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July 18, 2013 5:42 am

American Jewry at the Crossroads: Isaac Mayer Wise, Solomon Schechter, and now…Avi Weiss and Sara Hurwitz

avatar by Moshe Averick

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Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of the newest Jewish movement on the American scene: Neo-Conservative Judaism

On July 11, 1883 a dinner honoring the first graduating class of Hebrew Union College (the rabbinical seminary of Reform Judaism), was held in Cincinnati. Several of the invited Rabbis, who were of a much more traditional bent, stormed out of the banquet in outrage when shrimp – a non-kosher seafood – was served as the first course. As it turned out the entire menu consisted of treife [non-kosher] food. One of the generally accepted theories is that this was done purposely as a not-so-subtle declaration by the Reform movement that they were moving sharply away from “traditionalism.” Be that as it may, it became known in American-Jewish History as “The Treife Banquet.” It marked the final, irrevocable break between the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States.

An event that parallels The Treife Banquet in its implications recently took place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on June 16, 2013. Although there were no questions raised about the kashrut of the food being served, there were very serious questions raised about the kashrut of the ceremony being conducted that evening. We are, of course talking about the ordination of three female rabbis by Yeshivat Maharat (YM) of Riverdale, New York. It is an event that marks the irrevocable split between the Orthodox community in the United States and a brand new movement on the American scene.

Interior of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale

The event has been unequivocally condemned by both the “centrist” Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is the largest organization of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States and the “right wing”Agudath Israel. Both agree that it is a radical violation of the sacred Mesorah [Traditions of Jewish Law going back to Moses at Mt. Sinai] of the Jewish People. The RCA stated that “this event is a violation of our Mesorah” and that YM has “chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.” Agudath Israel proclaimed that the event is “a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the Mesoras HaTorah…any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.” Rabbi Moshe Kletenick – a close disciple of the late Rav Ahron Solovetchik, former Rosh Yeshiva (Dean) of the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University – who was President of the RCA in 2010 when the controversy first erupted with Sara Hurwitz being granted the title “Rabbah” by YM, condemned it at the time as “a breach of our Mesorah” and declared that it “is unacceptable for an Orthodox synagogue to have a woman on its rabbinical staff.”

Rabbi Leonard Matanky, a prominent figure in the Chicago Orthodox rabbinate, is the newly elected President of the RCA, the largest organization of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States

The man at the center of this controversy, Avi Weiss, is the activist rabbi of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (Bronx, NY), and founder of Yeshivat Maharat and Yeshivat Chovevai Torah (YCT). The ordination of women is not the only issue at stake in this heated clash. The positions taken by Rabbi Weiss and YCT rabbis on homosexuality, inter-faith and inter-denominational relations, abortion, the authorship of the Torah, and the very integrity of Talmudic teachings have also been the subject of intense scrutiny and condemnation.

In 2010, Weiss backed down under intense pressure from the RCA. Since then he has bided his time, gathered more followers and garnered support for his agenda. Now that he has chosen to thumb his nose at the RCA and Agudath Israel by publicly celebrating the ordination of three new female rabbis and announcing plans to “change the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” Rabbi Weiss is clearly destined to enter the history books along with such figures as Isaac Mayer Wise and Solomon Schechter (founders of Reform and Conservative Judaism in the United States), as founder of the newest movement in the Jewish world. Weiss’ movement, a form of Judaism that enthusiastically embraces the ideologies of feminism and liberal-progressive-modernism while coating it with a strong Orthodox flavor, could accurately be labeled as Ortho-Feminist Progressive Judaism. However, as that appellation is a bit cumbersome, from this point on I will use the term coined by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun (Teaneck, NJ): Neo-Conservative Judaism. It has managed to fit neatly into the slot to the left of Orthodox Judaism and to the right of Conservative Judaism.

Avi Weiss and his protege, Rabbi Sara Hurwitz, the first female Neo-Conservative Rabbi

Truth be told, Weiss’ Neo-Conservatism has moved farther to the left than the Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ) led by Professor David Weiss Halivni, which is usually described as the far-right wing of the Conservative movement. UTJ does not ordain women – UTJ formed as a breakaway from the main body of Conservative Judaism over the issue of egalitarianism – and to the best of my knowledge does not accept or condone homosexual relationships in any way whatsoever. On the other hand, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, (the new Director of YCT), along with other high profile YCT rabbis have joined with Reform and Conservative clergy in publicly endorsing same-sex marriage legislation and have even given their blessings to the homosexual relationships of their congregants. Rabbi Hyim Shafner who aligns himself with YCT, described the home of two of his congregants living in an open lesbian relationship as a bayis ne’eman b’yisroel [exemplary Jewish home]. In support of this radical position he marshals some very authoritative evidence….such as an out of context remark by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. A blogger, under the banner of “Progressive Orthodox Judaism” agrees with my analysis: “In many aspects, UTJ falls to the right of the YCT/Open Orthodox crowd. UTJ was formed to counter egalitarianism, while the Open Orthodox movement, under the guise of “Yeshivat Maharat,” conferring semicha upon Sara Hurwitz, etc., has moved towards this paradigm.”

Neo-Conservatism began as “Open Orthodoxy”

In a seminal essay entitled “Open Orthodoxy! A Modern Orthodox Rabbi’s Creed,” (Judaism, Fall/1997), Rabbi Weiss first announced the formation of what was eventually to become Neo-Conservative Judaism. In the opening sentence of Open Orthodoxy he declared,

“As a Modern Orthodox Rabbi, I profess an unequivocal commitment to the truth, validity and eternal applicability of the Halakhic system. No less than my brethren of the Orthodox Right, I believe in Torah mi-Sinai, the law given by God at Sinai, to which the Jewish people committed itself. Torah mi-Sinai is a form of heteronomous law, a structure of law that operates independent of any individual, imposing its standards and guidelines.”

Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of Reform Judaism in the United States

Weiss repeated this theme a number of times. As he conspicuously identified himself as “Modern Orthodox,” then “Open Orthodox” while repeatedly distinguishing himself from the “Orthodox Right,” he clearly felt the need to reassure the reader of his unshakeable pledge to the halakhic (Jewish Law) tradition:

  • “It is for this reason that I believe that the term that best describes this vision of orthodoxy, is “Open Orthodox.” It is open, in that our ideology acknowledges, considers, and takes into account in varying ways a wide spectrum of voices. It is Orthodox, in that our commitment to Halakha is fervent and demanding.”
  • “The key to strengthening Open Orthodoxy is the reconciling of more rigid halakhic practices, which I believe are positive, with our open ideological agenda.”
  • “Hence, the challenge today is for Open Orthodox parents and institutions to be ideologically open, while intensely committed to halakha. It is in these settings where, I believe, spiritual striving can best thrive.”
  • “Standing between the Orthodox Right and Conservative Judaism is our Open Orthodoxy, a distinctive movement, with its own ideology, although sharing fundamental halakhic commitments with the Orthodox Right.”

In Open Orthodoxy Weiss not only labored to reassure us of his basic commitment to halakha, he also attempted to quell fears that his fealty to modernity and openness would interfere with his acceptance of the authority of the great Torah sages who have ultimate jurisdiction in matters of Jewish law and practice (particularly in decisions that affect entire communities); a fundamental precept of Torah and Orthodox Judaism:

  • “In the same framework, all those who hold to Orthodoxy contend that “new Halakha,” which emerges constantly from the wellspring of the halakhic process, must always be based on the highest caliber of religio-legal authority. There must be an exceptional halakhic personality who affirms the new ruling on the grounds of sound halakhic reasoning.”
  • “Likewise, we adhere and turn to the wisdom of the most distinguished religio-legal authorities in making halakhic determinations.”

As we will point out, the aforementioned guarantees that he would seek out “exceptional halakhic personalities” and the “most distinguished religio-legal authorities in making halakhic determinations” became the first fatal casualties in the creation of Neo-Conservative Judaism.

The actual original menu from the historic "Treife Banquet." It included crabs, shrimp, frog legs, and dairy ice-cream as dessert

Did Rabbi Weiss always intend to break from Orthodoxy?

Although it certainly could be argued, and may very well be true, that Weiss had never originally intended to break from Orthodoxy – but rather stake his claim to its far left borders – when I first read the essay a number of years ago my spontaneous reaction to all these statements (there are more) about his commitment to the halakhic process was: “the lady doth protest too much methinks.” Hindsight would indicate that this bordered on the prophetic. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that even in 1997 he felt that his “Open Orthodoxy” was being viewed with suspicion and that broadcasting his commitment to fundamental Orthodox principles was critical in maintaining credibility with that segment of the Jewish community in which he was rooted. No matter how one evaluates his actual intentions, there is no question that in 1997 he was not prepared to enter into a battle-royal with the rest of the Orthodox world.

A careful reading of the essay – particularly in view of the present situation – clearly indicates the ever-building internal tension and pressure created by his attachment to traditional Jewish halakha (Jewish law) on the one hand and his desire on the other hand, to break free and formulate an expression of “Jewishness” more in consonance with his natural inclination towards a liberal/progressive ideology. In this paragraph, Rabbi Weiss explicitly acknowledged the dilemma:

“The key to strengthening Open Orthodoxy is the reconciling of more rigid halakhic practices, which I believe are positive, with our open ideological agenda. It is this tension that is difficult to live with…The Orthodox Right deals in absolutes – their closed ideological agenda is a natural offshoot of their halakhic fervor. Open Orthodoxy does not see this offshoot as necessary. For the Open Orthodox Jew, true and profound religio-legal creativity and spiritual striving emerges from the tension between the poles of strict halakhic adherence and open ideological pursuits. They appear to be opposites when in fact they are one.

Solomon Schechter, architect of Conservative Judaism in the United States. The Conservative Day School System is named after him.

Weiss understood that choosing to walk this tightrope was an exercise fraught with difficulty and danger. In what was to be a harbinger of things to come he writes:

“”Additionally, in halakhic observance the Modern Orthodox community is more open to halakhically-grounded innovation…while the Orthodox Right is wary of virtually all innovation, fearful that it will lead to a breakdown of halakhic norms.”

It is outside of our scope here to analyze the accuracy of Rabbi Weiss’ assertion that “the Orthodox Right is wary of virtually all innovation,” but sadly, the fears of the “Orthodox Right” that Weiss’ subsequent “innovations” would lead to a “breakdown of halakhic norms” turned out to be spot-on.

Perhaps the most revealing allusion to the distressing sense of deadlock experienced by Rabbi Weiss is to be found in the only passage which mentions the man who ordained him as an Orthodox Rabbi, that great Torah giant of the previous generation, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993), who was Rosh Yeshiva (Dean) of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary (RIETS) for nearly five decades. Weiss expressed admiration for Rav Soloveitchik while at the same time laying the groundwork for the future severing of any inconvenient or annoying ideological and even halakhic entanglements which that admiration might entail:

Even in purely halakhic areas, we part company in our understanding of [the concept of] da’at-Torah [maintaining a proper Torah outlook]. For the Orthodox Right, da’at-Torah means that decisions made by the rabbis close off all discussion; in Modern Orthodoxy it sets the foundation from which discussion ensues. In sum: for we Modern Orthodox, if da’at-Torah means to revere the wisdom of the great rabbinic authorities, like Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, we believe in it. If, however, it means to follow blindly the great rabbinic authorities in non-halakhic areas or to close off discussion in purely halakhic areas, we disagree. We respect Rav Soloveitchik’s da’at-Torah precisely because he was a person of enormous human wisdom and insight. He understood that da’at-Torah was not to be imposed; that it was to be persuasive rather than authoritarian.”

