Open Orthodoxy outside bounds of tradition, says European rabbinical group

By
November 17, 2015 00:30

The Conference of European Rabbis declared the nascent Open Orthodox ideological movement beyond the pale of traditional Judaism last week.




A window is pictured with the Star of David in a new synagogue in Cottbus, Germany

A window is pictured with the Star of David in a new synagogue in Cottbus, Germany. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Conference of European Rabbis declared the nascent Open Orthodox ideological movement beyond the pale of traditional Judaism last week, following recent critical statement by both ultra- and modern- Orthodox organizations in the United States.

Those previous statements, made by Agudath Israel of America and the more moderate Rabbinical Council of America, appeared to herald the beginning of a schism within Orthodox Judaism in America over the issue of the ordination of women and the place of women in religious leadership.

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While the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel essentially accused Open Orthodoxy of heresy, the RCA statement was more temperate, stating that “RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used.”

CER, in a statement released to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, following its annual meeting, said it “viewed with regret the deviations from the religious foundations” of Judaism by adherents of the still loosely defined ideology.

Graduates of institutions affiliated with Open Orthodoxy, such as the Riverdale, New York-based Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, “will not be recognized as rabbis,” and only those who “do not accept initiatives that are in not in the spirit of Jewish law” will be welcomed into the group’s ranks, the CER asserted.

Asked why Open Orthodoxy, a primarily American and Israeli development, was of concern in Europe, CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt replied that while communities in Helsinki and Düsseldorf had recently engaged such rabbis, “the problem is not the numbers” but in how he believes the Open Orthodox deny principles such as the divine origin of the Torah.

He said that as Europeans, the members of the CER view the entire matter through the lens of the Louis Jacobs affair of the early 1960s in which a leading candidate for the position of British chief rabbi split from the Orthodox community after attempting to reconcile his faith and the academic theories positing a non-divine authorship of the Bible.

“We have teachers in this movement who are doubting some of the basic tenets of Judaism, and this is of major concern to us,” Goldschmidt said in an apparent reference to a 2013 controversy in which a rabbi affiliated with Open Orthodoxy wrote that the “significance of the biblical narrative according to this tradition rests not in its historical accuracy but in the underlying spiritual content.”

Goldschmidt added, “With all the differences of opinion and customs between diverse Jewish communities and halachic authorities, we can still definitely speak about a almost total consensus in matters of principles of faith and about the major mitzvot,” he said.

“If tomorrow a group of rabbis would want to start the practice of the pascal lamb offering on the Temple Mount, or another group would want to annul the ban of Rabbi Gershom against polygamy, or a third group would want to change the Jewish calendar by accepting witnesses who sighted the new moon, if these changes would not be accepted by the major halachic authorities of our generation, it would be seen as breaking the tradition and the unity of Halacha.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, told the Post on Sunday, “The CER is very interested in us and obviously feeling the impact of our yeshiva so in some ways its very flattering.”

“There is no such thing as an Open Orthodox movement,” he continued, asserting that he and the yeshiva’s founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss, were both modern Orthodox and adherents of a “Torah true Judaism” that remains committed to the basic articles of faith of Maimonides that serve as the basis for contemporary traditionalist dogma.

“Certainly Weiss talks about Open Orthodox as a way or learning and way of being open minded,” but so do rabbis at the modern-Orthodox flagship Yeshiva University, Lopatin asserted. “We are all Orthodox and trying to be the best Orthodox Jews and human beings we can be.

“All of our students are committed to the 13 principles of Orthodox faith. Rabbi Goldschmidt should know that that’s what we teach,” he added, saying that Finnish Chief Rabbi Simon Livson, a CER member, was educated at Chovevei Torah.

Goldschmidt, accusing adherents to Open Orthodox of a “theology of change,” said that any potential new member of the CER coming from Open Orthodox institutions will be vetted on an individual basis to see if he meets the rabbinical association’s ideological criteria.

“[We] have 22 students learning Talmud and Halacha in our beit midrash, and 11 graduates already serving the Jewish people in Orthodox synagogues and communities,” said Sara Hurwitz, dean of Yeshivat Maharat in Riverdale, another institution founded by Weiss and which is known for ordaining women.

“We are committed to raising the level of halachic observance, spirituality, and Jewish discourse in communities both in the US and around the world.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.He said that as Europeans, the members of the CER view the entire matter through the lens of the Louis Jacobs affair of the early 1960s in which a leading candidate for the position of British chief rabbi split from the Orthodox community after attempting to reconcile his faith and the academic theories positing a non-divine authorship of the Bible.

“We have teachers in this movement who are doubting some of the basic tenets of Judaism, and this is of major concern to us,” Goldschmidt said in an apparent reference to a 2013 controversy in which a rabbi affiliated with Open Orthodoxy wrote that the “significance of the biblical narrative according to this tradition rests not in its historical accuracy but in the underlying spiritual content.”

Goldschmidt added, “With all the differences of opinion and customs between diverse Jewish communities and halachic authorities, we can still definitely speak about a almost total consensus in matters of principles of faith and about the major mitzvot,” he said.

“If tomorrow a group of rabbis would want to start the practice of the pascal lamb offering on the Temple Mount, or another group would want to annul the ban of Rabbi Gershom against polygamy, or a third group would want to change the Jewish calendar by accepting witnesses who sighted the new moon, if these changes would not be accepted by the major halachic authorities of our generation, it would be seen as breaking the tradition and the unity of Halacha.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, told the Post on Sunday, “The CER is very interested in us and obviously feeling the impact of our yeshiva so in some ways its very flattering.”

“There is no such thing as an Open Orthodox movement,” he continued, asserting that he and the yeshiva’s founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss, were both modern Orthodox and adherents of a “Torah true Judaism” that remains committed to the basic articles of faith of Maimonides that serve as the basis for contemporary traditionalist dogma.

“Certainly Weiss talks about Open Orthodox as a way or learning and way of being open minded,” but so do rabbis at the modern-Orthodox flagship Yeshiva University, Lopatin asserted. “We are all Orthodox and trying to be the best Orthodox Jews and human beings we can be.

“All of our students are committed to the 13 principles of Orthodox faith. Rabbi Goldschmidt should know that that’s what we teach,” he added, saying that Finnish Chief Rabbi Simon Livson, a CER member, was educated at Chovevei Torah.

Goldschmidt, accusing adherents to Open Orthodox of a “theology of change,” said that any potential new member of the CER coming from Open Orthodox institutions will be vetted on an individual basis to see if he meets the rabbinical association’s ideological criteria.

“[We] have 22 students learning Talmud and Halacha in our beit midrash, and 11 graduates already serving the Jewish people in Orthodox synagogues and communities,” said Sara Hurwitz, dean of Yeshivat Maharat in Riverdale, another institution founded by Weiss and which is known for ordaining women.

“We are committed to raising the level of halachic observance, spirituality, and Jewish discourse in communities both in the US and around the world.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.


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