Open Orthodoxy: The Next Generation (and the RCA)


zev-farberBy I. Schwartz

Over the course of the past several years, the Yated has had the distinct displeasure, yet felt the obligation, to document for the tzibbur the various deviations of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and “Open Orthodoxy,” the pluralistic brand of Orthodoxy created by Rabbi Avi Weiss and the leadership of YCT.

In previous issues, the Yated, citing original sources, documented the many reforms to halacha and minhag that have been advocated and implemented by YCT and the leaders of Open Orthodoxy, such as “partnership minyanim” (prayer groups led in part by women), the intentional omission or abolition of certain brachos, the ordination of women as rabbis, relaxing the requirements for geirus, banding together with Reform, Conservative and non-Jewish clergy for interdenominational discourse and interfaith prayer, the celebration of deviant lifestyles, and other sweeping changes to traditional Torah practices and values.

Whereas earlier Yated articles about YCT and Open Orthodoxy focused on and warned the Torah-adherent public about reforms to halacha and minhag that were advocated and introduced by the originators of YCT and Open Orthodoxy, the Yated now must turn to the students of this group, as these students have grown to assume leadership roles in Open Orthodox congregations and institutions, and have continued down the road of Reform, crossing more red lines and further diluting Orthodoxy. This article will focus on the works of YCT’s most prominent graduate and up-and-coming star, Rabbi Zev Farber.

Rabbi Farber is generally considered to be YCT’s most scholarly graduate, having been ordained by YCT with Yadin Yadin semichah after training with a well-known dayan of the Beth Din of America. Rabbi Farber is also the coordinator of the Vaad Ha-Giyur of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), helping define geirus standards of this Open Orthodox rabbinic organization and licensing conversions performed by its members.

Rabbi Farber, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Emory University in Atlanta while also overseeing a Jewish educational initiative, is projected to be one of the future central leaders and poskim of Open Orthodoxy. Let’s take a look at some of Rabbi Farber’s Torah writings.

In a May 9, 2012, article published in “Morethodoxy,” the website of Open Orthodox thought, Rabbi Farber compares Orthodox synagogues to silly men’s lodges in cartoons:

“Watching the Flintstones with my children one day, it struck me that our synagogues have an uncanny resemblance to lodge no. 26 of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, where Fred and Barney go to have a men’s night out. I say this in jest, but it is illustrative. The men of the LOWB wear a special garb, they have a special code and gestures which they use, and there are no women. Although our synagogues are a step advanced from the Stone Age lodge – we let our women watch – the resemblances are worth noting; only the men have the special garb, only the men know the secret handshake, and when the Grand Poobah speaks, his podium faces only men.

“Of course, the placement of the podium is only one way – albeit an obvious one – that Orthodox synagogues communicate to their participants that women are not really in the room. This message is also communicated by access to the holiest and most central feature of the synagogue, the Torah scroll, which is removed from the ark, inevitably by a man, during Shabbat morning services.

“Traditional garb is another way Orthodox synagogues send the message that the men are the real participants. Men’s ritual accoutrements, special prayer shawls around their shoulders or over their heads, and leather straps and boxes on their heads and arms, are significant ritually and spiritually. Needless to say, the average Orthodox woman does not wear tzitzit or t’fillin and has no ritual equivalent of her own.

“Other ways the second-class position of women in the synagogue is communicated are even more complex, as they appear hardwired into the halakhic system and changing or tinkering with them would be more than a little problematic for the halakhically observant.

“Firstly, for the prayer service to start, or at least for certain special prayers to be said, there needs to be a minyan (a prayer quorum) of ten men; women do not count. Without ten men, services cannot be held, but services can run from beginning to end without even one woman present. This, of course, is in compliance with the halakhic rulings found in the Talmud…”

The satirical mocking of the structure, hanhagos and mitzvos of the bais haknesses is incredible. Has any other Orthodox rabbi ever dared write such things? Although Rabbi Farber does not seek to straightforwardly scrap halacha, his irreverent depiction of it and of our mesorah are startling. It seems that Rabbi Farber has serious problems with the halachic system and the mesorah of tefillah and the bais haknesses, and/or he totally fails to understand the halachic underpinnings of what goes on in a shul. What does this tell us about the future leadership and direction of Open Orthodoxy?

In an August 16, 2011, article on the “Jewish Ideas” website, run by YCT Advisory Board member and IRF co-founder Rabbi Marc Angel, Rabbi Farber staunchly defends the effort to banish the “Shelo Asanibrachos from Birchos Hashachar. Rabbi Farber commences by quoting a Tosefta that explains the basis for these brachos:

“Gentile – for it says: ‘All the nations are like nothing before Him, like naught and void they are considered by Him’ (Isaiah 40:17). Ignoramus – for an ignoramus does not fear sin. Woman – for women are not obligated to perform mitzvot.”

