Is Rabbi Elliot Dorff An Atheist?
I've long suspected from his writings and lectures that the University of Judaism professor of ethics Elliot Dorff is an atheist but people keep disabusing me of the notion.
So I was in my Orthodox shul Friday night with Dr. Dorff's latest book, "To Do The Right And Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics." And I read this:
"Religion provides us...the transcendent (imaged in the Western World as God)."
"...[N]one of us can attain the vantage point that Judaism ascribes to God in His omniscience."
Now, ascribes is a word intellectuals use to denote the beliefs of the uninformed masses. Ascribes implies that the writer, an intellectual, knows the truth beneath the ascribing. If the intellectual believed what was ascribed, he wouldn't use the word ascribe.
In these sentences, it seems that Rabbi Dorff is not comfortable with proclaiming God's omniscience but only that Rabbi Dorrff's religion ascribes all-knowningness to this "God," which is only the way the Western World images the transcendent.
Trust me. I'm on the Piety Patrol, and this Rabbi Dorff, though a lovely human being who once invited to his home for a shabbos lunch and welcomed me into the Library Minyan at Beth Am (I was only there to do outreach for Orthodoxy), appears to be an apikoros (heretic) in sheep's clothing.
(Now I should know heresy because my family and I have been convicted of same.)
Though Friday night at my Orthodox shul, again, everyone kept assuring me that Rabbi Dorff, who they know personally, is a theist.
I got more out of the first third of the book (comparing Christianity and Americanism unfavorably with Judaism) than the rest with its discussions of "epistemological relativity" and care for the poor.
I did get a kick out of all the glowing praises for the book on the back cover by Rabbi Dorff's friends in the Conservative movement. Reminds me of Dennis Prager who also recruits his friends to write similar blurbs.
Read here Rabbi Dorff's debate with Prager on ordaining openly homosexual rabbis.
David Novak reviews Rabbi Dorff's book "Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics" here on First Things.com:
"Dorff abandons his traditionalist reasoning when he gets to the subject of human sexuality, specifically homosexuality. Dorff argues that the ban on homosexual acts, male or female, should be abrogated on "moral grounds." This is a truly radical position, since Jews have always understood the ancient ban on homosexual acts as scriptural in origin, hence immutable. Lifting the ban would be what the rabbis called "uprooting a whole body from the Torah"; no Jew who hears the Torah read in the synagogue could possibly think it valid Jewish teaching.
"Rabbi Dorff knows this as well as any other Jewish scholar. Yet he is relentless in his opposition to this prohibition and all its ramifications. At this point, one must raise questions not only about his grounds for radically deviating from the Torah and its tradition on this issue but, more basically, about the adequacy of his general theological position."
Rabbi Dorff replies: "I clearly know and stated several times over that the Torah and Rabbis were opposed to homosexuality. I even stated openly that most within my own Conservative movement do not agree with me on this issue. Prof. Novak may surely disagree with my arguments, but that is very different from suggesting that I have deliberately tried to mislead people—a charge that is both untrue and defamatory."
Professor Novak replies: "It is understandable why Elliot Dorff didn’t like my review of his book. No author likes sharp criticism. However, I stand by everything I said. His stand on homosexuality, even if only a small portion of his book, is the exception that proves the rule. By so cavalierly dismissing as unjust the traditional Jewish ban on homosexual acts—a ban undisputed throughout the whole history of Jewish law—he shows that this whole tradition is not normative for him, but only the source of selective guidance or misguidance. This is Reform Judaism, which Reform Jews at least admit is not a continuation of Normative Judaism. If Professor Dorff had only admitted that he is not really a halakhic (that is, traditionally normative) Jewish thinker, I would have reviewed his book very differently, differing with its view of Judaism to be sure, but not on grounds of inner inconsistency."
Blessed be G-d who hath created us for His glory and separated us from those who err... May He open our heart unto His doctrine...
Therefore we hope upon thee, L-rd our G-d, that the abominations of Reform and Conservative Judaism may be banished from the earth and that the vain idols of Christianity and Islam may be destroyed and that all sinners will turn to You and acknowledge that we Jews have been right all along. Amen.