Agudath Israel Defends Rabbi's 'Heresy' Attack on Open Orthodox

Spokesman Says Right To Launch 'Ideological' Attack

Courtesy of Agudath Israel

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published May 30, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Officials at Agudath Israel defended remarks by the organization’s leading rabbi, Yaakov Perlow, in which he called the religiously progressive Open Orthodox movement heretical, and criticized non-Orthodox Judaism.

“This kind of stuff has been part and parcel of what our movement has been speaking about since time immemorial,” said Rabbi David Zweibel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, of the remarks, which the Forward first reported on May 28.

Perlow, also known as the Novominsker rebbe, was speaking at Agudath Israel’s annual gala dinner at the Hilton Hotel on May 27. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio spoke immediately after Perlow, and was in the audience for Perlow’s speech.

A New York Times column on May 29 criticized de Blasio for not responding to Perlow’s remarks. De Blasio aides told the Daily News that the mayor was talking during Perlow’s speech and didn’t hear what the rabbi said, according to a May 29 report.

Perlow focused most of his criticism on the nascent Open Orthodox movement, which favors a larger role for women in religious practice. In an online statement, Agudath Israel took issue with some of the characterizations of Perlow’s remarks, but doubled down on his attack on Open Orthodoxy.

“Rabbi Perlow, and the community of Orthodox Jews who look to him as a leader, have nothing but love and concern for all Jews, regardless of their affiliation, regardless of how misled they may be by their religious leaders,” the statement read.

In an interview with the Forward, Zweibel said that defining the bounds of Orthodoxy is Agudath Israel’s job.

“One of the foundational missions that we see our organization as having is being ideological when ideology is called for,” Zweibel said. Agudath Israel answers to a group of rabbis, nominally led by Perlow, called the Council of Torah Sages. “They believe it is a central purpose of theirs to be mindful of what the boundaries of Orthodoxy ought to be,” Zweibel said of the Council.

Zweibel said that he knew beforehand that Perlow planned to address the topic. He said that he saw the speech, in part, as an appeal to the Modern Orthodox world, particularly as graduates of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, the fledgling Open Orthodox rabbinical school, begin to seek pulpit jobs.

In one potentially explosive line in his speech, Perlow criticized the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for not being “sensitive” to the alleged threat posed by Open Orthodoxy. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate is dominated by the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, and is generally an ally of Agudath Israel. Zweibel said that he did not know exactly what Perlow was referring to, but that he could have been voicing concern about a recent visit by Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi David Lau to YCT.

Asked about criticism of Perlow for making the ideological attack in front of the mayor, Zweibel said that no venue would have been private.

“Nowadays really there is no right setting if you’re concerned about these things,” Zweibel said. “You go to what you think is a private event and nowadays with Twitter and Facebook it’s out there in a couple of minutes.”

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!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • 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.