They Keep Chipping Away


tefillinBy I. Schwartz

What will be Orthodox in the Open Orthodox version of Judaism once that movement is done with its changes? A scary thought, indeed.

The past few weeks have seen rabbis affiliated with the Open Orthodox movement permit high school girls to wear tefillin and attack a ruling that prohibited prayer groups led in part by women, called “partnership minyanim.”

Let us examine these startling events.

The heads of two co-ed Modern Orthodox high schools in New York City announced within days of each other that they would permit their female students – any student in the case of one school, and a few students in the case of another school – to wear tefillin at morning davening.

The principals of these schools ruled against the Rama‘s p’sak that women do not wear tefillin (as women are not obligated, and in the case of tefillin, a person who is not obligated should not wear them). These principals based their decisions upon the existence of other ancient halachic opinions that permit women to wear tefillin – even though those opinions are not the accepted halacha – and they offered rationalizations and explanations as to why women wearing tefillin should be permitted under the circumstances.

(One of these principals invented his own heter, not found in any mekoros, that since even the men in his shul are distracted with iPhones and newspapers while they have their tefillin on for Shacharis, we see that we are no longer makpid that a person maintain pristine thoughts when wearing tefillin. Therefore, women should also be able to wear tefillin. To create such a heter for this based upon people’s misconduct, without any source, is mind-boggling.)

Now, it just so happens that the principals involved here have maintained ties with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), the Open Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss. One of these principals sits on the YCT Dinner Committee and has several times allied with YCT and its rabbis. This same principal defended Avi Weiss from criticism during the recent Rabbanut-Weiss tension. The other principal and his school have previously collaborated with YCT on lecture programs.

Last week, the RCA published a set of materials that forbid partnership minyanim. These materials included piskei halacha from Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz, plus a very lengthy research article in English that shows that partnership minyanim violate halacha.

The p’sak halacha of Rabbi Schachter was challenged by Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, head of the YCT Talmud department. Katz, who identifies as having learned at leading yeshivos and receiving semichah from a leading chassidishe posek, questions and attacks Rabbi Schachter’s points with pettiness, seeming to not realize the weight and depth of the issues. He does not bring a single halachic argument, does not even go after the main point of the teshuvah (and says that he has not concluded in his mind his own opinion about partnership minyanim), and treats Rabbi Schachter like a chavrusah, even though there is no comparison between the two of them.

Katz hammered away at Rabbi Schachter’s position that only rabbis who have reached a level of total, all-encompassing command of halacha can pasken. Katz, using sources that do not speak to this issue, tried to show that p’sak should not be limited to the select few, and seemingly tried to argue that every rabbi should pasken.

Katz’s position was actually a defense of the Open Orthodox rabbinate. Open Orthodox Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel have for years been criticizing the Rabbanut and the RCA for having standardized geirus procedures, with Weiss and Angel arguing that this detracts from the authority of the “local rabbi” to determine geirus standards as he sees fit. (Angel argues, against the Rabbanut, RCA and the greatest poskim of generations, that geirus should not require kabbolas ohl mitzvos, and the geirus standards of Angel’s and Weiss’ International Rabbinic Fellowship organization also fall below those that these rabbis protest.)

For years, the Orthodox establishment pretty much ignored the outrages of Avi Weiss and Open Orthodoxy. Fear of making Weiss and his colleagues into martyrs, of drawing further attention to them, and of alienating far-left Orthodox affiliation and money were the reasons given for the silence that generally prevailed. After each new infraction by Weiss and his group, there was just silence, a yawn, or a rare wrist slap.

This approach has proven to have failed dismally. Weiss and his group took the silence as acquiescence and continued to push further, until we now stand at a threshold moment of the Israeli chief rabbis being maligned by Weiss and his secular allies in the non-Jewish media, and of threats by Weiss & Co. to take the chief rabbis to court, enable non-halachic geirus in Eretz Yisroel and have non-Orthodox rabbonim in charge there – all threats made by Weiss and his group in recent weeks. We already have Weiss ordaining this year a second class of “Maharat women rabbis,” as more and more of his peers and students come out for to’eivah marriage, partnership minyanim and who knows what else.

Is there a breaking point? What will be the next halacha to be trampled upon by Weiss & Co, or by others in the Left, in whose eyes the compromising of halacha is no longer so terrible thanks to the reforms of Avi Weiss and his group?

Silence by the Orthodox world has not worked. It has backfired. Let’s cease the cowardice and fear of taking a stand and finally stop this hemorrhaging in the name of “Orthodoxy” before we find that Weiss has finally bullied his way to his ultimate goal and destroyed yuchsin, geirus standards and so much more.

This article first appeared in the pages of Yated Ne’eman.

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  1. if what they are doing is wrong, then why don’t the gedolim all sign a proclamation condemning them ? sounds simple enough!

  2. I don’t agree that it’s cowardice or fear. They are Jews, and even though they are wrong and are going after our core beliefs, we should be careful not to look as if we are going after them.

    I don’t think we should make ourselves look petty to the public. There has to be a better way.

    I don’t know what the answer is; but I think if ALL RABBANIM were to take a verbal stand against OO and Avi Weiss, I think that would ring very loud – his group isn’t that big.

    Again, I don’t know. Good article though.

  3. Why do people call avi weiss and his partners in crime ‘rabbi’? Acher who became the avi weiss of his time was not known as ‘rav’ acher even though he admitted his non-believer status and simply couldn’t help himself. These smarmy chotim and machtiim certainly don’t deserve a modicum of respect.

  4. I have stated long ago – that as the Conservative movement moved left and the Reform movement moved to the right they would practically form one movement . However, as the Orthodox movement moved to the right , the grey area between Traditional Conservative and Modern orthodoxy formed a vacuum. I long predicted that a “NEW”Conservative Movement would be created to fill this vacuum. I think my prediction is coming to fruition.

  5. Also, perhaps the “orthodox” world has been silent. However, the Torah world has not. My macha is to continue learning and trying to raise my level of kedusha, not to incessantly write articles on Matzav.

  6. putting down certain groups acknowledges that they are worthy of a response. weiss and co. are not serious rabbanim in any way shape or form. any mesivta bochur who has learned a little gemara, rashi, and mishna berura could make mincemeat out of these reshaim. those that recognize them are people who before the psak wanted that that should be the halacha. we, b”h in the “orthodox” community do not have this issue to begin with.

  7. CBC, you say he’s never going to touch the Olam HaTorah. But OO graduates are being accepted as rabbis and teachers in schools that we may not send our kids to, but schools that purport to offer an authentic Orthodox education. I’m afraid many of the parents are clueless.