From Openness to Heresy


zev-farberBy Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

Outright heresy is emanating from the heart of the YCT rabbinic world. No, this time we are not dealing with Open Orthodoxy (as YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss refers to his movement) innovating novel practices that can sort of be reconciled with minority or exotic halachic opinions, nor are we dealing with Open Orthodoxy promoting yet another new brand of controversial inclusiveness or further blazing socio-religious trails that mainstream Orthodoxy and its halachic leadership deem as beyond the pale. This time, we are dealing with denial of the singular Divine authorship of the Torah – heresy of the highest order – publicly espoused in writing by one of Open Orthodoxy’s most prominent rabbinic leaders. And we are also dealing with the rest of Open Orthodox rabbinic leadership refusing to condemn this heresy in its midst.

Rabbi Zev Farber, PhD., who holds Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin semicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, is coordinator of the Vaad Hagiyur of International Rabbinic Fellowship and is an IRF board member, and is an Advisory Board member of Yeshivat Maharat. Rabbi Farber recently published a brief article entitled “The Opening Of Devarim: A Recounting Or Different Version Of The Wilderness Experience?” in which he addresses textual differences between the events recounted in Parshas Devarim and the presentation of these events in earlier parts of the Torah. (For example, the Torah in Sefer Shemos refers to Mount Sinai as “Sinai” and in Sefer Devarim, the mountain is termed “Chorev”; the court system in Sefer Shemos is presented as Yisro’s idea, whereas in Sefer Devarim, it seems to be presented as Moshe’s idea, as it is not attributed there to Yisro; Sefer Bamidbar presents the dispatching of scouts to explore Eretz Yisroel as Hashem’s idea, whereas in Sefer Devarim, Moshe attributes this endeavor to the people; Sefer Bamidbar describes the confrontation with Edom following B’nei Yisroel’s request to pass through Edom’s territory, whereas Sefer Devarim omits mention of this confrontation; in Sefer Devarim, Moshe states that Hashem commanded him to fight Sichon, whereas this command is absent in Sefer Bamidbar, where it appears that the battle with Sichon was a consequence of his own belligerence; etc.) A typical Orthodox Jew would reconcile these apparent differences by working within the system, realizing that these differences are not contradictions, and turning for elaboration to the Meforshim, who address these issues. Furthermore, Sefer Devarim is Mishneh Torah – Restatement of the Torah – and as such, by definition is somewhat of an interpretation and an elucidation of events, geared to a different generation and emphasizing certain things while omitting others. However, Rabbi Farber adopts what he terms the “academic approach” to understand the above differences. He shockingly writes:

The simplest explanation for these differences between the accounts in Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy is that they were penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience.

Then, after presenting a two-paragraph synopsis of the narrative of Parshas Devarim, Rabbi Farber concludes with his “Summary” section:

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there is no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. Whether it be the description of the scout story, the reaction of the Edomites and Moabites to Israel’s request, or the legitimacy of dwelling in the Transjordan, the two versions work with contradictory assumptions.

Rabbi Farber writes that the Torah was penned by at least two different authors, and that its sections are irreconcilably contradictory. This is heresy of the highest order. (Rabbi Farber, in another exposition about Parshas Devarim further demonstrates his approach of denial of the singular Divine authorship of the Torah, writing that the Torah reflects a “multivocality of a work redacted from disparate sources”. Very, very problematic.)

While it is a grave sin and a tragedy for any Jew to espouse heresy, especially if he is a rabbi, it is important to realize that Rabbi Farber is the most accomplished, high-ranking and showcased YCT graduate out there: he is the only person ever to have been ordained by YCT with Yadin Yadin semicha, qualifying him as a dayan; he regularly publishes articles in Open Orthodoxy’s journals and is a staff writer for Morethodoxy, the Open Orthodoxhashkafa website; his role as the head of the IRF geirus authority is extremely significant. Rabbi Farber, quite arguably YCT’s most scholarly and eminent rabbinic graduate, is Open Orthodoxy’s greatest “poster boy”, if one can employ such terminology.

For these reasons in particular, and in light of Rabbi Farber’s general high-profile and authoritative role in the Open Orthodox rabbinate and its IRF and Yeshivat Maharat affiliates, one would hope and expect that YCT and IRF leadership would condemn Rabbi Farber’s words in no uncertain terms and disassociate from the heresy espoused by Rabbi Farber that the Torah is a man-made document (“penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience”). The jarring reality is that YCT and IRF leadership have refused to speak up on the issue and condemn this open heresy in its midst, despite having been apprised of this heresy a week ago (and perhaps even prior) and despite the heresy being disseminated in a very public manner.

