This is from Rabbi Yoni Rosenzweig who was a Rosh Kollel in Mizrachi for a several years. I do not know him, and I think I only spoke to him once on Purim over a passuk in the Megilla at Rabbi Sprung’s house. I say I “think” because it was Purim and the memory is hazy 🙂
That being said, the interaction between my car and it’s bluetooth implementation and my phone, causes a shiur (I have about 2000 on my iPhone) to come on when I drive. On Friday, I heard part 2 of one from Rabbi Professor Sperber (who is known for his fantastic series on Minhagim). There were aspects that disturbed me. I will try to listen to Part 1 and 2 and blog about that in the future.
One thing I did come away with was that Professor Sperber’s description of his daughter’s Judaism, and what I know of Shira Chadasha in Melbourne are many many miles apart. Below, is what Rabbi Rosenzweig apparently wrote on Facebook in response to Rabbi Gordimer (I haven’t seen the original)
Rabbi Riskin gave an interview yesterday in which he posited that the Reform an Conservative movements are not enemies, but rather partners (see link in the comments). In response, Rabbi Gordimer wrote a scathing response (link below in the comments).
I must take issue with Rabbi Gordimer’s comments. I would like to start off by saying that as my family was also very close with The Rav, and also very much involved in YU, I have – despite my growing up here – always been privy to many stories regarding Rabbi Riskin, both positive and negative, and have been “kept in the loop” through those circles and connections.
But I never really knew Rabbi Riskin until I started working for him (and still work in one of his institutions). Throughout my work in Ohr Torah I have had many opportunities to sit with him, discuss both practical and theoretical issues, and hear his position on many a topic.
I can say two things without hesitation: (1) Rabbi Riskin and I disagree on a whole bunch of stuff. I can count on more than two hands the Halachic and philosophical positions he has taken which I disagree with. We have very different outlooks. (2) Rabbi Riskin is a completely authentic and genuine person. He doesn’t pander, doesn’t change his opinion in order to get as many “likes” as possible. That’s not his way. He really and genuinely believes in his positions, and thinks they will benefit the Jewish people.
Rabbi Gordimer’s insinuations otherwise are scandalous. To call Rabbi Riskin a “superstar Rabbi”, or to say he is just trying to be “politically correct” or to “gain popular appeal” – that’s just slander. If he wants to talk about the issues, he can do that, but to attack Rabbi Riskin’s character is off-the-wall, especially as it misses the mark completely.
Even to claim he is Open Orthodox is doubtful in my eyes. Look at the article Rabbi Riskin published in Techumin, regarding women receiving Aliyot to the Torah. He outright prohibits it. Is that the psak of an Open Orthodox Rabbi, trying to gain public appeal and score points with the liberal public? Or is that the position of someone who will tell you what he thinks is right, regardless of how it makes him look (and no doubt people looked to him to allow that as well)?
My father – who sat in The Rav’s shiur – once told me that no matter what, he believes anyone who was in The Rav’s shiur and was close with The Rav, is kept honest by that experience, because whenever he does anything, he sees The Rav’s face in front of him, and that keeps him from straying off the straight and narrow.
So I don’t worry about Rabbi Riskin, who has done so much for the Jewish people – even if you think his comment was mistaken this time around. I worry about that the people who slander him, that the flame of their self-righteousness shouldn’t blind them from seeing the forest from the trees.
The following is from Arutz Sheva from the respected Rabbi Gordimer re Rabbi Riskin’s creeping to the left.
[Hat tip DS]
Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. His writings on Jewish topics are published widely.
It is sometimes hard to believe what we are reading, as things are turned upside down in an effort to be politically correct and gain popular appeal. Orthodox Judaism has never sought to be politically correct – on the contrary, it has stood its guns no matter what direction the winds are blowing. Unfortunately, with the case of Modern Orthodox rabbis who have crossed the line into Open Orthodoxy, it has become almost commonplace to read the unbelievable, things that would never have been expressed were Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l, the Torah luminary of American Modern Orthodoxy, still with us. Sometimes, shocking ideas are articulated in direct contravention of his views, with the excuse that “times have changed.” Since when has that wellworn excuse been used in Orthodoxy?
Although one could have otherwise, perhaps favorably interpreted Rabbi Riskin’s hair-raising idea in his recent public pronouncement on Arutz Sheva that the Reform and Conservative movements are partners in Jewish outreach to have been intended to express the demarcation between acceptance of Reform and Conservative Jews themselves and unequivocal opposition to their leaders and their interpretations of Judaism, a view held by respected rabbinic authorities, that is clearly not what Rabbi Riskin said. Rather, Rabbi Riskin stated: “They’re not tearing Jews away but bringing them closer…That may have been true at the beginning of the Reform Movement, but it’s very different now – they’re trying to bring Jews closer. Not to the wholeness, the fullness of Orthodox Judaism that I love and that I know, but nevertheless they’re trying to bring Jews closer.” In other words, it is the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements whom Rabbi Riskin praises!
This leadership is bringing Jews closer to what? Intermarriage? Christmas trees and menorahs in the living room? A total departure from normative halakhic Judaism?
To endorse these movements as positive and as forces for bringing Jews closer to Judaism is downright wrong and even farcical. Although these groups may espouse some type of Jewish identity, they embody and encourage assimilation and the abandonment of Jewish tradition and commitment. And it is happening before our eyes.
Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.
It is therefore not only incorrect to refer to these groups as partners in bringing Jews closer to Judaism, but it is dangerous, as such a statement empowers and validates groups which threaten the very integrity and future of authentic Judaism in every manner.
There is no need for elaboration, as the issue is not subtle or nuanced; endorsing the heterodox movements is tantamount to endorsing the dismantling and destruction of traditional Judaism.
Many of my friends were immensely impacted by Rabbi Riskin in a most positive way during his early tenure in the United States, as he energetically established Torah institutions of the highest caliber. My friends miss the old Rabbi Riskin. We all wish that he would return.
The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s opinion and do not represent any organizations.
It is so easy to say why this clear thinking enormous Talmid Chacham is effectively the Posek for the Rabbinic Council of America and the Orthodox Union. I reproduce an article he just published (c) Torah Web entitled “Volunteering Mitzvos”. What he writes is אמת לאמיתו.
