Fred Reiss, Ed.D. ● San Diego Jewish World
Reform Judaism in eighteenth century Germany and Hasidism in the Ukraine in the same century represent the first modern ruptures in traditional Judaism; the former due to European emancipation, the latter a spiritual revival movement. The freedoms granted by American democracy led to further balkanization, including Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Humanistic Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is not without its own divisions, such as Haredi Jews and the Modern Orthodox.
Modern Orthodox Judaism, also known as Open Orthodoxy, unites traditional Jewish values—belief in the divinity of the Torah and scrupulous observance of Jewish law—with the modern world. Yet it too is divided into left and right-wing thinking. Rabbi Weiss, founder of Open Orthodoxy and author of Journey to Open Orthodoxy, presents his views, which many consider leaning toward the left, through a series of previously published essays, showing its openness, inclusiveness, and non-judgmental practices. The movement is on a collision course with world-wide Orthodox Judaism and its rabbinic leadership, some of whom avowing that Open Orthodoxy is not Orthodox Judaism and its rabbis will not be considered Orthodox.
Weiss tackles numerous divisive issues among the Orthodox sects, even pointing out differences, where appropriate, between Open Orthodoxy and the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements. Journey to Open Orthodoxy’s introduction clearly describes the movement’s position on important issues, arguing that interacting with and accepting Jewish diversity and lifestyles is Open Orthodoxy’s keystone belief. “As a loving family unconditionally embraces all its members, so, too, should Am Israel.”
Weiss, recognizing that traditional Jewish law and practice are not egalitarian, parts company from the religious right by asserting that men and women must be allowed the same educational and religious experiences, including rabbinic ordination and participation as religious leaders at all levels.
At present, recognized conversions are dictated by the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which demands converts adhere to historic Jewish law and be guided through the conversion process by an approved Orthodox rabbi. Weiss takes the position that the Chief Rabbinate uses its authority and “coercive powers” to derail conversions of tens of thousands of Israelis and Americans who wish to convert. Unlike right-wing Orthodox Judaism, Open Orthodoxy encourages expressions of doubt about God’s benevolence and ethics without fear of recrimination. “The gateway to increased spiritual striving is via open, honest, and respectful dialogue.”
More than seventy essays, some appearing as early as the late twentieth century, fall into one of Journey to Open Orthodoxy’s eight chapters, each highlighting an important doctrine and showing the reader its quest to stay modern while investing time and energy maintaining traditional elements. Rabbi Weiss is a cogent author; his essays are clear and often profound. Journey to Open Orthodoxy is as much a historical treatment of divergent beliefs about the mission of the People of Israel as it is a compelling philosophical commentary on the state of Orthodox Judaism.