Intellectual Dishonesty of Open Orthodoxy

Chapter 3 of Why Open Orthodoxy Is Not Orthodox outlines the low standards of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat’s ordination programs.  Also discussed is the intellectual dishonesty displayed in their leaders’ halachic writings.  

This is troubling, as their students issue halachic rulings that have serious implications.  No less than 35 YCT graduates signed a statement regarding the halachic definition of death.  It is amazing that with such little scholarship behind them, they feel confident in expressing their opinion on such a serious matter.  From a halachic standpoint this is the equivalent of someone who took a biology class undertaking to perform open-heart surgery.  Life and death issues are such a serious area of Halacha that even experienced Torah scholars hesitate before offering an opinion on them.  

Also, some YCT graduates have publicly stated their opinion regarding other controversial issues related to gittin (halachic divorce).  This is another serious issue which has serious implications for the Jewish family and involves severe Torah prohibitions.

YCT even has a joint program with a non-Orthodox institution where students earn credits towards semicha. 

In addition YCT graduates perform conversions and weddings.

Below are examples of the intellectual dishonesty displayed in the writings of Open Orthodox Leaders.   

Selectively quoting Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (Women's Ordination) 

Open Orthodoxy's New Dangerous Halachic Quest (12/28/16) 

Dishonesty in Conversion Responsum

Rabbi Dov Linzer 

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh haYeshivah of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Avi Weiss says he, "is the greatest talmid chacham [Torah Scholar] I have met since Rabbi Soloveitchik.”
Rabbi Linzer penned a letter encouraging people to donate money to assist in the rebuilding of churches. On July 21, 2015, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of YCT, posted Linzer’s letter on his Facebook page:
"Given the recent horrific attack in Charleston and the terrible burnings of churches that has occurred in the last few days, I encourage all of you to show your support for those who have been attacked, and to act in a way of kiddush shem Shamayim to counteract these terrible hate crimes. One way you can do this is by donating money to help in the rebuilding of these churches."
The attack in Charleston was a horrific tragedy carried out by a white supremacist. No religious Jew anywhere would condone such vicious and violent conduct. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that Judaism has major theological differences with Christianity. Christianity declares that the Torah is irrelevant, the Talmud false, and the Jewish People no longer the chosen nation of God. It also teaches that God is corporeal. How can an Orthodox Rabbi declare that it is a sanctification of God’s name to donate money to an institution which denies the validity of basic Jewish beliefs? For thousands of years Jews have given up their lives rather than accept Christianity as the true religion. Parents killed their own children rather than have them baptized. While thousands were martyred in the Crusades and Inquisition for not submitting to the cross, Linzer advocates donating money to promote those same beliefs.
To bolster his point, Rabbi Linzer cites a responsum by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein:
"Relatedly, Rav Moshe (YD 1:68) ruled that an architect can draw up the plans for the construction of a church, and that mi’ikar ha’din [according to the strict letter of the law] it is permitted to actually participate in the building of a church (and this is even without the argument that it is not avodah zarah for them!)."
Rabbi Feinstein writes that it is technically permitted to serve as an architect for a church—far from the implication given by Linzer that it is his opinion to allow a Jew to donate money to a church. Linzer neglects to cite where Rabbi Feinstein qualifies his ruling limiting it to situations where not to do such a job would entail a serious financial loss to the architect, or as pertains to the exigencies of a poor man’s livelihood, or when not doing so would generate hatred. Linzer also neglects to mention that Rabbi Feinstein calls the practice “improper.”
Moreover, Linzer omits mention of the fact that Rabbi Feinstein explicitly forbids donating money to a church in another responsum. (Iggros Moshe YD: 1:149. See also, Iggros Moshe YD 3:34.) Rabbi Feinstein was asked about the permissibility of giving money to a Jewish Federation, when the funds would also be used to support Conservative and Reform institutions. In the course of his responsum, he makes reference to donating money to a church:
"It is probable that this [giving to a federation] is worse than giving money to non-Jews to help them build their house of worship. In that case, there is no issue of leading Jews astray, but rather a prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind…"
While he deems giving to a church not as problematic as giving to a federation under the conditions cited above, Rabbi Feinstein clearly prohibits donating money to help build a church—a statement notably absent from Rabbi Linzer’s letter. Clearly, Rabbi Linzer has engaged in what he in another place calls, “…bending the halakha to conform to our modern notions of egalitarianism.”
(Linzer, Dov. “On the Mitzvot of Non-Jews: An Analysis of Avodah Zarah 2b-3a.” Beloved Words Milin Havivin Volume 1 (2006): p. 36.)

