Open Orthodoxy: Torah Law and Torah Values

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By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

Technical compliance, but attitudinal disagreement.

As the Open Orthodox movement further develops its theology, it is increasingly evident that the above is a principal credo. One should comply with the letter of the Law, but one is free to disagree with the attitude of the Law, as well as with the attitude of Chazal and primary rabbinic authorities – the transmitters and teachers of the Law.

This Open Orthodox credo has emerged in various writings cited here over the past few years, and it has taken center stage again in some new Open Orthodox writings, two of which were included in this week’s Cross-Currents Weekly Digest.

One such piece, entitled The Gay Child in My Daughter’s First Grade Class, written by an Open Orthodox leader in Canada, argues that teachers in yeshiva day schools should not teach that boys marry girls and vice versa, as it offends the realities of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The Torah’s moral position on the topic is completely absent from this essay, as if our main concern should be to show respect for homosexuality, quietly realizing at the same time that the Torah just so happens to have some choice words and value points about homosexual unions.

The writer of this essay, as did other, more senior Open Orthodox leaders, linked readers to a video entitled An Orthodox LGBTQ+ Wish List, which she says inspired her. Viewers will note that the video includes aspirations and even demands by homosexuals that their unions be accepted by Orthodoxy. If this does not contradict the Torah, I do not know what does. Yet, Open Orthodoxy extolls it.

Another new Open Orthodox article, Women of the Tent: The Power of Women’s Prayer Spaces, argues with the interpretations of Rishonim (who were actually invoking the words of Chazal) in praising the modesty and halachic meticulousness of righteous women, rather than showcasing these women as center stage personalities:

Rashi comments on the fact that Sarah is nowhere to be found when guests arrive in Genesis 18:2, and explains that Sarah was in her tent because she is modest. Here we see a gendered look at the function of her tent, closed and private, as opposed to Abraham’s which couldn’t be more inviting. Respectively, I think that Rashi’s perspective does not jibe well with the text. When the guests enter Abraham’s tent, they are expecting Sarah. They are confused as to why she isn’t there. They ask for her by name. The lesson to be learned shouldn’t be that Sarah was modest… Another famous story of a woman with a tent is Yael. She famously welcomes Sisera into her tent and puts him into a fairly deep sleep with warm milk. Soon after, she thrusts one of the tent pegs into Sisera’s forehead, killing the leader of the opposition in the battle led by Deborah. While this could serve as an example of a woman who was resourceful and served as a brave and bold soldier, instead, commentaries praise Yael for using a tent peg instead of a sword. They explain that Yael was careful as to not violate the prohibition, “A man’s item shall not be on a woman…” (Deuteronomy 22:5). Here are two biblical examples of women leaders whose strong personalities are subdued by rabbis’ interpretation.

Again, the words and values of Chazal and primary rabbinic authorities are rejected.

Another Open Orthodox leader recently posted about his great discomfort reciting aloud the beracha of She’lo asani isha, which he feels is a terrible offense to women. Unlike some of his Open Orthodox colleagues who omit this beracha, this Open Orthodox scholar, committed to halachic requirements, recites it, but he clearly disagrees with the beracha as he understands it.

This bifurcation of Torah law and Torah values, or Torah morality, is one of the touchstones of Open Orthodoxy. Although it has not yet been fully explored and highlighted, it should be.

Here are some pertinent words from Rav Soloveitchik zt”l about the topic:

One cannot divide the Aseres Ha-Dibros (Ten Commandments) into parts, and separate the social norms from the so-called theological or ritual norms… Either man accepts the authority of God as the legislator of the moral norm, be it individual or social, or he gives up his attempts to mold a moral conscience and to organize a society upon the foundation of a man-made relativistic morality…

Just as one may neither separate the social norm from the theological faith premise… similarly one should not try to accept the theological faith premise without embracing the rest of the Commandments. What Yahadus (Judaism) has proclaimed, by integrating the principle of faith into the system of the moral law, is of a revolutionary character.

In a 1968 address to RIETS Rabbinic Alumni (published here), noting that the Torah records that the Avos (Patriarchs) erected mizbechos (altars) but usually omits mention of sacrifice thereon, the Rav explained:

Apparently, the mizbe’ach of the Avos was not for the purpose of offering a live sacrifice. The mizbe’ach symbolized submission, their own surrender. Because the highest sacrifice is not when you offer an animal. It’s very easy when you offer an animal. The highest sacrifice is when man offers himself.

What do I mean “offers himself”? The Torah hated, condemned, human sacrifices… It’s one of the most reprehensible abominations. Yes, physical human sacrifice was rejected, but spiritual human sacrifice – submission and surrender, acceptance of God’s will, to abide by His will even if His will sometimes runs contrary to our aspirations, His will sometimes makes no sense to us – [that was valued and required]. We can’t understand it, it’s incomprehensible. We are full with questions, we can point out so many contradictions. [But] if we surrender and submit ourselves, actually this is the highest.

And that’s what Avrohom taught himself, and he taught others. This means “vayiven sham mizbe’ach” (“he erected an altar there”) actually. Whom did he sacrifice? His own independence, his own pride, his own comfort, his own desires, his own logic, his own reasons. He believed. If one believes, it is an act of surrender, sacrifice…


Even those who admit the truthfulness of the Torah Shebe’al Peh (the Oral Law) but who are critical of Chachmei Chazal (the Talmudic Sages) as personalities, who find fault with Chachmei Chazal, fault in their character, their behavior, or their conduct, who say that Chachmei Chazal were prejudiced, which actually has no impact upon the Halacha; nevertheless, he is to be considered as a kofer (denier).

