A Critique of Liberal Orthodox Approach to Halacha

Ariel, R' YaakovEnglishOne of the best brief critiques of the liberal Orthodox approach to halacha.

For a couple of years now, I have campaigned among colleagues for people to take up the pen and in a reasoned,respectful way grapple with the underlying issues that are increasingly causing a schism between Liberal Orthodoxy on the one hand, and traditional Ultra- and Modern Orthodoxy, on the other. My feeble contribution to this conversation has been a review of why Modern Orthodoxy is increasingly worried about the trends coming out of Open Orthodoxy.

Now, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan and president of the moderate Religious Zionist organization Tzohar, has penned one of the best brief critiques of the underpinnings of Liberal (incl. Open) Orthodoxy. His essay is chanelled through a review Haviva Ner David’s recent book, and seems at first sight a critique of Orthodox Feminism, but it is more profound, more far ranging and more thorough, putting a finger on the issues with the Liberal Orthodox drive to change halachic rulings.

Reading it, I could not help thinking of of blurb written in the hazy past, in a 1985 Tradition article, by Rabbi Shalom Carmy, which unfortunately applies well to the present issue:

This philosophical docility, at least within the confines of the present article, seems to be connected with Singer’s apprehension of what he calls “the tradition.” Reading Singer, one gets the impression that the tradition is, in modern man’s daily contact with it, essentially an obstacle course of do’s and don’t’s. Once one has satisfied these demands, the wide and wonderful world of modernity beckons with open arms. Difficulties in the synthesis of tradition and modernity are to be solved, or rather dissolved, by the appropriate halakhic rulings, if at all possible. Where such rulings are unavailable, and the modern Orthodox Jew is convinced that there is nothing wrong with what he/she is doing, the attendant guilt can be assuaged by postulating that “if there were gedolim with a modern sensibility, they would not hesitate to legitimate his behavioral patterns.”

Thus there are two kinds of gedolim inhabiting Singer’s halakhic universe: the real-life scholars and the hypothetical ones. Singer apparently prefers the non-existent sort: these are quite effective in palliating the guilt of the modern Orthodox Jew, exhibiting their limitations only when it comes to allaying his frustration at their intractable non-existence.

Source: Carmy, R’ Shalom; Rejoinder: Synthesis and the Unification of Human Existence.

Hat tip for this quote goes to Rabbi Mitch Rocklin.

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