A Break from the Battle Against Open Orthodoxy

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By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

After three years of documenting and critiquing various aspects of Open Orthodoxy, I am taking a break. A temporary break, but a break that I have been contemplating for some time.

I would like to make several observations in this regard, not necessarily related, but worthwhile nonetheless, I believe.

Although people refer to my “battle against Open Orthodoxy”, there are a few misnomers here. I view this work as a project to defend and reinforce Torah values, and not as a negative campaign. Moreover, I do not consider my efforts to be directed against Open Orthodoxy in a general fashion, but rather as countering and responding to many of the various specific ideas and actions that have been promulgated and promoted by Open Orthodox leadership, such as the ordination of women as rabbis, reconsideration of the traditional understanding of Torah authorship, new attitudes toward gay marriage, modifying geirus procedures, encouraging partnership minyanim, etc. It is these many discrete manifestations and reforms which Open Orthodoxy has come to embrace and represent that have been my focus.

Why take a break now? For quite some time, I have acted as an unofficial surrogate or proxy of others – others who really should be addressing these vital challenges to normative Orthodoxy, yet have for the most part not really done so. Rabbis and lay leaders frequently encourage me in confidence to “keep up the good work”, “don’t stop speaking out”, and the like, yet some of these same people have not taken a stand or done much about the concerns. I feel that I should step aside a bit, encouraging those who really should speak up to do so.

Years ago, when some of these issues began to arise, I privately contacted rabbinic and lay leaders in concern, and was told by some of these leaders that it is better to remain silent, as giving attention to the issues would only grant them prominence, and critiquing those behind the new reforms to Orthodoxy would serve to make these people martyrs and provide them with public sympathy and hence success in this path. The Orthodox establishment was largely silent for those several years, during which Open Orthodoxy grew basically unchallenged. Now that the movement has established thriving men’s and women’s rabbinical schools and an international rabbinic organization, plus at least one local vaad, with Israeli counterparts, was silence the wisest response? The movement expanded and pushed matters further than anyone expected, and it became increasingly clear that the Orthodox establishment’s stance of passivity had massively backfired. Sensing this, I felt that I, as insignificant as I may be, needed to do my part to speak up, and, after consulting with senior rabbinic leaders (then and throughout), I began to write and was graciously invited by Cross-Currents to appear as a regular.

Despite Open Orthodoxy promulgating and promoting various substantive reforms to Torah practice and attitude, all without the imprimatur of Gedolei Yisroel, the one episode that really indicated how severe the issue was becoming was that of Open Orthodox leaders lobbying to eliminate several of the morning berachos. Not only did this mimic the early, movement-defining actions of the Reform and Conservative streams in their deletion of certain sections of the Siddur that did not conform with contemporary ideas, but it bespoke a direct effort to disavow and disassociate from the values of Chazal. This was an alarming and watershed development that set precedent for further deviation from the Orthodox norm.

Although I continued writing assorted other types of Torah articles while posting critique essays about new occurrences in Open Orthodoxy (I wrote and posted about 20 divrei Torah on the weekly parshah, 15 hashkafic articles, 7 halachic articles and 16 kashrus articles during this three-year period), my articles about Open Orthodoxy by far got by the most attention, and I became branded by these articles. While many people felt that this work was of great import and necessity, others vilified me and resorted to base tactics, such as repeatedly contacting my employer and pressuring various websites to no longer post my articles and various institutions to no longer invite me to speak. Not to mention the frequent hate mail in my inbox, in an effort to silence me. This did not faze me and has not deterred my work; it merely reflected cowardice and desperation when unable to discuss the issues on the merits.

In this same vein, two Open Orthodox leaders threatened to sue Cross-Currents over my writings. Although the Cross-Currents administrators who received the threat letter – which was sent to the general Cross-Currents feedback inbox rather than to my personal address – consulted with poskim and attorneys and were advised to post the threat, one Open Orthodox leader expressed his indignation at me for having shared a private email. Nothing of the sort occurred, for the threat letter was neither sent to me nor shared by me. It was sent to the Cross-Currents general feedback inbox and was posted with specific halachic endorsement.

