Haredi billionaire: Open Orthodox members are 'fake Jews'

Haredi billionaire Shlomo Rechnitz blasts Open Orthodox movement as 'fake Jews', says Trump election was divine providence.

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David Rosenberg, | updated: 09:24

Jewish man wears a kippah at the Kotel
Jewish man wears a kippah at the Kotel
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One of the haredi world’s most prominent businessmen and a prolific philanthropist, Shlomo Rechnitz, explained his opposition to liberal religious movements, including ‘Open Orthodoxy’, during a gathering at the Mir Yeshiva during the Sukkot holiday.

The term “Open Orthodoxy” was popularized by Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), to promote what supports call "greater inclusivity" in the Modern Orthodox world – including the ordination of female clergy and a turn away from many traditional Orthodox practices and views. It is not accepted by mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbis and rabbis ordained by YCT are not accepted as members of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the prestigious Modern Orthodox umbrella organization..

Although many mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbis have suggested renaming the group neo-Conservative, the Open Orthodox themselves have decided to drop the word "Open" and call themselves Modern Orthodox, further alienating RCA members.

Rechnitz, a 46-year-old billionaire and owner of Brius Healthcare Services, has donated tens of millions of dollars to Orthodox Jewish institutions in the US and Israel, becoming one of the most prolific donors in the haredi world.

At a gathering at the Mir Yeshiva during the Sukkot festival on Monday, Kikar Hashabbat reported, Rechnitz warned that liberal Jewish movements ‘posing as Orthodox’ constitute one of the greatest existential threats to the Jewish community.

"As far as I know, the greatest threat to the Jewish people today comes from a small group called 'liberal Orthodoxy',” Rechnitz said, “because they took our name and our way of categorizing ourselves, and are working from within [that category]. There are the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. These names were used by chance.”

“These are different religious movements, and the category called 'Orthodoxy' means tradition with no changes. We're living according to tradition, whether that leads to leniencies or strictures.

“Then there’s the Reform movement, which argues that as the world advances, religion must undergo reform and change based on what's going on in the world. So these aren't randomly chosen names, but precisely reflect the different groups."

Rechnitz later invoked President Trump’s description of mainstream media outlets as “fake news” to describe the Open Orthodoxy movement.

"But now they [the Open Orthodox] have turned [Orthodox] into just a name. Orthodoxy is no longer a religious category, but a general term, and if someone doesn't want to keep Torah and mitzvot [commandments] according to tradition but still be called 'Orthodox', he can join the 'Open Orthodox'."

"So I want to say to the 'rabbi' leading the Open Orthodox movement, and to all of his students: going to synagogue doesn't make you religious, just like standing in the parking lot doesn't make you a car. Call yourselves whatever you want, but this new religion of yours is best described with the words of the President of the United States: 'Fake Jews!' It's all a fake. There is nothing Orthodox about them, and the only thing that is 'open' about them is their stores and businesses which are open on the Shabbat and Yom Kippur."

In the past, Rechnitz has also went public with his criticism of haredi educational instructions in the New York and New Jersey, accusing them of proverbial “bloodshed” for imposing what he claimed were elitist enrollment criteria.

“No other out-of-town community would ever allow a child to be left without a school,” Rechnitz said during a 2016 speech in Lakewood, New Jersey.

“In Los Angeles, if a child wouldn’t have a school the first day, the whole community would be all over it. The same thing would happen in Baltimore, Chicago and Toronto or anywhere else.”

Following his criticism of Open Orthodoxy, Rechnitz turned to the 2016 presidential election, calling President Trump’s victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an example of divine providence revealed.

“How can you explain that an actor on TV and a businessman who decided to run for President of the United States despite the fact that he knew that he had no chance, suddenly has his poll numbers surging, despite the fact that he insulted an American war hero,” said Rechnitz, referring to President Trump’s criticism of Senator John McCain, “impersonated a disabled journalist, and despite his speaking style, and despite the fact that he said about himself that he could walk out on the street in Manhattan and shoot someone in broad daylight and still be elected as president?”

“Despite it all and to everyone’s surprise, [Trump] was elected to be the 45th President of the United States. Do you really believe that all of his voters were voting for him on their own, from their own free will? Or maybe we have to say once again that someone is managing things from above, and He decided to make [Trump] president.”