Avrohom Gordimer

Rabbi Greenberg: Please Don’t Mix Apples and Oranges

Unfortunately, people responding to an argument often miss the point and respond off-topic; they misfire. In other cases, people get the argument but instead of responding to its point, they realize that the argument is a compelling checkmate, and they instead appeal to emotion and sentimentalism, as logic is not on their side.

I will leave the reader to decide how to interpret Rabbi Ben Greenberg’s attempted rejoinder to Rabbi Harry Maryles’ new article, Saying Kaddish for Open Orthodoxy, but it is clear that Rabbi Greenberg failed to get on base or fire even a single successful shot, notwithstanding his appeal to emotion and valiant effort.

Rabbi Maryles argued that Open Orthodoxy has drifted out of the Orthodox orbit, in particular due to its acceptance and defense of heresy in its ranks, as well as due to other deviations that go way past the acceptable limits of Orthodox liberalism:

I don’t see how any movement that does exactly what the Conservative movement does vis a vis belief can be called Orthodox. The Conservative movement too allows for such beliefs, just as they do the traditional ones. How is Open Orthodoxy all that different with respect to their belief system? As I said in a recent essay, they have essentially started a new movement that is not Orthodox, despite use of the word in their name.

In its early stages the Conservative movement was not that different than Open Orthodoxy is today. They had similar motives of inclusivity – the mantra of OO.  Their founding fathers sincerely believed that by creating a more liberal form of observant Judaism it would better appeal to the American ‘melting pot’ masses. They did not consider themselves a new movement at first. They just thought of themselves to be a more liberal – American style version of Orthodoxy. Some of their founding fathers, like Louis Ginsburg, were actually major league European trained Talmidei Chachamim.

And yet they were firmly rejected by Orthodox rabbinic leaders of their day. History has proven those rabbinic leaders to be right. The Conservative movement of today cannot in any way be considered Orthodox. Many of its current leaders have even advocated that their movement stop calling themselves Halachic. Open Orthodoxy of today is not much different than Conservative Judaism was when it was founded.

Rabbi Greenberg’s rejoinder, once we peel away the layers of emotional and sentimentalist allure, is that Open Orthodoxy is just another variety of Orthodoxy, perpetuating the patterns of the past two centuries of intra-Orthodox debate and movements, such as Chassidism, Western Orthodoxy (which preached the values of worldly knowledge and accepted modern modes of language and dress), and religious Zionism. These strains within Orthodoxy introduced new, arguably outside elements into Orthodoxy (such as novel spiritual emphases, political Zionism, secular education, and modern expressions and manifestations of comportment), yet these strains were part of the fabric of Orthodoxy. So too, asserts Rabbi Greenberg, is the case with Open Orthodoxy, which is merely another new strain within the wide and fluid Orthodox tent:

There has never been a single Orthodoxy. There has never been a single Orthodox center by which all others are defining themselves in relationship to. Whether it was German Neo-Orthodoxy and Hungarian Ultra-Orthodoxy or Lakewood Yeshiva Orthodoxy and Upper East Side Modern Orthodoxy there has always been a multitude of approaches and ways of reconciling traditional beliefs and practices with the current zeitgeist. One approach may very well be anathema to the other but that does not therefore invalidate that approach for someone else…

The vast majority of Orthodoxy, within all the different ways that it is defined, lives in a world where they each join together to make a minyan at an airport or a simcha, where their children sometimes marry each other and where we have come to accept the great differences that exist within our broad community. The real world of intra-Orthodox inclusion is vibrant and wondrous and has no need for a mourners kaddish to be said for any segment of it.

I am sorry, Rabbi Greenberg, but you are mixing apples and oranges. The Chassidic masters, and Rav Hirsch, Rav Hildesheimer, Rav Kook and Rav Herzog, et al, did not and would never countenance the acceptability of an Orthodoxy which denies that the Torah was given by God at Sinai. The Chassidic masters, and Rav Hirsch, Rav Hildesheimer, Rav Kook and Rav Herzog et al, did not and would never countenance the acceptability of an Orthodoxy which maintains that the Oral Law of the Mishnah and Talmud, Torah She-b’al Peh, was invented by the Sages due to their rejection of Biblical, Mosaic Law and as a way to advance a social vision. (We speak here not of ancient rabbinic legislation, but of Oral Law which the Talmud, Maimonides and all traditional sources unequivocally state was commanded at Sinai.) The Chassidic masters, and Rav Hirsch, Rav Hildesheimer, Rav Kook and Rav Herzog et al, did not and would never countenance the acceptability of an Orthodoxy that cheers on the legalization of homosexual marriage, as much as we must show understanding for the religious and personal struggles of those with same-sex attraction.

