Growing Movement to Rein in Open Orthodoxy – The OU Controversy

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)

Recently, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), the birthplace of the Open Orthodox movement sent out a very unorthodox Mazel Tov. The mazel tov was to a same gender marriage – thus validating the unvalidatable. Essentially, the letter is a declaration to the world that current sociological trends are more valid than Torah perspectives.

The problem is that the HIR is an OU affiliated synagogue, and that the OU has been strangely silent about the entire matter.

There have been hundreds of letters, calls and emails from both lay leaders and OU affiliated Rabbis, to the OU to take a strong stand on the matter. This is, in fact, the second time that HIR has issued such a Mazel Tov.

Rabbi Dov Fisher, Rav of the Young Israel of Orange County in Irvine, California remarked, “The Orthodox Union has spent a century building the reputability of its symbol. All that will collapse if the OU’s symbol continues to be associated with four congregations that are outside the Torah camp.”

TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

There are two schools of thought as to how the OU should handle the matter. Some believe that Open Orthodoxy has proven itself to be a schismatic movement in that they have time and time again rejected Torah perspectives for the politically correct social trends such as women Rabbis, same gender marriages, rejection of the traditional understanding of Mashiach and many other points. They believe that the OU should quite simply cut off ties.
Others believe that cutting off ties will create a fifth movement within Judaism, and will inadvertently cause greater growth to this movement. There is also the issue that if the OU breaks off ties with the shuls that regularly release statements that are antithetical to Torah thought, the associated kiruv programs such as NCSY will no longer be able to reach its natural constituents.

Last week, Rav Eytan Feiner discussed the issue of the Mazel Tovs publicly in his Shabbos Drasha. It was reported in the media that he stated that if the OU did not move on the matter he would have no choice but to reconsider the White Shul’s affiliation with the OU.

After an inquiry by the Five Towns Jewish Times on the matter, the OU released the following official statement:

“It is the OU’s unequivocal position that support for, or celebration of, halachically proscribed conduct is fundamentally inappropriate. Accordingly, the institutional endorsement or encouragement (implicit or explicit) of any conduct that is contrary to halacha is activity that no Orthodox synagogue should allow. With this principle in mind, we are currently in the process of reviewing our synagogue standards to determine whether further comment, or other action, is appropriate.”

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Rav of Congregation Bnei Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ stated, “Obviously this celebration of sin is a gross violation of Jewish values and has no part in any synagogue announcement or forum. Would the shul announce a celebration of a marriage between a Kohain and a gerushah? Both are forbidden. I do give credit to the OU for the statement that they had just given.”

This author discussed the drasha with Rav Eytan Feiner. Rav Feiner noted that he and his shul are accepting of all people, and that the Mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha applies to all Jews when there is such clear evidence of tinok sh’nishbah status. The halacha, however, is clearly against validating such a marriage in a Jewish context.

In his drasha, Rabbi Feiner did not come to rebuke anyone with tendencies to such activities. Rather, he addressed the halachic violation of validating a same gender marriage and the prohibition of implying that there is a section of the Torah that does not apply anymore, chalilah. Of those who the Five Towns Jewish Times had polled who were present at the drasha there were only positive words to be said, and all of them understood the Rav’s deep love for Klal Yisroel. Part of the impact was that Rabbi Feiner constantly speaks about loving others and accepting everyone in Klal Yisroel.

Rabbi Feiner expressed his immense hakaras hatov to the Orthodox Union for its efforts on behalf of Klal Yisroel, eretz yisroel, the shul and the community. He stated that the Orthodox Union works for Klal Yisroel on so many fronts and in so many different areas.

This was, however, something that he felt was too blatant and that he needed to let constituents know that something had to be said.

Rabbi Feiner is a huge proponent of Shalom, and stays away from machlokes at every opportunity. He reiterated that he was not looking to break away from the OU. His goal was to alert and educate the tzibbur as to the dangers of Open Orthodoxy, of the seriousness of the violation, and to hopefully push the OU to rectify the situation of open validation of a violation.

This author has spoke several times to Rav Hershel Schachter Shlita about the excesses of the Open Orthodox movement in the past and he had expressed serious halachic reservations about even davening in synagogues where anti-halachic stands are regularly displayed.

The organization called Traditional Orthodox Rabbis of America wrote the following in their statement:

“Recently, some synagogues that affiliate Orthodox have congratulated members or children and grandchildren of members on life cycle events that are in blatant violation of Torah laws, specifically same-sex unions.”

“TORA, the umbrella group of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis of America, encourages synagogues to be inclusive environments in which both the observant and the non-observant find warmth and authentic Torah Judaism. This institutional inreach and outreach fulfills important Torah values, and must therefore be subject to the dictates of our Torah. Jews who seek the authenticity of Orthodox synagogues must publicly respect these Torah laws, regardless of whether they personally fulfill all of them. The Torah value of inclusion cannot come at the expense of other Torah values.”

“We call upon spiritual and lay leaders and members of the public of respective synagogues not to congratulate or celebrate, whether orally or in writing, those celebrating life cycle events in violation of Jewish law, included but not limited to halakhically prohibited marriages (intermarriages, homosexual unions, marriages of Kohanim to women they may not marry, etc.), celebrations held in blatant violation of Shabbat or kashrut laws, or any other event that publicly proclaims opposition to Jewish law.

