In his recent op-ed on Arutz Sheva, “Open Orthodox Rabbi” Shmuly Yanklowitz helps unpeel one thin layer of the onion that explains why “Open Orthodoxy” is alien to Orthodox Judaism. For that reason, his article served an important purpose.
It is long known that “Jews for Jesus,” an Amrican-based Christian missionary organization aiming to convert Jews to a foreign religion, seeks to confuse by calling themelves “Jews.” That is because their arguments and efforts would be even more transparent and unsuccessful if they truthfully called themselves “Non-Jews for Christianity.” And so it is with a movement arrogating the “Orthodox” term in “Open Orthodoxy.”
“Open Orthodoxy” is not Orthodox Judaism. The “Open Orthodox” Rabbis whom they ordain include rabbis who endorse accepting Jewish-Christian intermarriage, rabbis who urge a liberalized application of interpretation for the Jewish status of children of intermarriage when the father is Jewish and the mother non-Jewish, rabbis who themselves are married to wives who openly are non-Orthodox clergy including non-Orthodox rabbis and cantors, and even rabbis whose wives give published interviews to Jewish newspapers boldly identifying themselves as atheists.
In so many ways, Open Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz is a fitting representative of this movement, and it is healthy for readers to encounter a rabbi whose credentials are symptomatic of “Open Orthodoxy.”
When publishing in Arutz Sheva, he penned some shocking views about the Religious Zionists and Judaism of Israel while holding back other even more distasteful published thoughts. For example, elsewhere he recently wrote: “Israelis are becoming more interested in the lucrative technology field and less in Jewish intellectualism.” And: “The only way I can morally justify reading Megillat Esther as a religious experience on Purim (given verses 8:11 & 9:16) is to assume the text is mere religious imagination or political satire (not history) emerging from a culture of powerlessness (just enough power to evoke such a violent imagination). Celebrating the story as actual history seems even more problematic today in an era of Jewish sovereignty with unprecedented military strength.” These thoughts cannot be hidden from readers because he has published them elsewhere, in anti-Orthodox vehicles much more welcoming of attacks on Orthodox Jewish institutions and on his Facebook page.
On the subject of Israel, he challenges the centrality of Israel in the Jewish halakhic experience, and he attacks as “land idolators” those of us who do so focus. He has published quite intensely why he does not yearn for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). He further has published that it is not the Moshiach (Messiah) for whom we Jews are waiting — because it is we who are Moshiach. He bewails that there now are hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem; and prefers prioritizing the “diaspora where there is a more open, pluralistic, and progressive ethos for Jewish values to develop within us and thrive in society.”
Open Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz is a radical leftist who made national headlines in America when he penned a “prayer” to the G-d of my Fathers, praying against President Donald Trump. This is an inexcusable “prayer” — and no one recites it. Again: For all the noise, no one recites it. Open Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz does not have that “prayer” recited even in his own congregation — actually, he has no congregation. Yet his “rabbinic prayer” for the failure of the President of the United States stoked deep resentments and expressions of anti-Semitism, as haters exploited the “Rabbi” who prays for their President of the United States to fail.
In the Wall Street Journal, he slandered the American kosher meat industry in an article reminiscent of the attacks against kosher-meat slaughter that have appeared in Europe and in 1950s America when the very act of shechitah (kosher slaughter) almost came to be banned by anti-Semites in Government.
His writings are kind to reform rabbis and conservative rabbis, the rabbis with whom he associates and whom he describes as his rabbinic peers. Indeed, the Reform Rabbinate published his “social justice” commentary on one Jewish text, he boasts this season of having recently led a “Feminist seder,” and condemns Orthodox rabbis for not converting homosexual and transsexual people to Judaism.
He is warm and accepting of Black Lives Matter, an anti-Semitic extreme movement that is part of the radical-left “intersectionality” that attacks Israel’s right to exist and that calls for boycotts, divestitures, and sanctions to collapse Israel’s economy. “Intersectionality” preaches that all radical-left movements are intertwined and need to stand for and with each other. Thus, advocates for homosexual marriage or bisexual or transsexual activity need to stand with advocates for Black Lives Matter and need to stand with advocates to legalize people who enter America illegally — and they all need to stand with Islamic activists seeking to create a country of Hamas in Gaza, a country of Mahmoud Abbas in Judea and Samaria, and indeed to supplant the Jewish State of Israel with a “Palestine.”