About two years ago I came across a “teshuva” written by a Conservative clergyman. The thrust of the essay was that since the Tanoim established the halacha that women are exempt from wearing Teffilin because they are exempt from learning Torah, and today we expect women to learn Torah just like men, therefore women are no longer exempt from wearing Tefillin.
Needless to say, this is totally incorrect. The halacha that was formulated by the Tanoim that women are exempt from learning Torah has never changed. The laws of the Torah are not subject to change; the immutability of Torah is one of the thirteen principles of faith of the Rambam, and in our generation it has become the main point of distinction between Orthodox Judaism and other branches of Judaism. For centuries Orthodox women have been volunteering to shake a lulav on Succos and to listen to shofar on Rosh Hashonah. No one has changed the halacha that women are exempt from lulav and shofar, rather women have been volunteering to observe these mitzvos as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah. In the days of the Bais Hamikdash only men were obligated to give machatzis hashekel towards the purchase of the korbonos tzibbur but the mishnah records that a woman may volunteer to observe the mitzvah as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah.
We don’t recommend in all cases that one volunteer to perform a mitzvah that he is exempt from. The Shulchan Aruch quotes from the Talmud Yerushalmi that if it is raining on Succos and sitting in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, not only is one exempt from the mitzvah, but also it simply does not make any sense to volunteer to observe the mitzvah – when sitting in the Succah is very uncomfortable there is simply no kiyum ha’mitzvah. If the lights in one’s Succah have on gone out on the evening of Shabbos or Yom Tov and eating in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, but one’s friend has a Succah a one hour walk away, one would not be obligated to walk for an hour in order to sit in the Succah. Nonetheless, if one did go out of one’s way and walk for an hour, when one finally arrives at the friend’s Succah and sits there comfortably, Rav Akiva Eiger says that one may recite the brocha of leishev baSuccah. In this instance, the one who walked the hour is volunteering to observe the mitzvah in a fashion of aino m’zuvah v’oseh.
Rabbi Soloveitchik, who gave a shiur on Gemorah in Stern College, did not intend to disagree with the Talmudic principle that women are exempt from talmud Torah. He merely felt that in that generation it made good sense that the opportunity should be available for women to volunteer to studygemorah, in the same way that women have been volunteering for centuries to observe lulav and shofar. At that time he recommended that the gemorahs studied by women should not be Maseches Baba Kamma or Maseches Sanhedrin, but rather Maseches Brochos, Perek Kol Ha’bosor,Maseches Shabbos, etc. which discuss dinim that are relevant to women halacha l’ma’aseh.
The Ta’noim understood from a phrase in the beginning of Parshas Vayikra that the mitzvah of semicha (i.e. that the one who brings a korbon must lean on the head of the korbon before sh’chitah) only applies to men and not to women. The expression “Bnai Yisroel” which appears in chumash so many times sometimes comes to exclude geirim (converts), sometimes comes to exclude women, and sometimes excludes neither. The Tanoim had a feel and a sense for how to darshon the pesukim based on the context of the passuk.
During the period of the second Bais Hamikdash, many women felt bad that they were not permitted even to volunteer to do this mitzvah of semicha since doing so would be a violation of avodah b’kodshim (getting work/benefit from a korban by the korban supporting their weight when they lean on it). Men who are obligated to do semicha are obviously not in violation of this prohibition of avodah b’kodshim, but since women are not obligated to do semicha, were a woman to do it voluntarily she would be in violation of this issur. As a result, many women wanted to perform an “imitationsemicha” (i.e. without actually leaning on the head of the animal but merely by having their hands float on top of the head of the animal). The permissibility of this was a big dispute amongst the Chachomim. Many were of the opinion that the performance of such an “imitation semicha” might possibly lead mistakenly to a violation of avodah b’kodshim if women would actually lean on the animal, and therefore it should not be permitted. The accepted opinion is that we do permit it, but we have to be careful that one thing should not lead to another.
The bottom line is that each of us has to observe all mitzvos that we are obligated in. However, when it comes to someone volunteering to do that which is not obligatory on him/her, there are rules and regulations pertaining to each individual mitzvoh/halacha specifically, and to observance ofhalacha in general, and it is not so simple to determine when one should or should not go beyond that which is obligatory.
I would highly recommend that Open “Orthodoxy” supporters of proffering new titles to learned women, as well as hard left members of the RCV (re) read Abraham’s Journey by Rav Soloveitchik. One is thunderstruck again by his open understanding that the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov were a team with their wives and through many verses he makes it obvious that without their wives, the covenantal leadership was significantly reduced.
In last week’s Parsha the Rav concentrates on the lack of any description in the Torah, save the burial of Sarah, about the last 38 years of his life. This is a long time. What was going on? Abraham without Sarah, was a “cappuccino without coffee”. There was little to report on or to talk about. If you find that “Abraham’s Journey” is too long and involved, I would also highly recommend the OU’s Soloveitchik Chumash which is a masterpiece in understanding the human side of Orthodoxy, existential reality, and the prime importance of Mesorah.
I can’t recommend these publications highly enough. Far from women being seenas secondary figures, they were masoretically part of a duo, to the extent that if that was broken up, so was the purpose.
Whilst the Mahari Bei Rav unsuccessfully tried to re-institute formal Semicha, I find it very hard to consider any female, religiously sincere, if the term Yoetzet Halacha is not enough for her.
It is also my view that no Yoetzet Halacha should ever address gatherings of Jewish (Religious or otherwise) Feminists. Feminism is a western ideology. It is viewed with extreme derision ranging from (the cousins) Rav Moshe Feinstein through to Rav Soloveitchik himself. There is no doubts about this. It is in black and white in their own words. Those words are prophetic and just as relevant.
It’s time we focussed less on titles and more on the actual Jewish Education of our youth. Therein is the challenge. The best teachers and expositors go out to the professional world and their skills are not used. This is the tragedy of our society.
Will the Rabbinical Council of Victoria agree and accept this policy?
Oct 30, 2015 — Formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership, the full text of “RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis” states:
Whereas, after much deliberation and discussion among its membership and after consultation with poskim, the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously passed the following convention resolution at its April 2010 convention:
The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is gratified that our members have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.
We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah (Jewish law), hashkafah (Jewish thought), tradition and historical memory.
In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.
Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah (Torah study), yir’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and dikduk b’mitzvot (scrupulous observance of commandments).
In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010… The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America.
Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
Commits to an educational effort to publicise its policies to its members and community.
Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.
This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha, community scholars, Yeshiva University’s GPATS, and non-rabbinic school teachers. So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as “Maharat” is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.
I noticed a fan wrote a populist but sourceless response in the Jewish News. They say where there is a Rabbinic will there is a Halachic Way. In that spirit, I bring you some more open tents of Abraham as per the simile of Rabbi Genende, [Hat tip anonymous]
What I’d like the Caulfield Board and/or Rabbi Genende to answer is whether they see themselves as affiliated with the RCV or the Open Orthodox breakaway of Chovevei Tzion. I know the president of Caulfield reads my blog. I’d love a clear answer. I believe this is a reasonable and respectful question to ask.
As this email reaches your inbox, Dr. Elsie Stern, our vice president for academic affairs here at RRC, is notifying our rabbinical students that on September 21, 2015, RRC’s faculty voted to no longer bar qualified applicants with non-Jewish partners from admission to RRC, and to no longer ban RRC students in good standing from graduating as rabbis, because they have non-Jewish partners. As you are likely already aware, this policy change is the result of many years of discussion within the Reconstructionist movement.
Why have we taken this step? We no longer want to prevent very wonderful and engaged Jewish leaders from becoming rabbis. After years of study, research, and discussion with many members of the Reconstructionist community, we have concluded that the status of a rabbinical student’s partner is not a reliable measure of the student’s commitment to Judaism—or lack thereof. Nor does it undermine their passion for creating meaningful Judaism and bringing us closer to a just world. The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to fight or police; we want to welcome Jews and the people who love us to join us in the very difficult project of bringing meaning, justice, and hope into our world.
As many of you asked us to do, we have strengthened our admissions standards on reviewing an applicant’s commitment to Jewish continuity in their personal, familial and communal life. We make this change while also revising our curriculum in major ways, focusing intensely on how to train rabbis (and other leaders) on practices and teachings of Jewish distinctiveness, even as we are preparing them for leadership in a multicultural world.
It has been a long journey to come to this place. No one in the process takes this historic decision lightly. We do feel that it reflects some of the realities in Jewish communities today. Our congregations have members with non-Jewish partners, and we need rabbis who can provide them with role models for vibrant Jewish living. Reconstructionism has always been predicated upon changing as Jews and Judaism change, even when these changes are emotionally challenging.
In this season of Sukkot, we can’t help but think of the theme of the ushpizin, the guests we welcome into our sukkah each year. Some of them are family, and some of them are temporary strangers. Each of them has a life story to share with us. As we continue to welcome guests further into the inner sanctum of Jewish life and into our own families, we are humbled. Know that our faculty has wrestled with this issue for many years, on our own and in conversation with many of you.
In the coming days and weeks, we will schedule calls to discuss this further with congregations, rabbis, board members, supporters, and congregational and communal leaders. Stay tuned for details.
Please join me in moving ahead into the new season.
Rabbi Deborah Waxman
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
I must admit not hearing about it, but it flew across my desk, and I feel it requires some comments. I reproduce it below, adding my comments.
And every day the world grabs you by the hand and says: “This is important” and “this is important.” “This is where you should be putting your energy” and “This is where you should be directing your priorities.”
No it is the Torah that yanks you by the hand and gives direction to your heart and your hands about what you prioritise and how
And every day you’ve got to yank your hand back and put it up against your heart and say – “No this is important, this is what really counts! I will be guided by my heart, directed by my principles, driven by my faith.”
Actually, it is Shulchan Aruch which does that. In the rare cases, where one doesn’t see how the Shulchan Aruch should direct him, man does not go to his heart, he goes to his Rav Hamuvhak, which in my case is Rav Schachter, Head Posek of the RCA, Rosh Kollel of YU, and Head Posek of the OU. Who is Rabbi Ginende’s Rav Hamuvhak? I am interested to know. I assume it’s not his heart.
Life isn’t just about getting the logic right although clarity of mind and clear thinking are of course critical. It’s about getting your heart and mind in synch.
Is this a Pasuk or a Seif in Shulchan Aruch? What came first, the chicken or the egg. I don’t get it. My heart sometimes tells me A, but Shulchan Aruch says B. The latter is based on logic and clear thinking. Which should I follow?
At the beginning of recorded history Noah stood up, built an ark despite the cynics and sceptics. He was a righteous man, (ish tzadik bedorotav – איש צדיק בדרתיו) a Tzadik for his time and generation.
The Rabbi has seemed to not mention that it took Noah hundreds of years to convince people of the impending flood. The people were depraved. They didn’t listen. Noah Miktanei Amono Hoyo Ma’amin. He believed in even those of little faith. His generation, though, was depraved and if not for this Hero, there would have been no Avraham or Sarah!
Ten generations later the first Jew, Abraham, burst onto the world scene. He too dared to be different.
Yet we are told he used his logic, not his heart. He considered the Buddha’s and idols and inane entities so ridiculous that he SMASHED them in his father’s house. Would Rabbi Genende’s heart allow him to SMASH these today?
He was called an עברי a Hebrew, someone who chose to live on the other side, the word עברי comes from עובר as in מעבר לים on the other bank; He wasn’t transgender but he was a trans-Jew!
Call him a Chabadnik. He went to any corner and opened every door to every Jew and indeed tried to convince the non believer to believe. Guess what? We don’t hear any more of those converted by Avraham and Sarah except that they might have been the Erev Rav? Why is that?
Both were heroes, but it’s Abraham that we are named after, that we remember today in our Torah reading.
We actually descend from Noah’s son Shem. His one depraved son Cham was condemned as a violent animal and the other one Yefes, was the man of political correctness
It’s Abraham not Noah who was the first Jew.
And without Noah, Abraham wouldn’t have existed. Why is that, Rabbi?
He is our founding father, our hero. Abraham isn’t remembered for an ark but for his tent, a flimsy fragile temporary structure open with entries in all directions like a Chuppah.
Source please: Where do we know it was flimsy and fragile? What is this allegory to the Chuppa? Is this poetic license being employed?
