personal journey in become a Jewish feminist. Some of the future classes will address egalitarianism or gender differentiation; theology and liturgy; halakhic inclusion and exclusion; and the issue of iggun. And on Thursday, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg began an eight-part series on Tzelem Elokim as a Foundational Principle…Both classes were quite heavily attended. What an exciting way to being our zman!2”




Dr. Judith Plaskow, Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. Her scholarly interests focus on contemporary religious thought with a specialization in feminist theology. In her influential book, Standing Again at Sinai, the first book of Jewish feminist theology, Dr. Plaskow wrote that the Torah, and Jews’ conception of their own history, have been written by and in the language of a male patriarchy in a manner that sanctions the marginalization of women, and must be reclaimed by redefining its content to include material on women’s experiences. Dr. Plaskow wrote that the rabbis of the Talmud employed a Midrashic method in which “they reconstructed Jewish memory to see themselves in continuity with it.” In addition to supplementing Torah with new material reflecting women’s perspectives, Dr. Plaskow calls for new Midrash reconstructing our understanding of Torah in light of and in continuity with contemporary needs and perspectives3.


Blu Greenberg, an American writer specializing in Modern Judaism and women’s issues. Greenberg is active in the movement to bridge Judaism and feminism. In 1997 and 1998, she chaired the first and second International Conference on Feminism, and she is co-founder and first president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She has also tried to build bridges between women of different faiths by helping to set up “Women of Faith” and by her involvement in the “Dialogue Project,” which seeks to unite Jewish and Palestinian women4. Blu has coined the famous line for promoting the tampering with halacha to fit the needs of the times: “If there is a rabbinic will, there is a rabbinic way5.”


Dr. Yitz/Irving Greenberg, who has written that the founder of Christianity was not a false messiah but was rather a failed messiah, comparing him to Avrohom Avinu. He has written that Hashem broke His covenant with us, as well as other things that are blasphemy of the highest order. He has embraced total egalitarianism, has been rejected by the religious leadership of Yeshiva University and is considered by many to not be Orthodox.  


We now see about whom the YCT rosh yeshiva declares, “What an exciting way to being our zman!”




Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld is YCT’s most high-profile pulpit rabbinical graduate. He recently penned an article supporting same-gender marriage rights and compared a legislative victory in favor of such marriage rights to the neis of Chanukah. And just recently, Rabbi Herzfeld was in the news again for allowing a very ill, downtrodden female Reform rabbi to lead part of the Friday night davening at his shul6. Rabbi Herzfeld justified this radical practice out of his feelings of “respect for another rabbi” and out of consideration for her comfort. Rabbi Avi Weiss was reported by Rabbi Herzfeld as having cried in joy and support as he was told by Rabbi Herzfeld about his honoring the female Reform rabbi with leading the Shabbos service.


Rabbi Zev Farber, the only person to be ordained by YCT with Yadin-Yadin semichah, licensing him to serve as a dayan, has recently called for an overhaul in the synagogue service so as to include female leadership7. He has endorsed mixed “Partnership Minyanim8” and vigorously critiqued their detractors9. (Rabbi Farber is also the head of the Vaad HaGiyur of International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF, the Open Orthodox rabbinical organization) and has penned geirus guidelines for the Open Orthodox rabbinate. Yated previously reported about Rabbi Farber’s “p’sak” permitting people to establish to’eivah relationships, his calling the words of Yeshaya Ha-Navi and Chazal “offensive”, and his call to delete brochos with which modern, secular sensibilities are not comfortable.


Rabbi Dov Linzer himself, in a 2013 Purim message, offended and rejected the importance of the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek:


“We have taken the mitzvah to destroy Amalek, a mitzvah that disrupts our moral and religious order, a mitzvah that embraces violence and, through interpretation, through choosing how we will tell the story, we have transformed it into a mitzvah of memory, a mandate to restore moral order and to repudiate violence… As partners in the covenant, we will choose to hear the voices that resonate with our deepest sense of probity and morality, which we believe to reflect the Torah’s deepest sense of morality and of justice. But we cannot lose sight that there are others who hear other voices. Others for whom the fundamentalist and extremist voices are the most attractive. Others who are more prepared to hear the mitzvah of mechiya and milchama, of war and destruction. Others who will tell a very different story from the one that we would tell10.


An Open Orthodox rabbi and writer recently held a to’eivah inclusion program at his shul. Another Open Orthodox rabbi who graduated from YCT and now heads the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in Denver, has argued for the acceptance of to’eivah civil marital rights, using a poem about persecution by the Nazis in calling for Orthodox Jews to be sensitive to discrimination against such to’eivah marriage rights.


YCT is also attempting to change the Orthodox landscape in terms of its promotion of women for rabbinical positions. Yeshivat Maharat, Rabbi Avi Weiss’ school to train women in rabbinic skills, “is training its students to hold rabbinic positions, where they will fulfill traditional duties. Except, of course, those which fall outside of halachic religious acceptance for women: serving as a witness, being counted in a minyan, and leading prayers…  ‘We’ve traveled all across the US, from St. Louis to Chicago, to LA to Florida, to Baltimore, and communities are so optimistic we are going to be part of the synagogues’ future,’ (Rabba Sara) Hurwitz said.” Another Yeshivat Maharat student remarked that, “she’s been offered several rabbinic staff positions from synagogues around the country and will choose one in the next few weeks11.”


Never mind that the notion of female rabbis contradicts the mesorah and the rulings of the greatest of poskim. The RCA’s own poskim uniformly prohibited the idea. Open Orthodoxy does not care and does not defer to rabbinic authority. Rather, it picks and chooses what it does, exactly like the Conservative movement.


The final piece of YCT rabbinical news regards YCT’s new dean, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. A recent Tablet article featuring him wrote, “And Lopatin has his sights set on an even broader goal than mending fences with the rest of Orthodoxy, one that would be revolutionary in its own way: unifying all of mainstream, progressive Jewish life. “I’ll sit down with the Satmar,” he told me. “But my dream is to have Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hadar, and Chovevei on one campus, to move in together. We’d each daven in our own ways, but it could transform the Upper West Side.” He leaned forward in his chair and moved his hands through the air, cutting out an imaginary section of Manhattan with a developer’s flair. “I’m not talking about closing down campuses, because I want more Torah, not less,” he went on. “I want to hear different opinions. Disagreement is OK – I don’t care if we come to a consensus, but put it all out there and continue the conversation12.”


The article also contains a quote from a female Reform rabbi with whom Rabbi Lopatin worked to draft a document endorsing same-gender marriage.


As YCT and the Open Orthodox movement, pursue their course of radical reform of Orthodoxy and continue crossing of all red lines of Orthodoxy, we don’t see people in the Orthodox world protesting.


While we have written previously that these people can no longer be considered Orthodox, in fact they present a very real and present danger to Orthodoxy, which cannot be ignored.



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