Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

An op-ed by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal that can only be described as a terrible blurring of lines. Rabbi Yanklowitz was explaining why he, as an Orthodox rabbi, will no longer be eating kosher meat because, as it is currently produced, the animals are raised on the same animal-rights-abusing farms as the animals that are sent for non-kosher slaughter.

This article is not about government (or, for that matter, rabbinic) oversight of the way animals are treated at farms across America, however correct that call may be. This article is about something else.

It is about the Wall Street Journal misrepresenting the author of their op-ed as an Orthodox rabbi. Popular though he is, an analysis of Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s writings will demonstrate that he cannot at all be described as following the views of Orthodox Judaism.

The following quotes are from an article he had published in the Jewish Week, February 1, 2012. (http://www.thejewishweek.com/features/street_torah/most_important_and_dangerous_jewish_value_messianic_impulse)

“We have made too many mistakes throughout history, thinking that the Messiah is a person or event. . . . It was Christian influence that helped further this idea of the single divine human. The Jewish notion, preceding that, suggested that all people are imbued with Divinity.

“At the end of the day, I would like to suggest that we are Mashiach–we are the ones we have been waiting for.”

This article is a flat-out denial of a cardinal principle of Judaism–the arrival and anticipation of Mashiach. He has written that the identity of the much-waited for Messiah is “us.” This flies in the face of the Talmud, Maimonides, and thousands of years of Jewish tradition.

It is disingenuous for Shmuly Yanklowitz to claim that he is Orthodox and yet deny fundamentals of Judaism.

In a Tishah B’Av reflection last year, Rabbi Yanklowitz actually denies the building of the third Beis HaMikdash. (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/also-have-trouble-mourning-on-tisha-bav/#ixzz33Pmpp5DO). Here are some quotes:

“The fantasy of returning to one centralized monolithic form of Judaism is not only wishful thinking. It’s also dismissive of two of the most important aspects of modern Jewish life: diversity and adaptability.”

“Further, in any centralized system of authority, abuses of power and limits of transparency and empowerment have proven to be inevitable. The new paradigm that the Temple’s destruction and exile from Israel enabled is one that says, Bring G‑d into your hearts and into the wide world every day and in every way; the Temple was a vehicle for this once, now we have so much more.”

“It is natural to long for past models in a world of uncertainty but we must move forward with courage, creativity, and open hearts to build a world of justice, kindness, and holiness where G‑d can reside.”

The “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude cannot stretch the umbrella of orthodoxy so far as to include someone who denies the meaning of the idea of Mashiach and of rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash. This is not a matter of misinterpretation; he really writes and believes this. The very tefillos of our synagogues, our Shemoneh Esreih, indeed, even of the last line in the counting of the Omer, would have to be thrown out in order to comport with Rabbi Shmuly’s theological writings.

It is particularly sad because it is clear that Rabbi Shmuly is a man with remarkable sensitivities. His work in Haiti, in improving conditions for prisoners, in calling for greater transparency in charitable organization, all point to a lofty soul. His concern for social welfare, for immigrant rights, for the downtrodden and weak; indeed, his concern for others–all others–are all very important and admirable qualities.

And while it is true that Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz had once received semichah from rabbis who themselves had graduated from Orthodox institutions, that does not make someone an Orthodox rabbi. There is obfuscation going on here, of the highest order, involving not only this rabbi, but an entire group of others, presenting their ideas that lie far beyond the pale of orthodoxy, as if they are Orthodox.

Chovevei Torah and Open Orthodoxy have taken the most radical positions on issues of Biblical criticism, changing the formulation of blessings instituted by the Men of the Great Assembly, recognizing marriages that the Torah clearly prohibits, and engaging in interfaith activities that are clearly forbidden by halachah.

Rabbi Zev Farber, a leading Open Orthodox thinker, has taken the position that Sefer Devarim was not written by Moshe Rabbeinu and came significantly later. This does not and cannot comport with the theological views of the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch, and Orthodox Judaism. (See for example http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-3/ and http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-4/ for starters.)

Elsewhere Rabbi Farber has written, “The same holds true of the description of the development of Israel. The idea that the twelve tribes of Israel were formed by the twelve sons of Jacob has all the appearances of a schematic attempt of Israelites to explain themselves to themselves: ‘We are all one family because we are all children of the same father.’ These Torah stories are not history, the recording of past events; they are mnemohistory, the construction of shared cultural-memory through narratives about the past . . .

“It is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical.

“The popular idea that the Torah’s holiness stems only from the historicity of its claims, dictated by the mouth of G‑d, strikes me as an attempt to depict the Al-mighty as a news reporter.” (See http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/07/26/belief-in-torah-min-ha-shamayim-damage-control-by-yct/#ixzz33RD0Wyx6.)

It is painful to write this, because we do want to include as many people as possible within the umbrella of Torah-true Judaism. However, in light of the above, presenting Open Orthodoxy as part of Orthodoxy is just plain dishonest.

The Wall Street Journal should issue a clarification. v

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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