It has been alleged that the words of another YCT leader were misrepresented in the recent interview with YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin on the Dovid Lichtenstein Headlines broadcast. Even were this claim proven to be true (I am not going to attempt to substantiate or refute it), there are countless statements by Open Orthodox leadership which sanction questioning the historicity and factuality of the Torah, which allege that the Torah is biased and unfair, and which outright deny the objectivity and divine integrity of Torah She-b’al Peh. Let this fact not be overshadowed by one or two quotes that were misattributed or misunderstood.

Some have accused me of lack of nuance. My response to this is that when championing Torah values (or anything else of meaning), one must try to be articulate, organized and clear. One must do his best to write with appeal, muster the facts and lay forth the arguments coherently. But to dance around an issue with subtlety is not a virtue. Moreover, if something is important and one cares about it, argument must be made with passion and vigor; why should the integrity of Torah not merit as powerful a defense as is granted to matters of far less gravity?

My decision to temporarily withdraw from the discourse is purely volitional. It is unrelated to the countless personal attacks on me and my becoming basically a persona non grata among some. It is certainly not due to the exertion of external pressure. Rather, I am stepping aside for the short term in order to encourage those who are best suited to speak up to do so – nothing more than that.

The Cross-Currents weekly digest, Essays In and Out of Orthodoxy, will likely be on break in the interim, as the unique character of this digest is its focus on some of the issues about which I will temporarily cease to write.

This article first appeared at Cross Currents and appears on Matzav.com with the author’s permission.

{Matzav.com}

21 COMMENTS

  1. All Torah true Jews owe a hakaras hatov to Rabbi Gordimer a true talmid of Rav Hirsch .
    Please RBSO please give him the strength to continue being mekadesh shem shomayim and may we be zocheh to yitamu chataim min haaretz.

  2. Chaval. Rabbi Gordimer is an amazingly articulate defender of loyalty to the Torah and Chazal. While I had read about the threatened lawsuit, I didn’t realize that his efforts included real mesirus nefesh. I hope that there are people of stature who can convince Rabbi Gordimer to rescind his temporary withdrawal from מלחמתה של תורה. In addition to addressing people who might be on the fence, I’m sure he was מחזק many שלומי אמוני ישראל. I know that he was mechazek me.

  3. The literal Rav Shimshon Rofael Hirsch of the 21st century is taking a break. It is well-deserved. Shame on the criminals who stopped at nothing and did everything to stop his work–everything except refute him. And shame on the organs of Centrist Orthodoxy for molly-coddling the Weissodox.

  4. I honestly have tears in my eyes when I read this article. It is my sincere wish that you try and regain your strength to clarify and stand against such straight out kefira. We are living in a generation where there’s a lot of Am haaratzus going on in every chareidi community and so much as become ok and been given a chance or approval even if its completely against our torah ways.. I agree with the fact that staying quiet is not relevant here but I also see perhaps a good thing may come out of it that the rabbanim will wake up and fight alongside you. It is so sad and painful to see where things are heading again; things were so clear for all of ultra orthodoxy.. We knew exactly what reform and conservativism stand for. This Open Orthodoxy is another way of trying to lure ultra orthodoxy into the assimilation that world jewry has experienced during the beginning of the reform days… May hashem give you siyata dishmaya to perhaps find new and renewed koach to find for his first word: torah!!!!

  5. Thank you Rabbi Gordimer for you vigilance in identifying and tracking this growing cancer. BE”H, it will be excised from the body of Klal Yisroel and consigned to the dustbin of history very soon.

    I am afraid that our leaders are too hesitant to jump into the vacuum you will leave with your absence, and look forward to your return into the breach soon.

  6. Thank you Rabbi Gordimer for your selfless, fearless and great work. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. Schorcha harbeh meod. Hopefully many others will step in to do this work, now that you’ve chosen to take a break.

    Back in 2006, when a certain group of Jews chose to spend over $6,000,000 to fight Jews becoming more Frum, they would have spent their money a lot more wisely had they used it to educate Jews not to become less Frum. That money should have been spent to counter the rise of OO.

