Op-Ed: Just the Facts: Response to Ronn Torossian
Rabbi Weiss ought to have dealt with the halakhic issue at hand via halakhic channels, but instead he turned to the media, an attorney and politicians.
I obviously hit a raw nerve. My published critiques and concerns about the Open Orthodox movement, and in particular my recent articles about Rabbi Avi Weiss' efforts to lobby for the acceptance of Reform and Conservative conversions in the State of Israel, have elicited a valiant attempt at rebuttal in a blog by Rabbi Weiss' friend, the well-known and successful public relations figure, Mr. Ronn Torossian.
Torossian tries to rebut the critiques of Rabbi Weiss' movement and Rabbi Weiss' public writings and actions in his showdown with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, but this further evidences the serious problems inherent in Open Orthodoxy and the defining features of that movement, which are indeed quite a challenge to defend on the merits.
Similar to the other articles that sought to rebut Open Orthodoxy's critics (please see, for example, this and this), Torossian's article is full of with deflection and emotion; but it fails on facts or logic. I still maintain without question that there is more than ample reason to be wary and alarmed by key elements of Open Orthodoxy and the statements and public actions of its leadership, and I stand by every word that I wrote in expressing my critique and concern.
I will therefore stick to the facts and avoid use of caustic phraseology and ad hominem attacks that, regretfully, comprise Torossian's article, as the facts speak for themselves.
Firstly, let it be clear, as was stated in bold italics at the end of my article that spurred Torossian to write: "This article reflects the views of its author and does not represent the views of any other persons or organizations." The opinions I expressed do not represent any other persons or entities - not the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) nor any other organization or group (even though the overwhelmingly positive deluge of responses I continue to receive seems to indicate that a silent majority of Orthodox Jews from across the spectrum firmly agree with me on the issues at hand).
The RCA has not issued any recent statements about Rabbi Weiss or his movement regarding the issues at hand, save for a statement affirming the belief that the Torah was given to Moshe at Sinai ("Torah Min Ha-Shamayim/Torah Mi-Sinai"), in response to an Open Orthodox leader's denial thereof and other Open Orthodox leaders coming to his defense.
So too, the recent statement regarding Open Orthodoxy that was signed by over 60 rabbis who identify with the RCA was not in any way a project of the RCA but was rather a statement by individual rabbis expressing their concerns. (Please see this new and important article in The Forward about that statement.) Hence, I speak for myself (and for countless Orthodox Jews who share my opinions); my words do not represent the RCA.
Torossian proceeds to argue that I ought to have kept my opinions about Rabbi Weiss' public writings private and instead expressed my opinions in a non-public setting. This is illogical, as Rabbi Weiss' statements, which were quite controversial and touched upon gravely serious halakhic issues, were issued very publicly and were disseminated in articles by Rabbi Weiss that appeared in about half a dozen international newspapers and websites. To insist that one not challenge these statements of Rabbi Weiss on a public forum when they were disseminated that way by him is a stifling of free and equitable expression.
Torossian writes, "Gordimers’ (sic) rants are logically inconsistent. He criticizes Rabbi Weiss for taking a 'halakhic argument to inappropriate forums', and claims newspapers are inappropriate forums for these discussions. Since then he has been on an intense PR campaign, writing multiple hateful op-eds in recent weeks blasting his fellow American Orthodox Rabbi. Talk about a pot calling the kettle black?"
This is an attempt by Torossian to deflect substantive argumentation and criticism. I wrote:
“Rabbi Weiss, who is no stranger to religious controversy, did not contest the Rabbinate's decision by enlisting the input of major halakhic authorities in an effort to resolve this issue in a rabbinic and halakhic manner. One would expect an Orthodox rabbi in an halakhic dispute to muster halakhic resources and work within the parameters of the general rabbinate, engaging the matter with halakhic discourse and perhaps penning a responsum supporting his contention.
“Rather, a student and close colleague of Rabbi Weiss first contacted American Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro with a plea to intervene diplomatically on behalf of Rabbi Weiss; this plea contained a strong condemnation of the Israeli government and was most inappropriate in many ways.