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, one of the giants of Orthodox Jewry in America

As an aside, I seriously question whether Rabbi Weiss sought out Rav Soloveitchik’s approval before definitively asserting what Rav Soloveitchik understood or did not understand about the concept of da’at-Torah. Be that as it may, Rav Soloveitchik was, without question, the greatest Torah authority, halakhic and otherwise, for those who identify themselves as Modern Orthodox in the United States. There is no one else who comes close. If Avi Weiss, as a Modern Orthodox rabbi (in fact a very modern, Modern Orthodox rabbi), has granted himself the license to decide whether or not Rav Soloveitchik’s wisdom, directives, and halakhic decisions are “persuasive,” he has, in effect, rejected the authority of any Gadol b’Torah (Rabbinic Torah authority) of the Jewish People. (He certainly has made it clear that he is not prepared to accept the authority of those to the “right” of Rav Soloveitchik.) This is a clear rejection of a fundamental precept of the Torah and our Mesorah.

If a psak halakha [decision of Jewish law in a particular matter], especially those that affect the direction of an entire segment of the community, from someone of the stature of Rav Soloveitchik accomplishes nothing more than to “set the foundation from which discussion ensues,” then clearly, for Avi Weiss, authority in psak halakha is non-existent. That is to say, if one’s starting point in halakhic expertise in modern orthodoxy is Rav Soloveitchik, anyone else that Weiss would turn to could only be a giant step down. It would be like asking the Supreme Court of the United States for a decision and then taking it backwards to the lower courts to hear their opinion. Although Rabbi Weiss himself is without question learned, has many admirable accomplishments to his name and is an enviably successful pulpit rabbi; it would be laughable to suggest that he – or myself for that matter – has achieved the type of authority and mastery of Talmud and Jewish law that would put him in a category even remotely approaching that of Rav Yosef Dov Solovetchik z”l.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in his younger years

It is worth noting that both Rav Soloveitchik’s successor as Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS, his younger brother Rav Ahron Soloveitchik z”l (1917-2001) – who was a world class Talmudic scholar/genius in his own right – and the current Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Herschel Schachter, a close disciple of Rav Soloveitchik, were and are adamantly opposed to Rabbi Weiss’ and YCT’s “innovations” in Jewish halakha, particularly regarding ordination of female clergy, inter-faith and inter-denominational relations, and same-sex marriage.

The slide to Neo-Conservatism

The slide from Open Orthodox to Neo-Conservative then, is a consequence of several factors. First, of course, is Weiss’ infatuation with Modernism, Feminism, and Liberalism. This is the proverbial hand relentlessly tightening the coiled spring that finally must be loosened somehow or violently snap apart. That alone, however, would not necessitate a break from the Orthodox world.

The second and most decisive factor is Rabbi Weiss’ position in rejecting any ultimate authority in the determination of Jewish Law. As we saw above, he made the decision that even in the most controversial and far-reaching halakhic issues, his authority was just as valid as that of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Nothing and No one had the power to “close off” discussions in matters of Jewish Law. In Weiss’ eyes there is no authoritative voice. In effect, Rabbi Weiss had decided to create his own Mesorah, or Rabbinic Tradition, starting with himself or those that agreed with him, regardless of their stature.

Rav Ahron Soloveitchik, the saintly Talmudic genius who succeeded his brother as Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS. He was also the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Brisk, Chicago

The final factor which rendered the break with Orthodoxy inevitable was a misplaced sense of moral and ethical sensitivity. If the term “misplaced” is not accurate, then at least: a moral and ethical sensitivity which is incompatible with Torah/Orthodox Judaism. From Open Orthodoxy:

“One of the challenges of halakha is to understand its ethical message, i.e., how does the law contribute to the repairing of the world (tikkun olam).”

In order to fully grasp the underlying message and long-term implications of this statement, it is necessary to take a moment and discuss the contemporary meaning and usage of the term tikkun olam. “Tikkun Olam” (literally “repairing or perfecting the world”), is a phrase found in the Aleynu prayer (recited at the end of each of the three daily prayer services) composed by Joshua as he stood ready to cross the Jordan River and begin the conquest and settlement of the land of Israel. He was then embarking on the revolutionary Jewish mission of “perfecting the world,” i.e., ridding the world of pagan worship and teaching mankind about the existence and service of the One God of the universe. It is also used in the Talmud to connote Rabbinic enactments that dealt with issues of public policy.

Rav Ahron Soloveitchik in a lighter moment

Although there is a quality of nebulousness in its modern use, tikkun olam is essentially a Jewish/progressive-liberal buzz-word for “social action” and “social justice.”  The official youth group of the Conservative movement, USY (United Synagogue Youth), puts it this way: “Social Action/Tikun Olam can mean so many things to so many different people. It can mean making someone’s day brighter by just smiling as you pass them in the hallway to raising thousands of dollars with your region for Tikun Olam.”  Some of the suggested Social Action/Tikkun Olam projects on the site are: Feed a Needy Neighbor, River/Beach Clean-Up, Nature Hike, Humane Society, Tutoring, AIDS/Drunk Driving Awareness, Helping Your Synagogue Kosher their kitchen for Passover, etc.

Temple Isaiah (Reform) in Los Angleles: “The phrase Tikkun Olam literally means “world repair.” Join us in our efforts to heal a broken world. Contact Ronna Berlin, Vice-President of Social Action for Temple Isaiah.” Projects include, Green Team, Congregation-based Community Organizing, Food Bank, Big Sunday: “Join hundreds of Angelenos for this one day of city-wide volunteerism,” etc.

Social worker Jennifer Noparstak, in her essay “Tikkun Olam” on the Learning to Give website under the heading “Important People Related to the Topic,” lists Emil Fackenheim- the well known Conservative (Judaism) philosopher; Lawrence Kushner – Reform Rabbi and author; Leonard Fein – Far left-wing journalist and activist; Ismar Schorsch – one-time chancellor of JTS, the flagship seminary of the Conservative movement, and Rabbi Isaac Luria – the great 16th century kabbalist, whose relevance to the topic most definitely does not include his strict Orthodox/Hareidi observance of Jewish law, but rather his “kabbalistic” use of the term tikkun olam.

Rav Herschel Schachter, disciple of Rav Y.D. Soloveitchik and current Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS

In summation: With few exceptions the use of tikkun olam is exclusively associated with left-leaning, liberal/progressive groups, organizations, and ideologies. It would be a formidable task indeed to find a Jewish group that uses the term tikkun olam in conjunction with a prayer vigil outside an abortion clinic, advocating for traditional marriage and family values, or raising money for an organization that offers therapy for homosexuals who desire to change their sexual orientation.

(Of course, gemilut chassadim [roughly translated: emulation of God’s love and kindness to his creatures and devotion to the needs of others], must be an integral part of the life of any committed Orthodox Jew, left or right. The Talmudic sages teach us that along with Torah Study and Prayer, Gemilut Chassadim is one of the three pillars upon which rest the existence of the universe. As bizarre as it sounds, I have actually met people who subscribe to the notion that empathy, compassion, kindness, and devotion and sensitivity to the needs of others are the exclusive domains of those to the left.)

Although Weiss’ association of tikkun olam and “ethical messages” with halakha certainly does not in and of itself imply a break from Orthodox observance, in the overall picture it is another indication of the powerful allure that the “liberal left” holds for Rabbi Weiss. It also sets the stage for his and his disciples current practice of determining and evaluating halakhic practice in light of the “ethical” consequences, particularly those consequences which are of paramount concern to feminist/liberal/progressive ideologues. Evaluating halakha and Jewish living this way is a clear break from Orthodox Judaism (Weiss understood this and therefore in his 1997 essay he took pains to assure us it would never happen).We evaluate the truth and moral fitness of any action, idea, or ideology, including a Feminist/Progressive agenda, by the yardstick of God’s Torah and our Mesorah, not the other way around.

Betty Friedan, early feminist leader and author of "The Feminine Mystique"

Although there are significant complexities and nuances to this subject that are well beyond the scope of this article, the bottom line is that we are obligated to follow God’s commandments, as expressed by the halakha, even when it seems to some to be incomprehensible or even cruel. Ultimately we are not in any position to question or evaluate the moral robustness of a definitive expression of halakha or a direct commandment from God, which in Orthodox Judaism are one and the same. For a human being to think they are able to fully understand the “mind” of God and that we have the ability to “outsmart” him morally or otherwise, would be as foolish as thinking that a donkey is fully able to understand the mind of a human being; in fact, inasmuch as the gap between a donkey and human is infinitely smaller than the gap between a human and God, it would be extraordinarily more foolish. Abraham pleaded for mercy and justice when the Almighty informed him of the impending destruction of S’dom and Amorrah, but when commanded by God to offer up his son, he complied without a murmur of protest. Our sages tell us that King Saul was deeply troubled by the moral implications of the commandment to destroy the entire nation of Amalek; from Scripture and Talmudic tradition we know that his hesitation and second-guessing of God’s commandment had disastrous consequences.

The notion that one’s personal, subjective view of ethics and morality – which, of course, are heavily and decisively influenced by the zeitgeist and the norms of the surrounding society – should determine halakha is not a new idea; it is a classic, fundamental philosophical pillar of Conservative Judaism and allowed that movement to change whatever they saw fit in Jewish law and practice. Rabbi Seymour Siegel (1927-1988) Professor of Ethics and Theology at JTS and a chairman of the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly wrote the following in an essay called “The Meaning of Jewish Law” from the JTS publication Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law:

“Most important in Conservative Judaism’s view of the interpretation of Jewish Law is the introduction of the aggadic and ethical component. Since the Law is the expression of the covenant, and a basic aim of the covenantal obligation is the practice of justice and compassion, we cannot sustain the authority of any norm which results in unethical outcomes. When the halacha cannot adequately express the aggadah, it must be modified…we accept the marriage of a divorcee and a kohen because we feel [that the Torah’s explicit prohibition against such a marriage] does not square with our notions of what is right and wrong.

Seymour Siegel, of the Jewish Theological Seminary

In other words, we use our own standards of “ethics” to validate or invalidate halakha and the commandments of the Torah instead of using the halakha and commandments to determine how we behave and as the basis of forming proper moral outlooks and standards of conduct. In short, instead of using God’s Torah to create ourselves in its image, we re-create the Torah (and God) in our own image. As we shall see below this is exactly the path that Rabbi Weiss and his followers have chosen to follow.

Neo-Conservatism and the Rejection of Orthodox Mesorah

Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l (1895-1986) was the unquestioned posek hador [pre-eminent halakhic authority of his generation], if not in the entire world, then certainly in the United States. His personal integrity, genius, righteousness and saintliness, and encyclopedic mastery of the entire corpus of Talmudic and halakhic literature were legendary. His authority and expertise in halakha were recognized by the entire Jewish world and his collection of Rabbinic responsa, Iggrot Moshe, are classics in the field. Rabbi Zev Farber, on the other hand, is a young rabbi who has been conferred with the title of dayan [Rabbinical Judge] by YCT. He has no reputation at all as an halakhic authority outside of YCT circles. In a “responsa” on the issue of homosexual relationships entitled “Homosexuals in the Orthodox Community,” Rabbi Farber glibly dismisses Rav Feinstein as a homophobe from the old country who reflects outdated, “contemptuous” and “belligerent” attitudes about homosexuality. With a simple wave of the hand, the authority of the Torah and its greatest sages are replaced by the zeitgeist and the American Psychological Association. (In truth, Rabbi Farber does not even pretend to subscribe to the principles of Orthodox Judaism, he openly declares his belief in some form of the Documentary Hypothesis, that the Torah was not written by Moses as dictated by God, but was written by different authors at different times and was mysteriously redacted by some unknown editor at some unknown point in Jewish history. This is the Rabbinical Judge who is in charge of “Orthodox” conversions for the YCT congregation.)

