Rav Schachter: What is Orthodox?


rav-hershel-schachter[Audio below.] The following is an enlightening and informative shiur delivered by Rav Hershel Schechter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon in New York City, delivered this past week on the topic of “What is Orthodox?”

Rav Schechter discusses what Orthodox means and what the job and responsibilities of a rov are.

Rav Schachter also makes mention of specific groups, including the Agudah, Mizrachi, and others.

The Neturei Karta, for example, said Rav Schachter, used to have Torah leaders in past decades, but now certainly has “no rabbinic approval.” Rav Schechter also strongly criticizes the Moshiach antics found in the Lubavitch community, calling these behaviors “not Orthodox.”

Rav Schachter defined Orthodox to mean one who ascribes to Torah Sheba’al Peh and consults and listens to qualified talmidei chachomim.

Regarding those involved in conduct like ordaining female rabbis and having women lead Kabbolas Shabbos, he compared it to the beginnings of the Reform movement, which began engaging in behavior which one could technically try to justify by looking in Shulchan Aruch but which was against the gedolim of that generation, and we see what the result was.

Rav Schachter also spoke about what Torah Umada and Centrist Orthodoxy mean and what they do not mean.

Click below to listen:

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{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter/Audio courtesy of TorahWeb.org}


  1. “Orthodox” id a Posul term, as I heard from Rav Gifter many timrs, and this audio Shiur supports that nothion…

    I thaught it’s ironic to conciders Dr. Lamm is an authority on “orthodoxy”, but then I remembered what I heard from Rav Gifter…

  2. The title of his lecture should have been “What is Jewish?” Period.

    It’s time to have the guts to say it as it is and not be afraid to lose some ‘Jewish Federation’ money because some Reform or Conservative leader gets offended.

  3. Why do you always need to take a swipe at Avi Weiss? Do you think it gains you favor in the eyes of G-d? Because at the end isn’t that what it’s all about?

  4. Any reason the article doesn’t mention that Rav Schachter shlita is the Rosh Yeshiva of YU (Yeshiva University)?

  5. To MDshweks:
    orthodox is a term used by talmidei Chasam Sofer z”l to describe their kehilos and takonos in Hungary. Also, the original name of the Agudas Harabonim in the USA was Agudas Harabonim Ho-Orthodoxim.

  6. To YU Bochur, the article mentions YU’s official name in lashon-hakodesh.

    Overall I enjoyed this very much and it should serve as a stern warning to those movements today also acting in the name of Orthodoxy and halacha but without support of gedolim.

    However, one thing that bothered me is several times Rav Shechter linked the Satmar Rav to the old Neturei Karta. It’s perhaps a common perception but false nonetheless. The old Neturei Karta was headed by Rav Amram Blau and other Yerushalmi Litvaks. People assume because of Neturei Karta’s anti-tziyoni zealotry it must be Satmar affiliated, but that’s not the case, especially today. A Satmar friend told me neither Satmar Rebbe approves of current Neturei Karta members marching with the Arabs!

  7. #7:
    The original Neturei Karta most definitely did. The Neturei Karta of today basically hijacked the name and they have absolutely no rabbinic approval except perhaps their own. The Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim doesn’t support it, either.

  8. # 6, Reb Amrom Blau z”l was not a Litvak.
    His family was originally from Budapest, Hungary. True, the majority of Neturei Karta are Livaks but not our Reb Amrom.

  9. With due respect to Rav Schechter, who my rebbe, Rav Mordechai Gifter held in high esteem. (He encouraged two of his talmidim to spend the Summer Bein Hazmanim studying together with Rav Schecther in the Catskill Mountains).

    Rav Gifter would say that the word Orthodoxy is a Greek term, that means “to the extreme right.” He opposed such classifications. One was either a Torah Jew or a non-Torah Jew. There is no in between. He would say, I am not an Orthodox Jew, I am a Torah Jew, and one who identifies himself as an Orthodox Jew is identifying himself with the Greek philosophy represented by the origins of the word.