It is time for Open Orthodoxy’s leadership to reassess the direction of the movement and take strong steps to redirect it, for articles such as that of Rabbi Farber are way beyond being described as “Far Left” Orthodox or representing the “Reform branch of Orthodoxy”, as some have referred to Open Orthodoxy. (But see here and here.)

We have witnessed Open Orthodoxy break ground by welcoming the leadership of Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College as “honored guests” at YCT’s first chag ha-semicha, where these Reform and Conservative leaders danced in celebration with the YCT musmachim (YCT Newsletter Spring 2006), to engaging in interfaith activity that goes way beyond what Rav Soloveitchik permitted, as described herehere, and here; to devoting massive efforts to fighting “Homophobia” (going back to a shocking article about this in the 2005 YCT Newsletter, which featured a YCT campus rabbi’s extensive support of LGBT groups; (see also); to advocating changes in geirus requirements here here, and here,and here; to suggesting significantly modifying parts of the morning berachos here and here; to promoting the celebration of homosexual lifecycle events hereand here; to advocating recognition of “gay marriage” here and hereand here; to halachically rationalizing the homosexual act and encouraging gay relationships (and see here and here); to attacking statements in Tanach and Chazal and disparaging our liturgy here and here; to advocating for feminization of the synagogue and tefillah; to having women serve as chazzanfor male-female services here and here; to ordaining women; to expressing discomfort and dismissive attitudes regarding Talmudic opinions that do not conform with modern liberal sensibilities here pg.36 of this; to slandering the character of the Avos and Imahos here and here and here; to somewhat celebrating intermarriage; to its most accomplished musmach now writing outright heresy that denies the singular Divine authorship of the Torah. The total degeneration of commitment to belief and tradition that took the Conservative movement well over a century to undergo is being accomplished by Open Orthodoxy in about one short decade.

How did this all happen? There appear to be two factors at play:

1. Agenda-driven Judaism: Rather than surrendering (to use Rav Soloveitchik’s terminology) to the yoke and objective directives of Halacha, Open Orthodoxy first set forth its goals (feminism, egalitarianism, etc.) and then tried to fit the Halacha into them. Picking and choosing opinions and authorities that meet a predetermined agenda rather than submitting to the Torah’s values and dictates regardless of what they state, leads one to Reform his Judaism and eventually craft (or “Reconstruct”) it as he sees fit. As the Rav homiletically commented, “Kavata itim l’Torah?” implies, “Did you make the values of the times fit into the values of the Torah, or did you try to fit the Torah into the values of the times?”

2. Mesorah-light Judaism: Many of the innovations of Open Orthodoxy have been defended and justified by Open Orthodox leadership due to these innovations not being technically codified in sifrei Halacha as prohibited or invalid; Open Orthodox leadership has consistently dismissed claims that its controversial innovations are problematic because they violate Mesorah, the uncodified part of Torah. (See here and here.) This cavalier approach, of denying that there is more to Halacha than one can find on a sefarim shelf and denying that deference to Torah tradition and to greater Torah authorities are part of the bricks and mortar of Orthodoxy, has led to a total disconnect and the spinning off a very foreign ideology under the term “Orthodox”. Without a sense of connection, fidelity and reverence toward the Ba’alei Ha-Mesorah and their methodology, Torah study and theology become a free-for-all, such that radical and heretical approaches emerge.

One can follow the paths of heresy and distortion of Torah straight to the door of Yeshivat Maharat. As Yeshivat Maharat’s graduates and students now begin to publish essays about women in the rabbinate and the role of women as halachic authorities (see, for example, and a whole collection of related writings), the very problematic message of personal subjectivity in Halacha rather than submission to the objective Divine halachic mandate is very clear. These Yeshivat Maharat writings approach Torah She-b’al Peh as a misogynistic, man-made body of laws that egregiously lack women’s input, arguing that women’s voices must contribute in order to (re)shape Halacha. Halacha is denigrated in this Yeshivat Maharat literature as an unfair system that needs female input in order to become equitable, with the Yeshivat Maharat literature glorifying the Maharat women as comparable to heroic abortionists fighting for women’s rights in an oppressive male-dominated society.

This halachic subjectivism, distorted understanding and disparagement of Torah She-b’al Peh are precisely what the Conservative movement has historically invoked in justifying its gradual abandonment of Halacha, and are extremely antithetical to Orthodox belief. Disparagement of the Chachmei Ha-Mesorah as misguided chauvinists, as the Yeshivat Maharat literature presents things, is outright heresy, as shown here in the thought of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, and here and undermines any sense of belief and real acceptance of Torah law.

Whither does Open Orthodoxy view itself headed? These words from Rabbi Asher Lopatin, incoming president of YCT, are quite foreboding:

But my dream is to have Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hadar, and Chovevei on one campus, to move in together. We’d each daven in our own ways, but it could transform the Upper West Side.