Rav Soloveitchik with another of the great Torah luminaries, Rav Ahron Kotlar (center)

Another prominent YCT rabbi, currently the rabbi of a congregation in Maine, described how his Reform and Conservative rabbinic colleagues helped him overcome his “wall of religious textual evidence” (i.e. the Torah and Rabbinic literature) that opposed homosexual marriage and convinced him to support legislation for same-sex marriage in Maine. He went on to compare the struggle for same-sex marriage to the miracle of Hannukka when the Jewish people went to war against the Syrian-Greek empire and Hellenist Jews for their right to study and live by the commandments of the Torah. I will leave it for the reader to decide which side in this conflict more closely resembles Matisyahu and his sons – the heroic leaders of the rebellion – and which side is almost identical to the Hellenized Jews who fought alongside the Syrian-Greeks.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, a congregational rabbi in Los Angeles aligned with Avi Weiss and YCT, in an article entitled “Adieu to “For Thou Hast Not Made Me a Woman,” engages in what, from an Orthodox point of view, can only described as blasphemy. He describes the practice of separating men and women in Orthodox synagogues as forcing women to “daven [pray] in a cage,” and considers it to be “shameful treatment of women.” He accuses the Rabbinic sages of reinforcing “the inherent prejudice that holds that women possess less innate dignity than men” and considers reciting the blessings that they composed as a “desecration of God’s name.”

Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble in their "Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo" hats

Rabbi Zev Farber, the aforementioned, very young YCT dayan concurs, although less vitriolic in expressing his opinion. Rabbi Farber informs us that the entire structure of the Orthodox synagogue and the prayer services send a “pernicious message” to women that their presence is irrelevant. In a rather novel manner he compares the synagogue to a male-only club like the “Loyal Order of the Water Buffaloes” on the old Flintstones cartoon show; the epiphanous revelation of the metaphor coming while “watching the Flintstones with my children one day.” [I must confess, some of Rabbi Farber’s “halakhic reasoning” leads me to believe he should stick to cartoons.]  He does graciously concede that Orthodox synagogues are “one step advanced from a stone-age lodge” because at least “we let the women watch.” He asserts that women’s 2nd class position in the synagogue is “hard-wired into the halakhic system” and that it is difficult to “navigate the many tensions that exist between traditional practices [i.e. those based on the Torah, Talmud, and halakhic authorities] and modern egalitarian values.” I guess it is a tough call for a “Rabbinical Judge” like Rabbi Farber to adjudicate whose voice represents authentic Jewish worship and service of the Almighty: (A) Rabbi Akiva, Maimonidies , Rav Yosef Karo, and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik?, or (B) Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Betty Friedan, and Hillary Clinton? Kanefsky and Farber have clearly made their choices.

Jane Fonda, perhaps a talented actress; but an authentic voice on Jewish worship?!

For one to conclude that the separation of men and women in the synagogue, women not leading the prayer services, and not granting women rabbinical ordination, etc., implies the relegation of women to 2nd class status, is as absurd as concluding that Corey Crawford’s position as goalie – for the Chicago Black Hawks, the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions – is a “2nd class position” because in his entire career he – along with every other goalie in the NHL – will never score a goal, never even be credited with an assist for a goal, and if he even attempted to skate down the ice and score a goal he would bring down the wrath of the entire coaching staff and all of his teammates. Those subscribing to such a notion would only be revealing their spectacular ignorance of the game of hockey. Similarly, those who think that the Torah teaches that “women possess less innate dignity than men” because they cannot serve as Rabbis and Rabbinical Judges or that the separation of men and women in the synagogue constitutes “forcing women to daven in a cage” display spectacular ignorance of Torah/Orthodox Jewish tradition, philosophy, and halakha.

Modern day "Water Buffaloes" - funny, they don't LOOK Jewish!

If the “chauvinistic-male” Rabbis held women in such contempt, why then did they scrutinize the behavior of Channah, the mother of Samuel, to create our entire model of proper prayer before God? Why do they inform us that Sarah achieved a greater level of prophecy than Avraham? Why do they extol the heroic virtues of Rachel and Leah in raising the 12 tribes of the Israelite nation and that their merit stands by Am Yisroel throughout the generations? Why do they obligate a man to “honor his wife more than himself?” Why do they teach that “the Divine Presence only rests in the home because of the woman?” Why did they teach us that the entire redemption from Egypt – the seminal event in Jewish history – was due only to the righteous women of that generation? Why was the Torah offered first to the women and only then to the men? Why do the sages teach us that women did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf nor that of the Spies? Where is there the slightest indication in our mesorah or in the teachings of our Sages that a woman cannot achieve the greatest levels of righteousness, holiness, and closeness to God, by fulfilling the obligations and commandments the Torah has placed upon her?

Rav Moshe Feinstein, posek ha'dor

In fact, it is regarding this very issue, namely: achieving greater levels of righteousness, holiness, and closeness to God, where Jewish feminists like Cynthia Ozick and Blu Greenberg, and Neo-Conservatives like Weiss, Farber, Kanefsky, and Hurwitz go off the rails. In order to understand Neo-Conservatism it is crucial to understand the nature and history of the feminist ideology that drives it….

A brief history, and underlying principles of the Feminist movement in American Society

In American society and culture, who is important? Who do we honor? Who do we stand up for and admire? Who do we “oooh” and “ahhh” over? Who creates a stir at a party or gathering? It is the wealthy, the famous, the successful, and the powerful. Anyone who does not fit into one of these categories is at best, second-tier, a hanger-on, a drone, and if we are more uncharitable, a nobody, and perhaps even a loser. Up until the mid-60’s the overwhelming majority of American women could not possibly fit into any of these groupings. After all, a woman who spent most of her day running a household, raising children, and being a loyal and devoted wife, did not have much time left over to acquire wealth, fame, success, or power. Women were shut out from doing and achieving everything that the surrounding culture deemed significant. In this sense they were relegated to second class citizenship. Riding on the ideological waves created by Betty Friedan and other feminist ideologues, women asserted their right to enter into the “important” world of the men.

It becomes eminently clear that the underlying principle which drove the feminist movement was the notion that what men did was significant and meaningful; conversely, that which was feminine was to be considered inferior. This, of course, is a classic illustration of the particular type of brainwashing known as the Stockholm-syndrome. The oppressed individual ends up identifying with the oppressor. This was the reason why black men would enthusiastically subject themselves to the painful process of straightening their hair. Straight hair was “white,” and good, kinky hair was “black,” and inferior. It is clear then, that to describe the women’s movement as “feminist” is highly misleading. It would be as misleading as describing black men’s desire to straighten their hair as a “Black Pride” movement. It was just the opposite, the compulsion to look like white people stemmed from a feeling of inferiority of their “blackness.” The women’s movement was, in fact, a “masculinist” movement; to be good, you must imitate what the men do.

The part that feminists got right was that women were, to a large extent, shut out from achieving wealth, fame, and power, while they were relegated to home, family, and children. The tragic mistake was their solution. What they failed to realize was that the essential problem in American society was not what the women were doing; it was what the men were doing.

Rav Moshe Feinstein

Is the primary goal of a human being to amass wealth, to achieve fame and success, to acquire power? Is the goal of a human being to be “king of the hill?” If I am not in the spotlight on center stage does that mean I am a failure? – Devotion and loyalty to one’s spouse? Building intimate relationships? Creating a nurturing and loving home environment? Raising and educating children? Bringing new life into the world? These are inferior?! These are the activities that form the core of our humanity. The ways in which we engage in these activities are what distinguishes us from the beasts of the jungle.

What American women needed to “roar” about was that men had lost themselves in the world of blind ambition and the relentless quest for “success” while relegating to second class status, the core values that make human life worth living. Instead of creating a “revolution” to restore the soul of American society by demanding that men realign their priorities and values, women deserted their posts and recklessly jumped into the world of male foolishness, which consists of two basic categories: (a) the endless pursuit of sex, which is the natural course of the male nature unless educated and disciplined otherwise, and (b) the endless pursuit of wealth, fame, and power; or as males of every age proclaim in locker rooms all over this great country of ours –  please forgive my indelicacy – “It’s all about money and *******.”  If only these women had realized that a society which has lost the understanding that it must be built around the inner/feminine aspect of our existence, is a society that has literally lost its soul.

The destructiveness of the feminist movement is childishly camouflaged by using noble-sounding euphemisms for what actually has occurred. One of those terms that is always bandied about when talking about the cultural upheavals of the 60’s and 70’s is The Sexual Revolution. A typical liberal/progressive description of this phenomenon is the one found in Wikipedia:

“The sexual revolution (also known as a time of “sexual liberation”) was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the Western world from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage). Contraception and the pill, the normalization of premarital sex, alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed.”

The 60's, a time of social upheaval in the United States. Can you feel the love?

All of this is a cover-up of the simple truth that it was not a “social movement” at all. It was the inevitable result of the feminist call-to-arms that women are entitled to “sleep around” just like men. That is to say, “If the men can do it, why can’t we?” Feminism promoted promiscuity because it is a naturally masculine trait. Therefore, it is superior to the feminine tendency to view physical intimacy as part of a committed, loving relationship. It was not a revolution of the society. It was a revolution of women to discard their natural virtue and embrace promiscuity. It goes without saying that men were only too happy to go along with this part of the feminist agenda. Let’s face it, there was nothing revolutionary about that. In short the rampant promiscuity that exploded in the 60’s; the shredded hearts and souls of countless women who allowed themselves to be used by men for their sexual indulgence while being told by feminist ideologues that they were now “liberated women;” the plague of single-motherhood that creates an underclass of young men raised without fathers (70% in the black community, over 60% in the Latino community)  who become the drug addicts, rapists, and violent criminals in our society, all are direct outgrowths of feminist ideology.

The promotion of physical indulgence destroys the moral fiber of a society. To use Rav Eliyahu Dessler’s designation: It creates a nation of “takers” and not “givers.” It should not surprise anyone, therefore, that violent crime per-capita quadrupled in the US during the years 1964-1994. The violent crime rate in the United States is still double what it was in 1964.

The most tragic legacy of the female “masculinist” movement

The inherent stumbling block for a woman who is driven to seek wealth, fame, success, and power is the discovery of a baby growing inside her uterus. Therefore, it becomes obvious that a fundamental dogma of feminism must be unrestricted access to birth control, including the destruction of a conceived baby. Ironically, in order to feel empowered, women ruthlessly attacked that very aspect which made them uniquely female; the inherent and exclusive ability to nurture and produce life itself. Along with this was the denigration of devotion to motherhood and family. These are all feminine qualities and had to be discarded if a woman truly wanted to make it. As talk-radio host, Dennis Prager so aptly put it, “Whatever feminists may say about their only advocating choices, everyone knows the truth. Feminism regards work outside the home as more elevating, honorable, and personally productive than full-time mothering and homemaking.”

