Avrohom Gordimer

Open Orthodox Theology and Repentance

Sometimes, things are just so outrageous that we need to do a double-take, as we cannot believe what we are seeing. And sometimes, these outrageous things are repeated and form a pattern, shocking us all the more so.

Sadly, recent writings by the leadership of Open Orthodoxy have fit this mold. While I was hoping to start the new year without having to address this issue, wishing that the numerous expressions of highly problematic theology by Open Orthodox leadership would taper off, matters have gone from bad to worse, and there is again an obligation to speak out.

Although one Open Orthodox leader has portrayed these protest writings as personal attacks against him, nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who speak out in dissent are critiquing the controversial theology and not the personalities involved. Furthermore, it is our wish that there would be no need for these polemics; we only pen protest essays in response to theological instigation. Correlating to the new year wish of this Open Orthodox leader that the critiques cease, it is my new year wish that there be no further instigation or provocation, such that there would be no further need to respond.

This Open Orthodox leader, who serves as the Chairman of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), recently suggested that we should commit to a new type of belief in the events in the Torah – a belief that does not intellectually accept the factual truth of these events:

We need to debate what heresy is, not whether it is allowed… A promising direction is to revisit the philosophical meaning of “belief,” and examine to what degree religious belief can be understood as being a-factual; a faith-proclamation, not a factual postulate. Defining belief as a-factual would allow a person of faith to “believe” religiously in the historicity of the biblical narratives and at that same time entertain the postulates of Bible critics.

Then, the day after Rosh Hashana, this same rabbi proposed that God repents, or needs to repent, for his misdeeds, including His creation of a flawed and insensitive halachic system.

I am sorry, but the above statements are, respectively, heretical and blasphemous. Were such statements to emanate from private individuals, it would be one thing, but for these statements to be expressed by one of the most prominent rabbinic scholars and leaders of Open Orthodoxy, who trains all of the movement’s (male) rabbis, is far more concerning. And since the rabbi who espouses these ideas does so quite publicly, those who feel that the ideas are a radical and alarming departure from Orthodoxy have every right to publicly express such.

Shortly prior to this all, another very noteworthy and well-known rabbi who has affiliated with Open Orthodoxy explicated his belief that any ideas which a fully humble person sincerely intuits as correct are actually divine Torah revelations. (The rabbi elaborates that since he feels that ordaining women for the Orthodox rabbinate is the correct approach from a moral and ethical perspective, such ordination becomes revealed and ratified as part of the Torah and is a mitzvah to be pursued (!)).

This same rabbi, who previously proposed that God did not communicate the Torah to Moses in a literal oral sense, recently argued that proper Torah adjudication involves meshing intuitive values with Torah texts, crafting the textual interpretation to match one’s intuitive values:

The posek begins with the refined intuition and moves from there to the formal legal analysis which he consciously or unconsciously bends to conform to his intuition…  Every situation is different and requires a different quality of discernment.  The level of clarity of moral conviction necessary to argue with God (in the case of Abraham – AG) is different than the inner conviction required to manipulate a tosafot or reinterpret a gemara. Areas which do not involve laws of such severity, or do not involve explicit halakhot at all but involve modification or abrogation of minhag – generally accepted practice – require a different quality of discernment.

These radical articles were reposted and endorsed by the president of YCT. (Please also see here.)

(An alternative approach to halachic adjudication was presented by the previously-noted Open Orthodox leader, explaining that halachic decisions should be made by taking rulings found in traditional source texts and combining them with contemporary values. This rabbi criticizes expressions of Modern Orthodoxy whose core is “exclusively Orthodox”, and he instead maintains that a synthesis of Torah and secular values are to be merged in order to arrive at the proper manifestation of Orthodoxy. Please also see here and here.)

After the founder of Open Orthodoxy declared it to be a new and separate movement or denomination, it has undergone an intense radicalization and an accelerated departure away from Orthodoxy, as is glaringly evident from the above and many other sources. (Please also see this important article on the topic.)

I would like to suggest repentance on the part of Open Orthodoxy, but the sad truth is that this movement/denomination has repeatedly ignored calls to reconsider its actions and trajectory and has instead opted for further separation from all that is Orthodox, creating a new theology that, at best, is a lighter and more liberal form of the approach of the early Conservative movement.

About the Author
Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar.