The “Shul” I Won’t Attend

31

By Rabbi Dov Fischer

Have you ever attended a movie or other form of entertainment and realized, within moments, that — uh-oh — you are in for a long wasted evening?  And did you then regret not first having read the reviews or at least having asked a friend whether the performance would merit the time invested?

So let’s talk shuls.

No point in repeating the worn-out joke about the isolated Jew on the deserted island who builds the two shuls (one to pray in and one he can refuse to set foot in…).  Instead, let’s “cut to the chase”:

When you see the mark of the “Orthodox Union” on food, you can be certain that it is kosher.  It is the mark of excellence, the most respected and trusted symbol in the world when it comes to the kosher assuredness of food.  However — WARNING! — when a synagogue in the United States happens to bear the mark of the “OU” be aware that it very possibly may not fit a proper kosher standard.  That’s right: The Orthodox Union name — when it comes to synagogues — is no guarantee that you are walking into a shul that fits the Orthodox standards that you would take for granted.

This information is surprising but, even more, it is perplexing and upsetting, especially for huge demographic communities of “Modern Orthodox” and “Centrist Orthodox” Jews in the United States.  Imagine: Orthodox Union congregations that are not Orthodox.

Several outlier Orthodox Union congregations — really, the word “shul” does not fit these congregations despite their “OU” moniker and affiliation, so it is better to call them “congregations” — publicly defy the halakhic positions published by the Rabbinical Council of America, the National Council of Young Israel, and even the Orthodox Union itself (!). As one example, those outliers have women rabbis.  In doing so, they easily and quickly signal to the larger community their defiance of the stated position of the Poskim (the halakhic authorities) who have weighed in on the subject, and they similarly thereby signal their rejection of classic Orthodox Mesorah (the essential aspect of Orthodox Judaism that centralizes the importance of adhering to established rabbinic authority).

Obviously, women have much to offer the Orthodox world.  For goodness sakes, women comprise more than half the Orthodox world.  And Orthodox Judaism, unlike Reform, gives women the single greatest power in all of Judaism: the power to confer the Judaic religion on a person.  Whereas Reform has seized the woman’s power, allowing the Jewish father to marry a non-Jewish woman and still to have the Reform rabbi call their children “Jewish,” and “bar mitzvah” them, Orthodox Judaism — and all those male rabbis of Orthodox Judaism — stands firmly behind the halakhic roots of Torah, Mishnah, and Gemara that define a person’s religion by the mother.  If the mother is Jewish, so is the child.  That is an example of the woman’s authority and power in Torah Judaism. Period.  End of story.

But we all have roles in Judaism.  I am the rabbi of my shul, but I cannot bless my congregation with the holy blessing that the Torah tells us was spoken by G-d.  Only the Kohen (patrilineal descendants of Aaron the Kohen) have that authority.  Judaism assigns certain mitzvot (commandments) to men, others to women.   Meanwhile, the Kohen is forbidden from marrying a divorcee.  So, a Kohen who suddenly finds himself single in his 40s or 50s or 60s — whether because of divorce or having been widowed or never having married — finds himself severely limited in finding a potential life partner.  That is Judaism, where certain roles are assigned, sometimes by dint of birth.

A small sect called “Open Orthodoxy” now exists in America, stemming from the teachings of a small group of radical left theologians.  Their theology is found in their own separatist rabbinic body, the IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship), a body that now includes women rabbis.  They ordain their male rabbis at YCT (“Chovevei Torah”), and they ordain their female rabbis at “Yeshiva Maharat.”  Their theology extends beyond the public defiance of Orthodox community norms and standards of halakhic practice.  It extends even beyond theology to politics.

There are “Open Orthodox” rabbis who publish on the internet that Israel is the “occupier” and the Arabs are the “occupied.” When President Obama had his United Nations ambassador abstain in the Security Council rather than veto that horrible resolution at the end of his second term in December 2016, the resolution attacking not only Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria but even denying the special place of Jerusalem in Jewish history and identity, the “Open Orthodox” did not join the truly Orthodox organizations of America in condemning the Obama Administration.  Instead, they remained silent or waffled because they refused to speak out against Obama.