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s Chair of Talmud and Head of its Center for Halakhic Studies.  Rabbi Avi Weiss praises Katz as, "an awesome Talmid Chacham [Torah Scholar]."

The Lakewood Controversy (7/5/17)
"Rabbi Katz is clever. He will say that all he was trying to do was to show a headspace, not the halachik realities of this community. But, by totally fabricating a story so far from the truth, he reveals a hate-infested agenda." 

The Lakewood Controversy II (8/21/17)
"The distortions emerging from Rabbi Katz’s approach arise because he came with an agenda. He shot an arrow and then proceeded to draw the target by looking for “proofs” that would back him up. This reminds me of the early Conservative writers."

Partnership Minyanim Revisited (1/17/17)
-Rabbis Dov and Aryeh Frimmer

"This hubris surprisingly expresses itself once again in his [Rabbi Katz] recent, unsubstantiated and unsupported statement that: “There is absolutely no halakhic reason to prohibit women from getting an Aliyya…” Intellectual honesty and humility in the analysis of a novel halakhic practice demands, at a minimum, that the recognized experts in the field be consulted in order to test and check one’s analysis and conclusions.  We would note that not only did R. Katz ignore the contents of our article and our refutation of the arguments of Rabbis Shapiro and Sperber, but he then allowed himself to make the following curious affirmative statement: “Over the course of sixty pages in the English version of their article …, they do not raise a single argument or conceptual refutation against these views.” Even a superficial read of our paper is sufficient to appreciate the fallacious nature of the charge."

-Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Response to Rabbi Ysoscher Katz's Rebuttal
-Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Further on Waiting Times After Eating Parmesan Pizza- Response to R. Ysoscher Katz
-Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

“The rationales offered by R. Katz to arrive at a permissive ruling are based on an assortment of errors…something certainly not sanctioned by the Chasam Sofer or any other halachic authorities. My contention is one of methodology and accuracy- similar to the contentions in other recent critiques.”

Analysis of Rabbi Ysoscher Katz’s Halachic Opinion Regarding Nursing in Synagogue (Excerpt from Why Open Orthodoxy Is Not Orthodox)

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is the Chair of the Department of Talmud and Director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

Rabbi Katz permits women to nurse in synagogue.  One of the issues he discusses is the prohibition of reciting words of sanctity before exposed nakedness.  Such a prohibition would dictate that one may not recite words of sanctity in front of a woman who is nursing and thereby exposing herself.  Katz argues that there is no such prohibition when the nakedness is revealed for a “purpose” and exposed for only a brief time.  He quotes the Rosh (Berachos 3:52) as his source. 

The cited Rosh explains why it is permissible for a mohel to recite the circumcision blessing even though the baby at that time is exposed.  Katz writes:

The Rosh immediately adds another reason why there is no need to cover the nakedness: “it also appears that, since the Mohel is concentrating on the task of circumcision, the exposed penis is not a negation of the “sacredness of your camp,” and there is no concern at in this brief period for “nakedness shall not be seen.” (  Retrieved January 27, 2016.)

Katz concludes:

An analysis of the words of the Rosh shows that this latter reason is, in essence, a contraction or merging of two claims: 1) Since “the Mohel is preoccupied,” this process would still fall under the appellation, “your camp shall be holy.” 2) That the uncovering is merely “for a brief time” (literally, le’sha’a).

He also states:

And regardless, we have the position of the Rosh, who tells us in his unequivocal
position that there is no problem with fleeting exposure.

Katz claims that the Rosh is saying that there is no prohibition to recite words of sanctity in front of “purposeful” nakedness when it is only exposed for a brief moment. 

