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Rabbi Asher Lopatin Defends Open Orthodoxy Against ‘Heresy’ Attack

A leading Open Orthodox rabbi has defended the progressive movement against attacks made last week by Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the head of the ultra-Orthodox organization Agudath Israel.

“I welcome (Perlow) into the conversation of how to bring a Torah message to all Jews that is meaningful to them and their lives,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical school closely associated with Open Orthodoxy. “I hope this is the beginning, albeit a rough beginning, to a relationship and partnership with the haredi world to work together for Hashem’s (God’s) Torah and Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people).”

Lopatin also defended the mission of his school, which was founded in 1999 by Jewish activist and progressive Orthodox leader Rabbi Avi Weiss. “We at YCT are working hard to train the rabbis who will revitalize and reinvigorate Modern Orthodoxy to relate to the issues and people of our times in a way true to our tradition,” he said. “I call on the Noviminsker (Rabbi) and all Jews to join us in that mission. Orthodoxy should be open, but also a lot more – passionate, inclusive, rigorous, dedicated to walking in Hashem’s ways.”

In a fiery speech at Agudath Israel’s May 27 annual gala, Perlow warned of the threat posed by open Orthodoxy, which seeks to build a more welcoming Orthodoxy with broader roles for women, among other things. “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.

Perlow called on the centrist Modern Orthodox community to “stand up and reject these new deviationists, cloaking themselves in the mantle of Orthodoxy,” and described Open Orthodoxy as “steeped in apikorsos,” or heresy.

Perlow also referred to the Conservative and Reform movements as obsolete due to assimilation and intermarriage. “They have no future, they almost have no present,” he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the gala directly after Perlow. He came under fire in a May 29 New York Times column by Michael Powell, who criticized the mayor for not speaking out against Perlow’s comments about the Conservative and Reform movements. (De Blasio aides told the Daily News that the mayor was distracted by well-wishers during Perlow’s speech and didn’t hear or understand the rabbi’s comments.)

Lopatin later posted the New York Times column on his Facebook account, with the comment, “Good men and women fail when they do not protest wrong when they see it. Mayor de Blasio should take notice.”

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