Obama invited one of them to lead a Hannukah program at the White House, and that “Open Orthodox” rabbi used the opportunity to lead the Obamas in singing a church ditty.  (See the link at 8:52)  Another “Open Orthodox” rabbi made a point of bringing his foster child to Santa Claus, and he posted a picture of himself sitting on Santa Claus’s lap, smiling as broadly as any child ever has done when getting to sit on Santa’s lap.  Many of us now call this “Open Orthodox” rabbi “Der Sentaklauser Rebbe.”

“Open Orthodox” rabbis have published attacks on mainstream Orthodox institutions and values in the New York Times, in the Washington PostWall Street Journal, in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), and in Newsweek.  Among them, some have publicly attacked in non-Jewish media the shechita system in the United States, giving anti-Semites ammunition.  Another published a tortuous opinion that denies the requirement for an eruv that permits Jews to carry outdoors on Shabbat — a perfect ruling for anti-Semitic townships and villages who oppose permitting construction of such necessities for the Orthodox community.

One of the “Open Orthodox” rabbis at an Orthodox Union congregation walked his congregation to a “toevah bar” immediately as the holiday of Shavuot ended.  There had been a tragic attack in Florida at a toevah bar, a vicious homophobic hate crime resulting in many horrible deaths, so his response was to bring the congregation to go and visit inside a toevah bar.  And, yes, his Orthodox Union congregation also has a full-time woman rabbi on staff.

Several of the “Open Orthodox” rabbis are married to women who publicly have told interviewers for published stories that they either are atheists who do not believe in G-d altogether or are ordained as cantors or as rabbis in the non-Orthodox Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist “denominations.”  And there are “Open Orthodox” congregations which celebrate “Toevah Marriages,” whether with published announcements of “Mazal Tov” or with announcements at kiddush collations after services.  In one particularly egregious case, an “Open Orthodox” rabbi even published in a major American Jewish weekly his endorsement of intermarriages with non-Jews, citing irresponsbily to the Torah’s statement at the time that G-d created Eve as a spouse for Adam that “it is not good for a man to live alone.”  And the only person whom “Open Orthodoxy” ever ordained to be a Dayan (a rabbinic judge) has published often that he does not believe that Abraham ever existed and questions the truth of wide swaths of Torah narrative.

Another “Open Orthodox” rabbi heading an Orthodox Union congregation published his position that Israel should be willing to negotiate to divide Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement.  The same rabbi, truly a sweet guy as a person, published a widely condemned article demanding that parts of the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) be edited and that terminology stemming from the sages of the Talmud be excised from daily morning prayer because he finds it sexist.  His article was so vitriolic in tone, and disrespectful to the Sages of the Talmud, that he ultimately found himself forced to take down his own article.

Yet another “Open Orthodox” rabbi achieved national news coverage when he announced that he had composed a prayer for reciting every Shabbat, praying for President Trump to fail.  The story was picked up not only by general newspapers in America, but was featured in Nazi publications as proof that Jews are not loyal to the country.  A fitting sidebar to his articles attacking the cruelty of Jewish slaughter as practiced in many kosher slaughterhouses in America.

For these and related reasons, a great many mainstream normative Orthodox rabbis and congregations in the United States, myself included, here in America now reject many, if not most, conversions done by “Open Orthodox” rabbis.  When we meet individuals who present themselves as having been “converted” by any of a large number of them, we do not call such people to the Torah, do not invite them to open the ark, and we may not drink wine from an open bottle that such “converts” have touched unless the wine is labeled “mevushal” (a processing that permits drinking wine with non-Jews).  Thus, prospective converts should be warned, too: If the “conversion” is done by an “Open Orthodox” rabbi, be prepared to find that a great many mainstream, normative Centrist Orthodox and Modern Orthodox rabbis will not accept the conversion, will not conduct a marriage later for such a person if he or she wants to marry a Jew, and will not regard the child of a woman” converted” by one of them as Jewish.

Even as the “Open Orthodox” attack the Israel Chief Rabbinate — writing their attacks in the New York Times and elsewhere in America, demanding that Reform “conversions” be treated woith parity to halakhically proper conversions — we actually cannot accept most “Open Orthodox” conversions as kosher.  We treat them with the parity that they deserve alongside Reform “conversions.”  It is not about politics but about Judaism and Torah theology.  We deeply suspect “Open Orthodox” standards because, sadly, we know too many of them whose standards we absolutely reject — inasmuch as they have rejected the standards of Torah and mesorah.  And the fact that such a rabbi practices alongside a woman rabbi at an Orthodox Union congregation changes none of that.