There are two ways, two approaches to the world – the way of Noah, the ark-method, building yourself a secure and sealed structure to protect yourself from the wild waves and violent storms out there: It’s a sensible path but one based more on logic of the mind than language of the heart.
There are two approaches that must be taken according to generation and circumstance. Sometimes we must be firm as per God’s command to Noah, and other times we need to enfranchise, but Avraham only did so according to the Sheva Mitzvos B’Nei Noach. Dear Rabbi, did you ever wonder why they aren’t called Sheva Mitzvos B’Nei Avraham? Avraham wasn’t teaching them about Eiruvin. He was teaching them about monotheism
Then there is the way of Abraham, the tent open to and welcoming the winds of change but firmly planted on the ground with a strong tent pole and pegs like a steady moral compass.
So you have gone from a flimsy tent to a strong one with a moral compass. Avraham was certainly known as Midas HaChesed. Are you going to condemn Yitzchak because he was Midas HaYirah? What is your poetic meaning to gentle openly orthodox Abraham ready to Shecht his only son?
An open tent, an open heart and an open mind. Abraham is the model of compassion, he pulls his hands back to his heart. He is a massive intellect but in the end we remember him not for his magnificent mind but his exquisite heart, his creative chesed.
Open Mind? Are you calling someone who goes into his Dad’s shop and elsewhere, and smashes every modern idol “an open mind with compassion”. Indeed he was. But, when it came to fundamentals, he didn’t dangle his toes in political correctness.
You can insulate yourself in an ark, oblivious to the world and its problems, protective of your own family and the property or you can open yourself to the world out there, embrace it, let it change you as you change it.
The kind of Judaism I believe in has always understood that you can’t stop the winds of change, but as Bob Dylan put it in Forever Young, you can ensure that you have a strong foundation, a firm tent, when the winds of change shift
Pray tell, who was the Rabbinic influence in your life that told you not to withstand the winds of change through the loving Mesora of our generations?
An open Orthodoxy as opposed to a closed one knows what it is to be a global Jew that the world’s problems are our problems that we can’t go on using our planets’ resources as if they were infinite.
Here Rabbi Genende needs to come clean. Is he a member of the Open Orthodoxy movement that embraces various unmasoretic principles and is rejected by the Rabbinic Council of America whose Posek was Rav Soloveitchik and whose Talmid Muvhak is without any doubt whatsoever Rav Hershel Schachter? The RCA has ruled that Open Orthodoxy are not to be admitted in the RCA. Tell us Rabbi Genende where are you in this equation?
We Aussies are almost as wasteful, reckless and feckless in our consumption of natural resources as the Americans. Our footprint is clumsy and large.
Our ingenuity and ability to correct the correctable is also famous.
Oscar Wilde’s acerbic retort could be applied to us – America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation between…
You see that as acerbic. Perhaps you should point to the current “infallible” Pope and his communist method of converting to Xtianity. His people slashed our chests with the cross in no less a barbaric way than D’aesh does with its opponents (or friends). That’s far more to the point than Oscar Wilde
We were given this earth לעבדה ולשמרה to work it
Interesting. Who was given that command? Abraham? Nope. His forebears, who you have placed as irrelevant to our times.
and protect and safeguard it for future generations (Genesis 2:15). So remember: Reduce, reuse, recycle and eat less red meat – it’s good for you and your planet.
What is a Rabbi doing telling us to eat less Red Meat? He knows he should eat Red Meat on Yom Tov, and wash it down with fine wine. He also knows that Korbanos were full of red meat. The jury is out on various diets and fads. Rabbis do have a duty to tell us what is not good for us. חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא but if one’s motive is to modernise, become a vegan?
And open Orthodoxy knows you can’t close the ark against the world’s most pressing global challenge today: The mass displacement of people, the greatest number of refugees since War World 2. All these dreadful images etched on to our collective minds, seared into our consciousness from the lifeless pitiful body of the 4 year old Syrian Kurdish boy Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey, to the chaotic scenes at the at the railway station in Hungary.
This is the only way? Closing the Ark? Rabbi Genende is often pictured with Muftis and Priests. I’d like to know whether he has asked them to take in their people. They have the space, the money and the resources to do so very quickly. Has he? Would he go on the public record as being critical of them for not advocating such? Perhaps he’s not aware of this
I would be taking that message to the tree huggers. I’d also point out this
They have sparked an intense, important and long overdue debate in Australia about our responsibility to respond to the cargoes of hapless people and to rethink our policies on asylum seekers.
I don’t know, the last I saw Labor was claiming that they stopped the boats, so is the Rabbi advocating for “Israel hating” Greens?
In Australia as across the world the people led the way and our government responded positively. I am heartened by the wave of compassion that has swept the world but the issues are complex, the problem growing and it’s going to take resilience and determination to sustain goodwill and not to suffer compassion fatigue. And to apply the same kind of compassion to those now stranded on Nauru or Manus Island. People of all faiths and ethnicities have to continue to make space for one another, to honour our shared humanity. Fail this and we will have failed one of the fundamental tests of humanity. Fail this and we have failed the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers” something close to Jewish hearts.
This is an incorrect translation and I will take it as poetic license to further Rabbi Genende’s political bent
Of course part of the complexity is that a large part of these refuges will be Muslim and while I’m afraid of and oppose a Muslim caliphate fear of all Muslims isn’t a defence. If we are not part of the solution in reaching out to moderate Muslims, of helping integrate Muslim refugees and migrants into our lifestyle and helping find a way to reach young disaffected Muslims, then we are part of the problem. Stereotyping Muslims is as bad as stereotyping Jews. We are after all the “People of the Book”, nuanced readers of reality.
Which part of Sharia is unclear? What percentage is required for you to give them credence. Try this
I draw strength from the leadership of the ICV, I draw strength from the young thoughtful Muslims I meet, from the young American Muslim leaders leading regular visits to the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to learn about Zionism and Israel. They assure us it’s not too late; we can still stem the tide of Islamic anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. I pray they are correct because it’s going to take all the positive good-will and ingenuity we can muster.
You take their assurances. Just like Neville Chamberlain.
It’s easy to resort to black and white responses but that’s the way of Noah – you are in the Ark or you are outside.
