U.S. ultra-Orthodox Leadership Won't Recognize Liberal Open Orthodoxy Rabbis

Decision marks another escalation in attack against movement, which seeks to narrow gaps between men, women in halakhic (Jewish religious law) rulings.

Emil Salman

The ultra-Orthodox leadership in the United States has declared a sweeping rejection of the Open Orthodoxy movement, announcing it will not recognize rabbis identified with it. The announcement is another escalation in the attack against the movement, which seeks to narrow the gaps between men and women in halakhic (Jewish religious law) rulings. Only a few days ago the modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America announced it would not recognize the ordination of Orthodox women to the rabbinate.

“We therefore inform the public that in our considered opinion, ‘Open Orthodoxy’ is not a form of Torah Judaism (Orthodoxy) and that any such rabbinic ordination (which they call “semicha”) granted by any of its affiliated identities to their graduates does not confer upon them any rabbinic authority.” This was the recent announcement by the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudas Yisroel in America, a group of rabbis separate from the Agudat Israel Council of Torah Sages in Israel, and made up primarily of heads of American yeshivas.

Last May Yeshivat Maharat in New York, which is identified with Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of the Open Orthodoxy movement, ordained six women as Orthodox rabbis, the largest class in its history. That was in addition to other institutions in Israel that have ordained women in recent years, all of them in a private context that is not recognized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or the established rabbinical organizations in the United States.

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

These are the harshest statemens yet against Open Orthodoxy. They come from the conservative ultra-Orthodox camp, which is very far from the relatively liberal religious views of Weiss and his partners on the subject of women, LGBTs, university education and other issues. The declarations of the various organizations in the United States are likely to affect Israel, which is required almost on a daily basis to approve conversions and other ceremonies conducted by rabbis abroad.

In several cases in recent years the Israeli rabbinate declared that it does not recognize conversions carried out by Orthodox rabbis from the United States due to their comparatively liberal views. This happened in 2014, in the case of Rabbi Weiss himself, when the Israeli rabbinate refused to recognize a conversion he had performed, and in the end withdrew its objection only under legal and political pressure. In recent weeks Itim — a non-profit organization that helps people navigate the religious bureaucracy in Israel — petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Israeli Chief Rabbinate on the subject.

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