“Then, Rabbi Weiss took to the secular media in an effort to gain popular support, publishing articles in The Jewish Week, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner, assailing the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and calling for a total dismantling of its conversion authority, arguing that non-halakhic conversions should be authorized and recognized.
Rabbi Weiss ought to have dealt with the halakhic issue at hand via halakhic channels, but instead he turned to the media, an attorney and politicians. At that point, once Rabbi Weiss had issued scathing written assaults in the press on major rabbinical entities and brought the discussion into the realm of open media and political discourse, it was fully appropriate for me or anyone else to respond in those same public forums.
It was Rabbi Weiss and no one else who took the matter to the press. In order to effectively address the very public words of Rabbi Weiss, including his call for the authorization and potential acceptance of Reform and Conservative conversions and his attacks on two major rabbinical bodies, one needed to respond in the same forum where Rabbi Weiss brought the matter. To fail to publicly respond to Rabbi Weiss' public calls in support of non-halakhic conversions in various media forums would have been negligent and foolhardy. Still, I did not, as did Rabbi Weiss, take my case to the secular media; I limited my responses to Orthodox media.
The remainder of Torossian's attempted rebuttal, following a claim that "there are countless factual errors in Gordimers’ (sic) long-winded op-eds", consists of a lengthy accusation that I criticized Rabbi Weiss for his associations rather than for his own actions and words regarding the matters at hand:
"Gordimer continually references Avi Weiss’ confidants, and graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and issues they take stances on as proof of his purported viewpoints. Is the man to be held responsible for the viewpoints Rabbinical graduates of his institution take?"
First things first. My articles were packed with facts, all accompanied by quotations and precise citations, so that the readers could themselves see the hair-raising truths about Open Orthodoxy straight from its leaders' mouths and deeds. I welcome Torossian to point out the factual errors about the statements and words of Rabbi Weiss.
Do not the referenced articles authored by Rabbi Weiss indicate that he seeks approval of Reform and Conservative conversions in the State of Israel, even if he would not personally consider them halakhically valid? ("Israel as a state should give equal opportunities to Conservative and Reform communities. Their rabbis should be able to conduct weddings and conversions. For that matter, civil weddings should also be recognized by the state. I am not advocating that the Orthodox rabbinate accept these conversions or weddings as halakhically valid. No rabbi should be called upon to give up his halakhic principles. At the same time, however, the State of Israel is the nationstate for the entirety of the Jewish people. As the state accepts non-Orthodox definitions of Jewishness for aliya and Israeli citizenship, so, too, the state should move to accept non-Orthodox conversions and weddings done in Israel as a matter of Israeli law.")
Do the cited articles and documentation of Rabbi Weiss (along with Dr. Daniel Sperber, chancellor of the [non-Orthodox] Canadian Rabbinical Yeshiva and Rabbinical School and Rabbi Jeffrey Fox of Yeshivat Maharat) ordaining women for rabbinical roles misspeak? Are the cited photos and write-ups of Rabbi Weiss singing with church choirs in his synagogue and dancing with cardinals and bishops in his yeshiva doctored images? Were the cited articles about female chazzanim for general prayer services at Rabbi Weiss' congregation and the congregations of his students (with Rabbi Weiss' explicitly-quoted approval) fabricated? The claim about Gordimer's "countless factual errors", despite all facts in my articles being backed up by direct quotes, specific citations and often photos, is quite puzzling.
Torossian writes that my articles unfairly faulted Rabbi Weiss for his associations. This is untrue. My articles spoke directly to Rabbi Weiss' own words and actions, but, of course, had no personal attacks on him, quite the contrary. The articles, in expressing concern about the Open Orthodox movement, assuredly spoke to the words and actions of much of the movement's leadership, but let no one be misled into believing that Rabbi Weiss' own words and actions - words and actions promoting innovations and reforms that are extremely controversial, which most Orthodox Jews consider to be major breaches in Orthodoxy - were not the primary content of the articles that are the subject of Torossian's critique.