Again the Rabbi seems to have missed the point. Noah was OUTSIDE his ark for hundreds of years more than he was in the ark. I dare say, he was more involved in ICV than the good Rabbi and for far longer. His generation, like ours, the Holocaust generation isn’t ready to have the wool pulled over our eyes by tree hugging political correctness manifestos.
That’s not the way of Abraham who from the beginning of his mission reached out to the world around him, converting and accepting his neighbours while remaining resolute in his pursuit of justice, compassion and righteousness.
Judaism since Avraham has always resisted the easy way – Just as we prefer a twisty Shofar, a כפוף to a straight one. Gimme a twisty curly shofar any time! Give me the long and winding road – a straight line may be the shortest path between two paths but it isn’t necessarily the best way between two moral poles.
Some more poetic esoterica? What has this to do with a Shofar. The best Bris Milah, which Avraham was the first to perform, was short and sharp, in the straightest line. Could you have used that line?
And being straight may be easy and comfortable but it doesn’t mean we reject Jews who aren’t straight but GLBTI.
Kindly define your terms. What does rejection mean? I’ve seen homosexuals getting Aliyos in plenty of Shules. They don’t walk in wearing a rainbow coloured Tallis nor should they need to advertise their proclivity. Do you want your congregants to come in with “I drove to Shule on Shabbos but my Rabbi still loves me” on their tee shirts or should they wear “I ate pork yesterday, but it’s okay, it was before Yom Kippur”. What the heck? What’s wrong with being like everyone else. I don’t ask people about their sexual proclivities especially in Shule. The only people I’ve heard talk about this are raucous ones, none of whom I actually know.
One of the fundamental challenges today is that of the inclusion of GLBTI individuals in the Jewish tent.
Really. A much BIGGER problem is People going off the Derech, Shabbos and Modern Orthodoxy, and the Shidduch Crisis and the need for Gimmicks in Shule to get people to come because their Jewish Education is vacuous and synagogue based. While I’m at it. Which authority allowed a Shule, your Shule Rabbi Genende to be transformed into a concert hall. Rav Soltoveitchik wouldn’t allow a Chuppa in a Shule because it was unbecoming to Kedushas Beis Haknesses!
Orthodox Judaism has always embraced the traditional and Biblically-based definition of marriage as that between a man and woman; and that homosexuality is forbidden. Does this mean that there is no place for the gay person in Jewish life or for the Orthodox gay couple in the Orthodox community? Is it only Adam and Eve? Is there any place for Adam and Steve?
It’s easy to say – “It’s against the Bible and Judaism, that’s it.”
But you’re comfortable with public shabbos desecration about which the concept of Tinok Shenishba has been well and truly debunked by Rav Asher Weiss in Minchas Asher, quite honestly and convincingly. Do you honestly think people haven’t learned or been denied the lessons of Shabbos. That doesn’t worry you, but Adam and Steve sitting together in Shule? What do I care. There is nothing forbidding it. However, there is al pi Shulchan Aruch, and I challenge you to debate this with me, an absolute prohibition of Yichud between Adam and Steve, as there is for Adam and Eve before they perform Kiddushin. And, as a matter of fact, there is no existential Kiddushin according to either Noah’s laws or Abraham’s laws in respect of Adam and Steve, or Jill and Gill.
It’s a lot harder to say that to a sincere gay individual, to your son who has come out or to your sister who is living in a gay relationship. It’s a fearsome challenge, because if homosexuality is genetically wired as overwhelming evidence suggests how can a caring God demand they go against their nature?
I’m sorry to point out to you that you will not understand God’s way, irrespective of which morality your heart adopts. Furthermore, Rabbi Genende, what would you say if there was some Gene Therapy developed in 10 years time which obviated this “carelessness” of God? God put it there. Would you advocate it’s use to repair the אנוסים?
Indeed it has been suggested that the verse may only apply if the individual is acting out of free choice not compulsion ( אונס).
And that’s not a gun at his head? Please quote your sources?
And we need to recognise the vulnerability of young gay individuals, to affirm their right not to be alone לא טוב היות אדם לבדו , not to be driven to despair and suicide, but to establish loving relationships even as we ask of them and their heterosexual peers to show restraint in the public expression of their sexuality.
Rabbi Soloveitchik understood that Pasuk very differently to you, and he had plenty of cases, just as “cruel” like the Cohen who wanted to marry the convert etc. But, Halachic Man is bound by the Meסorah, and I dare say, Rabbi Genende, so are you. This is what makes the flimsy tent not fly away.
I don’t know why God created us differently and why the Torah decreed homosexuality forbidden. But I do know that the reality of the 21st century is that there are GLBTI Jews, that there are practising Orthodox Jews living in same-sex relationships.
Oh boy, it’s only the 21st century that has publicised this effectively. It’s always been there. If it wasn’t why is one of the Sheva Mitzvos B’nei NOACH
I do know that Orthodox Jews don’t stone sinners today even if they are desecrating Shabbat or committing adultery. In our shule we don’t ask people if they ate the abominable (to’evah) shrimp cocktail or had their name on the Ashley Madison site before we give them an Aliyah.
There are very good reasons for that, and it has NOTHING to do with your Shule. But what are your reasons? Are they halachically based on הוכיח תוכיח את עמיתך or is it a matter of “heart or constitution”.
So who knows what the future holds? Being flippant I could remind you that in the certain states in the USA gay marriage and marijuana were legalised on the same day. After all, Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with another man he should be stoned. We have just been interpreting it incorrectly all these years…
Fair enough, old joke but a good one
Being serious I would rather err on the side of compassion than be a religious warrior without compunction. I will leave it to God to judge who is right.
Why are you a Rabbi? What morality do you impart to the masses. Are you limited to those parts of Shulchan Aruch that “fit your heart?” I haven’t seen anyone beat up a gay person in any Orthodox Shule by words or even invocation. Why would they? I had a great moral dilemma, but I dare say, I went about it in a different way to you, Rabbi Genende. We had a pedophile on bail in our Shule. I was troubled by his presence, which should have been quiet in a corner awaiting his trial (personally, in his position I wouldn’t have been able to go to Shule, but I digress). I discussed it with the Rabbi and I sensed he found this a “too hard issue” like the one you are grappling with. I rang Rav Schachter, and he said to me immediately, that I had no right to even imply that the eventually convicted pedophile should not come to Shule. He had a CHIYUV to daven like any body else, however, he should be quietly spoken to and asked to come and leave quickly and make himself unobtrusive. Is he also someone you consider an אנוס Rabbi Genende, the DNA may even indicate it. What then?