Unborn baby killed inside the womb. The blackness of the skin is caused by the injection of a saline solution into the amniotic fluid which - like a powerful acid - burns the skin. The baby gulps in the saline, the inner organs are burned and the baby is killed by this "acid bath." The woman will then go into labor to expel the dead child.

As a result, the freedom to destroy unborn children became the most sacred dogma of a feminist society. It is a society that dumps its freshly killed, perfectly formed unborn babies in plastic garbage bags while bestowing heroic status on the “doctor” who became a millionaire by dumping them there. It is a society that will lionize and idolize a drunken, misogynistic, womanizing Senator – who by his own admission used over a thousand women in his lifetime – simply because he gave his unconditional support to unrestricted abortion. This same Senator, if not for his last name, would have ended up in jail for negligent homicide of a young girl – one of his potential partners – who died when he drove off a bridge in a drunken stupor. Of course, no one wants to “butcher unborn children,” it is all in the name of the noble cause of “Women’s Reproductive Rights.” The frenzy to destroy unborn children culminated in the recent revelation of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s “house of horrors” abortion clinic in Pennsylvania and his conviction on several counts of first degree murder. Hundreds of babies were killed by having their necks snipped with scissors after being born alive during the abortion process. The soulless response from feminist activists to these atrocities and to the similar brutally enforced “one child only” policies in China has been a deafening silence.

Promiscuity, disintegration of the sanctity of marriage and family, the killing of unborn children, and the ensuing collateral damage to society are the most significant legacies of the feminist movement. One would hope that at least the killing of unborn babies would be a policy that is emphatically rejected by the “Orthodox, halakhically committed” male and female rabbinical students of YCT and YM. While it may be true that the Torah’s view on abortion is not identical with that of the Catholic Church and Evangelical pro-life advocates, there is no question that many of the abortions performed today are considered by the Torah to be capital murder or something akin to such an offense.

Feminist/progressive version of "Tikkun Olam"

The prohibition against abortion is also included in the Seven Noahide Laws that are the universal laws of morality for all mankind. What Orthodox Jews clearly share with all pro-life advocates is a profound revulsion towards the concept of abortion on demand. It is not a woman’s unrestricted right to decide the fate of the baby growing inside her, like some Roman Emperor in the Coliseum contemplating the thumbs-up or thumbs-down in a gladiatorial contest. She has been granted a sacred gift and trust from the Almighty to carry life inside her body – she is the guardian and protector of that life, not the owner. Alas, even in this area the Feminist/Progressive agenda trumps the Torah. Future female Rabbi, Dasi Fruchter of YM tells us:

“Here we go again, excluding women from the process…I looked up and was reminded that Rabbinic Judaism wasn’t the only place where a women’s voice was amplified through a man’s…it was the evening when Texas State Senator Wendy Davis embarked on an incredibly long and historic filibuster journey to aid the defeat of a bill that sought to cut access to abortion services in Texas…this dramatic moment in the political struggle for abortion rights came to symbolize just what I had been thinking about – allowing women to speak for themselves, instead of others speaking for them.” [I’m curious how Fruchter feels about allowing unborn babies to speak for themselves.]

Tikkun Olam – “perfecting the world” – now means fighting for abortion rights even though the Torah’s prohibition against abortion is even more restrictive and severe for gentiles than it is for Jews. Of course there is an upside to the feminist revolution: We have more female Doctors, personal injury attorneys, and many female TV news anchors like Katie Couric. It was a pyrrhic victory. Imagine what could have been if the woman’s revolution was one that had fought to reclaim light and life for society and not darkness and death. This is the movement that inspires Avi Weiss and his disciples.

Synagogue Cantor, the "man" in the spotlight

Once we understand these things, it becomes clear why “modern” women clamored for more visible and public roles in the prayer service and in the synagogue. They were swept away by the zeitgeist. They aped the anti-Jewish values of the surrounding society. The more visible and “famous” you are, the more important and significant you are. The most important players are the male “Rabbis” and “Cantors” who get to stand in front of the crowd. Those who never get in the spotlight are nobodies. Private devotion without public recognition is for losers. Scriptural verses like “Walk privately and modestly with your God” and “All the honor of the daughter of the King is inner and private” were the opiates thrown to women to keep them as 2nd class citizens at the back of the bus! After all, the modern TV show was called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” not “Lifestyles of the Hidden, Low-Income, Unobtrusive Ones who Serve God Without Public Recognition.”

What is significant for the Torah Jew?

If, in fact, the purpose of existence is wealth, glory, and self-indulgence, there is no good reason why women should be not be given a piece of the pie. If standing in the spotlight at the podium is what it’s all about, why shouldn’t women be given their fair shot? As Jews, however, we know that these are antithetical to everything that the Torah stands for! The purpose of existence is not wealth, power, fame and glory. The purpose of existence is Tziddkus – Righteousness; Kedushah – Holiness; Avodas Hashem – Passionate loyalty to, and service of, the Almighty; Gemillut Chasadim – Emulating God’s love and kindness towards his creatures, Talmud Torah – The study of the eternal wisdom, and the commandments of God’s Torah. In a Torah-oriented community, it is the Holy, the Righteous, the Kind and Compassionate, the Servant of God, and the Talmid Chacham [Torah Scholar], who create a stir, who are revered and admired, and  who receive honor; not the “Rich and Famous.”

A Jewish woman who is devoting the majority of her time to building a home, educating and raising her children, and being a loyal and devoted spouse has limitless opportunities to achieve holiness, service of God, Acts of Loving-kindness, Righteousness, and closeness to God. She also must find time to study and increase her knowledge in Torah, which is the source of divine wisdom. A Jewish man who ignores his marriage and family to amass wealth and to advance his career goals has completely  lost touch with the sacred  duties and obligations that God has commanded him in his Torah.

“Now O Israel, what does God  your Lord ask of you? Only to fear God  your Lord, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve God your Lord, with all your heart and with all your soul. To observe God’s commandments and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit.” (Deuteronomy 10:12)

The greatest leader of the Jewish People – and perhaps the greatest human being in the history of mankind – Moshe Rabbeinu, was perfectly content to tend the sheep of his father-in-law, he shunned publicity and strongly resisted even the urging of God himself to step into the spotlight as a leader. Our sages teach us that he felt his older brother Aaron should be the leader of the nation. No Jew, male or female should be fighting to be on center-stage. It is a perversion of everything that the Torah stands for to think that unless you are in a public position of authority you languish in inferior or 2nd class status, and yet this is the central theme of Avi Weiss’ movement and YM. The one theme that is glaringly absent from Rabbi-to-be Dasi Fruchter’s article is “what does God want from me as a Jew and as a woman?”

Male and Female are radically different

A fundamental truth in the Torah’s description of reality – as evidenced by not only the first two chapters of Genesis, but by the entire book of Genesis and countless other sources – is that men and women have been created and endowed by God with profoundly different natures; physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. (Actually, one does not need the Torah to point out this patently self-evident fact; it only becomes necessary to discuss due to the widespread acceptance of feminist/liberal propaganda to the contrary.)

The Red Carpet at the Oscars, iconic symbols of the pursuit of fame and glory, antithetical to Torah ideals

One of the most obvious differences is the manner in which the sexual drive is expressed. To put it crudely, if all men stopped looking at pornography, the entire industry would collapse overnight; if all women stopped reading romance novels, the entire romance-novel industry would collapse overnight. If men stopped going to strip clubs and prostitutes there would be no strip clubs and prostitutes (male or female). Neither of these institutions holds much interest for women. Bars have “Ladies Nights” where women get cheap drinks, because it is a way to lure in more full-paying male customers; bars do not have “Men’s Nights” where men get cheap drinks because all it would do is bring in hordes of men and most likely drive the women away. The male sex-drive is impulsive, urgent, and immediate; women naturally associate physical intimacy with emotional intimacy, love and a committed relationship. Male homosexuals are notoriously promiscuous because they are males; conversely, female homosexuals tend towards monogamous relationships. The radical difference in the way men tend to view women (as objects of sexual desire) as opposed to the way women tend to view men is so self-apparent that one does not know whether to laugh or cry upon contemplating that in 21st century western society one must actually remind many people of this obvious truth.

Strictly for Women; Most men would not be caught dead reading a romance novel

Why God created men and women this way is not our subject; that he did is obvious. It is for this reason that the exercise of, and emphasis on, female virtue and tznius [modesty] is such a critical factor in the Jewish People’s fulfillment of their destiny as a “holy nation” and “a kingdom of priests.” It is for the same reason that men are exhorted by the Torah to “guard their eyes” and not indulge in the pursuit of licentiousness and fantasizing about women. The Torah demands that we behave with extreme caution in all areas where the potential for sexual temptation is present. While true that there is a limited flexibility in the halakhic paradigms of these issues depending on the cultural norms, the underlying attitude is as stated by our Sages, “The God of Israel hates licentiousness,” and “Wherever you find barriers against sexual immorality you find holiness.” The creation of a public policy backed by ideological principles, such as promoted by Avi Weiss and YM, of putting women on display in front of men – while strictly ho-hum in our hyper-sexualized, “Swimsuit Issue-society,” where women are encouraged to present themselves as sexually-desirable objects and pornography is a constitutional right – is an anathema to Torah-dedicated Jews and absolutely cannot be reconciled with any authentic expression of Orthodox Judaism. It is, among other problems, a plain and simple violation of the fundamental notions of tznius and creating barriers against sexual temptation.

While noble, admirable, and obligatory for our holy women to teach and inspire other daughters of Israel, it is the opposite of holiness and service of God for women to routinely present themselves as spiritual leaders and teachers of men. Our Sages teach us that when our father Abraham embarked on his mission to teach people the revolutionary concept of Monotheism and its system of Godly morality, that “Abraham taught the men and Sarah taught the women.” While this attitude may be mocked and derided by those with liberal/progressive leanings and be described as prudish, Victorian, and “unhealthy repression of sexuality,” we unapologetically assert that our Mesorah in this area is the only Godly path for a committed Jew. Any attempts to meddle with the Torah’s prescription of male-female relationships and their different roles in a Torah-society, can only have disastrous consequences. An honest assessment of our surrounding culture confirms this beyond any reasonable doubt. This is not a self-righteous, finger pointing sermon. Anyone who has his eyes open knows the deleterious and demoralizing effect the current attitudes of borderless sexual freedom has on the Torah/Orthodox community. The struggles, conflicts, and damage inflicted, have challenged all of us, men and women.

