By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
It felt so good to write about different, constructive topics for a while: Chanukah, hashkafah, and a planned article on the Torah’s view of police conduct. It was refreshing. This, plus some new divrei Torah and several halachic articles in other venues, provided a welcome break from previous discussion about concerns within Orthodoxy.
It was thus with shock and regret that I read Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’ new article, Please, God, Help me to understand why we must pray for a third Temple! It is not that I was so shocked by the article’s content, as Rabbi Yanklowitz has already published plenty of material that does not square with Orthodox thought and practice. The shock, rather, was due to the fact that someone who identifies as an Orthodox rabbi and who has exposed himself to harsh criticism for his previous controversial writings would again, without inhibition, publicly pen something so at odds with Torah theology.
The boldness with which Rabbi Yanklowitz posted his latest article, challenging the most basic and fundamental of Torah concepts, is shared by many of his colleagues in the Open Orthodox denomination, who have continued further on a trajectory away from Orthodoxy, working with a whole new set of halachic and hashkafic parameters. How great would it be for the leadership of Open Orthodoxy to revert back to tradition, but I don’t see that happening as things stand currently. Ordaining women rabbis, promoting gay marriage, feminizing tefillah, reforming geirus (conversion), assailing Biblical personalities and finding new faults with them at every opportunity, reinventing Chanukah, and so much more. Will it ever end?
Here is my response to Rabbi Yanklowitz’ new article. Let’s hope that there will eventually no longer be cause for more such responses:
“This is the furthest thing from Orthodox Judaism”; “taking your own values and forcing them onto the Torah”; “Judaism is whatever you feel it should be” – these are among the sentiments that rang ever loudly when reading Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’ new article, Please G-d, Help me to understand why we must pray for a Third Temple!
Those of us who have read other hair-raising posts by Rabbi Yanklowitz, including his denial of the concept of a human Moshiach/Messiah (“We have made too many mistakes throughout history, thinking that the Messiah is a person or event…At the end of the day, I would like to suggest that we are Moshiach-we are the ones we have been waiting for…Moshiach is the name of the value that we can do something that is truly magnificent”), his opposition to the traditional notion of a future Geulah (Redemption), and his claim that Orthodox Judaism mandates the support of gay marriage (please also see here), are not at all surprised by Rabbi Yanklowitz’ new article. In fact, we are convinced that were Rabbi Yanklowitz to take his approach to Judaism to its logical conclusion, he would have to argue against the binding quality of Halacha en toto and against belief in many of the Ikkarei Ha-Emunah (Cardinal Principles of Faith), for these likewise do not conform to contemporary progressive thinking, human logic and notions of egalitarianism, or to the meta-halachic value system against which Rabbi Yanklowitz subjects various central components of Judaism to determine if they should be accepted or rejected.
As I wrote here in a response to Rabbi Yanklowitz about a different matter, Halacha is about submission to the objective command of God, whether or not we view the Divine Mandate as serving our aspirations and whether or not it conforms with our thinking as to what Judaism should be. We cannot impose our own values upon the halachic system, nor can we take what we think are the Torah’s values and then use those values to undermine the Torah. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was very insistent that any novel “Torah” idea that ends up undermining another Torah principle is patently invalid. Rabbi Yanklowitz’ suggestion that we no longer pray for a Third Temple – a suggestion which is contradicted by our Prophets, Rabbinic Tradition and halachically-required liturgy – is thus clearly not acceptable.
What is actually more troubling here is the silence from Rabbi Yanklowitz’ yeshiva, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), in the face of Rabbi Yanklowitz’ many posts that materially contravene Halacha and general Orthodox thought. Not only has YCT not taken Rabbi Yanklowitz to task for his writings, but the heads of YCT sit on the advisory board of Rabbi Yanklowitz’ organization and partner with Rabbi Yanklowitz in many ways. The signals sent by YCT to the Judaism represented by Rabbi Yanklowitz are those of approval or at least acquiescence.
Sadly, YCT’s silence, or silent acceptance, regarding this is similar to its initial prolonged defense of another graduate who espoused very unOrthodox (actually, very, very heretical) views and its recent refusal to speak out about current YCT rabbinical students and staff who are married to non-Orthodox clergy and who deny the Singular Divine and Sinaitic authorship of the Torah. (See here for some details.)
Open Orthodoxy, the denomination started by YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss, would be wise to assess how far it has gone. Ordaining women, feminizing the prayer service and promoting gay marriage have been among Open Orthodoxy’s most notable accomplishments. Recently, the denomination’s rising starts undertook to challenge halachic consensus and restructure conversion law. (Please see here and here for the positions taken by the Open Orthodox rabbis behind these conversion reforms and here and here for my responses. Open Orthodox leadership also recently wrote that the rabbinic sages who instituted the practices and liturgy of Chanukah actually opposed Chanukah; please see here.) This latest endeavor, of young Open Orthodox rabbis sparring with senior, preeminent poskim (halachic decisors) to unilaterally alter conversion law for the Open Orthodox community, is something that should sound the emergency alarms.
It pains me to have to write this. Whereas one would hope and expect Open Orthodoxy to apply its great energy, dynamism and articulation toward bringing others close to authentic Torah, Open Orthodoxy has placed much of its effort toward reforming Halacha and deviating from tradition. This, coupled with a tolerance for abandoning the Cardinal Principles of Faith, cause one to question the Open Orthodox brand name. Yes, it is open to many things, but what makes it Orthodox?