(The first version of this post accidentally failed to refer to R. Gordimer by his proper rabbinic title, and I apologize deeply for that error. If I were to point to a cause for this error, and if I were to be honest with myself, it is likely due to participating in too many conversations where R. Gordimer was not granted the basic respect of being referred to by his proper title, to the point it had been normalized in my mind. I resolve in the future to insist that he be referred to by his proper title as a matter of “what is hateful to you don’t do to your friend”. This post should furthermore not be construed as an attack on R. Gordimer’s basic character; according to everyone I’ve ever spoken to, R. Gordimer is a wonderful and nice person in real life. I myself was privileged to hear R. Gordimer speak to an OU Kashrut course and found his shiur engaging and informative. The only reason I did not go up to thank him after the shiur was because I feared my name being recognized as someone who had written a scathing critique of an article he had written for the YU Commentator. So, R. Gordimer, on the off chance you read this, I apologize profusely for failing to refer to you by your proper title, and thank you for that shiur)
Last night, in a fit of passion, I wrote a post about what I percieve to be problems in the ways that Open Orthodoxy has been criticized, particularly by R. Avrohom Gordimer. I neglected to bring specific examples of R. Gordimer exhibiting the trends that I ascribe to him, as I as more musing aloud than writing a fully documented critique. But I want to back up what I said with actual references, so I have selected a R. Gordimer “kefira roundup” article at random to illustrate what I’m talking about.
Let’s go with this one.
Right off the bat, R. Gordimer identifies the point of the mitzvah of Matzah as teaching us a lesson in humility and submission before God, as is his wont. Having confidently identified the true reason for the commandment, he then goes on to assail anyone who goes against the True Meaning of Pesach by having the gall to disagree with him.
The first object of his ire is R. Shmuly Yanklowitz, who proposes we remove Shefoch Chamascha from our Haggadah. I will admit, I was no fan of this proposal. I feel that this suggestion is insufficently receptive to the genuine pain of our ancestors in exile, and recognizing that pain and that anger has its value. Do I think removing it constitutes heresy? No. No ikkar emunah is being impinged on if R. Shmuly Yanklowitz decides not to say Shefoch Chamascha. Making such a passage, one so jarringly dissimilar from anything in Jewish liturgy (even the Kinot are much much more muted in their calls for divine retribution) central to one’s notion of Judaism is the very definition of picking a bad hill to die on. But, because R. Yanklowitz is liberal, and he’s expressing something R. Gordimer sees as a liberal value, its treif.
The second object of R. Gordimer’s displeasure is R. Dov Linzer for having ” just postulated that we insert our own characters and values into the Haggadah:” and having the temerity to suggest rabbinic opinions were rejected. For the latter crime, I’m not sure why R. Linzer is not allowed to interpret a Gemara or suggest rabbinic opinions get rejected, or give reasons why. As for the latter, you can judge for yourself, but as far as I can tell, R. Linzer is merely offering an interpretation of the concept of “seeing yourself as if you exited Egypt”, and gives a nice little devar torah on it, which R. Gordimer rejects because how dare he say that anyone’s allowed to have their own viewpoint?! So R. Gordimer didn’t like the devar torah. That’s not heresy. That’s you not agreeing with a point of a devar torah. Maybe even that’s you having a different philosophical orientation towards text in general. But, because R. Gordimer believes that there’s only one kind of rabbi, one kind of Jew, and one kind of Orthodoxy, and R. Linzer doesn’t fit into those categories, therefore, its heresy, non-Orthodox, nu-conservative whatever and now he needs to write a blogpost about it.
The third object of R. Gordimer’s displeasure is the “Joy of Text” podcast, which discusses matters of sex and Judaism in a podcast. R. Gordimer does not like that they’re doing this. Okay. I have my own issues with it, chiefly that it plays off this voyeuristic fascination with religious people’s sex lives, but also that I do think that our halakhic system values privacy when it comes to matters of intimacy. That said, the fact that they have this podcast is not an act of heresy. They’re discussing Torah and halakha, and such discussion might be incredibly valuable in an increasingly sexualized society, making sure an authentically Jewish and compelling view of sexuality is put out into the public sphere. Like with everything, there is a balance that ought to be struck between two extremes, and R. Gordimer seems not only unwilling to negotiate that balance, as is his God given right, but seems unwilling to grant the right to grapple with that balance to others, because the type of Orthodox people R. Gordimer envisions in his head are not the type of people to have that discussion.
The fourth point of contention is R. Ysoscher Katz’s responsa on Breastfeeding women in shul. R. Gordimer has an issue with it because he doesn’t agree with it. Nu, he’s allowed to not agree with it, he’s allowed to attack it, and being as this is on an actual point of halakha, its not really the focus of what I’m critiquing, unless it is meant to be brought as evidence for R. Katz’s heresy, which would be a little much. People can be wrong on halakha without being heretics. What seems to distinguish heresy from simple wrongness in R. Gordimer’s book is the ideological direction the error comes from. And that strikes me as dishonest.
R. Yaakov Kamenetsky, in last week’s parsha, has a fascinating piece, beginning with an explanation of God’s command (Shemot, 19:3) of כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “This is what you shall say to the House of Yaakov, and this is what you shall tell to B’nei Yisrael”, which seems to imply a specificity to the words Moshe is to say. R. Yaakov writes that God wanted the Israelites to accept the Torah not out of being convinced by Moshe in any way, but purely from their own free will, and thus Moshe was given specific words to say. Working off this, he gives a fascinating explanation as to why Moshe hitting the rock in the desert, after God had told him to talk to the rock, resulted in such a harsh punishment for Moshe, ie, dying and not entering into the land. If Moshe had been allowed to get away with a ever-so-slight deviation from the exact divine command, than it would mean we would have no ability to trust that what Moshe had relayed to us in the Torah was exactly what God had commanded. Even the slightest distortion of the exact text of the divine command would completely destroy any notion of trust in rabbinic authority.
So while R. Gordimer concerns himself with people who deny that Moshe wrote the Torah because of the disastrous effect that would have on the foundations of our faith, I worry that the constant misrepresentation of the boundaries of heresy, such that the mere lack of conformance to a very narrow vision of Orthodoxy is taken as unforgivable heresy, will have even more deleterious effects. If the accusation of heresy is bandied about constantly , with flimsy basis, in an attempt to force Orthodoxy into a tiny box, then it will lose any sort of meaning, and all respect for rabbinic authority will erode. R. Gordimer and his ilk claim that his targets are tearing the fabric of Orthodoxy. I suspect that they have more than their share of blame in the matter.