Thursday 27 August 2015

Commenting on "Response to Dean David Berger on Open Orthodoxy"

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

Monday 24 August 2015

Live Webcast with President Barack Obama
Next Erev Shabbat
Friday August 28th at 2:10 pm

From: Stephen M. Greenberg, Chairman
          Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO

Dear Friends,

As announced earlier, President Barack Obama will address the American Jewish community on Friday, August 28 at 2:10 p.m. regarding the agreement between the P5 +1 countries and Iran.  The webcast, broadcast live from the White House, is co-sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Jewish Federations from across North America. Anyone with internet access will be able to access the presentation. To encourage and facilitate participation by your members and affiliates, ads and web banners to help you spread the word via social media are available here.

A question and answer period will follow President Obama’s remarks; questions may be submitted in advance on the webcast registration site.

Please register here to receive the web link information. 


Saturday 22 August 2015

Mussar: Tearing Others Down

"Class never tries to build itself up by tearing others down.
Class is already up and need not strive to look better by making others look worse."
~Ann Landers (1918 - 2002)
American Advice Columnist

Also see posts on Schadenfreude

Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Huffington Post: Oskar Groening's Trial Reveals the Complexity of Morality

The Oskar Groening trial in Germany raised many questions. For some, an issue was simply the very fact that this elderly man was standing trial for something he did many years ago. For others, including myself, we could only wonder how that could even be a question. Simple justice would seem to have demanded this trial regardless of the age of the defendant. 

Another issue, though, did present a more complicated problem. It seems that the defendant's crime was only discovered through his involvement in challenging those who denied the Holocaust. It was, thus, his subsequent positive actions that led to his trial and conviction. Should these subsequent positive actions, though, have then mitigated in his favour?

See further on this in my latest Huffington Post blog: Oskar Groening's Trial Reveals the Complexity of Morality.

My original title for the post, btw, was 'The Complexity of Life, Morality and the Human Being' but it was changed by the editors. The present title may actually, though, be the better one.

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

For an interesting Torah article regarding the first issue mentioned above, see

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Ivanka Trump happy to be Jewish

The above noted article from the Times of Israel, "Ivanka Trump happy to be Jewish", would seem to be of significance given the position of her father, Donald Trump, in the present polls regarding the U.S. presidency. It speaks to not only a Jewish connection that Mr. Trump will have but also the type of Jewish connection that he will have. This is worth noting.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 10 August 2015

Be there for Chuck! AUGUST 10th at NOON TO 1 PM

Some advocates of the Iran deal are planning a rally outside Schumers NYC office tomorrow. Lets be there with a counter protest. Please spread the word and ask people to come there to support his decision.

Dear Friends,
If you are in NYC and READY TO TAKE TO THE STREETS over Senator Schumer's decision to vote against the Iran nuclear deal...Peace Action is asking that you join us outside his office on 780 Third Ave in Manhattan (between 48th and 49th Streets) from this Monday, August 10th, from NOON to 1 PM.    
We will pass out flyers, collect signatures on petitions and postcards and ask people to call Senator Schumer to let him know that he has made the WRONG decision on this one.   There will be a lot of people on the streets at lunchtime.  The weather prediction is 78 F and sunny for that hour.
If you cannot be there yourself, please pass this call to your group.
Please email me at or call me at  917-362-0897 if you will be there.
Sally Jones
Peace Action NYS
Kol Tuv,

Thursday 6 August 2015

United with Israel: Israel’s Special Unity

 This has been a hard time for Klal Yisrael. The essence of our soul was challenged from within -- but we responded with our uniqueness. I expand upon this theme in my recent post on United with Israel. Please see

I am sure this will also be up on the UWI Facebook page in the near future. Please feel free to comment here or on one of the UWI sites.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 3 August 2015

Media: Double Standard

Guest Blogger:
R Ben Blech:

I sent this to the NYTimes letters - but of course they wouldn't print it. It needs however to be stressed by all of us in the aftermath of the horrific stabbing:
«Your headline on the horrific stabbing at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem begins with the description of the assailant as "Ultra-Orthodox." It would suggest a higher level of piety, a greater expression of Orthodox faith - when any Rabbi or scholar of Judaism would tell you this act was the utmost desecration of every Jewish and biblical value. Extremist, fanatic, perverted come to mind as more appropriate prefixes than "Ultra." The Times is usually very careful not to identify ISIS barbarism as exemplifying traditional moderate Islam. I urge you to be equally careful with descriptions for those who bring only shame and disgust to every religious Jew.»

Kol Tuv,