To those whose life cycle events we will neither be able to celebrate, join in, nor congratulate, we ask for your respect, tolerance and understanding of our Torah and tradition. Our members have repeatedly committed to creating inclusive spaces, and have shown understanding to people of all walks of life. When there are events we cannot condone, it is not out of contempt or disrespect, but rather out of a firm commitment to the Torah, its values and its worldview, which requires us all to submit to the Torah even when doing so is difficult or inexpedient.

We call upon all Jews to reaffirm the immutable character of the Torah’s values — including but not limited to its sexual mores — and proclaim that to celebrate events that publicly flout Torah law is itself a violation. Within the confines of Jewish law we recommit to making our synagogues and other Orthodox institutions sacred spaces where all can seek the wisdom of the Torah, the guidance of its teachers and the inspiration from the fulfillment of its precepts and the internalization of its values.”

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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18 COMMENTS

  1. the ou finds that Jewish support for or celebration of homosexuality is: “INAPPROPRIATE”!!!

    what is this ou!? do they know what the Torah is??

  2. i think that rabbis pruzansky and fischer and fiener have better issues to confront. most people i know are more disturbed by satmar’s position vis-a-vis the agudah, who does not sever ties despite their positions on an issue of jewish survival, than over a synagogue’s congratulations to a gay couple (as opposed to what they engage in.)

  3. This OU gobbledygook watered-down double-speak presented here by Hoffman and this new organization called TORA, is highly insufficient. When a Jew publicly celebrates a homosexual union, that Jew needs to be publicly condemned and called out for that spit in the face of G-d. It is a huge Chillul Hashem of immense proportions that cannot be ignored.

    Merely stating that “that support for, or celebration of, halachically proscribed conduct is fundamentally inappropriate” is a cop-out and fundamentally weak.

  4. Yasher Koach to R. Feiner, R. Pruzansky, R. Gordimer and many others who are defending the integrity of Torah from mostly well meaning people, who, like the Conservative Judaism they imitate, forget the fundamental of na’aseh venishmah. The OU is a great organization and I am optimistic they will do what unfortunately needs to done, and show Open Orthodoxy/Neo-Conservatism the door.

  5. Side note. While much blame is to be put at the feet of Avi Weiss, the current “Senior Rabbi” (I use the term as did R. Moshe Feisntein) is Steven Exler. The picture and protest should be focused in his direction as well.

  6. whole thing reminds me of Charlie hebdo or reaction to Danish cartoonist that drew muhamed. Muslims were outraged and most frum people were like “ah, get over it”. To all you outraged people: Is this worse than J for J? Halachically it’s impermissible to daven in OO minyan? Who gave such a psak? I have zero anxiety achar meiah v’esrim I will be asked “what did you do to protest OO?”

  7. everyone who boycotts the ou and all who depend on their hechsher, will have a rather restricted diet. if the LGBTQ community reacted to an OU action, that would be more threatening

  8. “Is this worse than J for J? Halachically it’s impermissible to daven in OO minyan?” – groissechuchum

    I guess he thinks you can daven in a Jews for J place?

  9. he had expressed serious halachic reservations about even davening in synagogues where anti-halachic stands are regularly displayed. This includes also not setting foot at Mount Sinai Jewish Center, which also congratulates these types of “To’eivo” unions.

  10. Authentic Torah Judaism cannot be effectively defended by hypocritical organizations. For everyone they could save, they would confuse even more people about what defines kosher Judaism, should they compromise values too far, even with good intentions. The OU needs to get off the fence as per Rav Pruzansky and Rav Feiner. Those who disagree are basically calling to bring non Orthodox policy into the Orthodox Union.

  11. karlbenmarx,

    philosopher,

    I take it you’ll be fasting for the rest of your life. EVERY AGENCY AND I MEAN EVERY ONE of them rely on the OU for Kashrus status of ingredients. So unless you buy your own cow to milk then shecht, grow your own Wheat, corn, etc., basically live off the grid so to speak, you WILL be eating OU certified product.

    Now, what all you hotheads need to know is that OU Kashrus has little to do with the Synagogue Services Department that runs the shuls. If you walked into the OU and traveled the elevators up to the kashrus floors, you’ll think you walked into a shtark Bais Medresh and if it was Shabbos you wouldn’t believe that there are chasidishe rabbonim, Aguda rabbonim, dayonim, big time talmiday chachomim etc who are making sure things are 100% Kosher.

    Don’t mix the divisions.

  12. DrYidd, your comments make it seem like your a one issue person. To those of us that care about other issues as well such as the open orthodoxy issue we try to listen to Gedolei Yisroel for perspective. You either are not aware or you choose to ignore the perspective of most past and present Gedolei Yisroel. That perspective is that living in a country under a government is not the same as joining an optional movement. If you live under a government, you are already joined to that country. Because of this and also taking account the Shas Hadchak, you may join the Halls of Government in order to further Torah values and from within. That is not possible from the outside. This is only true for governments, and not for movements like reform and open-orthodoxy. Maybe time for you to look at sefarim that explain this issue and not keep pushing your minority position.

  13. This is what happens when you let an organization get too big to fail. If the OU had a kashrus issue that was 10 times worse than anything Triangle K does, we would still eat OU because we barely have any choice anymore.

    I can’t believe there are people here using the OU’s monopoly status as a defense. That would be like countering someone who says Wal Mart mistreats its workers by saying, “well, they’re a really big chain and it would be hard to boycott them, therefore they’re in the moral right.”