Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Rabbi Gordimer: Rabbi Riskin is not a Chareidim vs Modern Orthodox issue

Times of Israel by Rabbi A Gordimer

Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author

Since my recent essay on the issue was attacked in The Jerusalem Post by Isi Leibler, who cast the discussion in terms of Charedi versus Modern Orthodox, corruption versus integrity, and fairness versus prejudice, in an op-ed loaded with negative and charged hyperbole, I would like to respond with some more objective facts, rather than the innuendo and disparagement that has come from those who evade the issues and instead sling mud when they do not like the data that is presented. As will be seen, Mr. Leibler’s assertions and insights here are quite off-target, and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is conducting itself understandably and reasonably given the circumstances.

Mr. Leibler mounts his journalistic assault on the Chief Rabbinate and those who respect the Chief Rabbinate’s right to deliberate about whether or not to extend Rabbi Riskin’s tenure as Chief Rabbi of Efrat by alleging comprehensive corruption of the Chief Rabbinate and painting it as the embodiment of ultra-Orthodoxy, while depicting Rabbi Riskin as representative of the Modern Orthodox, moderate and sensible position. Aside from the fact that Mr. Leibler fails to demonstrate his allegations of corruption of the Chief Rabbinate as an institution (he notes one previous Chief Rabbi who was dismissed and convicted, and nothing further of substance), the truth is that the discomfort which the Chief Rabbinate likely harbors regarding Rabbi Riskin’s extended tenure is shared by the mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinate as well. Let’s look at a few examples, in addition to those already presented in my previous essay. (The examples there, such as the rabbinic ordination of women, praising Jesus as “a great Orthodox rabbi”, extolling Christian teachings about salvation, and women leading public prayer for men, are frowned upon by most Orthodox rabbis and laypeople across the spectrum, be they “ultra-Orthodox” or Modern Orthodox).

Rabbi Riskin has sought to apply a more lenient set of conversion standards – standards that do not require a prospective convert to fully accept to observe all of the Commandments. This approach is not consistent with halachic consensus. Mainstream conversion standards, as required by preeminent sages such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and the vast majority of contemporary halachic authorities across the spectrum (including Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist rabbinic scholars), indeed require a prospective convert to fully accept to observe all of the Commandments. This is the standard of the Chief Rabbinate, of the Rabbinical Council of America, of virtually all rabbinic courts in the world, and it is the standard that I was taught at Yeshiva University by Rabbi Soloveitchik’s closest disciples and in his name.

Rabbi Riskin has established a broad Jewish-Christian interfaith program, the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), at his Ohr Torah Stone institution, engaging in the type of interfaith religious study and discourse that rabbinic sages from across the spectrum have censured. (Please see here for halachic rulings on such interfaith activity.) On the CJCUC home page, Rabbi Riskin writes:

But sometime in the second century CE – perhaps because in our pride we forgot that it was the Torah’s superiority, and not our own, which had brought us such success – we became unable, or unworthy, of sustaining the momentum.

We stopped “hearing” God’s voice, were forced to leave history, and virtually forgot the mission of the third covenant.

Remarkably, the Christians in many ways continued where we left off. Maimonides, in the unexpurgated versions of the Mishneh Torah, records: “God’s ways are too wondrous to comprehend. All those matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth and the Ishmaelite who came after him are only serving to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the whole world ‘…to worship God with one accord’ (Zephaniah 3:9). Thus the messianic hope, the Torah and the commandments have become familiar topics… among the inhabitants of the far-flung islands at the ends of the globe…”

…Now that we as a people and a nation have returned to history, and the Christian world is beginning to recognize the continuing legitimacy of its elder brother’s covenant, grafting itself onto us as a branch is grafted to the roots, we must each complete our return to God, join hands and bring a religion of love, morality, pluralism and peace to a desperate, thirsting world.

