“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 that is contradicted by our Prophets, Rabbinic Tradition and halachically-required liturgy – is thus clearly not acceptable.
The centrality in Judaism of the Temple, perpetuating the role of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as the locus of perceptible and palpably-sensed manifestation of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, cannot be overstated. The notion of God residing in our midst, as it were, and our ability to come close to Him in entreaty and sacrifice, are among the most fundamental elements of our theology. Sacrifice on Har Ha-Moriyah (Mount Moriah), where the Temple is traditionally stationed, goes back to Adam, and communing with our Creator at that site, and offering of ourselves to Him as symbolically reflected through sacrifices, is at the core of our tradition of Divine Service. To reject these concepts is to reject the most intrinsic components of Judaism and the Jewish approach to communing with God.
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?