Rabbi Farber then proceeds to dissect the Tosefta:

“Here each blessing comes with a short explanation. It is better to be a Jew than a Gentile, since Gentiles are entirely discounted by God – an offensive enough statement which inspired the alternative text of ‘who has made me an Israelite’…”

We here have Rabbi Farber labeling a statement of Chazal, taken directly from the words of Yeshayahu Hanovi, as “offensive.” Shomu shomayim! Even Reform rabbis do not typically write such things about the words of Chazal and the nevi’im.

After then proceeding to call Chazal prejudiced, but not to blame for such prejudice, as Chazal were simply following the prejudicial sentiments of their time, writes Rabbi Farber, he addresses the notion of reforming our liturgy and eliminating the bracha of Shelo Asani Ishah:

“I myself have an article in the works on this subject that attempts to show that the formulation of these blessings has been fluid throughout our liturgical history and that there should be little problem adjusting their formulation as has been done throughout the ages when necessary.”

Rabbi Farber continues:

“First of all, it (the bracha of Shelo Asani Ishahdoes not reflect our worldview; it feels false to say it. Even worse, the statement is actually offensive to fully half of the people in our community. ”

In another article (Morethodoxy, January 11, 2012), whose title and details we are not able to quote due to the toeivah topic it addresses, Rabbi Farber presents a “brief halachic analysis” in which the concept of “oness” (compulsion) is shockingly pushed to the limits to permit things that no posek has ever permitted. Rabbi Farber concludes this discourse with advice that rabbis should usually not try to discourage people from living deviant lifestyles, and that people with deviant inclinations should generally be encouraged to establish families based on their deviant lifestyles. A shocking p’sak, indeed!

(In the introduction to this article, Rabbi Farber writes condescendingly concerning a ruling by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, referring to the ruling as “sad” and influenced by prejudices of his time. Whoa! And is it not sad that YCT’s star posek, Rabbi Farber, turns halachic and hashkafic protocol on its head to permit aveiros chamuros based on a gross misapplication and misunderstanding of basic Torah law?)

Vague, yet carefully-worded remarks by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, current president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), made last year during his installation to the RCA presidency, were taken by some as a signal that the RCA, which does not admit YCT graduates, may change this policy ( May 25, 2011). Furthermore, some have interpreted recent goings-on within the RCA, in terms of the composition of its leadership, as another indication of a projected shift toward eventual RCA admittance of YCT graduates.

Why should this matter to anyone who is not an RCA member? Is it not an internal, localized issue?

Nothing could be further from the truth. The RCA serves as the most powerful Orthodox rabbinic placement service in the world. Rabbis with RCA membership are granted access to top, influential positions in rabbonus and in chinuch. Additionally, the RCA has carved an agreement (Geirus Standards and Policies – “GPS”) with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate that has substantially heightened and tightened the standards of geirus as they relate to converts who move to Eretz Yisroel. This GPS agreement assures that only conversions performed by specific botei din, as approved together by the Rabbanut and recognized American poskim, will receive automatic Chief Rabbinate approval. Individual RCA members who opt not to send prospective geirim to botei din approved by the GPS agreement do not have automatic Rabbanut recognition.

The GPS protocol has raised overall standards for geirus and has discouraged rabbis who are not qualified to perform geirus from doing so. The GPS protocol is also a prime target of YCT and IRF, whose rabbis are infuriated that local Modern Orthodox rabbis throughout America no longer have real autonomy to perform geirus as they see fit, each rabbi with his own standards. Rabbi Marc Angel has penned numerous articles against the RCA’s GPS geirus system, assailing its strict insistence on kabbolas ohl mitzvos as an absolute stipulation of geirus, and arguing, against the greatest of poskim, that kabbolas ohl mitzvos is not really a requirement of geirus.

The picture should now be clear. Should the RCA admit YCT graduates, not only would there be a watershed of radical left-wing YCT rabbis, who view Rabbi Zev Farber and his likes as role models in the quest to reform halacha and tamper with mesorah, poised to take over rabbinic positions throughout the US and beyond, but there would also be a new and powerful force within the RCA to rescind the current GPS geirus program and thereby dilute geirus standards, wreaking havoc and halachic doubt in this most chomur area of halacha, and potentially threatening to split Am Yisroel due to the presence of sofek nochrim among us, as a result of deficient conversions.