Ain’t never gonna happen.
This is the Left “progressive” world to which Open Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz wishes for Israel to bend her knee in supplication. That Israel should recognize non-Orthodox conversions, no matter how removed from Judaism they be, even reform conversions without mikveh, even without a brit (circumcision). That Israel must accept and live by United Nations-style definitions of “human rights” and “Palestinian rights.” That Israel must modify religion so that Reform Judaism has every equality of recognition. That Israel must shift her gears from being a nation of the Torah that set us apart and instead become a sufficiently radical left society so that Israel can merit a place at the sororities of Barnard College’s most anti-Semitic BDS activists in Upper Manhattan and those of the University of California at Berkeley who shout down speakers of normative conservative views.
When Open Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz posed last Christmas season for a photo he posted on his Facebook page with Santa Claus, he reinforced everything that impels so many American Orthodox rabbonim — myself included — to regard him as someone whose conversions we do not accept, whose converts we would not count in a minyan, not even if the Yanklowitz convert were the tenth male needed to make the minyan to recite kaddish for my father’s yahrzeit. It is disgraceful for him to be preaching morality, ethics, and religion to Israel from Scottsdale, Arizona. From Scottsidale he criticizes “the focus by religious communities . . . on the Land of Israel.” And he then presumes to preach how to be just, how to be Jewish, how to be compatible with the Word of G-d.
And yet, for all his impropriety, it is wholly appropriate and symptomatic of “Open Orthodoxy,” from the words of one of its highly touted spokespeople
He writes from Scottsdale: “Religious Zionism is fundamentally flawed, directionless, and even broken in many ways.” Ironically, it is “Open Orthodoxy” that can be described with those words. He speaks slander of the People of Israel as he accuses, from Scottsdale, the community of Religious Zionism of failing in its moral standard, in its commitment to justice, liberty, and dignity. But, although he makes a trip to the northern border of Israel to preach and wash his hands of the Syrian situation, he does not live among the Religious Zionists of IsraelHe does not see the charity, the kindness, the chesed, the way of community that cannot be imagined in Scottsdale. He refers to our central focus on the Land of Israel as “land idolatry.”
And his Yom Ha’Atazmaut season screed is not yet concluded: He criticizes Israel for the way she treats Sephardim. That is trash-talking the Israel of 2018 by conjuring up tropes from seventy years ago when indeed it was his comrades on the Left — the Labor socialists of his Leftist global vision — who indeed then treated Edot haMizrach (Sephardic immigrants from North Africa) as sub-second-class. And that is why the Sephardic population of Israel abandoned socialism and came to Menachem Begin and the Likud. Then he trash-talks Israel and criticizes the way that Israel “treats the Palestinians.” Such a generalized attack without background, explanation? And what of the freedoms and equal rights accorded to Arab Muslims, including their representation on the Israeli Supreme Court, in the Knesset, in all walks of Israeli life, their inclusion as full recipients in all Israeli governmental social services, even as recipients for child stipends? How dare he!
A final paragraph — regarding his final paragraph. In his provided self-description, Open Orthodox Rabbi Yanklowitz describes himself as President & Dean of the “Valley Beit Midrash.” Inasmuch as we are talking about ethics and dignity, let us engage in honesty. Go to that website. That is no “Beit Midrash.” See for yourself. And its leadership is comprised of a motley agglomeration that includes some of America’s most radical rabbis, as well as a predictable smattering of other “Open Orthodox rabbis” whose names fit well. Similarly, his “Uri L’Tzedek” has lost the endorsements and names of many prominent Orthodox rabbinic figures who, after having learned of his greater radical-left agenda, pulled out, distanced themselves and had their names removed. Finally, the two lists of “prominent American rabbis” on which he appeared are lists that are dominated by reform rabbis, conservative rabbis, and radicals, with a minute inclusion of nominal organizational heads from the Orthodox movement, too, to round out. Nevertheless, the vast majority of rabbis on those two Left-oriented Newsweek and Forward lists of rabbis on which he appears are, by and large, the kinds of rabbis whose conversions are not accepted by any Orthodox rabbi in the United States.