So, when you buy Heinz baked beans and see that “OU” sign of kosher, trust it completely.  But, alas, do not assume that an “Orthodox Union” congregation is a shul you can trust or that its rabbi meets the Orthodox standard you would exepect.  Most are of the highest standard, but too many are full of beans.

The writer is adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, congregational rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served for most of the past decade on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He writes regularly for The American Spectator, and his writings have appeared in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, and Israel National News. Other writings are collected atwww.rabbidov.com 

This is article first appeared at Israel National News and is published on Matzav.com with the author’s permission.

31 COMMENTS

  1. They definitely shouldn’t be called Orthodox. It can mislead people who don’t know better. They are just as bad as reform. Maybe they should call themselves Neo-Reform.

  2. זה מחייב את כולנו לחזור להקב”ה, די למחלקות די לשנאת חינם, צריך לחזור בתשובה שלמה, ולומר לכולם האמת, שיש גזירת גיוס השמד והזימה בפועל ממש. צריך לזכור כל הזמן שיש גזירת גיוס בנים-ובנות, ויש גזירת חינוך. השלטון רוצה לחלן אותנו

  3. Thank you, Rabbi Fischer, for an excellent essay.

    OU Kashrus, however, is not perfect. They certify many “non-dairy” coffee creamers. The fictional “non-dairy” on the containers is in big bold letters, while the truth is in fine print: the ingredient sodium caseinate (a milk derivative) and the OU-D seal.

  4. The truth is that we also changed many things. The Torah is extremely Makpid that Yivum should be done when the Niftar left no off-springs, Eir V’onon were punished by death for not complying. To try to get away with Chalitza is something that the Torah detests and hates, he deserves to be spit on. But yet we only do Chalitza.
    Ribus is something that the Torah really hates, but yet we do it via an invention called Heter Iska? Come on. How about the Prizbul? We no longer divorce a wife after 10 years of not having children.

    • chalitza is part of the Torah
      a heter iska makes it not ribis
      pruzbul changes the debt so according to the Torah its mutar to collect
      nowhere in the Torah does it say you have to divorce a wife after 10 years of not having children

      • Chalitza is in the Torah, but as a shameful and ugly thing to do. Regarding Pruzbel and Heter Iska, the open Orthos also have there tactics how to make things Muter.
        The 10 years is a Halacha in Chazal.
        Which is worse, to Daven after Sof Zman Tefilah or have Woman say a Drosha?

        • Halacha in Chazal says do chalitza
          Halacha in Chazal says Heter Iska is okay
          Halacha in Chazal says write a pruzbul
          what open orthodox is doing is not comparable to Halacha in Chazal as its against Halacha in Chazal and more like reform
          on the last point one has nothing to do with the other

          • But aren’t we supposed to follow the ways of Chazal, and make changes when needed? We also no longer force a divorce when a woman is Royeh Dam Machmas Tashmush.

    • Did you ever learn Yevamos There is a shitah in the gemarah that Chalitzah is preferable to yibum as well as shitos that hold that if you do not have the proper kavanah you are being over an isser of aishes ach.

    • Yoch,etc.,
      So Cancel Prizbul,Chalitza,Heter Iska then

      Firstly ,Chazal had a Right to innovate Within BOUNDS
      And That ceased eons ago.

      Second,Would they ever have challenged Justice Of the Creator
      And use that as the “premise” to Innovate
      Which is the primary basis for Open Non Orthodox and their ilk ??

  5. Very sad but important article. The OU must act immediately to fully detach themselves from this group. It is an obligation no less important than making sure milk is separate from meat. Having this group as part of the OU is making a mockery of the OU and all the great work it has done for Klal Yisroel.

    I urge all Rabbonim, lay leaders and concerned Jews everywhere to contact the OU and demand complete detachment from this group. Please contact the OU today 212-563-4000.