The stakes are really high. YCT and the Open Orthodox mission to reform Torah can hit home on many fronts. Let us daven that the RCA and the larger Orthodox public sideline and avoid association with YCT and Open Orthodoxy, and that the present and future leadership of YCT and Open Orthodoxy find no audience for their wayward preachings. May Hashem protect Klal Yisroel from these radical-reform rabbis and their errant movement – a movement that, at best, plays like a cartoon, and whose leadership would be better off sharing its views with the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.

{Reprinted with permission from Yated Ne’eman/ Newscenter}


  1. This is a big testing time for RCA. Depending on they go will decide what their future is. They might just fade into oblivion with the wrong approach

  2. . Let us daven that the larger Orthodox public sideline and avoid association with YCT

    Those families who are interested in Orthodox Torah Observance out-of-town do not recognize that this group is DIFFERENT than any other. Some of their graduates are now rabbis in smaller communities, are warm, engaging and involved with their people and the people have no idea that they are ‘slippery road’ rabbis.

  3. Why not daven that they do teshuva? Why not daven for moshiach to come? Why do you have to daven for the most undesirable option?

    It should be abundantly clear that the individuals discussed have the status of tinok shenishba – like the majority of klal yisroel. They should be treated no differently.

  4. The individuals discussed are NOT Tinok Shenishba.

    They know exactly what they’re doing.

    Unfortunately, many people in the small, out-of-town communities don’t know this.

  5. #5
    The people discussed here absolutely do not have the status of ‘tinokois shenishbu’ they know the halocha and mesorah, yet purposely violate and encourage others to follow r”l! They are masisim
    umadichim, chotim umachtiim es horabim h”y.

  6. “having been ordained by YCT with Yadin Yadin semichah after training with a well-known dayan of the Beth Din of America. ”
    The fact that he’s considered a dayan is mind-boggling. That’s a much more serious problem than the clown in this article.

  7. #5: As with Reform and Conservatives, the clergy of Open Orthodoxy are not tinokos shenishbu. They are chotim, umachatim es harabim.

    Reform and Conservative congregation members, however, generally are considered TSh”N, because they do not have a clue. They are the most interested in kiruv to the tru derech.

    I don’t know what the status of OO congregation members are. If they are coming from Orthodoxy, they should know better and are not TSh”N – on the other hand, if they’re not clergy, they’re probably not ChUmE”H either and should be subject to our kiruv.

    In any case, OO is following the path of C and R. The latter two started indistinguishable from Orthodoxy with only “minor” changes.

    And so it has been throughout our long history in Galus.

    Hashem Yerachem.

  8. hey give farber a break! we were actually in elementary school together and he has come a long way in his yiddishkiet since then.

    lesson learned: do not judge!

  9. they are worse then the reform as they try to hide behind the mask of being orthodox while in fact they are cheteh es harabbim

  10. @Chosid Read the Bior Halacha in the first siman of SA where he writes that such people are to be hated in the strongest ways! Tochlis Sinah Sunaisi Lioyvim Huyu Li!

  11. Orthodox is a strange word, surely not originating from Sinai. A more correct word that would decribe ‘machane’ is Torah Judaism. Say any interpretation you want,but do not tamper with Torah Judaism.

  12. They are not Tinokos shenishbeu. They are apikorsim making leitzonus out of chazal as they are self conscious of what the goyim think of them.
    We are proud with are authentic, never changing/modernizing yiddishkeit and we will stand stong until Moshiach.

  13. #5 It seems that you are a shvacha chussid. History has shown that those who engaged in reform Judaism never found their way back to Yiddishkeit. The approach by Gedolei Yisroel in the 1800’s was to completely detach ourselves from them. Examples are the AustrittsGemeinde in Germany, and the Teilung in Hungary. These people do not have a status of Tinnok shenishba. They more likely have a status of Choite umachti es harrabim. They are sonei hadas. Although I agree that we daven that they do Teshuva, they are treated differently. These aren’t people who we Banebech, rather they are people who are a great danger to Klal yisroel. And guess what, these people will unfortunately go down the same road as reform and into oblivion rachmana litzlan.

  14. It would be better to discuss these items privately as they name people. Why don’t you consult the halachos of shaming one in public and halachos of lashon hara as well. Your opinion counts just don’t do it publicly unless you have been permission by a leading Rov or Posek.

  15. After Shavous there should be a reputable response to Rabbi Farber’s above-mentioned thoughts and ideas.

    He is not the first individual to express himself in the way that he does.

    However only a reputable well versed talmid chochom can give the needed response.

    It will take a big hishtadlus or perhaps a form of miracle to get us to

    K’Ish Echawd B’Layv Echawd!!!!

  16. To quote the words of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik: The reform movement did not take root and establish change because they (‘The Enlightened Ones’) wished to be more lenient in their observance of yiddishkeit, rather their sole goal from the very begining was ‘To be different from their fathers’.