Aside from taking the words of Maimonides totally out of context so as to change their intent (readers are advised to see the original and judge for themselves), Rabbi Riskin shockingly affirms a form of Replacement Theology, and he further maintains that Christianity has grafted itself onto Judaism to form a new universal joint religion. This notion has been rejected by Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) rabbis across the spectrum and has nothing to do with Charedi versus Modern Orthodox views, or with an allegedly corrupt Chief Rabbinate. (CJCUC has received funding in part by two Christian ministries, Zion’s Gate International and John Hagee Ministries. This is a very important point.)

The issue of the Chief Rabbinate and Rabbi Riskin has nothing to do with Charedi versus Modern Orthodox approaches. It has to do with the propriety of a rabbi’s maverick positions, while the rabbi is a paid representative of a rabbinate whose positions he does not represent in numerous ways. Orthodox rabbis across the spectrum are quite uncomfortable with many of Rabbi Riskin’s approaches, and in fact, his own rabbinic colleagues from Yeshiva University and Religious Zionist circles are among his most outspoken critics.

Let’s please stick with the facts and discuss this issue on its merits.


  1. I usually avoid a play on words when it comes to names. But in this case I might venture that someone who follows the Chief Rabbi of Efrat is riskin' it.

  2. I think it's great that we're trying to crucify a man for his heresy, but it might just be feeding into his fantasy, if you catch my drift.

  3. The line: Please see here for halachic rulings on such interfaith activity, is presumably a link in the original article. It would be helpful to have a reference to this link. Thanks

  4. In one of Riskin's own lectures, he says that Rav Soloveitchik told him to be very careful when taking a pulpit in a Conservative shul, and not to take a salary etc. He doubted his own Rav, and went to the Lubavitcher rebbe for a 2nd opinion. The rebbe, at that point recruited Riskin into his own sect, and told him to be Modern on the outside, and Chabad on the inside. Riskin admits to this geneivas daat. Ie he claims to be MO whereas in fact he is a Chabad and possible messsianist.

  5. One of the Rosh yeshivas at Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rav Gigi is actively involved in a Women's program at Rabbi Riskin's OTS, and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ztl was aware of this and did not protest.

    So I am assuming, According to Rabbi A Gordimer, Gush and Rav Lichtenstein are beyond the pale of Torah Judaism.

  6. Are you being sarcastic?

  7. Rabbi Riskin: Zionist with no beard a lubavitcher messsianist! haha!

  8. He might be Messianist, but we can't be sure who his Messiah is!

  9. I wonder: if the Rabbanut was controlled by Religious Zionists and Rabbi Riskin was a Chareidi rav openly flouting its standards, would Rav Gordimer still be on the side of the Rabbanut?
    Or if Rabbi Riskin's controversial nature came from protecting menuvalim and running cover for wife and child abusers and the Rabbanut was trying to shut him down, would Rav Gordimer still be on their side?

  10. ahh - heresy? is anyone claiming that he is guilty of heresy?

  11. What do you mean "involved in a Women's program"? That's vague. Agudah has programs for women too.

  12. Really Garnel, you don't have any rational criticism against Rabbi Gordimer so you stoop to disgusting innuendo that he would object to the Rabbanut seeking to remove a rabbi protecting menuvalim. Nice going (if you are trying to portray yourself as a complete idiot ).

  13. http://www.haretzion.org/faculty/rashei-yeshiva

  14. Uh, yeah. Me, based on other research from Rabbi Gordimer in a different blog on this post. It seems clear from there that Rabbi Riskin wants to appoint women judges to sit on conversion courts. Which spells "Apikorsus".

  15. Look at the situation, not the label.

  16. Aside from taking the words of Maimonides totally out of context so as
    to change their intent (readers are advised to see the original and
    judge for themselves),....

    The actual לשון bears that out quite well:

    אף ישוע הנצרי שדימה שיהיה משיח ונהרג בבית דין כבר נתנבא בו דניאל שנאמר ובני פריצי עמך ינשאו להעמיד חזון ונכשלו

    יש"ו is being referred to as part of the בני פריצי עמך. That's not very flattering.

