Friday, November 28, 2014


This past week, the Orthodox Union issued a brief statement aimed at criticizing a shul rav who had posted on his personal blog some strong views on how to deal with the scourge of murder that has taken place these past two or three weeks in Israel.  The rav, who is one of the most respected and prominent rabbonim in America -- and how I wish I could be a member of his shul, just to hear his weekly divrei Torah (sermons), but libi b'mizrach va'ani b'sof ma'arov (My heart is in the East, but I am in the utmost corners of the West) -- is deeply respected and revered among hundreds of his colleagues in the American Orthodox rabbinate.

What struck me most about the utterly inexplicable OU posting is that, by way of contrast, the O.U. seems incapable of addressing the real issues on its plate, as several of its shuls fall under the sway of a non-Orthodox neo-Conservative Judaism rabbinate that brings in and normalizes within Orthodox Union shuls deviations from mainstream normative halakha.

This is no secret.  Orthodox Union rabbis know this.  Orthodox Union laity know this.  It is the same kind of running embarrassment within the Orthodox Union that was true twenty years ago until the Baruch Lanner scandal finally erupted on the pages of Gary Rosenblatt's Jewish Week.  When Rosenblatt broke the story, the Orthodox Union circled its wagons, and all the Orthodox Union management came to Lanner's defense.  There were endless accusations of "loshon horo" and repeated defenses of Lanner replete with recounting the accolades rightfully attributable to NCSY.

As a child of NCSY -- I was in NCSY, my wife was a chapter head in NCSY, my kids all were in NCSY, one of my daughters met her husband in NCSY, I was a rabbinic chapter advisor in NCSY -- no one needs to tell me about how great NCSY is.  But I also knew of Baruch Lanner.  As I joined the chorus supporting the Jewish Week's revelations, I also was condemned for spreading not only the truth but also for calling for a shake-up within the Orthodox Union.  And indeed the OU finally capitulated to a growing chorus of indignation and condemnation, agreed to appoint an outside committee to investigate itself, fired certain highly placed OU executives, somehow gave a pass to some others, and life proceeded with NCSY cleaned up and made beautiful for a new generation.

There now exists in the Orthodox Union a growing deviation from Jewish law in several of its synagogues.  Rabbis from a neo-Conservative Judaism framework have been entering certain OU pulpits in outlier communities, and slowly the OU brand is becoming treif.

I will say that again: The Orthodox Union mark, the Orthodox Union trademark is becoming treif -- non-kosher -- a non-kosher Orthodox Union logo, as it embellishes the stationery and letterhead of certain Orthodox Union synagogues in America.  With one deviation from Jewish law after another.  The point has been reached where an Orthodox Union logo, an Orthodox Union trademark, an Orthodox Union symbol may assure me that Heinz baked beans and ketchup are kosher -- and G-d knows that NCSY and Yachad are amazing -- but an Orthodox Union symbol, an Orthodox Union trademark, an Orthodox Union logo for a synagogue no longer assures that the temple truly is compatible with the Orthodoxy associated with Modern Orthodox Judaism, with Centrist Orthodox Judaism, with the Judaism of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), with the Centrist/Modern Orthodox Judaism associated with Yeshiva University, with the Centrist/Modern Orthodox Judaism associated with the Rabbinical Council of America, and certainly not with the Orthodox Judaism associated with the name of HaRav HaGaon Rav Yosef Dov (Ber) Soloveitchik zt"l.

This tragic recognition of the non-halakhic inroads that have entered Orthodox Union synagogues in several parts of America and in Canada is a wide-open unspoken reality, an embarrassment and a shame to the Orthodox Union name and trademark, to the very kosher logo of the Orthodox Union, separating its revered kashrut operation dramatically from the deviations from Jewish law that now have entered several Orthodox Union places of worship.  Until now, it has seemed appropriate to keep the not-so-secret "secret" under wraps, but since the Orthodox Union has opened a new door and turned a new leaf, arrogantly manifesting the audacity of publicly criticizing a great American rav of a great and courageous American shul, it is time to ask the Orthodox Union to look within.

We all have been in shuls where a rabbi gets up on Shabbat morning and, in his sermon, makes some inane comment like "Hamas are terrorists with no place in the human order, and if the leader of Hamas were to walk into this shul right now, I would say it right to his face!"  What courage!  Like the leader of Hamas is going to fly to some American suburb to come into that shul -- what, for Kiddush Club?  And that phony courage, that false bravado, is exactly what characterizes the Orthodox Union's alacrity to criticize publicly one of America's most respected and prominent Orthodox rabbonim for advocating strong ideas that parallel ideas published previously by the likes of Attorneys Nat Lewin and Alan Dershowitz for dealing with the same scourge.

All while lacking the courage or the basic decency to look within its own network of synagogues to deal directly and proactively with the expanding sub-network of neo-Conservative Judaism rabbis entering some of its temples, bringing with them sharp deviations from halakhic Judaism and from the Centrist mainstream norm.

We lived through this once before, during the early phases of the Baruch Lanner Scandal.  Let us see whether the Orthodox Union has grown in self-direction and integrity since that time, and whether it is prepared finally to take public responsibility for the way that several of its houses of worship in America and in Canada now are staining and tarnishing the mark of the Orthodox Union, the logo of the Orthodox Union, the symbol of the Orthodox Union -- and the very name of the Orthodox Union.

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