There is not much more to say. The path to total abandonment of Orthodoxy has been set in motion, and the ball is in the court of Open Orthodoxy’s leadership. Serious introspection and swift action are indeed needed.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and a member of the New York Bar.


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  1. Dear moderators, This blog is not the correct forum for an article such as this, as it gives a platform to the views that it is decrying, without sufficiently explaining why we consider these views counter to the Torah. To an uneducated person with limited access to the classical meforshim, this article is poisonous, especially with the multple links to the YCT articles.

  2. Beautifully, respectfully put.
    Although I am saddened, I hate to say that I am not surprised. It should have been obvious all along that this was where YCT and Open Orthodoxy would lead, whether or not Rabbi Avi Weiss intended it that way or not.

  3. this is nuts!
    the foundation of Judaism is that the written torah and the oral torah were both written and given by g-d period.

    if you cant agree with that you cannot go further

    woe to the eyes that reads the above from a supposed orthodox rabbi

  4. Nothing new here. YCT is Apikorsus plain and simple. Giving Semicha to women?
    They are Conservative Jews and should just admit it.

  5. rabbi gorsimer excellent piece.

    “Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America…”

    why would you associate yourself with the rca when they and their statements show no reverence to gedolei yisroel?

  6. Rabbi Gordimer has so beautifully portrayed YCT, Avi Weiss and his ilk for what they really are, blasphemous apikorsim. One wonders if they include the 13 Ani Maamin from the Rambam in their daily prayers.
    My only disappointment in the article is seeing the title Rabbi proceeding the name Avi Wiess.

  7. We need those who are big enough to to make a clean break

    Need to revisit ’56,when the decisive break with the Conservatives was inagurated.

  8. #8

    They consider 13 Ani Maamin non binding
    (They claim ,as do many centrists and countless blogs, it was only made for the simple masses )

  9. I’m not even mad at them, we know very well that they’re resha’im. I reserve my anger for those like the RCA and the OU who legitimize them by accepting these “rabbis” in their organizations. Where’s the outcry and complete rejection of these Torah-deniers from these organizations?

  10. The problem is that the IRF and YCT bandy about the name Orthodox. At least the reform and conservative and reconstruction movements were honest enough to use their own names..

    YCT and IRF are extremely deceptive and dishonest. They should call themselves what they are which is Conservative Jews with an Orthodox education.

    I know many unsuspecting sincere Jews who believe their rabbi is Orthodox, while espousing all the views. It is hugely damaging to the integrity of Torah and our people. At the rate they are going, we will shortly have the first Orthodox gay kiddushin. To them, saving the rainforest is as chashuv as Pikuach Nefesh.

    Very disturbing indeed. It behooves the IRF and its leadership to be come clean on their orientation – Conservative with a bigger Yetzer Harah.

  11. Dovid Yurechtum-
    The fact that Rabbi Gordimer is on the Executive Committee of the RCA shows that the leadership DOES have proper reverence.
    Also, why do you say they don’t have reverence for gedolim? Just because they disagree with things that your gedolim say doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Gedolim are allowed to argue with each other. I can give you some historical examples you may (or may not) have heard of: Shamai/Hillel,Abaye/Rava, Rav Yochanan/Reish Lakish (In fact, after Reish Lakish died, Rav Yochanan lamented the fact that he no longer had his bar plugta, and only had talmidim who agreed with everything he said).

  12. Farber has been involved in advocating these issues for quite some time now. It is very saddening. YCT should legitimately be pressured for a response as to whether Farber represents them.

    If Farber has Semicha from them then Weiss should openly make a statement if that Semicha still stands.

  13. His Father was a Conservative clergyman in S. Florida. He had potential but ended up in the wrong place.

    The fact is that many of the YCT and Open Orthodox followers come from Conservative and Reform backgrounds.

  14. I’m with everyone here, but for most laypeople here there’s no arguing with some of the scholarly types in this world, even the more traditional ones. They’ll cite sources about the Rambam, reputable though not big name scholarly rabbis who dabbled in Bible criticism (and will explain why it’s not “criticism”). It’s just sad….
    Thank you, Rabbi Gordimer.

  15. Soon they’re going to claim ‘orthodox’ abortion,
    ‘orthodox’ euthanasia..
    Then high functioning animals ought to have human rights,and low functioning humans i.e. infants and 90 year olds ought to be without rights..

    Throw them and any defender of them out of our people

  16. You still did not post my earlier comment. The one with substance. The fact that you posted my complaint only shows how insecure you are with the truth. If you were a true maamin you would have no fears.

  17. Reform started by taking Yakum Purkun out of their siddur, that was all and see where they are now. it was clear from the beginning that they were up to no good, now there is no shadow of doubt for those who where skeptical