    He was puzzled by the term Centrist Orthodoxy. That is until he received in the mail an alumni bulletin from his Alma Mater. In it was a picture of Dr. Lamm sitting between two females. Ahhhh, the Rosh Yeshiva said, that’s what Centrist Orthodoxy is, a woman to the right and a woman to left and he’s sitting in the center.”

    The movement created by Dr. Lamm was formed in order to depart from the what is in his eyes the extreme right, and not be affiliated or be bunched together with them. He made dangerous overtures to the Reform and Conservative going so far as to call them “valid”. This is not the responsible rabbinical leadership that Rav Schechter is referring to that one is entitled to follow. The dangers of this are obvious and we see the destruction caused by such a movement unfolding before our very eyes.

    And as my rebbe Rav Chaim Dov Keller said. If the Agudah, Chassidim and the like are the right, and Dr. Lamm and his movement is the middle, then who is the left? There is no left!

  10. Yeshiva Bochur [5]’
    Yes I know. and Rav Gifter was well aware of that… But it’s a term that was coined for lack of a better term to explain to gentiles what we’re all about, in their terms. That was Rav Gifter’s problem. It’s not a term that should be used for us internally.

    Come on, you see it in front of your eyes…


  12. In the midst of his “enlightening and informative shiur”, Rabbi Schachter tells a story related to him by a former guest speaker at an L.A. Agudah Convention, who intimated that the Agudah leader(s) formed their own policy and only consulted with their rabbinic leaders “once a year”. As one who worked for 26 years at Agudath Israel of America, I state unequivocally that the remarks of that speaker are totatally devoid of truth. It’s true that “important” issues such as whether an Agudah Convention should be in the Rye Town Hilton or the Parsippany HIlton…or whether membership dues should be $36 or $54, were not brought to the Nesius or the Moetzes; but every question of Halacha or Hashkafa, was! And those Nesius and Moetzes meetings took place on a regular basis, not “once a year”. It’s true that the Gedolim valued Rabbi Sherer’s opinion highly, and wanted to hear his views on various issues. But on more than one occasion they decided against his initial thinking, which he accepted with Simcha as he did a 180 degree reverse to follow their directives.
    I still feel the awe when those meetings took place; I still feel Rav Shneur Kotler zt”l holding on to my arm as he struggled to walk into the elevator at 5 Beekman Street, mere days before his Petirah.
    I remember how the secretaries at 84 William Street lined up on the side of the hallway to get a glimpse of the Gedloim by these meetings and hope to receive a Beracha from them.
    And today, at 42 Broadway, the same Hachna’ah to the Gedolim applies, as every Sheiloh of Halacha or Hashkafa is decided by the Nesius or the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.
    I could go on and on, but I’ll end by relating a personal story. When the Agudah moved to 84 William Street, Rabbi Sherer asked me to make sure that large murals of Rav Aharon Kotler, the Boyaner Rebbe, and the Kopishnitzer Rebbe be in open view for him to see. When I asked him why, he told me that, in his early Agudah days, a day did not go by without him consulting with at least one of those Gedolim, sometimes all, and sometimes more than once a day.
    Agudah Hashkafa was, is , and always will be, based on our Gedolei Torah.

  13. to #11, correct R’ Blau was not a litvak. When I wrote “other Yerushalmi litvaks”, I meant other in the sense of other yerushalmis. Shoulda been more clear.

    But the point remains, Satmar is in no way affiliated with Neturei Karta, even the old NK which had great Torah leaders in its midst, many of whom were litvaks.

  14. This was GREAT!! What a Rosh Chodesh treat!!

    I think MATZAV should keep this shiur pinned at the top of the page so everyone can listen to this shiur and enhance their Rosh Chodesh spirit!!

  15. to # 14:
    You only answered the Hungarian part of mt message. How about the Agudas Harabonim? By the way OU stands for Union of Orthodox.
    Are you trying to differetiate between cheftza and gavra? In hungary it was both, cheftza, the takonos and gavra, the rabonim.

