Recently, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz wrote a response, in the Jewish Link of New Jersey, entitled Response to Dean David Berger on Open Orthodoxy, to Rabbi Dr. David Berger's article, also in an earlier edition of the Jewish Link of New Jersey, entitled The Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah: A Response to Rabbis Avi Weiss and Asher Lopatin. The subject really is the nature and definition of heresy within Orthodoxy and, in many ways, this is a most serious issue which we are now facing. The essentially question is: What is Orthodoxy? -- and it extends even beyond the parameters of this specific issue. It is in regard to this specific issue, however, particularly in regard to Rabbi Katz's response, that I would like to comment. (For the purposes of the further discussion of this specific issue, though, one should perhaps also look at Rabbi Asher Lopatin's Morethodoxy article, Revelation and the Education of Modern Orthodox Rabbis.)
The issue to Rabbi Katz would seem to be the nature of what he defines as Modern Orthodox psak. His argument is that Rabbi Berger's view "displays a simplistic understanding of the philosophy of Modern Orthodox
halacha. It also, at its core, reflects a minimalist understanding of
the Modern Orthodox enterprise." While it is difficult to hear Rabbi Berger's thought processes described in such terms, the question still is not really the nature of psak itself but the extent one's deviation from another's perception of psak is to be accepted as still within the pale of Orthodoxy. The scholars of Conservative Judaism in its early years believed that they were applying what they believed was the correct process of psak. The argument of Orthodoxy was not simply that it disagreed. Disagreements regarding the process of psak actually abound within Orthodoxy. The argument of Orthodoxy was that this methodology of psak was beyond the pale of Orthodoxy.
Similarly, it is not enough for Rabbi Katz to maintain that he has a thoughtful approach to psak. It also serves no purpose for him to attack Rabbi Berger's methodology. It makes no difference whether Rabbi Berger's process is the most sophisticated Modern Orthodox approach to psak or not. No one is challenging that Rabbi Berger's system is within the pale of Orthodoxy. Rabbi Katz disagrees with Rabbi Berger's method but he never declares it not to be Orthodox. The actual question is whether Open Orthodoxy's system is within the pale.
In a certain way, Rabbi Katz's presentation may actually further the arguments against this. He is clearly stating that he is in disagreement with Rabbi Berger's methodology of psak with the implication that Rabbi Berger would also disagree with his system. That, in itself, is not necessarily a problem - disagreements can exist within Orthodoxy. Disagreement, though, does open the possibility for a determination that a position may be beyond the pale. Rabbi Katz does not address this. He does not present an argument that even if Rabbi Berger disagrees with the YCT position, Rabbi Berger should still recognize it as within the pale. If anything, Rabbi Katz's presentation would, in fact, seem to work otherwise. Rabbi Katz's strong critique of Rabbi Berger would actually seem to even imply a denominational divide. What Rabbi Katz needed to do was to show that even though Rabbi Berger may disagree with YCT's views, there are still reasons to accept these views as within the pale. What he does, though, is show how these views are actually so foreign from those of Rabbi Berger. Could this not be the basis of a definition of a new denomination?
On a technical note, I should also state that I specifically had difficulties with Rabbi Katz's reference to the Binyan Tzion and the Chazon Ish. Those two scholars were not dealing with the issue of heresy per se but rather the culpability and effect connected to heresy. Their issue was how we are to relate to those with heretical views, not the very definition of heresy itself. Does this recognition imply that there are, as such, no disagreements regarding issues connected to heresy? The Slifkin Affair obviously indicated to us that there are. The point is, though, that the Binyan Tzion and the Chazon Ish are not indications that the nature of heresy within Orthodoxy can change over time. Their arguments concern how our approach to those who accept heretical views can change over time. Such arguments, though, would still not extend to accepting one with heretical views in a position of rav. I found it problematic in that I felt that Rabbi Katz was somewhat misleading in this regard.
Rabbi Ben Hecht