A platform for an honest to God Orthodox Judaism

Revelation

  • Those who demean modern Orthodoxy as post-Orthodox, a swipe implying that it is un-orthodox, make a series of claims:
    • The Hebrew scripture must be accepted as literal history
    • We may only take the liberties that are found in early authorities
    • Ibn Ezra is wrong and is perhaps heretical for claiming that there are post-Mosaic additions to the Torah
    • In the Mishna, Avot 1:1, we are told that Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and nothing came later
  • Those who affirm modern/liberal/open Orthodoxy
    • Affirm the Text of Torah as divinely Authored but subject to a human reading
    • IF Rav Kook is not concerned with biblical historical accuracy, if Rabbi Naftoli Berlin writes, in Ha’ameq Davar that the Torah is poetry and Ibn Ezra felt he had the right to engage in Lower/text criticism, and lacking an explicit prohibition in the oral Torah, their probing readings are authentic and legitimate. To claim otherwise adds to God’s Torah and thereby denies the eternity of God’s Torah.
    • The Mishnah, lacking a direct object marker, et, really teaches that Moses received a but not the Torah at Sinai, referring to an oral as opposed to textual Torah. Given the facts that Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all post-Sinaitic, by their own testimony, that the Torah referenced in Isaiah 2:3, “Torah will come forth from Sinai,” is for sure post-Sinaitic.

Halakhah

  • Those who demean modern Orthodoxy as post-Orthodox,
    • Argue that we must view tradition in Rabbi Abraham b. David’s terms, which is in theory the Torah of Sinai nut is mediated by charismatic rabbis who define the Torah of Sinai as the culture of yesteryear.
    • Contend that women may not be rabbis because there are sources that make that claim, that women may not be leaders because a non-canonical Midrash says so, the custom that women do not slaughter animals, even though the canon allows the act, because we never saw women slaughter. Recall that R. Abraham b. David defines canon, devar Mishnah, as inherited culture. Idioms such as Yisroel sabba [the culture of our nostalgically remembered past as remembered by the rabbinic elite], Masora [the “tradition” of culture that is presented as the moral equivalent of the Tradition of Sinai that concludes with the last authentic and binding religious consensus, the Talmud of Rabina and Rav Ashi], and rabbinic consensus are regularly invoked to stifle changes that by statute are justified.
    • Dismiss as “post-Orthodox,” i.e., ritually observant but theologically deviant individuals, those who are committed to the Letter of God’s word but not to historically conditioned applications of that word by other Orthodox affiliates with other social agendas.
  • Those who affirm modern/liberal/open Orthodoxy
    • Argue that culture gets a voice but the canon gets a veto. God’s covenant requires that divine statutes be observed, but issues of policy and piety are subject to review. The law is not in Heaven but in the Torah record. Reasoned persuasion and not dismissive derision is appropriate Jewish discourse. When R. Caro requires that we forbid the forbidden and not the innovative adjustments conditioned by the current reality, he affirms the mindset of modern/open Orthodoxy.
    • Maintain that a reasoned reading of the canon does not forbid women from assuming leadership roles. And if Rem”a is really binding without qualification, we recall that he made many rulings that are no longer customary or normative, drinking non-Jewish Moravian wine, allowing men to walk with uncovered head, playing ball on holy days, and requiring donning phylacteries on the intermediate festival day. If as many contend, a custom may override the law [a position that this author forcefully rejects], one cannot contend that customs cannot be cancelled.
    • Affirm that the Torah does not deal with doctrine. Jews must believe that God is real, God commands in the Written and Oral Law, and holds humankind accountable to those recorded normative benchmarks.

What is an illegitimate opinion

  • It is legitimate to say that another view is misguided. It is not legitimate to say that another, opposing view is wrong unless a specific statute is violated.
  • Appeals to Yisroel Sabba, Masorah, and consensus may not be made or even invoked to disallow innovation. Such claims are not legitimate. Nowhere did God command inertia in Jewish decision making or demand that the past be preserved.
  • One may be in error and still legitimate. If Ibn Ezra is indeed out of order and issuing a illegitimate opinion when he claims that there are prophetic glosses to the Torah, why are those who disallow women’s slaughtering and leadership also illegitimate. Recall that Ashkenazi Judaism preserves culture tradition by disallowing women reading Megillah, but has no problem inventing a hitherto unattested benediction, ‘al mishma megillah/on hearing [as opposed to reading the] the Megillah. The claim that Ibn Ezra is wrong when he denies what has become a consensus and allowing Masorah to change, allowing liturgical reform, would appear to deny the doctrine that God’s will is revealed in canonical text and not in cultural taste. Are we really prepared to dismiss Rashi and R. Moses Taqu, who apparently believed that God assumes a corporeal form, which may be a greater problem that accepting the possibility of glosses to the Pentateuch.
  • Claims that great rabbis read the mind of God are as illegitimate for R. Eliezer the great, whose view was confirmed by an oracle, as they are for latter day saintly rabbis whose views are not confirmed by oracles.

What is a legitimate opinion

  • Any view that does not violate/contradict the Talmudic canon is legitimate; a latter day rabbi has a greater right to innovate when not contradicting the Talmud [composing a qina, seliha or pizmon] than any post-Talmudic rabbi has to compose a new blessing, as in ‘al mishma megilla.
  • Conjectures may be advanced and argued for plausibility, they may neither be imposed nor dismissed with derision
  • Torah is not a rule of rulers; Torah is a rule of rules that when obeyed, sanctify and render holy the person who fulfills the rules.

About Rabbi Alan Yuter

Rabbi Yuter is Adjunct Prof. of Hebrew Lit., Baltimore Hebrew University, and Adjunct Faculty, Fairleigh Dickenson University/Institute for Traditional Judaism. S'micha from Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu. See bio for more.