However, this Rosh, upon which Katz bases his thesis, does not exist.  This is the text of the Rosh:

וה"ר יונה ז"ל כתב דודאי בקטן כ"כ לא חשבינן ליה ערוה ואין צריך לכסותו בשעת הברכה.  וגם נראה כיון דלתקוני המילה קאתי קרינן ביה שפיר והיה מחניך קדוש ואין בו באותו שעה משום לא יראה בך ערות דבר.

And Rabeinu Yonah z”l writes that definitely for someone so young, it is not considered nakedness and it does not need to be covered at the time of the blessing.  And also since he is performing a circumcision this is called “and your camp shall be holy” and at this moment there is no issue of “do not see nakedness.”

To the last line which reads “…and at this moment there is no issue of ‘do not see nakedness’,”  Katz adds in the word “brief” which does not appear in the Rosh and is a total invention.  The Rosh neither says the words “brief moment” and let alone does not permit the exposure of nakedness for this reason.  But based on his contrivance, Katz claims there is no prohibition to say words of sanctity when nakedness is only visible for a brief moment.

To add insult to injury Katz argues that the case of a woman nursing is comparable to a mohel performing a circumcision:

Here again, the exposure of the sex organ was done while the practitioner was preoccupied with “tikkun,” and it is also only for short duration, a minute or two, for the purposes of nursing, and therefore, there is no problem according to halakha; this does not constitute halakhic gilu’i ervah.

Thus Katz argues that just like in a case of circumcision where it is permitted for a mohel to make the blessing in front of the child’s uncovered body, so too regarding a woman who is nursing.  It is an unwarranted leap of logic to compare performing a circumcision to nursing.  The reason why a mohel can say the blessing is because he is “preoccupied.”  This only applies to the one performing the act.  This would have no relevance to other people in the room who are not involved in the nursing or in the circumcision.  Yet, Katz unequivocally states “…this does not constitute halakhic gilu’i ervah.” 

Katz proceeds to show that many halachic decisors side with the opinion of his invented Rosh.  He concludes:

There is no doubt in my mind that all of these rabbinic decisors would say the same thing regarding breastfeeding. Even if the concern over the possibility of the [dadim] being revealed for a moment while the woman is preparing to nurse or after she has finished is valid and correct, as we have seen, it does not pose a problem of exposure of nudity, for that which was exposed during those few moments does not have the legal position of ervah at all.

Katz even claims the Mishnah Berurah supports his position:

A close reading of the Mishnah Berurah (75:3) would perhaps support this claim. He writes in the name of the Chayei Adam: “And therefore a woman must be careful at the time of nursing, when her [dadim] are exposed, that she should not speak any words of holiness at that point.” The phrase “when her [dadim] are exposed” suggests that he is speaking of a situation in which the [dadim] are exposed for the duration of breastfeeding. But as in our case, the Chayei Adam and the Mishnah Berurah would agree that it is permissible for the mother and others to pray when the [dadim] are only exposed for a brief moment.

How does the phrase “when her [dadim] are exposed” imply that if she was exposed for a brief moment that it is permissible?  There is no mention in these words as to the length of time in which the exposure took place.  If anything it would imply that it is forbidden to speak words of sanctity even if they are exposed for a moment.  Katz uses a citation which contradicts his own position, turns it on its head, and uses it as a proof text.  The Shulchan Aruch there states (OC 75:1) “If a handbreadth of a woman’s body is uncovered in a place that is usually covered, even his wife, it is forbidden to recite Shema opposite her.”  The Mishna Berurah comments, “Therefore one needs to be careful when she is nursing and exposes her dadim to not speak words of holiness.”  Nowhere does the Mishnah Berurah differentiate between a long or short period of time.  There could not be a more explicit statement contrary to Katz’s position.  

In conclusion, Rabbi Katz fabricates a Rosh by mistranslating his words.  He then concludes that this is the final halachic position and misreads the Mishnah Berurah

Despite Katz’s errors he is very confident in his ability as a halachic authority.  At a lecture in which he discussed the above responsum, he boasted:

In the end of the day the reason I could write that teshuva and I’d like to say its hard work, and in some ways it is hard work.   But it isn’t.  I mean I’ve been trained since I was…I mean I’m 47.  You know I went to Satmar we obviously skipped Tanach because Tanach is for MaskilimMishnah is for lightweights.  So we just get to gemara right away.  So when I was 7, I started learning Gemara and here I am 40 years later not doing anything else because I can’t do anything else.  So In some ways it’s pretty easy for me to write a Teshuva.  I can think of that of that Rosh I can think of that Rema, you know, and frankly if you read my Teshuva I kind of knock a Rema and you know I have the pai’ess and I have the tradition so I can get away with it. Woman could do the same thing but only if we can commit the resources… (Katz, Ysoscher.  “Spiritual Explorers and their Discoveries.”  London, England.  Retrieved January 19, 2016.)

