Moving the Goal Posts

The current Hamodia has an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran on the interaction between Orthodox and non Orthodox Rabbis. In it he tells us that he respectfully declined an invitation to participate in a panel discussion about Chanukah with such rabbis.

The invitation was extended by Abby Pogrebin, a non Orthodox Jewish reporter who decided to observe all Jewish holidays and fasts for a period of a year. She has learned a lot about those holidays… and now for example understands that Chanukah is about not giving in to assimilation. It is about daring to be different than the surrounding culture that beckons you to be a part of it. Chanukah is anything but about the ‘spirit of the season’.  It is about being separate from that spirit.

While I agree that Rabbi Shafran made the right decision, this is one of those areas about which I have mixed feelings. Engaging with heterodox rabbis on matters of theology does place a mantel of legitimacy upon them. This was a matter upon which Gedolei HaDor of the previous generation agreed – including Rav Soloveitchik.

On matters pertaining to theology, I don’t think there is any room for debate. But in other matters that affect Jews on a national, non theological level (like support for Israel or in other matters that effect the Jewish people sociologically) I agree with Rav Soloveitchik who said we may join with them. But this is a side issue.

My problem hearkens back to what happened several years ago when Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman and Reform Rabbi Amiel Hirsch wrote a book entitled One people, Two Worlds. It was about their friendship and their religious differences. After th book was released they embarked  on a book tour together. The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel reprimanded Rabbi Reinman and told he must stop since it violated the principles laid down by previous Gedolim. Principles that forbade any interaction at all with heterodox rabbis because by joining with them at any level  it grants them the appearance of legitimacy and is therefore forbidden.

Rabbi Reinman, a Charedi adherent of the Daas Torah that he feels is represented by the Agudah Moetzes – acceded to their demands and withdrew. But not without expressing some regret. He found himself getting through to masses of Jews he would otherwise never have come into contact with, and that would now end.

I am aware of the pitfalls of starting down that slippery slope. Open Orthodoxy has gone down that road with the best of intentions and that and has resulted in crossing the hard and fast line drawn by their spiritual mentor, Rav Soloveitchk. With whose views they not parted ways.

This is why my feelings are mixed. There is always the fear of starting down a road that can lead to the perception that legitimizes the illegitimate.

However, in the current climate where heterodox movements are dying, what better time than now is there to reach out to them in any way we can? Giving legitimacy is still wrong… but the line where that is crossed should certainly be moved a bit to renew the kind of opportunity created by Rabbi Reinman.

Projects like Rabbi Reniman’s book and tour have tremendous outreach potential with little downside WRT giving them any legitimacy. Especially when distinctions and disclaimers are made as was the case with Rabbi Reinman at the one appearance he did make (and I assume he would have continued to make).

Isn’t the time more than ripe to for members of the Moetzes to ‘move the goal posts’ – and take advantage of this situation?

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.