Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From the US edition of the Yated: When "Orthodox" is really “Kosher-Style” Reform

An important article published in the American edition of the Yated Ne'eman newspaper. Many of the points raised are more than relevant to our own "Orthodox" bodies.
When "Orthodox" Is Really “Kosher Style” Reform

By Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum
There comes a time when one is compelled to take a stance. Our sages tell us, “Bemokom she’ein ish, hishtadel lihiyos ish - In a place where there is no man, try to be a man.” When it comes to addressing the increasingly shrill attacks on Judaism, halacha and mesorah by people who call themselves Orthodox rabbis, and the near deafening silence by organizational Jewry, we are left with no option other than to take a stance. We would have preferred that the stance be taken by publications affiliated with the Orthodox Union, RIETS, the RCA or Young Israel. Unfortunately, that has not been done…yet.


Let us begin by talking about language. Language is important. Very important. If one uses a word or idea and continuously hammers away promoting that word or idea, that language and its associated meaning become mainstream and shape the narrative. A few examples:

Occupation. The Palestinians have used this word ad nauseam to describe the Israeli presence in Yerushalayim and Yehudah v’Shomron, Judea and Samaria. The Israelis are “occupiers” - a terrible connotation. Menachem Begin would say, “We are redeemers, not occupiers.” Nevertheless, the use of the word “occupation” has been so successful that even right-wing Israeli politicians use it today.

  Speaking about Yehudah and Shomron, the “West Bank” is another example of how language can transform Yehudah and Shomron, an undisputed piece of Biblical Eretz Yisroel, into just the west bank of the Jordan River.

 Then there is the word “terrorist.” For some reason, when it comes to terrorism against Israel, the perpetrators are no longer “terrorists,” but “gunmen” or even “freedom fighters.”

“We can’t be judgmental,” say the New York Times and the mainstream world press, “can we?” Perhaps the Israelis are the terrorists and the Palestinians are “freedom fighters,” they connote. These terms, however, infiltrate, and if they are used enough, they become the mainstream narrative.

“Pro-choice” is another. Pro-choice really means pro-abortion, or pro killing unborn children. “Choice” makes it sound so benign, like the waiter asking if you would like chicken or meat. But that, too, has gone mainstream. Once the media adopts the language of one side, it inevitably becomes the default language, for better or for worse. Today, the term “pro-choice” has been adopted by virtually everyone. It is a term that, at its core, legitimizes the snuffing out of unborn life.


Language is very important, words are important, and that is why the abuse and misuse of the word “Orthodoxy” when describing Jewish affiliation must be analyzed and challenged.

 Over the last few years, a group of clergymen who call themselves Orthodox rabbis have begun engaging in a headlong dash to introduce Reform innovations and label them “Orthodox.” They insist on calling themselves Orthodox rabbis and classifying their behavior and innovations as “Orthodox” or “Open Orthodox.” They are using - nay, abusing - language to deceitfully try bringing Reform Judaism into their synagogues, many of them affiliated with the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) under the guise of Orthodox. They are co-opting language, lying and calling themselves Orthodox in order to slip under the radar and introduce Reform anti-Torah, anti-halacha innovations into Orthodoxy.

 It is high time we started using language correctly to unequivocally declare that these clergymen are Reform rabbis and unveil their insidious sneaking of Reform practice into Orthodox synagogues by having the audacity and moral turpitude to call it Orthodox. 

It’s time to label “Open Orthodoxy, “Yeshiva Chovevei Torah,” “Morethodoxy” and “International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF),” et al, as Reform organizations. Yes, they are Reform organizations. No, they are not (yet) affiliated with Hebrew Union College, but their behavior, their innovations, and their own stated aims are exactly those of the Reformers of old.

 It is precisely because language is important that these organizations and their rabbis should be called what they are: “Reform” organizations, “Reform Rabbis” and “Rabbahs.” This writer will henceforth call them what they are and we hope that other publications who value halachic Judaism will do the same.

 Let us now give a quick refresher course on just a sampling of their latest excesses, which are completely consistent with bygone Reform innovations:


 One of the things that characterized early Reformers was their discomfort with the siddur. They felt that it was backwards, antiquated, and not in keeping with the “enlightened” times in which they lived. They therefore decided to cut out and change sections that they felt did not belong in a “progressive” age.