There is a fascinating Talmudic discussion about whether women can blow the shofar. While the Halachik debate focuses on obligation and responsibility there is another debate going on in Orthodoxy today about inclusion, leadership and spiritual role models.
The debate is within Avi Weiss’s break away group. The RCA aren’t debating the role of Rabats, or whatever you want to call them. They are very clear and their statements freely available.
While the ultra-Orthodox’ s position is generally that Noah steers the ark and Mrs Noah doesn’t even have a name, the Open Orthodox position is look to Sarah. When Sarah fearlessly challenges Avraham and he appeals to God (like many a Jewish husband may be tempted to), God’s response is simple and unequivocal: כל האמר לך שרה תשמע בקולה – Whatever your wife says – goes! (Genesis 21:12)Listen to her voice!
And today across the Jewish world – especially in Israel and USA we are doing just that today. We are paying attention to the learned and thoughtful voices of religious women who are achieving the same and even superior levels of Jewish knowledge to their male counterparts.
And pray tell how you extend this Drush to a Siman in Shulchan Aruch, and which commentators? NON Ultra Orthodox (and here I do mean RCA) couples listen to their wives and Na’ama as the wife of Noach is known.
While the title these women deserve may be debatable – rabbi, rabbah, Maharat – they are taking on positions of religious leadership in shules across Israel, Canada and the USA.
Do me a favour. I have a cousin who is a Yoetzet Halacha. She knows Shas and Poskim very well. She is anti feminist, as was Rav Moshe Feinstein. When she needs she consults with Rav Henkin, who by the way doesn’t approve of Shira Chadasha. Do you approve of Shira Chadasha as Orthodox Rabbi Genende? Would you advocate it being a member of the RCV or whatever new group forms?
There is still a way to go; even YU (Yeshiva University) the bastion of Modern Orthdoxy is opposed to women being ordained in any form.
Really? YU are against Yoatzot? Where did you get that from?
In my mind the debate is not about Jewish law but the power to define and control the franchise of Orthodox Judaism, about women sharing the right to decide on our collective future! I look forward to welcoming these women into Australia and in our Shule, into positions of spiritual leadership.
Well, you’d be well aware of the Rambam on this issue, wouldn’t you. He was very forward thinking. Do you know his wife’s name? I’m sure you are aware that a (male) King can’t give testimony. Let’s seek equality here too?
They are our “Women of Gold” and a women’s reading of Torah and Halacha can surely only enrich and enliven Judaism for all of us.
We have had women Prime Ministers in Australia and Israel, women running for President of the USA, women occupying highest positions in society, from COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg to CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer and Susan Wojcicki of YouTube. Surely the time has come for us to embrace women leaders in our Orthodox shules and institutions…after all they will still remain safely behind the mechitza.
The challenge Orthodoxy faces today is will it focus on the small (and laudably) totally committed 10% of the Chareidi ultra Orthodox or will it reach out to the fractured, bleeding majority, the Jews who are marrying out and walking away. It will be judged in the 21 century by how it responds to these challenges. This is not just a challenge for the religiously committed but for you and me – do you want your grandchildren to be and stay Jewish? How and what kind of Jewish?
We’ve also had our Madonna’s and Bar Rafaeli’s and young Ms Clinton and all those who do no service to Jews or Israel. I guess you forgot them, and forgot that Tel Aviv is the capital of the LGBTI World Mardi gras. Can you tell us in plain language whether you are opposed to the holy city of Jerusalem featuring a “Pork eating rights March” or are you governed more by Western Sensibilities than Modern Orthodoxy.
When you open the doors like Abraham and Sarah you let in all kinds of influences, some sweet breezes and some toxic winds. It’s a dangerous path because you don’t always know who you are welcoming in and Lionel Trilling has warned if you become too open-minded your brains can fall out…
But I would take the tent of Abraham any day over the ark of Noah hermetically sealed and separated by high walls from the rest of society, from my fellow human beings.
So when the world comes pulling at me and says: “This is important and this is important” I will definitely and unequivocally pull back my hand, turn it to my heart and say: “No this is important, the kind of heart I have, the soul I am growing is one that is guided by the way of positive passion wider inclusion and recognition, driven by my unerring belief in the God and the truth of Torah of Israel and the rich values we continue to share with the world.”
So I will sow the winds driving through my tent with seeds of love and scatter on them our values of dignity and equality, freedom and family, community and connectedness.
I expect you meant sew. I said enough about this above, but I will remind you that the Torah doesn’t tell us what happened to all those people Abraham and Sarah converted. Did you ever wonder why?
It was predictable, that the hard-hitting and often “on the money” Isi Leibler would come out in full support of Rabbi Riskin. Isi, if I’m not misquoting him, is also a supporter of Rabbi Benny Lau, who is a controversial figure.
What Isi fails to notice is that Rav Soltoveitchik was a Charedi in his outlook on Torah and Mitzvos. The difference was that Rav Soltoveitchik could make a Psak (many were often contradictory for good reasons) and “take on” any Gadol BaTorah in the entire world and flatten him with his learning and brilliance. His use of the philosophical world was to broaden the understanding of Torah.
Rabbi Riskin is a very impressive man. I enjoyed his latest book immensely. One thing that was clear though that Rabbi Riskin, when in doubt, always went to seek advice from some mentors. He used to go to Rav Soltoveitchik and then to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (especially when the latter enfranchised him to work underground for Soviet Jewry).
Now, Rabbi Riskin is his own man. He is not young. He got one-off Hetterim from both Rav Soltoveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe for certain activities. In his fantastic book he is clearly in awe of them, and if you asked him today whether he reached either of their ankles, he would tell you “No way in the world”. That being said, unlike another moderates like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ז’ל, Rav Aharon actually also had a posek. That Posek was none other than Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל, a cousin of Isi’s wife, Naomi. The saintly Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl also went to discuss difficult matters with Rav Shlomo Zalman. Why? Because whilst being a Charedi, Rav Shlomo Zalman was not behoved to any politics or political machinations. He was an independent, a pure soul, who understood both Rav Aharon, and Rav Avigdor (and like Rav Elyashiv would get angry at anyone who remotely said anything negative about Rav Kook ז’ל)
I feel that Rabbi Riskin is now missing his mentors. Who isn’t? His last few more controversial steps are argued among the real students of Rav Soloveitchik, of whom I consider Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, the carrier of Rav Soloveitchik’s Torah Mesora and דרך הלימוד ופסק par excellence.
