Orthodox Rabbi Stuns Agudath Gala With 'Heresy' Attack on Open Orthodoxy

Bill De Blasio Trumpets Pre-K Push — Mum on Circumcision

It’s ‘Heresy’: Rabbi Yaakov Perlow speaks at the Agudath Isael annual gala.
youtube
It’s ‘Heresy’: Rabbi Yaakov Perlow speaks at the Agudath Isael annual gala.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published May 28, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The leading rabbi of Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, condemned non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and called the religiously progressive Open Orthodox movement heretical at the group’s annual gala.

“The Torah must be guarded from the secular forces that seek to corrupt its values and the lives of [Jews], from intruders who sometimes in the name of Judaism completely subvert and destroy the eternal values of our people,” said Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker rebbe and the rabbinical head of Agudath Israel, at the May 27 dinner.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke directly after Perlow, did not address his remarks. The mayor praised Agudath Israel, some of whose lay leaders were key backers in his mayoral campaign.

De Blasio said that the push for universal prekindergarten that has been a key achievement of his administration so far was conceived, in part, with the Orthodox community and Jewish schools, or yeshivot, in mind.

“From the very beginning I knew this would succeed for all of New York City if it was also something that succeeded for this community,” de Blasio said. “The yeshivot were such a crucial part of it. I knew if we did that so many children would benefit.”

At an event that read as both an assertion of ultra-Orthodox power and a call to vigilance, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan to applaud their leaders and to show solidarity against perceived threats. The Hilton’s ballroom was a sea of black hats and black suits.

Perlow’s speech, the evening’s most fiery, condemned non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and used particularly harsh language to condemn Open Orthodoxy, the movement led by Rabbi Avi Weiss and centered at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah in Riverdale that pushes for a greater role for women in Jewish ritual, among other things. Perlow criticized the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for not being harsh enough in their treatment of Open Orthodoxy.

Perlow said that the threat posed by the Conservative and Reform movements had largely passed. “They’ve become oblivious, and they’ve fallen into the pit of intermarriage and assimilation,” he said. “They have no future, they almost have no present.”

Yet he warned of the danger to the ultra-Orthodox posed by Open Orthodoxy. Perlow said that Open Orthodoxy is “steeped in apikorsos,” or heresy.

“There’s a grave danger out there…outside New York City, that positions of leadership amongst Orthodox Jews is being taken over by people who have completely deviated from [the preservation of holiness.]” Perlow said that Isareli Chief Rabbinate is “not sensitive this,” and called on the Modern Orthodox to “stand up and reject these new deviationists, cloaking themselves in the mantle of Orthodoxy.”

One Jewish leader who attended the gala and was not ultra-Orthodox criticized the remarks.

“The comments were absolutely appalling and divisive, and really have no place in Jewish communal life,” he said. “This guy is basically saying that 95% of Jews aren’t Jewish.”

Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, disputed the leader’s characterization of Perlow’s speech. “It was not the Jewishness of any Jews that Rabbi Perlow questioned, but rather the Jewish legitimacy of heterodox theologies,” Shafran wrote in an email. “He was simply acting as a religious whistle-blower — out of deep concern, not God-forbid, disdain, for innocent Jews.”



The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.