Breach in US Orthodox Judaism grows as haredi body rejects ‘Open Orthodoxy’ institutions

The declaration by Agudath Israel follows a resolution approved by the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest rabbinical association of modern Orthodox rabbis in the US.

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November 3, 2015 19:55
3 minute read.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America issued a statement on Monday declaring the institutions at the heart of what is known loosely as Open Orthodoxy in the US to be “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy,” and akin to the Reform and Conservative Jewish denominations which broke away from Orthodox Judaism in the 19th century.

The declaration by Agudath Israel follows a resolution approved by the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest rabbinical association of modern Orthodox rabbis in the US, that bans RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions from ordaining women into the Orthodox rabbinate and hiring a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution.

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The two proclamations appear 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.

Both the statement by Agudath Israel and the RCA’s resolution are aimed at Yeshivat Maharat, a yeshiva for women established by Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabba Sara Hurwitz in 2009 which gives women ordination enabling them to work as rabbinical leaders in Orthodox communities.

Agudath Israel added however that two other institutions established by Weiss, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah for men, founded in 1997, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a rabbinical association, founded in 2009, were also proscribed as non-Orthodox in its statement.

“‘Open Orthodoxy’ and its leaders and affiliated entities (including, but not limited to, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat and International Rabbinic Fellowship), have shown countless times that they reject the basic tenets of our faith, particularly the authority of the Torah and its Sages,” reads the statement by Agudath Israel’s Council of Torah Sages.

“Accordingly, they are no different than other dissident movements throughout our history that have rejected these basic tenets.”

The statement added that no-one with ordination from any of the institutions affiliated with Open Orthodoxy will be considered to have any rabbinic authority.

The breach in Orthodox Jewry in the US has been brewing for some time, but became particularly acute when Weiss founded Maharat and began to ordain women, after which the RCA said it did not accept the ordination of women, and tensions have increased since then.

The RCA’s resolution, announced last Friday, was not proposed by the RCA leadership but an individual member, Rabbi Gil Student.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory organization in Israel and an RCA member, called the RCA’s resolution a “PR stunt by the right-wing membership of the RCA in order to further deepen the dividing lines among orthodoxy,” and said that he believed the RCA leadership did not support the resolution.

Added Farber “Instead of working to promote a vibrant and attractive Jewish culture accessible to all genders and people of all walks of life, right-wing elements within Orthodoxy are playing games and causing a desecration of Gods name.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School said he was “not surprised that some elements of Agudath Yisrael do not appreciate our more open and inclusive approach.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post he said “I hope that over time, they’ll be convinced we are Orthodox, but I respect their right to disagree and have a different approach.”

The rabbi said that he “disappointed” in the RCA’s resolution in that it sought to “force their members not to hire particular people” but added that he and other leaders of YCT would “continue to stand for the principles we believe in.”


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