  17. Why do you feel the need to bring the RCA into this? The RCA has made it clear that YCT is NOT considered a valid semicha, and they were very close to kicking out Avi Weiss also. I don’t know everyone from YCT, so I can’t say for sure, but if there’s even one person from there who is a legitimate Rabbi, with good hashkafos, why shouldn’t the RCA consider him? Individual interviews are not a bad thing. They will be sure that the candidate follows RCA guidelines, which includes no female clergy, no women leading tefillos, etc.

  18. I once davened out of town at a shul that had a YCT graduate for assistant rabbi. He gave a brief halacha shiur on an uncomplicated topic between mincha and maariv. It was embarassing; I had to help him out when he became lost and confused. He’s now head rabbi of that shul.

    After that, I spoke to a serious, choshuv yid who has inside information on YCT. This person claims that YCT was founded with an agenda, and in its early years, Avi Weiss was actively involved in enrollment and other decisionmaking to promote this agenda. However, for the last five years or so, such functions have been wrested from him, the student body is no longer so “open,” and the leadership is guiding the hashkafa more towards its RIETS roots.

  19. This is the first I’ve heard of “Open Orthodoxy”. Why don’t they just call themselves Conservative or Reform? Really, what is the difference?

  20. to #5
    By all means daven that they do Teshuvah.
    I would be curious as to most YCT “rabbi”s’ backgrounds and whether or not they are remotely tinokos shenishbau, but even according to you, would you elect to have a tinok shenishba lead a congregation and set policies in such major areas of halacha such as geirus, etc?

  21. I find it sad that such a hateful article is written right before Shavuos where we come together as a nation in achdus in Torah. Surely this article could have waited till after Shavuos. It only succeeds in bringing out sina and loshon hara as we see in the above comments. Shame on you yated and matzav.

  22. to #20:

    Speaking out against those who publicly advocate beliefs and practices which are against the Torah is neither Loshon Hora nor Motzee Shem Rah nor shaming in public. What this person wrote is mainstream and public.

    Comparing a Shul (which, in our times, takes the place of the Bais HaMikdash; where people learn Torah & Daven; & where Hashem’s presence is manifest, because a Shul is a holy place and a Makom Torah) to a Flintstones Lodge of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, L’Havdil, is disgusting.

    The other statements he wrote against the Misora of Chazal are also disgusting.

  23. I am glad the readers/poskim of Matzav are so impressed that they are ready to declare that these people are accomplished enough in their learning to actually be considered machte es harabim.

    Do you know anything about their backgrounds? Anything at all? The accusations are serious. The fact that so many are willing to declare them chutz lmachane so quickly is troubling. Leave serious matter to actual rabbonim.

    Just to clarify – their hanhagos and haskhofas are absolutely treif. I am referring to the people themselves.

  24. “Rabbi Farber is generally considered to be YCT’s most scholarly graduate, having been ordained by YCT with Yadin Yadin semichah after training with a well-known dayan of the Beth Din of America.”
    A “Well known dayan from the Beth Din of Americha…”

  25. Truly r’l. This version of ‘orthodoxy’ is even more dangerous than reform judaism. Reform are open about their having distanced themselves of true “Torah Judaism”, but this group has the chutzpah of calling themselves ‘orthodox’, a new version of it. There is only one version of Torah and that is Torah m’Sinai. This group should be greatly admonished and even a cherem put on them, as they dare to ‘reform’ Torah. There is no such thing; as Torah is Divine. Every person can go in the way he/she personally chooses and will eventually appear before the Judge of judges, and as we are all human – we sin and err, but to dare ‘change’ the Torah to their personal convenience is something so outrageous, beyond chutzpah. They are chotim u’machtim! Much wickedness is going on in the world today before Moshiach’s imminent arrival. There is an infiltration of the erev rav souls within the rabbinic and religious world too and believe they are working to undo Torah itself. We must be vigilant!

  26. A Tinok Shenishba knows nothing about Judaism.

    These “Open” Orthodox “Rabbis” are not Tinok Shenishba.

    They are learning Torah and the Misora of Chazal and then twisting them into their own “version” of what they call “Judaism.”

  27. #29

    “where we come together as a nation in Achdus in Torah.”

    Hashem-fearing and Torah-observant Jews are not together in Achdus with those who deliberately “twist” the Torah and who are Chotay U’Machtee Es HaRabim.

    “It only succeeds in bringing out sina and loshon hara.”

    There is no Sinah or Loshon Hora here.

    Speaking out against those who publicly advocate beliefs and practices which are against the Torah is neither Loshon Hora nor Motzee Shem Rah nor shaming in public. What this person wrote is mainstream and public.