I have been discussing changes made in Jewish laws and practices over the centuries. Open Judaism is a recent movement seeking changes, but only on a restricted basis.


                                                                   What is Open Orthodoxy?


Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of Open Orthodoxy, defined the movement[1] as being within Orthodox Judaism, “completely committed to Torah min hashamayim [Torah from heaven], to belief that God wrote the Torah, and to the meticulous observance of halakhah (Jewish Law). At the same time, it is open – inclusive, pluralistic, and nonjudgmental.”[2] He tells readers that today the movement has “tens of thousands of supporters.”  He feels that Open Orthodoxy meets the need of the more than 85 percent of American Jewry for whom Orthodoxy has been irrelevant.

Open Orthodox, he writes “parts with the heterodox community, as it does not subscribe to egalitarianism.” He feels that men and women share “roles in more than 90 percent of areas, but there are still clear distinctions.” Certain laws and practices are meant only for women and vice versa. Yet, Open Orthodoxy encourages women’s involvement in learning Torah at the same level as men, no lower. For example, “women can be ordained and receive semikhah.

While “aware of the Torah’s prohibition” against homosexuality, Open Orthodoxy welcomes and fully integrates all people in all community and synagogue activities regardless of sexual orientation.

Open Orthodoxy is also committed to “outreach,” a “mutual interaction [with all kinds of people] in which all parties [will, as a result of the interaction] benefit and acquire deep respect for one another.”

The movement is involved “in spiritual striving, in constant search to feel God’s presence.” This appears to be a mystical element of the movement, for rationalists recognize that it is impossible to “feel God’s presence.” However, Rabbi Weiss lists three area in which Open Orthodox is “distinct.” Rational thinkers would agree with the first two. The third is a variation of the previously stated “spiritual striving.”

The first is that Open Orthodox does not think the mesorah, Jewish law and practices are frozen. It understands that “Jewish Law carefully evolves. That is, mesorah is also the dictum that in every generation one seeks out halakhic judgment related to new situations and conditions.”

Second, it “sees great danger in the centralization of rabbinic authority…. Power concentrated in the hands of a few can be corrupting.” In essence, Open Orthodoxy is opposed to the trend in Orthodoxy that gives power to a few people.

Third, the movement sees halakhah as a system of holiness and encourages Jews to not only observe the law but to seek the holiness within the practice.

Rabbi Weiss states that he is “not a fan of the term ‘Centrist Orthodoxy’” because it is “reactive instead of proactive. Nor am I a fan of the term ‘Modern Orthodoxy.’ In the postmodern era, the term ‘Modern Orthodoxy’ is old; it is passé. Furthermore, it does not reflect who we are.”


[1] In Judaism, September 1997, and in The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah, by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfed, Gefen Publishing House, 2015.

[2] I do not know what Rabbi Weiss means by “God wrote the Torah.” It could mean that God miraculously caused the writing, dictated the writing, or possibly something else. It seems that he would reject the idea that God inspired the writing, but it was a human endeavor.