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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Is Open Orthodoxy Beyond the Pale?


Daf Yomi Chagigah 22

There is a lot of tension in the Modern Orthodox world today.   The Open Orthodoxy movement is gaining traction and many within the mainstream are alarmed at the ideas and behaviour of these more liberal types.  They have pushed the envelope in matters of ritual, women’s ordination, and interdenominational dialogue; even dangerously wading into the waters of biblical criticism.

Why don’t we just call it a day and pronounce them beyond the pale of Orthodoxy, allowing them to take their movement in whatever direction they choose?

Rabbi Yossi teaches: Why is everyone trusted concerning the purity of wine and oil they bring to the Holy Temple year-round, even the unlearned simple folk?  In order that we do not drive them away and end up with them building their own altars and burning their own red heifers.

Here we have ignorant folk coming to the Temple with their offering and we simply take their word for it that it’s completely kosher?  Do they even know the laws of kosher and purity well enough to be able to vouch for their offering?    Let’s take that chance, says Rabbi Yossi.   If we don’t trust them, we run the risk that they will walk away and start their own competition temples. 

Who cares?  They’re ignoramuses anyway!  Who’s going to follow them?  Trust me, says Rabbi Yossi, there’s no shortage of people who will try the competition.  All you need is a charismatic enough leader – he may not be the biggest talmid chacham – and people will flock to see what he has to offer.  For the sake of the unity of our people, let’s assume their goods are kosher.

That must be our attitude when dealing with individuals or groups amongst our people whose goods are of questionable kashrut, even ideologically.  Certainly, we need to call them out on their dubious perspectives and strive to purify our ranks, but we must never drive them away.  We’ve been there, done that, over the last century or two, with disastrous results for our people.  The last thing we want is for them to go off and create their own brand of competition.  Whether meritorious or not, people have a tendency to follow something that is fresh and exciting, especially when it appears quite credible.

Let us continue to debate.  Let us continue to reach out.  And let us make everyone feel as welcome as possible, no matter what they are carrying with them.  Let’s get them into our Holy Temple and keep them there.  We can ask questions later.