U.S. Ultra-Orthodox Leadership Won’t Recognize Liberal Open Orthodoxy Rabbis

The ultra-Orthodox leadership in the United States has declared a sweeping rejection of the Open Orthodoxy movement, announcing it will not recognize rabbis identified with it.

The announcement is another escalation in the attack against the movement, which seeks to narrow the gaps between men and women in halakhic (Jewish religious law) rulings.

Only a few days ago the modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America announced it would not recognize the ordination of Orthodox women to the rabbinate.

“We therefore inform the public that in our considered opinion, ‘Open Orthodoxy’ is not a form of Torah Judaism (Orthodoxy) and that any such rabbinic ordination (which they call “semicha”) granted by any of its affiliated identities to their graduates does not confer upon them any rabbinic authority.”

This was the recent announcement by the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudas Yisroel in America, a group of rabbis separate from the Agudat Israel Council of Torah Sages in Israel, and made up primarily of heads of American yeshivas.

Last May Yeshivat Maharat in New York, which is identified with Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of the Open Orthodoxy movement, ordained six women as Orthodox rabbis, the largest class in its history.

That was in addition to other institutions in Israel that have ordained women in recent years, all of them in a private context that is not recognized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or the established rabbinical organizations in the United States.

According to the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, the Open Orthodoxy movement and its institutions, including its flagship Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, “has shown countless times that they reject the basic tenets of our faith, particularly the authority of the Torah and its Sages. Accordingly, they are no different than other dissident movements throughout our history that have rejected these basic tenets.”

These are the harshest statemens yet against Open Orthodoxy. They come from the conservative ultra-Orthodox camp, which is very far from the relatively liberal religious views of Weiss and his partners on the subject of women, LGBTs, university education and other issues.

The declarations of the various organizations in the United States are likely to affect Israel, which is required almost on a daily basis to approve conversions and other ceremonies conducted by rabbis abroad.

In several cases in recent years the Israeli rabbinate declared that it does not recognize conversions carried out by Orthodox rabbis from the United States due to their comparatively liberal views.

This happened in 2014, in the case of Rabbi Weiss himself, when the Israeli rabbinate refused to recognize a conversion he had performed, and in the end withdrew its objection only under legal and political pressure.

In recent weeks Itim — a non-profit organization that helps people navigate the religious bureaucracy in Israel — petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Israeli Chief Rabbinate on the subject.

2 replies
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    The Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America issued a statement on Monday declaring the institutions at the heart of what is known loosely as Open Orthodoxy in the US to be “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy,” and akin to the Reform and Conservative Jewish denominations which broke away from Orthodox Judaism in the 19th century.

    The declaration by Agudath Israel follows a resolution approved by the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest rabbinical association of modern Orthodox rabbis in the US, that bans RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions from ordaining women into the Orthodox rabbinate and hiring a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution.

    The two proclamations appear to herald the beginning of a schism within Orthodox Judaism in America over the issue of the ordination of women and the place of women in religious leadership.

    Both the statement by Agudath Israel and the RCA’s resolution are aimed at Yeshivat Maharat, a yeshiva for women established by Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabba Sara Hurwitz in 2009 which gives women ordination enabling them to work as rabbinical leaders in Orthodox communities.

    Agudath Israel added however that two other institutions established by Weiss, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah for men, founded in 1997, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a rabbinical association, founded in 2009, were also proscribed as non-Orthodox in its statement.

    “‘Open Orthodoxy’ and its leaders and affiliated entities (including, but not limited to, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat and International Rabbinic Fellowship), have shown countless times that they reject the basic tenets of our faith, particularly the authority of the Torah and its Sages,” reads the statement by Agudath Israel’s Council of Torah Sages.

    “Accordingly, they are no different than other dissident movements throughout our history that have rejected these basic tenets.”

    The statement added that no-one with ordination from any of the institutions affiliated with Open Orthodoxy will be considered to have any rabbinic authority.

    The breach in Orthodox Jewry in the US has been brewing for some time, but became particularly acute when Weiss founded Maharat and began to ordain women, after which the RCA said it did not accept the ordination of women, and tensions have increased since then.

    The RCA’s resolution, announced last Friday, was not proposed by the RCA leadership but an individual member, Rabbi Gil Student.

    Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory organization in Israel and an RCA member, called the RCA’s resolution a “PR stunt by the right-wing membership of the RCA in order to further deepen the dividing lines among orthodoxy,” and said that he believed the RCA leadership did not support the resolution.

