Innovations in Orthodoxy
The controversy over Open Orthodoxy is something that I have been studiously avoiding discussing, for three reasons. First of all, there already seem to be enough people making all the points that need to made. Second, the limited amount of things that I have to say on the topic would anger people on both sides. Third, the truth is that it does not particularly interest me.
However, I came across something today which made realize that there really is a serious and dangerous innovation here, which some are trying to pass off as "traditional," and which needs to be refuted. I am referring to the innovation of Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, one of the leading activists against Open Orthodoxy. He penned the following lines in an op-ed in The Times of Israel:
...Cutting to the core of the issue, the defining feature of Orthodoxy is submission to Chachmei Ha-Mesorah and Gedolei Ha-Dor — the generation’s top-tier, preeminent rabbinic authorities — and perpetuating their approach to Torah (emphasis his), be they names such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Aharon Kotler or Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik.
This is not the defining feature of Orthodoxy. In fact, it's not a feature of Orthodoxy at all.
Whether you want to use the term Orthodoxy in its popular sense of "traditional rabbinic Judaism," or in its academic sense of "the approach to traditional rabbinic Judaism that was innovated in the nineteenth century as a response to emancipation and Reform," there has never been a requirement of "submission to Chachmei Ha-Mesorah and Gedolei Ha-Dor."
Who even decides who makes the cut for such a list, anyway? The original Misnagdim didn't recognize the original Chassidim as being on that list. The charedi Gedolei Ha-Dor don't include Religious Zionist and Torah u-Madda Gedolim on that list.
There are innumerable streams of religious Judaism who have no concern with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik, or anyone else who would appear on Rabbi Gordimer's list. There are countless streams of Chassidim who couldn't care less about submission to such people. Some of them have their own leaders who could be described as Gedolei HaDor, but others do not. There is Chabad, including its large messianic branch. There is Breslav, including the unusual Na-nach branch. There are the followers of Rav David Bar-Chayim. None of these people care about submission to some Rabbi-Gordimer approved list of Gedolim. Is Rabbi Gordimer therefore going to start writing all of these people out of Orthodoxy? If so, then there are bigger things to worry about than a handful of Open Orthodox Jews.
To be sure, every group has its own treasured beliefs and norms, and those who undermine those treasured beliefs and norms will justifiably not be welcomed in that group. For example, Rabbi Gordimer, who probably espouses some form of Zionism, would not be welcomed in the charedi community (except insofar as he bashes the Open Orthodox). On a broader scale, characteristics of the Orthodox community in general include the acceptance of the divinity of the Torah, allegiance to the halachic community, and so on. But "submission to Chachmei Ha-Mesorah and Gedolei Ha-Dor" is simply not a feature of any form of Orthodoxy outside of charedi Judaism, itself an innovation.
It is quite ironic that in his efforts to preserve traditional Judaism against innovation, Rabbi Gordimer has innovated an entirely new feature of Judaism!