The same Open Orthodox rabbi who wrote that the Torah was written by several people, that Abraham, Sarah and the other early Biblical personalities did not exist, that prophecy never occurred, and that there was never an Exodus from Egypt, has continued to reject the idea of a Singular Divine Author of the Torah. (Please see please see here, herehere, and here, etc.), yet the head of the Open Orthodox rabbinical school continues to defend this wayward rabbi, posting just last week:

We are proud of the work Rabbi — —— is doing to bring many Jews closer to the Divine Torah. I am told many Orthodox Jews are downloading and printing essays from his website for their Shabbat reading. May we all grow in love of Hashem and Hashem’s Torah in our own unique ways.

The chairman of the Department of Talmud and head of the Open Orthodox Halacha institute published his ideas about the Oral Law, asserting that it was concocted by men and is agenda-loaded:

Chazal were the R. Riskin’s of their time. They too were committed to creating a yiddishkeit which is in constant dialogue with their ethical sensibilities. They read Torah with a critical lens and whenever they encountered a perceived injustice they did whatever they could (within legitimate boundaries) to undo the challenging misread.

This week’s parsha is a perfect example.


Simply read, the biblical sotah procedure seems capricious and patriarchal. The rabbis, incorporating Divinely ordained hermeneutics, drastically revised the procedure. The result: a process that is sensitive and somewhat egalitarian.


They were the progressives of their time, and, relative to their milieu, quite radical. They too were vilified, but in the end they prevailed. Ultimately their enterprise received the divine imprimatur.


It is because of their courage that Rabbinic Judaism is still around today. Their interpretations allowed Judaism to survive, thrive and ultimately triumph.

This rabbi’s other writings similarly proclaim a belief that the Torah as we have it, including its values and personalities, are the result of some human intervention. For example,

The Biblical Moses is presented as a jurist; the “law” animates and inspires him. Chazal completely rewrite his character.


The Rabbis reject his judicial views as conservative and archaic. They also downplay his jurisprudential significance, emphasizing instead a different aspect of his personality.

The Talmudic Moses is less of a jurist and more of a theologian. They portray him as a confused and flummoxed philosopher who wrangles with God and authors theological treatises.


Personally, I prefer the Talmudic version. Judicially, his legal philosophy has been supplanted by Rabbinic jurisprudence; biblical “law” has little significance for the contemporary jurists…

And, as we know, some in the Open Orthodox rabbinate could not contain their celebration of the Supreme Court ruling sanctioning homosexual marriage. Please see, for example, here and here.

We need not revisit other substantial deviations of Open Orthodoxy, such as in the areas of changing halachic conversion procedures, eliminating morning blessings that do not conform with egalitarian values, and ordaining women as rabbis.

Chassidism, Torah Im Derech Eretz (the Western Orthodox school of thought that embraces Torah and worldly knowledge), and Religious Zionism accept unconditionally and fully the Cardinal Principles of Faith, including the traditional Orthodox belief regarding authorship of the Torah, and the unalterable, binding nature of Halacha, as well as the requirement to consult and defer to preeminent Torah authorities. Open Orthodoxy does not. These stark differences place Open Orthodoxy outside of the pale of Orthodoxy. No appeal to emotion of sentimentalism can change this fact.

It would be most welcome move if the rabbis and institutions with which Rabbi Greenberg is affiliated would change course and profess an authentic Orthodox theology and approach. However, rather than return to tradition, Open Orthodoxy has at an accelerated pace gone the other direction, closely mimicking the Conservative movement of half a century ago. Sadly, the Open Orthodox movement will in all likelihood end up in a similar position as the heterodox movements, continuing to preach egalitarianism and tikkun olam (“healing of the world”) while sacrificing and abandoning numerous vestiges of Jewish tradition in the process.

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.
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