Rav Ahron Lichtenstein, son-in-law of Rav Y.D. Soloveitchik, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har-Etzion, Alon Shvut, Israel

One simple true-life example will suffice to illustrate the point. While I was living in Israel, a friend of mine told me he was looking forward to attending a Friday night service at a particular synagogue in the Nachlaot section of Jerusalem. He had heard wonderful things about the Rabbi and the ecstatic and uplifting nature of the prayers. When I inquired about his experience at this synagogue the disappointment was all over his face. He said that the first half of the service, Kabbalat Shabbat [Welcoming the Sabbath], was incredibly uplifting. Then suddenly, before the beginning of the Evening Service, a beautiful young woman – modestly dressed with her hair covered in the custom of married Orthodox women – stood up in front of the congregation at the podium and started reading a chapter of Psalms out loud while everyone listened silently. At the conclusion of this reading she returned to her seat on the women’s side and the Evening Service continued. It seems this is a regular occurrence on Friday night. He said, “That was the end of the spiritual experience. I simply could not get the image of this strikingly beautiful young woman out of my mind for the rest of the evening. Many of the other men told me the same thing.” There is nothing strange or shocking about this story. His reaction was perfectly natural and normal. What would have been shocking is if he did not react that way.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, spiritual leader of Young Israel of Orange County-Irivine, Ca., and Adjunct Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

To sum up: It is axiomatic in Torah/Orthodox Judaism that the divine service of a woman is as precious to God as that of a man although the two forms of service are far from identical. That Torah/Orthodox Jews must defend themselves against vicious accusations by shallow individuals like Yosef Kanefsky, Zev Farber, Dasi Fruchter, or old-time feminists like Blu Greenberg is a testimony to the deep susceptibility of the human intellect to corruption and distortion; particularly by non-Jewish ideologies.

Fundamental changes in Jewish practice such as those advocated by Avi Weiss can only be instituted with the approval of the greatest Rabbinic/halakhic minds of the generation; those having the stature of such luminaries as Rav Moshe Feinstein or Rav Y.D. Soloveitchik. Weiss himself acknowledged this in his 1997 essay, he simply abandoned it when it became a hindrance to his agenda. For those interested in a response to Rabbi Kanefsky’s screed by a genuine Orthodox rabbi, see “Who has not made me a Liberal Rabbi,” by Rabbi Dov Fischer. For an authentic Orthodox Jewish view on homosexuality written by a true Torah sage, I refer the reader to: “A Letter to a Gay Baal Teshuva“ and “A Torah View on Homosexuality,” both authored by Rav Ahron Feldman, Dean of the Ner Israel Rabbinical Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, and a world-renowned Talmudic scholar. For those wishing to investigate the unambiguous halakhic reasoning behind the prohibition of the ordination of female Rabbis see Rav Herschel Schachter’s (the current Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS) article entitled “Women Rabbis?” and “The View of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l on the Ordination of Women.” Also highly recommended is Rabbi Dr. Moshe Meiselman’s Jewish Women in Jewish Law. It goes without saying that these are not intended as an exhaustive list of source material.

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Meiselman, Rosh Yeshiva of Toras Moshe. The author studied under Rav Meiselman at Yeshivas Brisk, Chicago.

The Perversion of the Halakhic Process

However, there is much more at stake here than the determination of what some might view as purely halakhic technicalities. Rabbi Dr.Moshe Meiselman, a nephew of Rav Soloveitchik’s and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Toras Moshe in Jerusalem, once remarked that many people have a warped view of the halakhic process; they view halakha as some sort of obstacle course. In other words, they decide beforehand that they are determined to arrive at Point B starting from Point A, and then run, twist, jump, and do summersaults in order to avoid injuring themselves on the razor-wire and land-mines that are the halakhic “obstacles.” Victory is achieved by capturing whatever flag it is they are after – in this case a feminist-progressive one – raising it aloft and proclaiming, “You see Rabbi, I didn’t cut myself on one halakha!“ This is a terrible distortion of what Torah is all about. The nation of Israel sealed their covenant with the Almighty not by  pursuing their personal agendas while at the same time exhibiting great skill at avoiding halakhic sand traps, but by proclaiming, “Na’aseh V’Nishma!”[literally: we will do and then we will understand]we first commit ourselves body and soul to fulfilling whatever it is you ask from us, irrespective of any and all personal, subjective feelings and judgments and only then begin the process of learning your Torah and its commandments. The committed Jew asks him/herself, “What path does God show me in his Torah?” not “What path do I want to go on and how can I best manipulate Torah and halakha to justify myself?”

All of what we have described above stems from the rejection of the sacred nature of our mesorah and using completely non-Jewish paradigms as the standard by which to judge the Torah; likewise, the convoluted logic and flimsy halakhic reasoning presented by YCT rabbinic figures regarding the aforementioned issues..

The “Rabbah” and “Maharat” Sham

There is one aspect of this tragic drama that I find annoying on a personal level. Please forgive me, but it is the duplicity and cowardice displayed by Rabbi Avi Weiss in the way he went about the business of ordaining female rabbis. A true man of principle (even if in my opinion they are mistaken principles) would simply have come straight out and said “I have decided to ordain women as rabbis and let the chips fall where they may!” Instead, like a conniving politician, Weiss first tested the waters by conferring Sara Hurwitz with the title of “Maharat,” then he got bolder and dubbed her “Rabbah.” When this elicited a violent pushback from the Orthodox establishment he backed off and contented himself with laying low for awhile and then ordaining female rabbis using the less controversial title “Maharat.” Weiss, of course, is fooling no one. The Maharat ordination document reads exactly like any other semicha [rabbinic ordination] document and despite the surreptitious and conspiratorial smiles and winks, everyone knows that these women – no matter what they are called – are considered to be full-fledged rabbis by Weiss and his followers. Rabbi Weiss continues to play this childish game. Sara Hurwitz, on the other hand, displays much more honesty and candor than her mentor. She made the following remarks in 2010, at a conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, shortly after the “Rabbah” controversy erupted:

Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first female Rabbi ordained by Hebrew Union College (Reform), in 1972

“You may have noticed that throughout my comments, I’ve shied away from terms that have become lightning rods in the community; like “Rabbi,” “ordination,” “semicha.” It’s not that I don’t associate my own journey with these terms, I do, but if it’s these words that will prevent greater acceptance within the community…we must not give up. Perhaps now is the time to create and shape language that is more in tune with the political realities: “Rabbi” is ordained as a male religious leader, women are conferred with the title “Rabbah” or “Maharat.”

If much of the community is going to object to words like “semicha” or “Rabbah,” rather than abandoning the cause of advancing women, we must keep moving forward…and place women in communities around the country.

You go, girl! To add insult to injury, Rabbi Weiss disingenuously and fraudulently defended his position in a radio interview by pointing out that while it is true that one major rabbinic organization, the RCA, objects to his policies, another one, the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) approves. What he did not tell the interviewer is that the IRF was founded by Avi Weiss himself! When the RCA refused to admit graduates of YCT’s rabbinic program as members because their commitment to Orthodox Jewish principles was in question, Weiss founded a rival organization where they could join. In other words: Avi Weiss’ rabbinical organization approves of Avi Weiss’ policies. Thank you for your transparency and integrity, Rabbi Weiss!

I have no problem at all calling Sara Hurwitz by her true title, Rabbi Sara Hurwitz, and neither should any Orthodox Jew. Out of civility and politeness we also address Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist clergy as “Rabbi.” The same applies to the new Neo-Conservative clergy.

A rose by any other name is a rose. Neo-Conservative Judaism by any other name, be it “Open Orthodoxy,” “Ultra-Modern Orthodoxy,” or “Ortho-Feminist Progressivism,” is still Neo-Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Sara Hurwitz’s place in history as the first female rabbi of the new movement is assured. Rabbi Weiss, your place in the history books is also assured. Like Korach and Yerovam ben N’vat before you, you have split the community and like Isaac Mayer Wise and Solomon Schechter you have launched a new movement on the American-Jewish landscape. At least be a man about it; you have made your bed, now sleep in it.

Moshe Averick was ordained as an Orthodox Rabbi in 1980 and is a member of the RCA. He studied for the Rabbinate at Yeshivas Brisk, Chicago; Yeshivat Har-Etzion, Alon Shvut, and Aish Hatorah, Jerusalem. He taught for 12 years at Yeshivat Shalavim and at various positions in Jerusalem, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where he currently resides. Moshe Averick is a regular columnist at and is author of “Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist,” available on Amazon and Kindle.

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  • Gary Belsky

    Although there is considerable invective in this essay, which is not poorly written, there is very little actual scholarship. And there is absolutely no scholarship from women, which is, of course, the unaddressed issue in this polemic, e.g., the author does not address the implicit bias of a man-made (600 BCE to 1200 CE) system which support of its authority to keep women from positions of religious power, e.g., rulings on law or communal officiations, is always rooted in subjective and circular interpretations of biblical passages made by…men. That is, “We and only we are in charge because this pasuk kind of says so according to our interpretation of this pasuk.” Rabbinic Judaism is self-defined as a construct of men, and thus not unassailable by men or women since it is, definitionally, invented as a way to deal with temporal challenges to Judaism’s survival. One may argue that the absence of gender equality is not a threat to survival but one may not logically argue that if it is a threat to survival that there is no remedy in Rabbinic Judaism because the very existence of Rabbinic Judaism is proof of the remedy.

  • Marcel

    Rav Moshe, congratulations on the article, please keep the good work!

  • Stewie Griffstein

    “A Jewish man who ignores his marriage and family to amass wealth and to advance his career goals has completely lost touch with the sacred duties and obligations that God has commanded him in his Torah.” Pot. Kettle. Black.

    • MEG

      Pot calling the kettle black indeed – except for that Moshe did not even manage to advance his career goals. He just did the ignoring his marriage and family part. And continues to do so against the instructions of his bet din.

  • MEG

    “The promotion of physical indulgence destroys the moral fiber of a society”. So says the man who married a woman half his age – a student at the modern orthodox (or was it neo-conservative) high school where he taught.

    • Moshe Averick


      My mother has been dead for quite some time now.
      Children in the sense that you don’t have the courage to state your real names.

      • MEG

        I am sorry for your loss. Since you are so courageous, please tell us: is it not true that approximately ten years ago you divorced your wife and moved in with your then-living mother and your still-living father and have not paid a dime of child support since? And while you are being so courageous, please tell us how long it took you to give her a get?

  • Steve

    Long-winded, name-dropping, and full of himself, the author basks in the spirit of good old fashioned Orthodox Judaism… And damned to anyone who thinks differently. But he goes further and progresses to character assassination of various figures who have the audacity to have a different view than the author. You know the drill. “I know what is right”. “God told ME that we are supposed to do X, Y, and Z so that other guy is a heathen.” “Women cannot be rabbis because God told ME that they cannot be”. Etc etc.

    At the end of the day, authors who write long winded BS articles invoking boring quotes are attempting to mask what is really going on – namely that they are typical misogynist a-holes. In this particular case, he is a misogynist and a deadbeat father. Didn’t God tell you to pay child support?

    • Moshe Averick


      You sound like a very bitter individual whose writing style would be suitable for a blog like Failed Messiah.
      Unlike some of the other commenters who disagreed with me, you did not even bother to address any of the points I made. Also unlike you, whenever I make comments on this or any other site I always use my real name.

      • MEG

        steve, I agree with Moshe. You should have addressed at least one of his points – like whether or not it’s true that most men would not be caught dead reading a romance novel. I thought that was a super insightful, scholarly comment he made, one that he clearly discussed with all sorts of gedolim and chochomim before digging to the bottom of his own supposed heart and deciding whether or not to write it.

      • Steve

        Sorry, I was too sidetracked by all the multiple photos of the Gedolim to really dig into all your substantive points in your magnus opus. It was a wonderful idea to have various photos of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Feinstein at different stages of their lives. I am still floored by the photos of the aborted babies. What kind of sicko would include those photos in such a scholarly piece of work?

        • Moshe Averick

          Steve and MEG: two children afraid to use their real names.