    Here is a list of leadership of the OU whom should be contacted:
    President
    Mark Bane

    Chairman, Board of Directors
    Howard Tzvi Friedman

    Vice Chairman, Board of Directors
    Mordecai D. Katz

    Chairman, Board of Governors
    Henry I. Rothman

    Vice Chairman, Board of Governors
    Gerald Schreck

  6. The difference between eating from the OU and going to an OU Shul is very simple. Davening in a Shul has to do with Social feelings. A person needs to feel comfortable with his surroundings. The same way I would not feel comfortable davening in Satmar, I would not feel comfortable davening in a Shul that is run by the OU. It has nothing to do with one being better than the other and it has all to do with where one feels comfortable in terms of the nussach hatfilah, the people that go there and the overall atmosphere

    • I agree. O u cookies look alike. Shul are different and reflect different peoples. U don’t like then go somewhere else. Please don’t push your crazy frumkeits on us

  7. Yes, Dov Linzer (“Rosh Yeshiva” at YCT), We always knew you were right when you told us back in Yeshivas X that “you have no common sense” (your words) but isn’t all this off the chart ??? We warned you then not to go to Gush Etzion and that you would stray….but you knew better.

    Your old friends from 68 Rechov Tzphania (our dira)

  8. In kashrus the consumer should (must) ask questions!!!!!! Don’t just look for symbol and pat your belly and start fressing! If you really care about what goes in to your mouth then start speaking to your rov and ask him what should you know before eating anything.
    At the end of the day its not the OU or any other kashrus certifier that you should be relying on . Its you yourself!! The more the consumer asks the BETTER the the certification will be.
    The OU has many good people in the field and so do some of the other organazations.
    In fact the “standard” is much much better today then just a few years ago and THE REASON FOR THAT IS BECAUSR THE CONSUMER HAS PUT PRESSURE!
    If a consumer calls and asks questions then most of the time (if not always ) you will be able to tell if the “mashgiach” knows what’s going on.
    I’m not talking about the OU specifically . Its any hashgacha INCLUDING THE SO CALLED HEIMISHE OF WHICH MANY OF THEM ARE NOT ONLY DOING NOTHING BUT THRY EVEN ARE WORSE

  9. When will stop your obsession with open orthodoxy? They are a fringe group and will go the way of the Edsel on their own. Judaism can use more positive things. Not endless bashing and heresy hunting.

    • If they will stop deceiving the public by calling themselves Orthodox than the endless bashing will stop just like there is no endless bashing of the Reform and Conservative.

  10. I have a hard enough time trying to understand true yiddishkeit and do it to the best of my abilities. Please don’t overwhelm us with the watered down version.

  11. Rabbi Dov-

    I think, as a Young Isarel rabbi, you also need to look in the mirror. There are Young Israel rabbis that have accepted assistant rabbis from YCT. And those that perform double-ring chasunahs where after the chossen says “Harei At” the Kallah then gives him a ring and says “Harei Ata”. While the OU has had an issue lately, and, behind closed doors, they are dealing with it, so does the National Council of Young Israel.

  12. The open orthodox are worse than reform. I saw a non kosher Restaurant in manhattan displaying a kashrut certificate on its front window. I took a closer look and it was a certificate by the open orthodox gang on how well this non kosher establishment treats its workers. Israeli jews who may not be familiar can end up eating in these treif places thinking the place has a kosher certificate. You might as well give such a kosher certificate on all tattoo shops and pork stores. Where is the outcry.

  13. Here’s the orthodox shul I won’t attend- who just sent its congregants/posted this message:

    Congregation Aitz Chaim is sorry to inform you that the Shul bathrooms are broken and that the shul is supplying porto-potties outside for your use. (Absolutely no comments are to be written here!!)

  14. The victims of the heretical open orthodox kabal are the out of town shuls. They look for rabbis and don’t realize they are getting fake candidates. Imagine a health clinic brings in doctors who are not truly certified. Everyone has read of such phoney doctors. They even do surgical procedures and years later you find out how they botched up people’s health and well being. The same is with these make believe open orthodox rabbits. They mislead innocent Jews and brainwash them into believing that it’s ok to allow Toeiva marriages and women rabbis. They are extreme left wing and are enemies of the jewish people. They are dressed in sheepskin but are wolves trying to undermine authentic yiddishkeit. We must expose them. Where are the askonim to speak to the Gedolei rabbonim to once again declare them part of the heretical side like reform and Jews for Yoshka.

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