Last month, a clergyman named Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky advocated removing the brochoh of “Shelo asani ishah.” Rabbi Kanefsky decided that the brochoh takes away from a “woman’s dignity.” He is obviously far more cognizant of what dignity is than our holy sages of the Gemara who instituted this blessing. His halachic rationale would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic. He writes, “Simply for lack of male reproductive organs, otherwise qualified women are still barred from the rabbinate, and from many positions of communal leadership. She can be a judge, but not a dayan. A brain surgeon, but not a posek. And often she must content herself with davening in a cage in shul, from where her desire to say Kaddish for a parent may or may not be tolerated. This is no way to run a religion that claims wisdom as its inheritance…”

 Is this the laughable halachic rationale that a rabbi who purportedly represents the “People of the Book” puts forth? It looks more like a political stump speech. Is Kanefsky a rabbi or a politician?

Let’s analyze another Reform nugget from Kanefsky’s diatribe: “She can be a judge, but not a dayan… This is no way to run a religion that claims wisdom as its inheritance…”
As my esteemed colleague, I. Schwartz, pointed out in his Yated article some weeks ago, “Kanefsky assaults halacha, treating dinim de’Oraisa (such as women not serving on a bais din) as if they were capriciously invented by some hateful and prejudiced rabbis, scathingly reprimanding the halacha: ‘This is no way to run a religion.’” Is criticizing a halacha derived from a gezeiras hakosuv and suggesting we do away with it not Reform practice?
 Later, Rabbi Kanefsky pulled his article off the internet and wrote the same thing in language that he thought would be a bit more palatable to people not as “enlightened” as he.


Rabbis affiliated with “Open Orthodoxy” have written and released “A Statement of Principles” seeking to legitimize and neutralize the aversion to acts that the Torah calls “toeivah.” Rabbi Hyim Shafner, a clergyman who claims to be Orthodox, wrote on the Morethodoxy website that “the engagement of a couple involved in toeivah should be celebrated at the Kiddush in shul with a cake that says mazal tov.”

I kid you not. This was written by a rabbi who calls himself Orthodox.

 I ask my dear readers and anyone seeking to minimize the attack on Hashem and His Torah that Open Orthodoxy represents: Is this cavalier discarding of p’sukim in the Torah, discarding “outdated” p’sukim to conform with the “enlightened” view of this issue, not Reform Judaism? Surely, it is. Are these rabbis who advocate such aberrations not Reform rabbis? Surely, they are, regardless of what they call themselves.

 Language is important and we cannot let Reform rabbis hijack the name Orthodox in an attempt to spread their malignant disease. We have allowed their reprehensible conduct, their lies and their obfuscation to metastasize for far too long.

Space constraints prevent us from outlining other Reform practices that they have instituted, such as the ordination of women rabbis, tampering with the chupah ceremonyby allowing the kesubah to be read by women, and interfaith rituals. Perhaps worst of all, the IRF has made a mockery of the laws of geirus, not even requiring kabbolas ol mitzvos, the acceptance of mitzvos, as a prerequisite for conversion. And the list goes on.


They have been very clear about their objectives. Just as Reform proposed changes in the most sacred of matters, halachos and practice to conform with what was then in vogue, so are Open Orthodoxy and the others trying to take Judaism and make it conform with the left-wing liberal ideals in vogue today.

 The insistence by Open Orthodoxy, Morethodoxy, IRF and others to call themselves Orthodox is an insidious campaign of obfuscation of their goals to deceive unwitting Jews into believing that you can call yourself an Orthodox Jew while conducting your life like a Reform Jew.

 The only difference between them and Reform is that they insist that their brand of Reform should be “kosher style” Reform. We have all seen those delicatessens labeled “kosher style.” They sell a mean corned beef on Jewish rye sandwich, delicious kosher style pickles, a piece of kishka reminiscent of the kishka your grandmother could have made, but it is all treif. Glatt treif.

 Open Orthodoxy is Reform Judaism for those wanting a certain comfort level with Orthodox ritual and some aspects of Orthodox practice, but just as those delis are glatt treif, so is Open Orthodoxy. In this sense, they are worse than conventional Reform. Just as unwitting Jews may mistakenly patronize kosher style delis, look at the menu, and assume it is kosher when it is actually treif - after all, who would sell kishka if not a kosher place? - so too, unwitting, often innocent Jews who don’t know any better are being ensnared in the trap laid before them by the Reform purveyors of Open Orthodoxy.


In 1956, a famous p’sak halacha was released by many of the great roshei yeshiva of that era, prohibiting collaboration of any sort with Reform and Conservative clergy. I have absolutely no doubt that if they were alive today, the roshei yeshiva would treat Open Orthodoxy and all of its mutations with the same stringency.