          • MEG

            Moshe- I’m not the one who still lives with my mother. And although I don’t know who Steve is, I’m willing to bet that he isn’t either. You, on the other hand, are a “proud father of eight”, all of whom you’ve abandoned in one way or another while you live with your MOTHER. So how is it that we are the children exactly?!

        • Moshe Averick


          I’m curious; why were you so disturbed by the photos of aborted babies? That’s what they look like.

          • MEG

            those are not aborted babies (and if they were it would be asur to post them). have you heard of photoshop?

  • Alas, the erosion and corruption of Judaism affected all levels. This corruption usually begins with placating to any big donors of the moment. (And the big donors of the recent decades happened to be homosexuals, liberasts and progressives). How to ensure that rabbis serve to God rather than to donors who “own them”?

  • Abe Kohen

    Guilt by association. Cheap trick. Unconvincing.

  • Such a powerful article!

  • I think the long diatribe against feminism and abortion, and making an argument that feminism led to the sexual revolution and the normalization of abortion is a distraction. (I’m also not sure feminism was as big of a factor as moral relativism taking everything that doesn’t hurt a third party off the table of moral discussion.) I also think that if you really believe that aborted fetuses are dead human beings, the pictures are prohibited because of laws of respect for the dead (kavod hemeis).

    That said, there is a much stronger argument against Open Orthodoxy that you could have emphasized, and instead just mention. Compare the ideal in the position paper: In the same framework, all those who hold to Orthodoxy contend that “new Halakha,” which emerges constantly from the wellspring of the halakhic process, must always be based on the highest caliber of religio-legal authority. There must be an exceptional halakhic personality who affirms the new ruling on the grounds of sound halakhic reasoning.”

    And the implementation: sum: for we Modern Orthodox, if da’at-Torah means to revere the wisdom of the great rabbinic authorities, like Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, we believe in it. If, however, it means to follow blindly the great rabbinic authorities in non-halakhic areas or to close off discussion in purely halakhic areas, we disagree. We respect Rav Soloveitchik’s da’at-Torah precisely because he was a person of enormous human wisdom and insight. He understood that da’at-Torah was not to be imposed; that it was to be persuasive rather than authoritarian.”

    Noting the contradiction is one line in the article, but the most condeming evidence that Open-O does not follow halakhah as Rabbi Weiss himself defined it when he set out.

    Meanwhile, their dayan went pubic with his acceptance of arguments based on archeological theory and biblical criticism to reject basic and defining tenets of Orthodoxy. His position on the mythical nature of the exodus, the revelation at Mt Sinai, never mind the forefathers or early prophets, places him outside the Orthodox camp.

  • Yisroel

    This article was pure character assassination of Rabbi Weiss and it showed an extreme lack of derech eretz towards an individual who has dedicated his life to Klal Yisrael.
    Throughout this article it became more evident to me that it wasn’t your concern for protecting the mesorah or your glorifying your g’dolim that you wrote this article but more out of pure sinat chinom for Rabbi Weiss. Please do not respond with some silly response like the one above to David S. – this came out under your name. As a first time reader of your opinions it was very upsetting to read this article.

    • Yisroel,

      The question is not whether or not it was character assassination, the question is if what I wrote about him is the truth. If God wishes to bestow on Avi Weiss the greatest share of olam habah for all the good things he has done, it would not bother me one bit. The fact that he did good things in the past does not excuse his behavior now. the Navi Yechezkel (Ezekiel) writes about this explicitly. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity,…he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered…” (3:20)

      You are wrong about my “hatred” of Avi Weiss. I was very conflicted about writing this article and I waited a long time before actually writing it and only after much soul-searching and consultation with chachomim. I am sorry if it upset you but Avi Weiss’ actions have caused tremendous machlokes and he is responsible for creating a terrible split in the Orthodox community. He is a modern day Korach. Please don’t forget, Chazal intimate that Korach was perhaps second only to Moshe Rabbeinu in his greatness, it is no small thing that Shmuel Hanavi was descended from Korach. Korach was much greater than me or you and Avi Weiss also, it didn’t help him when he rebelled against the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu. Weiss has rebelled against the authority of the Mesorah and the Gedolei Yisroel which leads back to “Moshe keibel Torah M’Sinai”

      • Yisroel

        I cannot believe that you just actually compared Rabbi Weiss to Korach. Who are you to judge someone like that? Who are you to label a Jew with any type of label? Who are you to tell us what is and isn’t Mesorah? Who are you to decide who is and isn’t a gadol?

        I’d be very interested to know which “chachamim” you consulted with before writing this article? I’d like to know which “chachamim” gave you the heter to increase sinat chinom?

        Regarding your first comment – You somehow justified your article by defining it as the truth and since it’s the truth everything else is irrelevant. I cannot imagine how you conduct yourself in your real life interactions with other human beings…are you that judgmental of people? Is a Jew who doesn’t think like you a “sinner” (as you proudly quoted from Sefer Yechezkel)? Is this how a Rav should behave???

        Regarding your second comment – Rabbi Weiss did not cause “tremendous machlokes” nor did he create a “terrible split within the orthodox community” and he definitely did not “rebel against the authority of Torah” these are absolutely redundant claims that have no backing whatsoever halachikally. You have so far managed to spew only negative things in your article and comments but have neglected to offer a single constructive solution to the challenges that Rabbi Weiss is grappling with. I have never felt that Charedi Judaism represented Mesorah. I would compare it to a dart that’s thrown to the target and missing it by several inches…in other words – Charedi Judaism is off target, it’s a misrepresentation of what Torah is and can and should be. It has become a way of life that doesn’t focus on “Emmes” but deep down it has become a culture of “what will everyone think of me”…this creates a controlling culture of people who cannot think independently for themselves and if you dare think out of the box you are clearly rebelling. Your article does not represent creative independent thinking rather a controlling and rigid representation of something that is far from Torah and way off target.

        • Moshe Averick


          Your hysteria does not change anything. To say that Weiss has not caused machlokes is absurd. A large percentage of the Orthodox community no longer considers him and his female Rabbis as part of the Orthodox community. Is there any greater machlokes than that? When both major Orthodox rabbinic organizations castigate him for breaching the mesorah, is that not a machlokes? I don’t know what dream world you are living in. The split has already occurred. You are in denial.

          • Yisroel

            Please answer my questions and present your vision and not your intense charedi anger towards other Jews.

  • This is a well-thought out, and comprehensive essay on the matter.

    על רגל אחת I would have to say that the sentence from above, The committed Jew asks him/herself, “What path does God show me in his Torah?” not “What path do I want to go on and how can I best manipulate Torah and halakha to justify myself?” sums the matter up quite nicely.

    Unfortunately, Jews are in gross denial that ~2,000 years in Galuth (exile) has affected us on such a deep level.

    DENIAL = Don’t Even kNow I Am Lying

    I hope that you write another piece on how to combat this mentality.

    חזק וברוך!

    BTW, I canNOT see ANY evidence of lashon hara here (חו”×—).

    • Esser,

      Thanks for your encouraging words. Please pass along the article to as many friends as possible. It is important to dispel the confusion that surrounds this whole tragic affair. People must understand clearly that to choose Avi Weiss is to choose to leave the Orthodox community.

  • Jonathan G.

    Foolish, long article devoid of actual fact. What is it precisely which makes Rabbi Weiss in the writers eyes non-Orthodox ? Who says women cannot be Torah scholars?
    And why not address questions women raise?
    Should a man discuss sexual issues with a woman ? Is that permissable? Should a male Rabbi watch a female convert dip naked? Is that permissable?
    Also if one tries to read your piece about Avi Weiss its impossible – You talk about his views on abortion by quoting a woman he learned with and hiw views on homosexuality by quoting a rabbi kanefsky article? Those arent Avi Weiss’ words any more than RCA condemnation of him speaks for Orthodox Jewry.
    Rabbi Avi Weiss is a holy Jew who has done amazing things for Am Israel. Period.

    • Jonathan G.,
      It might be that your comment is devoid of fact.

      1. Nobody ever said that woman cannot be Torah scholars. The Rambam writes explicitly that a woman who learns Torah receives reward (although not like a man because she is not commanded). There have always been woman who are great Torah scholars. We were talking about semicha, not learning Torah.

      2.Who said that we should not address questions that women raise? If Moshe Rabbeinu addressed to questions of the daughters of Tzlafchad to the Almighty himself, why would we not address a woman’s question?

      3. A man should not discuss sexual issues with a woman unless there is a very specific overriding reason. If a man needs to discuss these issues it should be with a man.

      4. Please consult your local Orthodox Beis Din about the procedure for female converts. Don’t be ridiculous.

      5. The views on homosexuality were not by Kanefsky, they were by Zev Farber, the only person who has been granted “Yadin Yadin” semicha by YCT (ordination as a Rabbinical Judge.) He is the head of the Vaad Hagiyur and oversees conversions for the IRF – which is Avi Weiss’ rabbinical organization. Zev Farber writes on the Morethodoxy website – the semi-official website of the IRF,along with Asher Lopatin, the new head of YCt, and Rabbi Sara Hurwitz, who needs no introduction. Avi weiss has given his tacit approval of all the outrageous things his students have said and done.

      Avi Weiss will receive his just reward from God for all the good things he has done in the past. It does not excuse his deplorable behavior of the present.

  • David S

    In spite of the length of this essay and its obvious knowledge of some of the subject matter, it is really just an editorial espousing a traditional approach without addressing Rabbi Weiss on his own terms. Indeed Rabbi Weiss has always claimed that he is not violating Halacha and there is no evidence that he has gone beyond its strictures in spite of some novel applications. In short, there is nothing that does not fit within the four corners of Torah law. So what is left is an article of thinly veiled sociology. There is a sociological case to make here, but rather than do so the Author chooses the cheap device of guilt by association. In this myopic world Rabbi Weiss cant possibly have pure Jewish motives for his actions and must have been influenced by the cultural upheaval of the sixties. Betty Friedan influences him more than Moses!

    So what we end up with is at best Lashon Hara. Make no mistake, the author of this screed is guilty of that.

    • Avrohom Steinberg

      Reb Dovid, there is plenty of meaty evidence that Rabbi Avi Weiss has gone beyond the strictures of halacha in this article. The fact that Rabbi Weiss “has always claimed that he is not violating Halacha”, is just that, a claim. As a reader I am convinced from the thorough evidence in this this article that he has.

      While this article (and title) does create an association to the founders of the reform and conservative movements, I think the author is spot on. In no way is it a “cheap device of guilt by association”. The association is one that was created by no one else then Rabbi Weiss himself, by associating himself with the rabbis associated with YCT mentioned in the article. If statements attributed to those rabbis are true, then the association made in the title to article is accurate. You would do better refuting the accuracy of the quoted statements of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s talmidim. Otherwise the association in the article flows naturally and logically.

      Regarding your claim that

    • David Z

      First, Weiss is a makhate, if not a khote. I don’t know what he personally dopes, but his teachings and his institutions encourage normalized homnosexual relationships. As tot he women rabbi issue, it appears to be a violation of rabbinic law, which he has little regard for in his writings and those of his associates.

      As to lashon hara, whatever you think of Open Orthodoxy, it is very important for people who consider themselves “Modern Orthodox” to understand why they are not this.

      I certainly don’t agree with everything in this article and it could ave used a good editing, but the world is better with it than without it.