Far be it from me to be one to proffer advice to Rabbi Riskin, (I don’t come to his ankles) but the one Rabbi I would go to discuss issues of grave halachic import in Israel with, is actually Rav Shlomo Zalman’s son in law, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is very much attuned with the real world, as was Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. He is a wise man, very attuned to the real world, and void of politics.
I’ll close with Isi’s article, and that of Rabbi Gil Student. You decide. Regarding the Chief Rabbinate, I agree. The calibre of Rabbi is not what it should be. Rav Ovadya Yosef was recently described as מיוסף עד יוסף לא קם כיוסף where the first Yosef is R’ Yosef Caro the author of the Shulchan Aruch. I agree with this whole heartedly. Sadly, political appartchiks are now in the seat.
Indeed, reading what Rav Soltoveitchik wrote about the Chief Rabbinate, is as true now as it was 30 years ago. He was utterly opposed to the concept.
Here is Isi’s article, followed by R’ Gil Student.
The despicable effort by the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate to purge Rabbi Shlomo Riskin because he does not conform to their stringent halachic approach may prove to be a blessing in disguise. The anger this outrageous initiative generated could be the final straw needed to dissolve this corrupt institution, which is held in contempt by most Israelis — including, ironically most haredim.
Rabbi Riskin is one of the outstanding role models of the religious Zionist community. I am privileged to have known him for over 30 years and consider him one of the greatest and most beloved Modern Orthodox rabbis of our generation. He is also an extraordinary creator of Jewish institutions.
A student of the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in 1964 Riskin became the rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, which he transformed into one of New York’s most successful Orthodox religious centers.
In 1984, at the peak of his career, he moved to Israel and became founding chief rabbi and a leading developer of Efrat, which is today a highly successful community.
In addition to acting as a communal rabbi, he launched the Ohr Torah Stone institutions, which include one of the best networks of Modern Orthodox schools in Israel, ranging from junior high school through to graduate programs. He also created a special program to inculcate young men with the knowledge and skills to be effective rabbis and educators throughout the Jewish world.
He displayed innovation by seeking to blend Halachah with the requirements of a modern industrial Jewish state.
He strove to upgrade the status of women and to this effect launched Midreshet Lindenbaum, a college designed to educate religious women. He also created a five-year program designed to train women to act as religious advisers paralleling rabbis. This and his efforts to address the issue of agunot (women in unwanted marriages whose husbands are unwilling or unable to grant them divorces) outraged the ultra-Orthodox.
Rabbi Riskin also had a major impact in the field of marriage, divorce and above all, conversion, where he established independent conversion courts that were bitterly challenged by the haredi establishment. Riskin considers the issue of conversion — especially related to immigrants from the former Soviet Union — as one of the greatest religious, national and societal challenges facing Israel.
He was at the forefront of efforts by the moderate Tzohar Rabbinical Council to decentralize the appointment of rabbis and provide Israelis with choices beyond the extremist ultra-Orthodox candidates appointed by the Chief Rabbinate.
When at the age of 75, Rabbi Riskin’s tenure came up for a five-year extension — an automatic procedural formality, the Chief Rabbinical Council took the unprecedented step of refusing to reappoint him. It was only due to a plea from the recently elected chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, that the council reluctantly agreed to interview him. He only learned about his provisional rejection from the media.
This was not merely an attempt to publicly humiliate one of the doyens of Modern Orthodoxy. It was a ploy by the ultra-Orthodox fanatics to assume unprecedented total centralized control of religious leadership and to marginalize those with different approaches.
But choosing to impose their agenda on Efrat, a bastion of national religious Zionism, is likely to backfire and the crude effort to oust Rabbi Riskin against the wishes of his community, exposes crude agenda of the Chief Rabbinate.
As far back as the Mishnah, there were robust debates in the interpretation of Halachah between the more liberal Beit Hillel and more stringent Beit Shamai schools. And this process of debating the “70 faces” of Torah ensured that a plurality of interpretations prevailed at all times. Now even the ultra-Orthodox compete among themselves to impose the most stringent interpretations of implementing Jewish laws.
This is being extended to the Diaspora with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate insisting that that conversions to Judaism by Orthodox rabbis lacking their endorsement should no longer be recognized as Jews by the government of Israel and thus ineligible for aliya.
This is outrageous and entirely beyond the jurisdiction of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Former chief rabbis like Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others were outstanding religious scholars, moderate and devoted religious Zionists in stark contrast to the mediocrities and corrupt individuals who succeeded them when the haredim hijacked the Chief Rabbinate.
It is significant that the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau ensured his election by giving an unqualified undertaking to haredi groups that he would resist any proposed reforms relating to conversions or rabbinical administration without their prior approval.
To make matters worse, the level of corruption and scandals associated with the Chief Rabbinate reached bedrock when the former chief rabbi (whose appointment was orchestrated by the haredim to block a national religious candidate of genuine stature) was arrested and charged with purloining millions of dollars from illegal activities and corrupt practices.
Not surprisingly, the attempts to humiliate Rabbi Riskin created enormous outrage. The Tzohar Rabbinical Association stated that “above any effort to depose Rabbi Riskin flies a clear red flag of revenge directed against his positions and halachic decisions” and accused the rabbinical council of initiating this solely “for political considerations and to enable them to appoint insiders in his place.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, stated that the Chief Rabbinate was behaving in an “unacceptable” manner and that he would not stand by and permit this.
Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, described Riskin as “a Jewish leader and an Israeli patriot,” insisting that there can be “no questions about his qualifications for his continued service.”
The Efrat municipal council unanimously voted to extend the rabbi’s tenure and condemned the intervention. Rabbi Riskin made it clear that if necessary, he would appeal to the Supreme Court but that so long as the Efrat community wished to retain him, he would continue to serve them as rabbi without payment.