    וכי יש מכשול גדול מזה שכל הנביאים דברו שמשיח גואל ישראל ומושיעם ומקבץ נדחיהם ומחזק מצוותן וזה גרם לאבד ישראל בחרב ולפזר שאריתם ולהשפילם ולהחליף התורה ולהטעות רוב העולם לעבוד אלוה מבלעדי ה

    The utter destruction of Jewish lives and the misinterpretation of the תורה. were caused by יש"ו. And yet:

    כל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנצרי ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו אינן אלא לישר דרך למלך המשיח ולתקן העולם כולו לעבוד את ה' ביחד

    Yes, הקב"ה had the נוצרי and the ישמעאלי unknowingly come to 'straighten' the path for מלך המשיח (which is ולא מחשבותינו מחשבותיו), but in and of themselves, they were וכי יש מכשול גדול מזה, the greatest and most ruinous entrapment conceivable. Rabbi Gordimer is quite correct in stating that R, Riskin is taking the words of the רמב"ם 'totally out of context.'

  17. Joseph, I am not disputing with you, but I am interested on how we define apikorsus. Is appointing women judges apikorsus, and if so what is the basis for this? In other words, what ikkarim does it deny? is falsification of halacha the same as apikorsus? (I don't know if women judges are assur, the Tenach clearly states that Devorah was Judge).

  18. I'm not sure at this point how to address all the issues you raise. Telling non-Jews they are Jews, misleading them to keep Shabbos for which they will be Chayav Misa, is just one natural outcome of women "converting" Goyim. Certainly, Rabbi Riskin is a Rasha for moving in that direction. Since he is learned, that brings him within the Geder of Apikorsus. And it is not disputed anywhere in Halacha that women cannot do conversions.

  19. @Ironheart - Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar.

  20. @Dov - you consider that approval?!

  21. So what do we do when it comes to status issues? A woman converted by women Dayanim we won't consider Jewish, but they will. This woman remarries without a Get and has children with her new husband. They will say the children are Mamzerim, and we won't. How can we say live-and-let-live and ignore these hypothetical scenarios which are on the cusp of becoming real?

    I'm not sure I'm detecting too much "genius" here.

  22. I don't think you quite understand that in m.o. circles Rav gordimer may just as well write an article against Rav Shteinman.
    Rav Riskin was the talmid of Rav Solovaitchik and doesn't need any other rabbi to approve of what he does.

    Concerning the Christian program:
    From wiki: "The ideological groundwork, which lead to the eventual establishment of CJCUC in 2008, began to take shape almost 50 years beforehand. In 1964, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the teacher and mentor of CJCUC's Chancellor and Founder, Shlomo Riskin, published an essay entitled "Confrontation"[2] in which he expounded his views on interfaith dialogue and carefully drew out guidelines which permitted such a dialogue and, in the view of Riskin, not only permitted it but rendered it necessary."

  23. Where does it say that he is going to allow women to be conversion judges?
    He is using a more lenient view of conversion which has plenty of sources in rishonim and even acharonim. Would you classify those rabbis as apikorsim? Why don't you read what Rav Moshe feinstein has to say and then perhaps pray for forgivness for calling a gadol an apikoros. http://etzion.org.il/vbm/english/archive/halak66/05halak.htm

  24. @David - I have heard from reliable sources that Rav Soloveitchik wasn't happy with Rabbi Riskin's views on things

  25. a rabbi’s maverick positions

    Maverick and non-halachic.

  26. Has he written an article against R' Shteinman? If he hasn't, why assume that he would?
    But even if the assumption is correct, it has no bearing on what he's saying regarding the Riskin controversy, which is eminently sensible.

  27. If Rav Gigi was actively involved ordaining reform women rabbis,Rav Lichtenstein would obviously not allow him to be a rosh yeshiva.

    My point is not if Rav Aharon Lichtenstein approved of rabbi Riskin's views, my point is if he considered him beyond the pale.

    I am not a talmid of Rav Riskin, he is too liberal for me. but I definitely dont think he is beyond the pale, and I believe I can learn a lot from him.
    And tbe main point is the Residents of Efrat love him and want him to stay.

  28. Do you have anything concrete on which to base all this "wondering?"

  29. @David the article you cited is not accurate.

    Rav Moshe held that if a person new that he was being asked to keep Shabbos and Kashrus and taharas mishpacha - and lied to the beis din and in fact did not keep these mitzvos that he is not a Jew.