He might “get away with it” with unlearned audiences, but not with readers who can read the texts in their original.

In the clip below, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz brags about how easy it is for him to write a teshuva. Ironically, he is referring to the above teshuva where he made a litany of elementary errors.


The following question was posed to Rabbi Ysoscher Katz (Chair of the Talmud Department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies):
“Rabbi, I have a shaila: my family is chassidish, I'm not. In my family only the men light Chanukah candles. My dad is motze'e the womenfolk, he lights on their behalf. I spent the first two nights of Chanukah with my family. Tonight, the third night of Chanukah, I'll be home and lighting by myself. Should I say the bracha of shehechyanu when I light? It is not the first night of Chanukah, but for me it is; it's the first night I myself am lighting.”
Rabbi Katz responds:
“Therefore, since one can make a reasonable argument in our case that this is the first time this person is fulfilling the mitzva, she can, and most probably is even obligated to recite the shehechyanu bracha on the third night of Chanukah. The previous nights someone in her home lit the candles EXEMPTING her from the mitzvah. When she finally lights on the third night, that is the first time she is fulfilling the mitzva. The first time necessitates a shehechyanu.” (For the entire response, see his FB page [December 27, 2016]).

According to Rabbi Katz, the questioner did not fulfill her obligation on the first two nights, but was merely “exempted” as she did not light herself. This is incorrect. The Shulchan Aruch states (671:2) that one person lights Chanukah candles for the entire household. He also writes (675:3) that a woman is obligated to light candles. According to Rabbi Katz, a woman who follows Sephardic custom, and did not light herself, never fulfilled her obligation to light Chanukah candles! This is absurd. Also, in an almost identical case, the Mishnah Berurah rules that a shehechyanu blessing is not recited (676:7).

Women's Involvement During the Bris Service (1/11/17)

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz (Chair of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s Talmud Department and Director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies) recently penned an essay about women’s involvement during a bris service.  Below is an excerpt:

“While the Rama restricts women from being sandakiyot, one can employ the Rabbinic axiom of מכלל לאו אתה שומע הן here, inferring an implicit leniency from an explicit restriction. Implicit in the Rema’s prohibition for a woman to serve as a sandak is a permission to do other things. Prohibiting a woman from being a sandak implies that aside from holding the baby during the ritual she could certainly be involved in other aspects of the bris ceremony. A woman can bring the baby to shul, hold the baby during the liturgical recitations that surround the circumcision ceremony, before and after the bris[4] or be involved in any other way she chooses to help facilitate the bris ritual.  As a matter of fact, a close read of the Rema (and even more explicitly in his commentary on the Tur, in Darchai Moshe YD 265[5]) suggests that he thought that maternal involvement is ideal. He does not just allow it, he encourages it. The Magen Avraham (OC 551:3. See also the Pri Megaim there as well as the Sharai Teshuva seif kattan 1) goes a step further, he actually calls the maternal role in facilitating the ritual a “mitzvah” (

Rabbi Katz clearly implies that the Rema encourages female participation in the bris ceremony inside the synagogue.  However the opposite is the case.  The Rema writes, “A woman should not serve as sandak for the child where it is possible for a man [to serve as sandak], due to immodesty.  However, she helps her husband and brings the baby until the synagogue, then the man takes the child and becomes sandak.”  Contrary to Rabbi Katz, the Rema describes her participation as “until the synagogue.”  Furthermore, Katz implies that her participation in the actual bris service in the synagogue is a mitzvah.  He cites the Pri Megadim (OC 551:3).  However, the Pri Megadim says the opposite.  “… for they do not have a mitzvah in the bris, only bringing the baby to the synagogue.”    

*For more see Chapter 3 of Why Open Orthodoxy Is Not Orthodox.