Judaism: 'Open' Season
Rabbi Yoel SchonfeldThe writer is rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY,...
“He is so open minded that his brains fell out”. I am sure this is not the first time you’ve heard that expression, but it is just too good to pass up in connection with the thrust of the article about which this piece is being written.
I usually do not like writing about other Jewish denominations, even those that I disagree with, especially other Orthodox organizations. There is no purpose in criticizing other Jews. No one will become more pious because we learn that some other Jews are wrong. But if a movement poses a threat to us or our children, then it must be addressed.
Back in the 50’s and 60’s Conservative and Reform Judaism were a serious threat to the growth of Orthodoxy and Torah. Indeed in those days many Jews, following the trauma of World War II, felt the need to break away from old world tradition and join the more assimilated movements of the Reform and Conservative. It was understandable that Orthodox rabbis at the time had their work cut out for them and had to fight those movements with all available means. Weekly sermons and articles were dedicated to battling the onslaught of Conservatism and Reform.
Today, BH, that battle is behind us. Orthodoxy suffers from many problems, but the waning impact of Reform and Conservative Judaism does not merit our combative attention. Now, however, we are threatened from within.
There is a new stream within Orthodoxy that has been threatening to undermine the meaning of what Orthodoxy is all about. That new concept is called Open Orthodoxy (OO). It is not the intention of this article to write an exhaustive analysis of how OO has deviated from all the norms held precious to Torah believing Jews. From the denial of Torah Min Hashamayim, the Heavenly source of Torah, to ordaining women, or to same gender marriage, nothing is held by OO to be too taboo to withhold from embracing. Check out their well-funded Yeshiva’s website and you will see it all.
What prompts this article is not the hashkafa , the philosophy, of Open Orthodoxy or its institution. What compels me to react is that Open Orthodoxy crossed every line, to the point that they may indeed be endangering the well-being of the Jewish community.
On May 30th the Wall Street Journal carried an op-ed piece by a graduate of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah , the yeshiva of Open Orthodoxy. The article was titled “Why This Rabbi Is Swearing Off Kosher Meat “. In the article the author maintains that the realities of today’s kosher meat slaughter “brings me embarrassment and shame as an Orthodox rabbi and as a Jew”.
The writer’s arguments were so factually off base, that it makes one wonder if he was ever in a kosher slaughterhouse or if he even studied the basic laws of schechita (kosher shlaughter) for his “smicha” (rabbinic ordination). Still that is not the point of this article. The most disturbing part of the article is the fact that he felt compelled to place his personal observations, which are critical of a sacredly held practice of Jews since Sinai, in a non-Jewish widely read newspaper.
What exactly did he think he was accomplishing?
Why did he feed into the worst stereotypes of our anti schechita enemies?
Does he not know that many European countries are considering the banning of schechita altogether? I am sure he does. So why would he put the welfare of so many Jews here and in Europe in jeopardy?
This question seemed to bother his yeshiva as well, which put out a very lame disclaimer. It writes that the title of the article was not the writer’s, but the newspaper’s. The fact is, the title reflected exactly what is contained in the article. The article articulates very clearly that the writer now swears off kosher meat.
The disclaimer went on to say that it is always very risky to place articles in the secular press. Really? Guess who the good rabbi learned that skill from. His own rebbie! Just a few months ago the founder of YCT wrote an article in the New York Times trashing the Israeli Rabbinate. It didn’t take too long for the Palestinian websites to display that article to show how even Orthodox Jews see Jewish institutions as oppressive.
There are two explanations as to why an “Orthodox” rabbi would be so reckless. The first is called kavod, attention, it’s great to see your name in print no matter what the fallout. “I don’t care what they are saying about me as long as they are talking about me”.
The other explanation is that the philosophy of the liberal left, in this case Open Orthodoxy, is to be so “open” that anything goes, as long as we can make ourselves feel good about being progressive. Don’t worry about the repercussions. That gets dealt with later.
So for those of us who are loathe to criticize other Jews or their organizations, Open Orthodoxy, like the Neturei Karta, must be seen in a different light. Tolerance has its limits and we have reached that limit. Time to close the Open wound.
Rabbi Yoel Schoenfeld serves as the spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills and is a member of the Queens Board of Rabbis and the RCA. This article also appeared in the Queens Jewish Link