  7. יישר כחך to R. Gordimer for all his good work, for standing on the front lines, while others cowered in fear, or buried their heads in the sand, and assuming a sometimes thankless, but nevertheless vital task.

    He has earned the right to take a break by now many times over, as soldiers in war zones do. They are regularly rotated out for R&R.

    Shame on anyone who engaged in base attacks against this great man, who, typically, took the high road, and did not stoop to their level.

    To R. Gordimer שליט”א at this point, I think the words of Bereishis 15:1 are appropriate – אחר הדברים האלה היה דבר ה’ אל אבר(ה)ם במחזה לאמר אל תירא אבר(ה)ם אנכי מגן לך שכרך הרבה מאד

  8. Though I understand WHY you are doing this, is really the proper course of action (or better yet. inaction)?
    B’makom she ayn Iash…..
    Did you you consult with Gedolim on the “break”?

    Someone who is very grateful for what you have done for the klall

  9. R’ Gordimer, If C’V others do not step in, please do not hesitate to reconsider your break. Unless the time has come that Orthodoxy recognizes that the dreadful “Open Orthdodoxy” is in the very same realm of reform, conservative, etc. At that time maybe we no longer respond to them. Apparently we are not at that point yet (hopefully instead they come back to Torah Judaism). Thank You for your important and amazing work on behalf of HKB’H, the Torah, and Klal Yisroel. If we need you, please come back quickly! — With Love (even though I do not know you)…

  10. Why should this burden be Rabbi Gordimer’s alone? If you really wanted to know what the definition in a dictionary is of the words “coifer B’ Torah” all you need to do is listen to R’ Dovid Lichtenstein interview the present day Moses Mendelsohn

  11. I doubt that stepping aside will cause others to step in. Very few people are endowed with the engaging and coherent writing style that was endowed to Rabbi Gordimer. Of the few that have such talent, even fewer have the time to a) keep abreast of OO’s latest horrors, and b) to write voluminously and consistently about it. Most such people are incredibly busy, and it just won’t happen. I do hope he reconsiders.

  12. Rabbi Gordimer is a gentle tzaddik that didn’t just took the words of chazal, “B’makom Sh’ein Ishe, histadel l’hios ish” seriously. He deserves the eternal admiration of all Jews to whom authentic Torah is dear.
    Now, we are looking for a few good men who will step into the breach.

  13. One nekuda, the interview by lichtenstein was a big avlah. He said it’s one of his most fascinating interviews ever. This man barely answers one question tZum zach. He is totally ridiculous.
    They should’ve let Rabbi gordimer himself debate that guy.

    • There is supposed to be another program – a sequel – coming up re OO on Headlines, with Reb Yissochor Katz, the ex-Satmar turned YCT/OO champion. I guess it will be (iy”H) this coming motzoei Shabbos.

  14. I heard the Dovid Lichtenstein’s interview with Lopatin (no Rabbi title). My question is whether one had to tear Kryah when they heard some this heresy.

  15. Wicked Open Orthodoxy is growing. Our Torah voices are not nearly strong enough. We must daven stronger and All Jewish men have beards. Try sleeping with a frik kippah. It will not fall off your head. If we are not exactly the best at going beyond the letter of the law, the trickle of Toeivah will grow stronger with every fate.

    Open orthodoxy is a challenge to human event. They grow while we are lax. Take the commandments to grow with Moses. Other reasons rightly are not wtrong enough to know the King.

    Limit me to one adage. I sleep in my kippah. It is great. Hashem is so strong that no one should live in anything but chassidic fear. His ways are ways of justice.

    Fun for me but I bet it has never routinely been tried. My thoughts are that if you sleep in fear of G-d, he will know you are serious about your commitment to the issues we face. If you want his help, find ultimate yireh.

    However, Rabbi Gordimer is not enough to fight this battle. He must ask Hashem where he is weak and constantly try to strengthen. Maybe he can nip this.

    Still, with toevah reform and crossed conservative, who can know anything but the murder feeling of the jewish run hate society.

    I am wearing my kippah to sleep. (Night caps are good too). This ridiculous toeivah era must end. I can stand no more!

    Nights are still happy! Baruch Hashem.

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