    Rav Uziel's position of converting everybody with the hope that they will eventually become observant - is rejected by most rabbis - including Rabbi Riskin.

  30. @David regarding women as poskim and conversion and divorce dayanim



  31. @Eddie do you have a citation where Rav Schach said that anyone who accepted the Lubavitcher Rebbe as Moshiach is an apikoris?

    Do you have a single quote where he equated the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Jesus or Shabstai Tzvi?

  32. @DT, the article states: "The Iggerot Moshe has another novel position regarding conversion.
    In the course of a discussion regarding a woman who underwent conversion before
    a Conservative court, the Iggerot Moshe writes as

    Furthermore, there is room to say that the fact that her husband, for the sake of whom she underwent
    conversion, desecrates the Sabbath and acts in a wanton manner regarding various prohibitions, causes her to think that there is no real obligation to observe
    the mitzvot. Thus, she is like a proselyte who converts [to Judaism] while among idolaters, whom the Gemara in Shabbat (68) says is regarded as a convert, even though he still practices idolatry. The reason is that he
    accepts to be like all the Jews, this being regarded as acceptance [of the mitzvot], even though he knows nothing of the mitzvot. For knowing the mitzvot is not indispensable for conversion… Therefore, even though
    the court told her that she must observe the Sabbath, she thinks that this is merely an added adornment, but even one who does not observe the Sabbath or the
    like, she mistakenly believes to be a kosher Jew. (Iggerot Moshe, Yore De'a, I, no. 160)[8]"

    Is this a falsification of that Teshuva?

  33. Quite possibly the dumbest comment ever and competition in these parts is stiff! Congratulations.

  34. @Eddie - there is a difference between mistakenly thinking what conversion consists of and knowing what it consists of but lying about agreeing.

    In Rav Moshe's case the woman thought that she was doing all that was needed to convert. She was accepting fully what she thought a Jew needed to accept. Rav Moshe is saying even though she is factually wrong - but she has in fact made a full commitment to keep mitzvos according to her understanding.

    This is not the same thing as lying not out of ignorance but in order to be certified as a Jew - and never intending to keep mitzvos - even though knowing that it is in fact required by halacha.

  35. That is fine - it is a very interesting teshuva, and especially since it was a conservative "giur". If one applies the logic of this argument [i am not making a psak or suggesting any final halacha] then it would kal v'chomer apply to many geirim who went through rabbinical giur, which was not recognized by Hareidi or even parts of the Israeli rabbanut. Since they believed that this is making them jewish and they have to keep x,y and z, then it would , by analogy make them Jewish.

  36. @Eddie - it is not clear to me that it would apply to many gerim. Rav Moshe himself said he didn't get involved in conversions because the success rate is so low. I am not sure how widely Rav Mosh'e view is accepted. There is no necessity of accepting his chidush.

  37. I said 'may as well' and the point was that he is an orthodox authority in his own right and it doesn't matter whether other rabbis agree with him. I know the charedi world tends to count anyone not haredi as some kind of non-orthdox wannabe rabbi but the religious non-charedi world would beg to disagree.

  38. Perhaps look into the sources brought by rav riskin. rav gordimer is clearly not familiar with them.
    There is of course a hashkafic difference based on mesorah but there is no halchic problem which would imply Rav Risk in has left the fold.


  39. @David the issue is Rabbi Riskin as being officially part of the Israeli rabbinut and yet refusing to acknowledge their rules. That was stated explicitly by Rabbi Gordimer in the beginning of his post.


    He can't claim to be basing his view on Rav Soloveitchik when he clearly is going against them. He can't claim to be acceptable to the rabbinut and at the same time refuse to accept the principles of geirus, women rabbis, ecumincal discussions etc etc

    In short, he can't claim to be part of the baseball team while refusing to abide by the accepted rules.

    If he wants to be his own rabbinical authority and go against everyone else - so let him state that he no longer is on the team

  40. @David - yes I heard it from reliable sources. You don't want to trust my judgment - so don't accept it.