Clearly, accepting the Torah’s and Chazal’s values and morality are incumbent. One cannot be Orthodox in deed but reject the values and morality of the Torah and Chazal in attitude. This is at the crux of the Open Orthodox conundrum.

Authentic Judaism is not only an expression of commitment to the letter of the Law, but also to the spirit of the Law, and to the attitudes of the Law’s authorities. The latter two of these critical components have set Open Orthodoxy apart from normative Orthodoxy, as Open Orthodoxy has tried its best to replace many traditional Torah attitudes with contemporary secular values and mores.

(It of course must be noted as well that several Open Orthodox seminary students have forthrightly denied even the first component – fidelity to the letter of the Law – and their ordinations were nonetheless kept on track. One suchordainee wrote a book that rejects the halachic concept of Kiddushin (marriage). And a young man who is scheduled to be ordained soon has written that the prohibition of homosexual relations should be rescinded.)

Authentic Judaism at times boldly confronts and always teaches society. The Torah is not afraid to speak out, even when contemporary
 values, including egalitarianism, do not comport therewith. Judaism
 has always been about going against the grain and taking a stand for the
 Torah’s values in the face of societal opposition. This is the story of
 Avrohom Avinu, and it is the narrative of our people. It is and has always been the
 key and mandate for the survival of our faith and our nation.

This unswerving fidelity to the traditional Word of God and Values of God are in fact expressed by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l in the attached letter about the legacy of Rav Soloveitchik (please scroll down to page 2). The letter expressed Rav Lichtenstein’s opposition on the matter to the positions of Edah, the organization that is roughly considered to be the forerunner to Open Orthodoxy. Please read the letter and share it.

As I have written on many prior occasions, I do not relish the writing of these articles. In fact, I pen these articles with great dislike and severe discomfort, as I am not a confrontational person. I typically do everything possible and then some to avoid conflict, and I would prefer to use my time on almost anything else. Yet, there is a need to speak out when the integrity of Torah is at stake, and there are many who are unaware of the issues and problems.

May there be no need for any more such articles, and may Orthodoxy, in its many beautiful and varied authentic manifestations, be preserved and perpetuated according to the values of our Mesorah.

This article first appeared at Cross Currents and is republished here with permission.



  1. ‘we should show sensitivity to homo…?’ Maybe we should show sensitivity to Adulteres, one who eats trife, pork, mechalelie Shabbos etc etc
    So your saying the riboni shel oilom assured this abomination but one who disregards it you should have compassion on him…

  2. Better to be open o than OTD. People have choices and kiruv is easier when there is some connection and community, besides is Adar.

  3. And this is posted here why?
    Let’s stop writing, quoting, and arguing anything about the New Christians. It doesn’t add anything to your readers, why pollute our minds with their haskalah lomdus. Make them an un-entity, period!

  4. Joe: someone who is a HS isn’t necessarily a sinner. They are given a terrible test in life – they have to live with an urge they are never allowed to fulfill, and will likely remain alone in their lives, never marrying or having children. We must show them kindness and understanding to help keep them on hte proper path. If we reject them, they will almost certainly not even try to live a proper life.

  5. Joseph:
    Not to the behavior, but to those who were given that Nisayon and struggle with it and who live a Torah-true life even through the pain of feeling “different” and alone, yes we should have compassion and sensitivity. I personally know Frum people who grapple with these feelings, who have never acted on them but go through tremendous emotional suffering. I have tremendous respect for them.

    Those who disregard what the Torah says, and act on these feelings and yet call themselves Orthodox, many of them are going through emotional struggle as well. They are aware of the huge contradiction in their life but feel helpless to resolve it in the correct way. And the immorality of today’s street culture seeps in and convinces them that it’s hopeless. We cannot condone their actions, but we can feel compassion for the predicament they find themselves in.

  6. As always as usual Rabbi Gordimer is on target with sound Torah Hashafa and does not mince words or go PC

    How about Agudah asking Rabbi Gordimer to speak at convention keynote address his points and logic are always so thought out and researched no ‘heresays’ or ‘anonymous ‘ in his essays

  7. Rabbi Gordimer, with all respect needs to demonstrate better understanding of the frustration of women in Orthodoxy and why Open Orthodoxy appeals to so many because of that regard. My generation of women are influenced by the feminism of society and the clichéd answers of yesterday about women’s importance in Judaism are just not cutting it anymore. Someone needs to do a better job explaining how traditional Torahdige Orthodox Judaism allows women like myself to express their spirituality when we are not allowed to sing, daven for the amud, etc. without resorting to tired answers we’ve heard – and rejected – already.

  8. Daniel etc. you didn’t address the issue….the riboni shel oilom gave a chiav karus….if you think he was c;v, afre lepima mistaken , you go to Christian , reform etc site

  9. we are dealing with ‘enimrod gibor tzayid’ a movement that revolts against g-d and his torah (I assume you read the heretical hashkafos these clergy, rah-bonin ,what they expouse…on them the torah says ‘lo sachmol v’lo siskase alof’

  10. mel…you have conservative, reform etc etc to fill your spiritual ‘needs’ so whats your problem. You want to stay orthodox but not practice orthodox. Well we haven’t the power to cater everybodys whim


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