 As I. Schwartz pointed out a few weeks ago in these pages, Open Orthodoxy has given us ample proof of where they stand. They have repeatedly shown that they have no fidelity to halacha, no fidelity to the words of Chazal, and no fidelity even to p’sukim in the Torah itself.

The only weltanschauung to which they seem to have deference is the liberal value system in vogue in university campuses and certain corners of the media and intelligentsia.
 It is finally time to take a stand. Organizational Orthodoxy must take a stand. Anyone who holds dear the word of Hashem, the Torah, and the Shulchan Aruch cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.

 The holy Chofetz Chaim writes (laws of loshon ho’ra, 8:5), “It is permitted, and even a mitzvah, to speak loshon ho’ra about an apikores.” The Chofetz Chaim defines apikores as someone “who denies the Torah or the prophecies of Yisroel, either the written Torah or the Oral Torah, even if he says that he believes in the entire Torah except for one verse or one law which is derived from the Torah through the principles transmitted at Sinai.”

 As outlined above and in the article by I. Schwartz, the Reform rabbis who are purveyors of Open Orthodoxy have shown time and time again that they wholly conform to the Chofetz Chaim’s definition of apikores.
It is time for organized Orthodoxy to take a stand. It is time for Agudas Yisroel, Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union, and the leadership of RIETS to publicly ostracize Open Orthodoxy and declare it beyond the pale of Orthodoxy.

 The Gemara (Shabbos 54) states that he who is able to protest and doesn’t is himself culpable in that transgression. The Gemara (Gittin 55) teaches us that when rabbonim do not protest, it is even a greater transgression: “From the fact that the rabbonim kept quiet, it shows that they agree.”

 As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Yom Hadin, we must all conduct a din vecheshbon, a self accounting. Will we and the organizations with which we are affiliated be able to say, “We did our part in stopping an organization that is attacking our holy Torah and our holy Mesorah”?

And a vintage cartoon depicting the products of the JTS seminary (from the "On the Main Line" blog:


1 comment:

  1. B'H
    When there is someone like Kanefsky who is a rabbi by education, but is lacking the emotional intelligence to comprehend that it takes more than a male reproductive organ to make a man or mensch, one really begins to wonder about his rabbinical education. Surely most men would understand that a bracha made thanking G-D for not making him a woman and giving him additional mitzvot to perform to ensure that he does not go off the dereck is a very relevant bracha for daily prayer. It is a definitive blessing thanking G-D for the ultimate in mercy.
    As a woman, the way I see it is simply that G-D made women superior to men in emotional strength because we need it to deal with men and a family and children. We carry children within our bodies, nurture them for nine months and then carry them emotionally, spiritually and in other ways for the rest of our lives. We multi task and carry out various roles that are far more demanding than the role of a man. Sometimes the man is the biggest child in the family and don't they love it. Why wouldn't a man thank G-D that he is not born or made a woman. We carry far more responsibility than men in most cases. In fact, men have to be reminded of their responsibilities on a daily basis and so they should thank G-D for not making them a woman. It should be considered quite ungrateful, if they do not make such a bracha.
    Just as a marriage should not be based on the act of reproduction, the definition of a man or a mensch is more than just the possession a set of male reproductive organs.
    I have never bought the argument about that bracha being sexist or the one about the mechitsa being 'demeaning' to me as a woman. I am quite grateful to daven in peace behind it without enduring lustful glances or inspections of men who should be concentrating on their prayers instead of looking longingly at the women.
    The same goes for education. When you teach in a mixed co-education setting, you have to feel sorry for the boys who have to try and get an education and focus on their studies despite their raging hormones, meanwhile the girls are either blissfully unaware of the impact of their presence on the boys or too aware of it and use it to its fullest advantage.
    Reform Judaism and its other versions are for those who want a Clayton's Jewish experience. It's called looking sort of Jewish, but not too Jewish and thinking sort of culturally Jewish but not too Jewish again and living the Jewish experience but only for appearances sake. A real Jewish life requires some effort and hard introspection and prayer on a daily basis and keeping certain things like Kashrut, tahara mishpacha and more daily 24/7 and 365 days a year. It is not about compartmentalization of one's daily life or the physical and the spiritual.
    Anyway Shana Tova may we all be blessed with the eyes to see what is kedusha and what is hol and work at elevating our lives and that around us and live in a way that brings kedusha into this existence.
    We should all be inscribed for peace, prosperity, success and blessings in all our endeavours throughout the coming year.


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