Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Open Orthodoxy and the Big Hearted Moose


The gemara in Menachos 29b states that HKBH created two worlds – Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah - with the abbreviated name of HKBH: Yud-Heh. Olam Haba is represented by the letter Yud because it is humble and very few are worthy of it. Olam Hazeh is represented by the letter Heh. It is closed from three sides but open at the bottom.

Why is it open?

So that anybody who wants to leave, may leave. Of course, once one has left (unless he returns), one can never achieve the Yud – Olam Haba.

In the past few months we have been hearing a lot about a “movement” that calls itself “Open Orthodoxy”. Open Orthodoxy refers to the “heh” in the abbreviated name of HKBH. It is for people who want to call themselves Orthodox and to live for this world. And it is “Open”. Anybody who wants to leave, may leave. Thus, Open Orthodoxy is one of the all-time greatest oxy-morons (with the accent on the morons).

The oxymoronic nature of this movement is so brazen that many of our Rabbinical leaders felt it cannot go unchallenged. Hence, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the Rabbinical Council of America and, more recently, the Conference of European Rabbis have all issued statements strongly denouncing this movement.

Although I am in full agreement with all of these Rabbis and with the statements, I wonder if they are really necessary. Instead, why don’t we just pull off a “Thidwick”??

A Thidwick?!

When I was a wee lad, I received as a birthday present one of the lesser known works of the prolific author, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss). It became one of my all-time favorites. It is called: Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose.

In this lesser-known tale, Thidwick the moose is too nice to say no to all the bugs and animals that want to live in his antlers. "A host has to put up with all kinds of pests. For a host- above all- must be kind to his guests." But this has some serious consequences, like not being able to cross the river to get to the moose moss he needs to survive. And then some hunters from the Harvard Club come after him shooting guns! This is getting real. Luckily for Thidwick, he remembers that moose shed their antlers once a year, and so he does, along with all his unwanted guests. Thidwick thus escapes the hunters while all his guests are not as fortunate.

When somebody encroaches into one’s domain, the gut reaction is to fight to take it back. Or, at least, to close your eyes and hope it goes away. Says Thidwick: “Besides, now it’s getting quite late in the day. And surely tomorrow they’ll all go away!”

But we ultimately learn from Thidwick that there is sometimes another option. Sometimes it is much simpler to just shed the domain and let them wallow in it. This works when one has something to replace it with.

Thus, instead of trying to regain control of his hijacked horns or waiting for his “guests” to vacate, Thidwick exercised the option of simply jettisoning the horns and replacing them with fresh unsullied ones.

The issue with Open Orthodoxy is their use of the epithet “Orthodox”. Those of us who are more “Orthodox” feel, that our label has been hijacked. It has been wrested out of our control. And we want to regain control.

Yep, a few unwanted guests have come to live in the Jewish horns (all Jews have horns, don’t they?) that are called “Orthodox”. And who are the guests?

There is “Modern” Orthodox which adheres to the mitzvos but falls short on the amailos b’Torah, “Open” Orthodox which falls out the bottom, “Centrist” Orthodox which doesn’t really exist (except, perhaps, in the world of blogs), and even “Ultra” Orthodox which implies that true mitzvah observance with amaeilus b’Torah may be excessive (ultra).

They are weighing us down and they are keeping us on the opposite side of the river than the Yud.

“Orthodox” is supposed to mean the “straight” or “correct” ideology. But if it is subject to modifiers like “modern”, “open”, “centrist”, or “ultra”, then, in what way does it indicate what is “correct”?

I have written about this emphatically in the past. (See HERE). I wrote in that post that Rabbi Dovid Rosoff, in the glossary of his book Where Heaven Touches Earth says the following definition: Chareidi – Orthodox Jew.

Perhaps there was a time when this was so, but no longer. The modern term Orthodox is too open to ultra-deceptive centristic definitions.

So we should take a tip from Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose. Let’s shed the horns. We no longer have any use for them. Lets drop the archaic term “Orthodox” once and for all. It's not even a Jewish term, anyway. It's Greek! 

We really shouldn’t need any official statements claiming that these movements cannot be called “Orthodox”. Let them be Orthodox! Who cares??

And he called to the pests on his horns as he threw 'em,
You wanted my horns; now you're quite welcome to 'em!
Keep 'em! They're yours! As for ME, I shall take
myself to the far distant side of the lake!"

I do not want to be Orthodox. I want to be what is really straight and correct.

Which is what?

Based on chapter 9 of my book, here are some of the proper terms for the authentic Jews (with explanations):

  • Chareidi Jew – This is the term used by Yeshaya Hanavi (and Ezra HaSofer) to refer to those who adhere to the word of G-d.
  • One Above Jew – This is a term I made up to refer to those who adhere to Vayikra 26:3 - which, by the way, is the word of G-d.
  • Davidic Jew – Same as above since Dovid Hamelech echoes Vayikra 26:3-13 in the head chapter of his greatest work – Tehillim.
  • Talmudic Jew – This is self-explanatory as all of our binding laws, customs, and ethics (hashkafos) are rooted in the Talmud. I want to add that Toras Kohanim that defines the true essence of Vayikra 26:3 (as per Rashi) is the Halachic Midrash on Vayikra and an intrinsic, albeit under-appreciated, part of the Talmud.

I presented even a few more suggestions in my book.

So why do we need official statements? Why not be Big Hearted about it and let them stay Orthodox?
Let them keep the bottomless Heh. All those who wish to leave, may leave. 
We’ll take the Yid.

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