      • David Z,

        I’ve been given more adulatory compliments in my lifetime, but I’ll take what I can get. Kol tuv

    • David S,

      If I am guilty of lashon harah so are all the leading Rabbinic authorities of the Agudath Israel, Young Israel, and the RCA. Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Schachter are also then guilty of speaking lashon harah. You seem to have missed the whole point of the article; Avi Weiss never was and is not an halachic authority. He is a successful congregational Rabbi. I can suggest halachic “innovations” that defy the entire Orthodox world also and claim that I am within halacha. The Conservative movement still claims that their practices are within halachic boundaries.

      You are correct that Avi Weiss’ movement is also a sociological phenomena, just as was the success of the original Conservative movement. It gave the people the innovations that they wanted. How can a movement be considered Orthodox when their “Dayan” who is in charge of conversions denies Torah Mi’sinai. I regret to say, David, I think you are living in a dream world. The die has already been cast. It is not a matter of which side you choose.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. I wrote a much shorter blog post called “Why Rabbi Avi Weiss is Wrong” on another frum blog last month where I explain these same point in a way that most logical frum people would understand. Search for it online using the above title or click my name to link to it.

    • Avi Segal

      To readers of above comment, you might be fooled as I was that the above referenced article “Why Rabbi Avi Weiss is Wrong” is indeed what it appears. I took what was written at face value and checked out the article. Be warned that the article is in fact the opposite. It is in fact an essay arguing that Rabbi Avi Weiss is right, using the title in a sarcastic way.

      While that in of itself is OK, as there is nothing wrong with debating such an issue, you might want to think twice before taking the bait and reading the article referenced for other reasons.

      The author who is undoubtedly talented, will either make you an apikores or will cause your blood to boil. In fact, that can be said of most articles (if not all) on the blog hosting the article called Frum Satire. If you are reading Moshe Averick’s essay because you are disturbed how innovations by Rabbi Avi Weiss will over time estrange many of our Yiddishe brethren from Yiddishkeit, you really want to stay clear and far from any article written by this Telz Angel fellow (malach mashchis?) and from any article/comment posted on Frum Satire. Repeated consumption of Frum Satire content is guaranteed, at minimum, to loosen the commitment of most readers of Taryag Mitzvohs observance, and at most, cause readers to become mechaleli Shabbos and more. There are unfortunately so many of our formerly-frum brothers that eat on Yom Kippur as a result of reading Frum Satire articles and comments. Sadly, it is not only the outcome but also the intent and objective of these writers. Unfortunately they achieved their goals and “raabim challalim heepelu”. It is my hope and prayer that overtime we should see many people like Rabbi Moshe Averick take on these reshaim-bloggers and expose their fallacies as well as blowing the cover of their personas that hide their rishus and malicious intent under the guise of intellect. I am convinced that many Frum Satire content contributors which include Telz Angel and his ilk are not only in the midst of some delicious food while you are bent over a Yom Kippur machzor reciting “al cheit”, but rather the entire al cheit is a wishlist of sorts for them.

      • Avi, my apologies. When I read this article — a 10,000 word lampoon with nonsensical conclusions, complete with pictures of a shirtless Fabio cover, Fred Flintsone, smiling gedolim, and dead babies(!) I truly thought the author was also writing satire. The logic led me conclude that he was doing everything possible to make the his argument as silly as I made mine. So I thought to play along. Upon re-reading this, and seeing the comments, I’m now thinking that he was actually being serious. Wow. Just, Wow.

        I hold an opinion on an issue that you (and apparently he) disagree with. People who learn Torah know that machlokes lishma is a good thing. I’ve never seen any amorah, gaon, or rishon suggest that someone he disagrees with must be someone who is oyver on issueri kareis. I think we can learn a lot about debating sociological issues from the way chazal debate halachic issues. I’m saddened that you think I would ever eat on Yom Kippur, Ch’vSh (I don’t — in fact, I daven for the amud at a prominent shul).

        Some frum people like me are challenging the ideology of socio-frumkeit. This is the “culture of frum” where people conform to a social behavior, not actually based in halacha. It’s one that includes sinas chinum wrapped in the garb of to’eles — the purpose is to dull people’s minds and make them follow some behaviors and express opinions in fear that if they don’t they will be labeled “not frum enough” and people will stop eating at their house or something. It’s frum-posing. This leads intelligent people to leave the frum world when they see hypocrisy and illogical fears and attacks. Bloggers are calling this out and inviting people to remain frum, but use their head to reject the foolishness people like this author is conveying in the name of halacha. We don’t want to scare away all the intelligent people from the frum velt. Imagine what happen. Readers and authors of these blogs are not reshoim, nearly all are frum. Those who are OTD don’t care to read this stuff, they have better things to do with their time.

        Do you really think emunah in our community so weak that a critical blog makes people michallel shabbos? If someone is going to be michallel shabbos, do you think a blog is going to make a difference? Do you think that blogs encouraging people to follow sinas chinum in the name of socio-frum outward behaviors really makes people more frum? This article above does not convince any Weiss-supporter of anything other than the weakness of the arguments being presented. Those who hate what Weiss is doing will probably glance over this essay and assume that they agree with it — glad that someone articulated the point (and punctuated it with entertaining pictures). Those who are on the fence are hardly swayed by the dissuasive arguments and offensive attacks contained. It’s poor rhetoric.

        If this was satire, my article was a shorter version. If this was serious, I think it will backfire on the author since it’s unconvincing. It looked like satire to me, and I know from satire.

        • Telz Angel, (whatever exactly that is supposed to mean),

          The article was not written to convince the followers of Avi Weiss to change their opinions. Sadly, they are lost are not coming back. There are many others who are leaning in his direction and sadly enough again, we are going to lose more Jews who will choose to follow Weiss’ new movement. Many of them will be very idealistic and who had great potential to do much good in the Orthodox community.

          The article was written so that people who are confused understand clearly that a split has occurred. Choosing to go with Avi Weiss means choosing to leave the Orthodox community. The entire right-of-center camp of the Orthodox community has already written off Weiss and his followers. This is not like an argument about saying Hallel on Yom Atzmaut which is an argument about a sheita. While many Yeshivish Jews consider it wrong to say Hallel on YA, they do not say that these people are not Orthodox, that they have no chelek in Toras Moshe Rabbeinu. That is a universe of difference.

          The right-of-center camp takes it as a matter of fact that Avi Weiss and his followers have no chelek in Toras Moshe Rabbeinu. This is not an argument, it is a complete split in the community. There are many left of center Jews who agree that Weiss has gone too far and agree with the right wingers on this. The confusion lies with the far left-wing of Orthodox Jews. Some, as I said , will go with Weiss, and some are still confused. Perhaps the article will help that group.

          Telz Angel, whether you like it or not the split has occured and while you can pretend to play both sides of the fence in a satirical article, in practice you must choose which side you are on.

          • Israel

            People who say Hallel on YA are being called Amalek, Goyim & many other names by the right-of-center camp of Orthodoxy in Israel on a weekly basis in the media. They are considered worse than the secular.

  • An erudite and fundamental essay. There is no question that open orthodoxy has left the fold of orthodox Judaism, and this article documents this unfortunate schism very clearly.

    My only criticism is that in the byte sized age, this lenghty piece should have been broken up into three separate articles. I guess this is yet another example of orthodox backwardness and refusal to concede to the enlightened demands of modernity.

    • Moh Oshiv,

      I’m a “backwards” kind of guy. 🙂

  • Charlie Hall

    ” there is no question that many of the abortions performed today are considered by the Torah to be capital murder or something akin to such an offense.”

    There no question today or at any time in the past 3,000 years that abortions are NOT considered capital murder by the Torah!

    And this guy accuses Rabbi Weiss of distorting the Torah?

    • As Charlie Hall writes, no one considers abortion to be capital murder. But to go further, the vast majority of decisors do not find abortion to be murder or manslaughter altogether. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein stands out among the noted rabbis of the past few generations for classifying abortion as a form of murder punished by G-d rather than rabbinic court. Most find it prohibited as a wound of the mother, much like the prohibition against body modification, or a more heinous derivative of the same concept as masturbation.

      It is true that under G-d’s covenant with Noah abortion falls under the category whose could be translatedd “murder”, but those categories are far broader than halakhah for Jews — 7 mitzvot have to cover the entire spectrum of religious behavior. The fact that it does not show up as murder in halakhah is sufficient to demonstrate that it is “only” related to murder and not murder itself for Noahides. After all, the same act can’t be murdering a baby is committed by a non-Jew but be something done to a potential person or a part of the mother when performed by a Jew.

      But in any case…. The writer, in the middle of his accusing others of having assimilated Liberal American values demonstrates his own assimilation of Right Wing Republican ones. His statement is based on the rhetoric of the Christian Right, not the Torah.

      • Micha,

        Please read my reply to Charlie Hall. You are simply misinformed. I clearly made the point that the Torah’s view on abortion is not identical with that of the Christian right.

    • Charlie,

      Either you are ignorant of the halacha or else you did not read carefully what I wrote: “MANY of the abortions…are capital murder or SOMETHING AKIN to such an offense.” I assume you have also not taken into account that abortions are forbidden for Bnei Noach (Gentiles) also and the prohibition is more severe for them.

    • Charlie and Micha,

      I am purposely not going into details about the halacha of abortions, but I have had to deal with L’maaseh shaylos and have heard the decisions from the top halachic authorities.

      • It doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of acharonim do not say the prohibition of abortion has anything to do with killing babies. Here were what the crew over on the Avodah emai list found:

        Before I do so, I must acknowledge RMF’s daas yachid in IM CM 2:69(b), which argues it is murder.

        Tosafos say abortion is mutar on Niddah 44b “eihu”. This is usually interpreted away: That either they are saying it isn’t under the same issur as for benei Noach, but still assur, or that they are speaking only bemaqom saqanah.

        The Ran (Chullin 58a) says abortion is assur deRabbanan.

        The Minchas Chinukh says that abortion for BN is punished with death because it’s a 7MBN and explcitly excludes it being because it’s retzichah mamsh. And that’s why the Rosh says that a Yehudi may abort a bas Noach’s velad to save her life because it’s dechuyah bemaqom sakanah like any other issur.a

        The Zohar Shemos 3b describes abortion as being a horrible destruction of HQBH’s handiwork, the same language it uses to describe shichvas zera levatalah. The Chavos Ya’ir (teshuvah 31) also considers abortion to be hota’as SZL.

        The Maharit (1:97) concludes abortion is asur as a form of injury to the mother.

        The Mishtetei Uziel (CM 4:46, others cited 3:47) says it’s like shefichas damim only because the gemara likens all neglect of piryah verivyah to shefichas damam. Leshitaso, abortion derives from piryah veriyah (an asei)!

        The Tzitz Eliezer, when he is choleiq with RMF (one of 7:48, 9:51:3, 13:102), opines that RMF’s raayah chilul Shabbos doesn’t prove anything, since “challel alav Shabbos achas kedei sheyishmo Shabasos harbei” applies to an ubar. This draws from the Ramban, Toras HaAdam (d”h “ubeHalakhos Gedolos”, R’ Chavel ed. pg 29). He too concludes it’s hotza’as zera levatalah, and cites the Yaavetz in 1:43.

        Although to be fair, RYE is speaking about aborting without 72 hours, “morning after” in today’s political parlance, to prevent the birth of a mamzer, or a woman having to carry the product of her being raped. So the TE is taking it further than one has to insist the Yaavetz intended. (Although there is no reason to insist otherwise, either.) And in any case, the TE is an acharon to cite in his own right.