Read the articles for yourself, and you will see the numerous and preponderant citations of Rabbi Weiss' own words and actions (including his ordination of women, his feminizing of services, his radical interfaith programs and his calls for acceptance of Reform and Conservative conversions); It is not Rabbi Weiss' associations, but rather Rabbi Weiss' own words and actions that were the basis for the concern and criticism in my articles.
While Torossian is apparently focused on Rabbi Weiss and not on problems related to Rabbi Weiss' institutions and movement, there is every reason for responsible and thinking Orthodox Jews to be extremely concerned with the latter as well.
When very prominent graduates of YCT who serve on the boards of Open Orthodoxy's institutions and who are in the international spotlight deny Torah Mi-Sinai, the historicity of the Torah, the existence of prophecy and the future Moshiach (Messiah) and the Geulah (Redemption) (please see, for example, section II here), is there not cause for concern?
When leading Open Orthodox rabbis lobby for and celebrate homosexual marriage rights and host LGBT Shabbatonim and training institutes at their synagogues, is there not reason to question the Orthodox bona fides of the movement?
When a rabbi who was ordained by YCT as a dayan (rabbinic judge) and who sits on the boards of two of Open Orthodoxy's major institutions and is a staff writer for its website calls for a seismic overhaul of marriage and divorce procedures, utilizing rejected halakhic positions that portend a catastrophic outcome and an irreparable split in the Jewish People, are we expected to be silent and not vigorously object?
When the YCT rosh yeshiva writes of the immorality of the “original” command of the Akeidah (Binding of Yitzchak) and of the offensive nature of the “original” mitzvah of Mechiyas (the Obliteration of) Amalek, and he disparages the Biblical Patriarchs on a weekly basis in his Torah writings, what is one to think?
When Open Orthodox leaders write that Avraham failed the test of the Akeidah, for he should have refused, that one can celebrate homosexual lifestyle events and that rabbis should encourage committed homosexual relationships for gay men who feel that they cannot be celibate, how is one to square this with Orthodox values? Is one not allowed to protest?
Are those who are uncomfortable with these Open Orthodox approaches and who confront them in the same forums where they are promoted "extremists"? It would seem that terms such as "halakhic Jews", or "Jews who uphold and defend Torah values from distortion", are far more accurate in describing those of us who are gravely troubled by a movement that has demonstrated its intent to reform and derail Orthodox Judaism and to offend and compromise its core values.
Open Orthodoxy has earned its place in history for its numerous deviations from normative Torah practice and belief. These deviations are all documented fact. Yet when people present these deviations and protest them, the consistent response is one of evasion and deflection; labeling those who raise the issues mean-spirited, or emptily asserting commitment to Mesorah (Tradition) all the while one's actions and beliefs run roughshod over it, have become the typical response. Please see here for elaboration.
I will conclude with the same words that concluded two of my most recent articles:
Many rabbis who serve as leaders in Open Orthodoxy share an incredible sense of creativity, dynamism and enthusiasm; these men have the talents to inspire Jews from all backgrounds and bring them closer to Torah. Rabbis Lopatin (current president of YCT) and Weiss are indeed proven masters at Kiruv Rechokim, outreach.
It is a shame that rather than putting all of its energies toward promoting authentic Orthodoxy and exposing its brethren to the true beauty of Torah, Open Orthodox leadership has decided to divert its creative talents and tamper with Torah practice and belief toward the creation of an Orthodoxy that is foreign to our tradition and that threatens to further erode commitment to core Torah values and Orthodox life.
Rabbi Weiss: For the sake of the unity and the halakhic integrity of the Jewish People and State, please return to your original mission of spreading authentic Judaism. Please reign in the outlier elements and actions of your movement and inspire them to reach other Jews with a message of unadulterated and impassioned Torah tradition. Please turn this movement into a force for Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of God’s Name) and a return to the Judaism of your great teachers and forebears.