Open Orthodox Theological Challenges for the New Year

There are Open Orthodox statements that enter the realm of the heretical.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Judaism Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

While I was hoping to start the new year without having to respond to any further theological provocations by the Open Orthodox movement, it did not turn out that way. In fact, since the founder of Open Orthodoxy declared it to be a new and separate movement or denomination, it has undergone an intense radicalization and an accelerated departure away from Orthodoxy.

It would be more convenient and certainly more comfortable to ignore this very disturbing trend, but when Torah values are being distorted and presented to the public as bona fide Orthodoxy, there is an obligation to speak out. Although one Open Orthodox leader has portrayed these protest writings as personal attacks against him, nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who speak out in dissent are critiquing the controversial theology and not the personalities. Furthermore, it is our wish that there would be no need for these polemics; we only pen protest essays in response to theological instigation. Additionally, Open Orthodox leaders have continued to publish their novel and often radical theological viewpoints in the press and social media with extreme frequency, and it is unreasonable to protest when others vigorously respond in the same media to these very public writings and lectures.         

An Open Orthodox rabbi explicated his belief that any postulations which a fully humble person sincerely intuits as correct are actually new divine Torah revelations.
This above-referenced Open Orthodox leader, who serves as the Chairman of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), recently suggested that we should commit to a new definition of the meaning of Emunah/Belief regarding the events in the Torah; this rabbi proffered adopting a belief which does not intellectually accept the factual truth of these events:

“We need to debate what heresy is, not whether it is allowed… A promising direction is to revisit the philosophical meaning of “belief,” and examine to what degree religious belief can be understood as being a-factual; a faith-proclamation, not a factual postulate. Defining belief as a-factual would allow a person of faith to “believe” religiously in the historicity of the biblical narratives and at that same time entertain the postulates of Bible critics.”

This notion, that somehow we “believe” in the Biblical narratives yet do not accept them as factual truth, contradicts the Ikkarei Ha-Emunah/Cardinal Principles of Faith and has no basis or precedent in Torah ideology. Yes, some Rishonim/Medieval commentators interpreted a few select Torah narratives as dreams and not as reality, but to claim that Biblical accounts which are intended to be accepted as historical truths did not factually occur enters the realm of the heretical.   

The day after Rosh Hashana, this Open Orthodox leader proposed that God repents, or needs to repent, for his misdeeds, including His creation of a flawed and insensitive halachic system. I am sorry to say it, but if this is not blasphemy, I do not know what is. The sentiments expressed by this rabbi fly in the face of millennia of Jews sacrificing to observe the Torah under the harshest of conditions, with love and without complaint. These sentiments fly in the face of Rav Soloveitchik’s description of the foundational concept of Surrender to the divine halachic imperative, rather than critiquing the Torah and accepting it on subjective human terms.

A few months ago, another very noteworthy and well-known Open Orthodox rabbi explicated his belief that any postulations which a fully humble person sincerely intuits as correct are actually new divine Torah revelations. (The rabbi elaborated that since he sincerely intuits that ordaining women for the Orthodox rabbinate is morally and ethically correct, the propriety of such ordination becomes a divine revelation, ratified as part of the Torah, and a mitzvah to pursue (!).)

This same rabbi, who previously proposed that God did not orally and literally communicate the Torah to Moses, recently argued that proper p’sak halakha/Torah adjudication involves the meshing of intuitive values with halakhic texts, creating or manipulating an outcome that matches one’s intuitive values:

“The posek begins with the refined intuition and moves from there to the formal legal analysis which he consciously or unconsciously bends to conform to his intuition…  Every situation is different and requires a different quality of discernment.  The level of clarity of moral conviction necessary to argue with God (in the case of Abraham – AG) is different than the inner conviction required to manipulate a tosafot or reinterpret a gemara. Areas which do not involve laws of such severity, or do not involve explicit halakhot at all but involve modification or abrogation of minhag – generally accepted practice – require a different quality of discernment.”

These radical articles were reposted and endorsed by the president of YCT (also see here.).

A somewhat similar approach to p’sak halakha was recently presented by the previously-noted Open Orthodox leader, who explained that halachic decisions should be based on rulings found in traditional source texts, which must then be merged with contemporary values, arriving at a synthesized final decision. This rabbi rejected an understanding of Modern Orthodoxy whose core is “exclusively Orthodox”, and he instead maintained that a synthesis of Torah and contemporary values must be merged in order to arrive at the correct expression of Modern Orthodoxy. (also see here and here.)

My friends: This is not Orthodoxy of any type. Orthodoxy respects and unconditionally accepts the objective nature of halakha as a pure and independent system, and the unadulterated values of the Torah as our guiding worldview. Yes, we can pursue involvement with general society and embrace secular knowledge, but only through the pure lens of the Torah and with the counsel of legitimate Torah authorities.

It is extremely unfortunate that we need to start the new year responding to outrageous challenges to tradition and calls to radically innovate our approach to Emunah and halakha. But to ignore these challenges is to shirk our responsibility – a responsibility that we bear throughout the year and throughout our lives.

May we be blessed with clarity of thought and the fortitude to stay the course of Torah, and may there be no further need for articles such as this!