    Added Farber “Instead of working to promote a vibrant and attractive Jewish culture accessible to all genders and people of all walks of life, right-wing elements within Orthodoxy are playing games and causing a desecration of Gods name.”

    Rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School said he was “not surprised that some elements of Agudath Yisrael do not appreciate our more open and inclusive approach.”

    Speaking to The Jerusalem Post he said “I hope that over time, they’ll be convinced we are Orthodox, but I respect their right to disagree and have a different approach.”

    The rabbi said that he “disappointed” in the RCA’s resolution in that it sought to “force their members not to hire particular people” but added that he and other leaders of YCT would “continue to stand for the principles we believe in.”

  2. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    מנהיגי היהדות החרדית בארה”ב קובעים כי רבני ה-Open Orthodoxy (האורתודוכסיה הפתוחה) – הסמן הליבראלי ביותר בקרב רבני ארה”ב המגדירים עצמם כמחויבים להלכה, מפריש את עצמו מהזרם האורתודוכסי ונחשב כ”כופר בעיקרי הדת והאמונה, ובסמכות התורה והחכמים”, ולכן יש להוקיע אותו – בדומה לרפורמים. ככל הנראה, מדובר בתגובה החריפה ביותר עד כה מצד השמרנים,

    ב”קול קורא” שפרסמה “מועצת גדולי התורה” של תנועת “אגודת ישראל” באמריקה, בחתימת הרבנים החרדים הבכירים, נכתב כי כלל תנועת ה-Open Orthodoxy , מנהיגיה ומוסדותיה (ובכללם ישיבת מהר”ת, המסמיכה נשים לתפקידים רבניים) הוכיחו כי “אין הם שונים מכל יתר התנועות הזרות במשך הדורות, שסרו מדרך התורה וכפרו בעיקריה ובמסורה”.

    “חובתנו להכריז דעתו קבל-עם, שמכיוון שהוציאה עצמה מן הכלל, תנועה זו אינה חלק מיהדות התורה (הנקראת ‘ארטאדטקסי’)”, הבהירו רבני המועצה, “ותואר ‘רב’ (הנקרא בפיהם ‘סמיכה’), הניתן על ידי מוסדותיה – אין לו שום תוקף”.

    הכרזת מלחמה

    ההכרזה החריפה מגיעה ימים ספורים לאחר קביעת התאחדות רבני אמריקה (ה-RCA, ארגון הגג של הרבנים האורתודוכסיים בארה”ב, המאחד את נציגי כלל הזרמים ההלכתיים) – כי בקהילות שבהן מכהנים חבריו כרבנים, לא יוסמכו ולא יועסקו נשים לתפקידי רבנות, בין אם יכנו עצמן “רב” או “רבה” ובין אם לאו. כן, לא יותר לאישה לשאת בתואר המעיד על הסמכה רבנית כבוגרת לימודי קודש במוסד אורתודוקסי.

    בשנת 2010 פרסם איגוד הרבנים הודעה מרוככת יותר, שבה בירך על “לימוד התורה לנשים יראות
    שמיים בעשורים האחרונים”, הגדיר זאת “הישג משמעותי” – והודיע כי הוא “מעודד הזדמנויות מקצועיות שונות של לימוד הלכתי קהילתי הולם לנשים למדניות”.

    “עם זאת”, הובהר אז, “לא נוכל לקבל הסמכה של נשים, או הכרה בנשים כחברות באיגוד הרבנים האורתודוכסי, ולא משנה מה יהא שמו”. בכך כיוונו למחלוקת בחוגים הפמיניסטיים-דתיים האם לתאר אישה בעלת תעודת הסמכה לרבנות כ”רבה”, התואר בעל הקונוטציה הרפורמית – או להסתפק בתארים יצירתיים כגון “מנהיגה הלכתית רוחנית” (מהר”ת).

    שלוש שנים לאחר מכן, בעקבות הסמכת נשים על ידי הרב האורתודוכסי אבי וייס מניו-יורק (שבינתיים פרש מה-RCA), פרסם הארגון הודעה נוספת, חריפה יותר, ולפיו הוא “רואה בכך הפרה של המסורת, ומצטער על כך שהנהגת המוסד בחרה בנתיב שסותר את הנורמות הנוהגות בקהילה שלנו”.

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