        Russel J Hendell testified that RASoloveitchik notes that the Rambam (Rotzeiach 1:9) says the ubar is “KErodeif achareha”, and it’s only in the case of mishehotzi rosho that the Rambam says “ein dochon nefesh mipenei nefesh”. RAS understands the Rambam as saying the ubar isn’t really a rodeif — there is no pursuit of the mother, teva put the two in conflict. Which is
        why the Rambam doesn’t allow infanticide after crowning to save the mother. But before that, the ubar isn’t really a nefesh either, so it being KErodeif is enough.

        This is the shitah of R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 4, EH 1).

        In Eirukhin 7a the gemarah discusses a mishnah that says that beis din kills a pregnant woman without waiting for the baby is born.
        The gemara’s asks that this is too obvious to even warrant a mishnah, since a fetus is part of the mother. So it explains that I might have had a hava amina that the father’s stake would override.

        In a similar vein is the Y-mi Qiddushin 13b, where a shifchah can accepts a gett shichrur on behalf of her velad because it’s part of her. (An eved cannot accept a gett shichrur for another.)

        And some mar’eh meqomos from Enecy Hilchatit Refu’it by R’ Dr Steinberg:
        Ramban (nidah 41a)
        Yad Ramah (Sanhedrin 57b)
        Radvaz (vol 2 #695)
        Drisha EH 13:4
        Sma CM 425:8,
        Sridei Esh (vol 3:127)
        see also Tosafot Sotah 26a

        I stand by what I said.

        • Micha,

          This will be my final comment on the subject. I appreciate all the work you have done on the subject, but this article was never meant to be an in-depth presentation of abortion and Jewish law and the comment section is not the appropriate place for such a discussion either. If Gd forbid, an Jew, or Gentile who values the directives of the Torah, is faced with the question of whether to perform an abortion they should consult with the HIGHEST level authorities in Jewish law that are available, certainly not Avi Weiss or the apikorus, Zev Farber.

          Rav Heineman, Rav Belsky, Rav Schachter, Rav Dovid Cohen, Rav Shmuel Fuerst are several that come to mind although there are certainly others.

          Halacha l”maaseh Rav Ahron Soloveitchick z”l paskened that for a ben-noach to abort a child is a shayla of 1st degree murder. In short everything I wrote in the article is true.

          A. MANY of the abortions performed in the US today are capital murder OR SOMETHING AKIN TO SUCH AN OFFENSE.

          B. The Torah’s view on abortion IS NOT identical to that of the Catholic Church nor that of pro-life Evangelical Christians.

          C. All Orthodox Jews share with pro-life Christians an absolute revulsion to the concept of abortion on demand. A woman does NOT have the unrestricted right to decide whether or not to destroy the life growing inside her.

          I will add that the Zohar in Shemot tells us that abortion drives Gods presence from the world and causes terrible divine judgments to fall upon Am Yisroel and the whole world.

          • I’m now wondering how old you are. R’ Aharon Soloveitchik grew more meiqil over time. If you indeed consulted him and was told he held stringently, it must have been earlier in his career. One later pesaq allowed abortion in the case of rape, psychological threat to the mother only, in the third trimester. And the Satmar Rav (R’ Yoel Tanenbaum) permitted one of his chassidot to abort in the first trimester, also solely to avoid the psychological damage caused by birthing the product of a rape.

            Yes, many, indeed most, abortions in the US are prohibited. But they are not retzichah.

            None of which has to do with the very real problems of Open Orthodoxy. They promote feminism, which you believe promotes abortion. I’m not sure that causality is sound, but that point aside… Do you have any indication that Open Orthodox rabbis permit abortion more often than anyone else? If not, why those disgusting pictures?

            And if you do believe abortion is murder, wouldn’t you consider those pictures of cadavers, which should not be shown due to kavod hameis?

          • Goldberg

            @micha – Sorry for the late comment. I believe that the Zohar’s mention of killing children is simply referring to the Ancient Roman practice of abandoning them to leave them to die.

    • Tal Benschar

      Well the Rambam is someone who would disagree with you:

      בן נוח שהרג נפש, אפילו עובר במעי אימו–נהרג עליו. וכן אם הרג טריפה, או שכפתו ונתנו לפני הארי, או שהניחו ברעב עד שמת–הואיל והמית מכל מקום, נהרג. וכן אם הרג רודף שיכול להצילו באחד מאבריו–נהרג עליו, מה שאין כן בישראל.

      (Hil. Melakhim 9:4)

      IIRC mefarshim understand that in all these cases, a Jew who commits these acts is patur be dinei adam but is chayyav misah biydei shomayim. As the Rambam explicitly states by the cases of treifah and gerama.
      I don’t know if misah biydei shomayim counts as a “captial offense,” but it is sure close. And for a Ben Noach, it is misah biydei adam.

      • But not because it’s murder, or that a fetus is considered a baby before its head emerges. I just posted a rather long (for a blog comment) list of sources.

  • The violent crime rate has doubled due primarily to a redefinition of violent crimes and changes in reporting. For instance, in 1964 a man had a fundamental right to intercourse with his wife (i.e. the government did not recognize marital rape).

    A crime with a fairly constant definition (murder) and reporting has FALLEN slightly since 1964, and it is only half what it was the year abortion was legalized.

    • Meir,

      Rape = triple what it was in 1964
      Robbery= Double what it was in 1964
      Aggravated Assault = Triple what it was in 1964

      Murder= peaked around 1980 – between 1964 and 1980 (only 16 years) the murder rate doubled. It slowly receded and only reached 1964 levels again in 2010.

      That’s a lot of women raped, a lot of people robbed and assaulted and a lot of people murdered. In my opinion, Meir, your “objections” are insignificant. My point stands.

      • GAON

        Moshe Averick,
        You seem to be a master of statistics.
        Could you kindly reveal the stats on Rabbinic pedophilia over the same time frame.
        Even break it down, amongst the various sects, Satmar, Yeshiva University, Lubavitcher, Belz, et al….to the best of your ability. And then please the statistics re the number of Jewish children abused by their Yeshiva Rabbis, or their counselors in Orthodox Jewish summer camps over the same time frame.. Also, essential, is to dig out some number for Conservative, Reconstruction, Reform (Renewal??) , and YCT. Good luck digging. I have found ZERO in the press, there is one bipolar Reform Rabbi who stopped traffic, but no pedophilia. but get us some good numbers. How many pedophiles have there been amongst those who received Smicha from YCT????
        It would be useful to extrapolate also into the future, based on the current monthly reports of new molestors, or rather newly reported, such as Ricky Andron,, how many more “as yet unreported” child molestors still remain at large. Oh, of course you are not a Navi, anymore than i am a Gaon. Statistics are available re average number of victims per each perpetrator.
        The Orthodox frum world seems to have the monopoly on abuse (in the Jewish world). Just the Jewish world, we are not talking about priests in this discussion.

        Why would anyone want to associate with an Orthodox, (Charedi or not Charedi) ( you know the Amaleks (sic) per Shalom Cohen and Ovadia Yoseph, but i diverge).
        Work up some numbers, as percentage of all Rabbis per each denomination, or cult as the case may be.
        If this is Orthodox Judaism, I’d rather be heathen. (In jest), despite having lots of issues with Weiss’s views, they are far more palatable than the behavior of your G’dolim. Did your Torah m’Sinai to Mosherabbeinu make pedophilia legitimate? Maybe the Redactors removed it.

        • Gaon,

          Impossible for me to understand the relevance of your comments. Pedophilia legitimate? Are you out of your mind?

      • My point is the definition of rape has dramatically changed, same as assault.

        My second point is that, starting at the time when the unwanted aborted fetuses would (without Roe) have been born and reaching adulthood in an environment unfortunately conducive to a life a crime, the violent crime rate started falling. Nobody has to like it, but there’s a strong correlation there between not-so-responsible people not having kids they don’t want and lower crime rates.

        • Meir,

          I have a better idea. Just kill everyone (after they are born) who is a high risk for becoming a criminal. Then the crime rate will REALLY drop. Whether or not the thesis posed by the author of Freakonomics? The Tipping Point? is true is does not change the essential immorality of abortion. It also does not change the fact that the same changes in cultural attitudes that allowed for the acceptance and EMBRACING of the killing of unborn children are the same changes that caused the violent crime rate to quadruple in less than 30 years. Also I remind you, that the violent crime rate is still DOUBLE what it was in 1964; nothing justifies that.

          • Charlie Hall

            You cherrypick statistics you like, and ignore those that don’t fit your preconceived notions. That is intellectual dishonesty. But since you distort torah it should be no surprise that you distort statistics. Homicide rates in NYC are LOWER today than in 1964 and continue to fall, and as others have pointed out it started to fall 20 years after the legalization of abortion.

  • Excellently written. Too bad the subject was so sad. May we only have to say good things about good people and let those mistaken write about how mistaken they were. As the Chassidic saying goes: in the future redemption we will have to believe there was galus.

    • R. Tuvia,

      Amen, this was a difficult article for me to write and I only wrote it after much soul-searching and consultation with chachomim.

      • David Z

        Were they persuasive or binding? 🙂 One of the numerous problems I had was that you don’t seem to differentiate between daat tora and p’sak halkha. daat tora only covers those areas that are outside of p’sak halakha.

        That said, Weiss cares for neither. And despite my numerous problems, this article is an important one for those who consider themselves “Modern Orthodox.” It;s also important foer the “Orthodox Right” though so that they don’t have sinat khinam toward Modern Orthodoxy over the sins of Open Orthodoxy. I haven’t quite made the decision never to step in Kanevsky’s schul, but I contemplate it as he writes more and more. It’s hard because he’s such a nice guy, we could all learn from his ben adam l’khavero, but he’s honestly a makhate et harabim….

      • Puzzled

        Moshe –

        I am trying really hard to take you seriously when you express how difficult it was for you to write this article and how much “soul-searching and consultation with chachomim” you went through in order to put digital pen to digital paper. I am finding it difficult in light of your publicly accessible Facebook wall which is filled with hateful and insulting words against others (i.e. “wicked witch”, “bottom feeding scum,” etc., etc., etc.).

        It takes someone with impeccable middos to publicly condemn and write out of Yiddishkeit an entire group of Jews. I wonder if you really did the proper cheshbon before embarking on this article? Your public Facebook wall is just one indication that perhaps you didn’t.

        • Puzzled,

          I make no secret of my distaste for the President and the first lady. You are free to disagree if you like. To call Al Sharpton a “bottom-feeding” scum is an understatement. In fact, it is downright generous. The man who is responsible for the Tawana Brawley scandal, the Crown Heights riots and the murders of eight people in Harlem at Freddies REcord shack plus whipping up a black lynch mob against George Zimmerman, makes it difficult to find strong enough words to describe how low he is.

          It is the RCA, Agudas Yisroel, Young Israel, the poskim of Am Yisroel, and Avi Weiss and his Rabbinic disciples themselves, who have written a group out of the Orthodox community.
          The “dayan” in charge of conversions for the IRF is an outright apikorus and some of the leading Rabbinic figures from YCT, with Weiss’ tacit, if not explicit, approval have viciously attacked Chazal and the Mesorah of our halacha. I am not the first one to write about this and I certainly will not be the last. I would never write such an article without consultation with the top levels of Torah knowledge.

          Having said all that, I take your tochacha seriously and I’m thinking about it.