  16. Thank you to Rav Shechter. A tremendous talmid chacham (one of a kind in our generation) and keen to the problems of the day and as many said a tremndous anav.

    Lubavitch should heed his words and understand that without talmidey chachamim (who really know how to learn) they cannot move up. They are as tremendous positive asset to yidden but without talmidey chachomim there is no chain to continue the massora without changing yiddishkeyt or creating new ideas that were unheard of in our history.

  17. “the same Hachna’ah to the Gedolim applies, as every Sheiloh of Halacha or Hashkafa is decided by the Nesius or the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah”.

    Thank you, Rabbi Golding for your accurate assessment of decision making at the Agudah. Would like to add another insider view, the decisions are decided by MAJORITY OPINION even when the opinion is 4-3. There are times that the 3 Gedolim’s dass holds much water, and can be relied upon ALSO.

  18. To # 24 Rabbi Golding.

    Rabbi Sherrer of blessed memory has been deceased for over ten years now, same goes for the gedolim that you mentioned.

    Does the current Agudah follow the same module of operation?

    What are some of the most recent issues regarding hallacha and hashkafah that the gedolim were consulted on? And what was their outcome?

    Please share!

  19. Rabbi Schechter is a great Talmid chacham

    It is hard to believe that story about the Satmar Rebbe agreeing that Israelis should vote

  20. to #32: I have a very close association to one of the gedolim who has been on the Moetzes since the days that Rabbi Sherer was still there. I can tell you, that although this man lives a plane ride from NYC and the national Aguda office, and he is no longer a young man, he still travels to Moetzes meetings at least 4 times a year. Plus he consults on the phone with them regularly.
    You want to know what they discuss? The Moetzes does not publicize the minutes of their meetings in general. They guide the organization, and the organization itself publicizes what it feels is necessary. If the gedolim on the Moetzes were unhappy with that, they are not shy people. You would see them disassociating themselves with the organization.
    This actually happened with another similar organization a few years back. One of the great Roshei Yeshiva at the time took a public stance against some of the things happening there. He announced his disapproval of their actions AT THEIR NATIONAL CONVENTION!! It caused quite a stir at the time. BH, it was worked out. But you can rest assured, that if the organization is going against the roshei yeshiva, we’d know about it.

  21. Your talking about R Svei at Torah Umesorah convention.

    I wasnt asking for minutes, just for some recent resolutions of the gedolim.

  22. I fail to see any type of definition for what constitutes a “qualified talmid chochom”.

    If the gedolei rabbonim among the Modern Orthodox are qualified, due to their mastery of halacha and depth and expertise in all areas of the Torah, then there are those among the Neturei Karta who qualify as well. And yes, there are those among them whose knowledge and dikduk bihalacha is at least on the level of many of the modern orthodox rabbinate.

    The same holds true for Lubavitch. There are Lubavitcher chassidim that are bekiim in both Shulchan Aruch and in nistar who espouse the views objected to by Rav Schechter.

    So, what then is the measuring stick, whether one is legitimate or not?

    And all Orthodox groups have a claim to Mesorah, so that is not a manner of defining or clarifying. The Neturei Karta claim that they ARE carrying out the Satmar Rebbe’s legacy. Prove them wrong!

    Te truth is that only the Borek Olam can judge. There are and will be individuals and movements who will be very surprised achar me’ah va’esrim.

    But until then, how is someone able to know for sure?

    It usually ends up being a matter of environment. One who receives A yeshivishe upbringing will put his trust in the yeshivishe gedolim. The “modernishe” are considered off the track. The same holds true for the Modern Orthodox world. Only their gedolim possess the clarity of how to be a Torah Jew in the modern world… and the chassidishe …

    Our only hope is to follow real LIVE Gedolei Torah, who are not merely “qualified talmidei chachamim.”

    Being a talmid chochom does not entitle one to lead, especially in areas of dinim chamuros like dinei nefashos, as the Neturei Karta embroil themselves in, or in redefining yesodos haemuna, as certain sects of Lubavitch involves itself in.