The abject silence of Diaspora Orthodox institutions was disappointing, encouraging Rabbi David Stav, the head of Tzohar, to call on Jewish communities in the U.S. to stop inviting Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef as their guests if the Riskin provocation is not withdrawn.
The Rabbinical Council of America, once a robust Modern Orthodox group, expressed the hope that the differences would be amicably settled. One of its executive officers, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, actually accused Rabbi Riskin “of violating the trust of his employer and contravening the rulings of the most pre-eminent halachic authorities of this and previous generations,” alleging that “the employer had more than ample reason to maintain that his employee was not adhering to the policies and values that he was hired to uphold.” This obscene depiction of Riskin as an employee of the Chief Rabbinate reflects the distorted mentality of those currently controlling the institution.
In view of the waves of protest, there is every probability that the Chief Rabbinate will back down. But now is the time for Israelis and Orthodox Jews throughout the world to raise their voices and say enough is enough. Despite the repercussions of a division, breaking away and setting up independent religious courts directed by moderate Zionists is the only means by which to terminate the exclusive control of the haredim.
Throughout the Exile, the rabbinate never imposed centralized religious control and there was always a plurality of differing halachic interpretations. The issue is not whether we should be more or less stringent in the application of Jewish law. Any Orthodox community should be entitled to select its choice of spiritual leader. Haredim are entitled to practice their religion as they see fit. Indeed, there are aspects of their spirituality and lifestyle that our hedonistic society could benefit by emulating. But that does not provide a license to enable the most extreme elements to impose their limited worldview on Israeli society.
The Chief Rabbinate is regarded with contempt and despair by the vast majority of Israelis, including most haredim, who merely exploit the institution for their own purposes. The greatest impediment to the current religious revival is the deplorable status of the rabbinical bureaucracy, which alienates rather than attracts Israelis to their Jewish heritage. The scandalous effort to degrade one of the most beloved and successful Orthodox rabbis of our generation should be a wake-up call to introducing highly overdue, radical changes in the rabbinate.
Here is Rabbi Gil Student’s take:
If you want to know why Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is apparently being forced into retirement by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, you have to read his recent book, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy. I don’t claim any insight into the complex politics of Israel’s governmental organizations, of which the Chief Rabbinate is one. I don’t know enough to understand the power struggle that is occurring. However, in terms of ideology, I see why the Chief Rabbinate Council would express concern over R. Riskin. His book is more radical than many might expect. This is not the same Rabbi Riskin you may remember from the 60’s and 70’s.
The most surprising thing about the book is what is missing from it. On multiple occasions, R. Riskin wrote programmatic essays about what Modern Orthodoxy needs to do to succeed. These were essays full of passion, exhorting both faith in God and Torah as well as devoted observance of the commandments. While the book consists almost entirely of previously published articles, these programmatic essays were replaced with a new introduction titled “What is Modern Orthodoxy?” This introduction is a call for radical change in halakhic decision-making. For example (p. xiv):
The Modern Orthodox decisor must orchestrate the interplay between both of these directives, taking into account the guiding principles used by the sages of the Talmud in their religio-legal discussions, the meta-halakhic principles such as, “for the sake of the perfection of the world,” “in order to respect the integrity of the human being created in the divine image,” “for the sake of freeing a wife chained to an impossible marriage the sages found leniency,” “in order to provide spiritual satisfaction for women,” and “you must love the stranger and the proselyte.”
If you are familiar with rabbinic literature of the past century, you will immediately recognize that these are legitimate principles that can and have been (ab)used to overturn wide swaths of Jewish law. The essays in the book provide many examples of R. Riskin’s applications of these principles. There are two things going on here. First, R. Riskin is promoting his own fairly radical agenda, as would be expected. Second, he is setting the stage for future rabbis to make even more changes to Jewish practice according to their own understanding of what is needed, regardless of what traditional texts allow.
Another troubling trend I find in this book seems to be the result of an editorial oversight. Most of the essays were written over the course of decades, as R. Riskin’s experiences and outlook changed. While the essays were edited for consistency and maybe updated a little, the conclusions were largely left intact. Here we see a troubling difference in how R. Riskin reaches conclusions. Regarding changing the daily blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” R. Riskin writes: “I would not permit even so minor a change without the approval and approbation of several leading halakhic authorities” (p. 159). While R. Riskin advocates annulling marriages, he does not plan on doing so unilaterally. Rather, “this should be effectuated by a special Beit Din for agunot in Jerusalem with impeccable halakhic credentials who would render judgments, and rule on urgent issues of mesuravot get throughout the world” (p. 188). In his call for theological interfaith dialogue with Christians, R. Riskin repeatedly invokes Rav Soloveitchik, albeit in what I believe is a twisting of his words but at least as an appeal to an eminent authority.
However, in his essay on women halakhic scholars and judges, R. Riskin does not submit his proposal to leading authorities. The most he does is quote a responsum of Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, who is alive and well and could be consulted. Instead, R. Riskin started a program for ordaining women on his own. (R. Riskin writes that his program’s first two graduates published a book of responsa that “has received much praise, and — at least to my knowledge — no negative reviews” (p. 132). We published a negative review by Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer to which one of the authors responded.)
When it comes to women dancing with a Torah scroll on Simchas Torah–which I acknowledge lacks the gravity of some other issues under discussion–R. Riskin likewise does not mention consulting with other scholars. When discussing establishing a Hesder yeshiva for women–a matter of great communal importance–R. Riskin also omits discussion with great authorities.
What I see is a rabbi whose agenda has become increasingly radical. Realizing that he was engaging in activities for which he would not gain approval of his elders, he stopped asking. Instead, he moved forward on his own authority. A young R. Shlomo Riskin regularly consulted with Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When they passed away, he was no longer restrained.
In America, R. Riskin was a defender of Orthodoxy against the Conservative movement and a defender of Judaism against Christian missionaries. That is not the R. Riskin you will find in this book. Maybe in Israel he found himself in a different situation which has given him a new perspective. He now has Christian supporters in his role as a defender of modernity against Charedi Judaism. Maybe he simply underwent a personal evolution.
However, this is all speculation. Regardless of why, R. Riskin has taken some communally radical actions and created surprisingly unorthodox institutions entirely on his own initiative. Some people love him for it. We should not be surprised that others believe he has gone too far on too many issues. Whether that is cause for him to be forced into retirement I leave to his employers and constituents.