  41. The article states that as long as it appears that they want to keep all the mitzvot in theory, even if they won't, the conversion is valid. We also don't search for ulterior motives or assume the worst. You can't just state that the article is not accurate.

  42. @David, I'm confused by your comment. Rabbi Riskin has an approach to Torah foreign to me. I would not be offended if he called me an Apikorus according to his approach to Torah. Why should he be offended if I call him an Apikorus according to my approach to Torah?

  43. @David your explanation is wrong. Keeping mitzvos in theory does not mean that I want to keep the mitzvos and I know I should but I can't.

    It is clear from the poskim if a person does not keep shabbos after converting - he can not say he can't control himself - the conversion is not valid.

    I recently posted a number of poskim who say that.
    The article conflates a number of things and gives an inaccurate understanding of the poskim

  44. I'm not sure what you mean by the rules of the rabbanut. It is a political appointment with no halachic authority. No rabbanut rabbi looks in the rabbanut code book before making a halchic decision.
    You claim he his going against his rebbe but I doubt he thinks so.

  45. You can't just claim these rabbis have it wrong because you dont agree and ignore poskim like rav moshe. Who says your poskim understand halacha more than Rav Moshe, Rav risk in, Rav navon and probably many others.

    As with all issues, the charedi world decides a halacha and then any rabbi who disagrees is auto wrong.

  46. Perhaps, Israel should create a second official Rabbinut, for Rav Stav, Riskin tzohar etc and the entire moderate religious Zionist camp?
    Otherwise we might have a massive problem on our hands, Tzohar will start converting people, and this will not be recognized by the Rabbinut, and thus the state of Israel.
    There will be no right of return for these people, and when these new converts flee their places of origins -like some countries in Africa where there are radical muslims, who will try kill them now that they are jewish-
    israel will not let them in.

  47. @David - this is a waste of time. My claims are not simply stating that certain views are wrong. I have presented extensive citations to support my understanding - including understanding the view of Rav Moshe. There is no way that Rav Moshe Feinstein would agree with Rabbi Riskin's approach to conversion.

    You are trivializing the issue by simply saying that it is a Chareidi approach the rest of the world. You are incorrectly assuming that the Modern Orthodox world fully accepts Rabbi Riskin's views. Please note that Rabbi Gordimer is not a member of the Bedatz, or Ger or Ponovitch. He is from the RCA.

    Rabbi Riskin is taking the Open Orthodox approach which has been severely criticized by the YU rabbis.

  48. @David your approach is hopefully simply naive. Rabbi Riskin himself has stated that he is going against the rabbinut.

    Your claim that you doubt that he thinks he is going against his rebbe is not helpful. Either produce a statement that he claims he is following his rebbe - despite widespread agreement that he is in conflict or acknowledge that you simply don't know what he thinks.


  49. I remember a few years ago that R Ovadiah Yosef was quoted as accepting a conservative giur, on the grounds that it was done in a halachically correct manner, in every step. Again, this can't be generalised, but it is interesting nonetheless.

  50. @Eddie "interesting" comments should include sources and more detail.

  51. Ah, I thought you were making a criticism of Rabbi Gordimer. Now I see you are comparing Rabbi Riskin to R' Elyashiv. The comparison is laughable, and not b/c one was chareidi and the other modern orthodox.

  52. i am curious to know what R Riskin's sin is here:
    Is it his cooperation with the Christians? That seems to be the weirdest of his activities and perhaps delusional on his part.

    Is it his comments about Yashka? I am not sure if that places him out of the orthodox framework, but it is troublesome. Yashka was a Talmid of Chachamim, who did boot him out. So he was really a reform rabbi, in every sense. On the other hand, it might be permissible to "admire" Yashke for his marketing skills, look at how successful his brand has been. I think this is precisely what the Gra was worried about by the Chassidim, ie having charismatic leaders who claimed to be perfect, and toyed with ideas such as Divinity etc.

    Here is a fascinating Tosefta on minut, from Hullin. It discusses using actual teaching of a certain Jesus son of Pantera. I don't know if that is the same Yashke we speak of or not, since there seem to be several of them.



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