Guest Post by Rav Ysoscher Katz: A Response to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita

Guest Post by Rav Ysoscher Katz: A Response to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is chair of the Department of Talmud at YCT Rabbinical School. He received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for over ten years. A graduate of the HaSha’ar Program for Jewish Educators, Rabbi Katz has taught at the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School.  He was a leading teacher of a daf yomi class in Boro Park for over eight years.

R. Herschel Schachter recently published an essay on partnership minyanim, here is Rabbi Katz’s response. An English version is forthcoming.                                        

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40 Responses to Guest Post by Rav Ysoscher Katz: A Response to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great, Shkoiach- Now, why does Rav Schachter care ?

  2. Alan J Yuter says:

    We are not writing to convince our opposition. We are writing in order to convince the Jewish world that the Torah incluldes us as well. mEduyyot 2:2 says “if it is not forbidden, it is permitted.” This too is mesorah. Regards, Alan

  3. תורה ויראת שמים במקום אחד.

  4. Anonymous says:

    So don’t address it to Rav Schachter. Address it to the public.

  5. Sammy says:

    It’s astonishing that Rabbi Katz completely ignores the most basic point – that the mentality and halakhic methodology employed by the proponents of these changes is a historical continuation of the Conservative movement.

  6. ysoscher says:

    I am surprised Sammy that you say that. I explicitly address it in my penultimate comment. Perhaps you disagree with my argument, but I am certainly not ignoring it.

  7. Sammy says:

    You explained how the mentality and methodology differs from the Conservative movement?

  8. Sammy says:

    Or you rhetorically asked how is this different than other “movements”, and suggested that those “movements” were somehow purified by Torah giants. How does this explain how your halakhic methodology isn’t a continuation of the Conservative movement? Who is the Torah giant that is purifying this approach?

  9. Sammy says:

    So what is your actual explanation for how you differ from Conservative methodology?

    • Rabbi Y. Katz says:

      I can’t speak about the Conservative movement but I could speak for us, ultimately what guides us is halakha; does halakha allow it or not. The halakhic corpus is so vast, inevitably there will be debates about particular aspects of the halakhic system. We might disagree about authority, normativity, interpretation, etc. continuing discussions that have been raging for mellenia. At the end of the day though, we still operate within a assur/mutar paradigm.

      Most importantly, Sammy, Rav Shachter is right, the debate is also about the “spirit” of the law. The common-denominator in most of the recent debates is the question of whether halkha allows, condones, or perhaps even promotes a robust egalitarianism? The debate between OO and MO boils down to this question. Like our opponents, the deciding factor for us will be the poskim, but as in every other debate in our history we will oftentimes end up with diametrically opposed interpretations of the meaning of particular texts and the spirit of the halakhic system on this important question.

      • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

        Rabbi Katz,

        Will there be a response to Rabbis Frimers’ article (http://www.rcarabbis.org/pdf/frimer_article.pdf)?

      • Sam says:

        A Thinking Talmid,

        Rav Schachter already responded to the Frimers’ article. He argued that the Frimers entirely missed the point, since the question of partnership minyanim is not a “technical” question but rather one of sociology, modesty, the role of innovation, the spirit of the law, etc. Rav Katz and Rav Schachter are discussing those very issues, but I think everyone agrees that the Frimers completely missed the point (despite their very careful collection of sources). Rav Schachter was talking explicitly about the Frimers’ approach when he criticized ordinary rabbis who collect sources via Bar Ilan and Otzer ha-Poskim, without considering the spirit of the law. So I don’t think there is any more damning refutation of the Frimers’ piece than the letter from Rav Schachter.

      • Sammy says:

        Thank you for taking the time to respond, I appreciate it.

        I meant the Conservative movement as it started out, not what it is today. They operated under an assur/mutar paradigm, but their method of deciding how to pasken seems similar to what is being done now by the OO movement. When RHS says that OO is a continuation of the Conservative movement, that’s what he is referring to. So again I ask, how are you different?

        And if you’ll allow one more question, you write “Like our opponents, the deciding factor for us will be the poskim”. Is there a consistent posek of the OO community? (For example, Rabbis Daniel Sperber, Yoel Bin Nun, and Joshua Maroof were involved in Sara Hurwitz’s semicha/ordination. Are they regularly consulted for matters of pesak for the OO community?)

      • Anonymous says:

        Sam has obviously not yet read the paper and misses Rav Hershel’s central point. The issue is who has the authority to pasken. The Frimers don’t pasken. Rather, they analyze the various sugyot in depth, review the various shitot and available literature and point to the consensus of the Poskim, and report on their extensive conversations with the gedolei haPoskim. It is the latter that do the psak – not the Frimers. Read the paper and judge for yourself.

      • Sam says:

        Anonymous,

        Just because we disagree does not mean I didn’t study Rav Schachter’s letters, plural, very carefully. I tried to consider his view in both letters, and I felt his overarching point was that some issues are not about the letter of the law,but about the spirit of the law, and in those cases we need to ask people more attuned to the spirit of the law, e.g. recognized gedolim. (Rav Schachter surely doesn’t believe that every single question must be asked to gedolim.) The Frimers seem to take the approach that this issue is a standard question of the letter of the law, hence they collect all the sources from Bar Ilan and present them for the lay public to read. Rav Schachter says this is not a question of the letter of the law, and it is inappropriate to collect the sources as if a local rabbi could then make a “letter of the law” decision based on the Frimers’ sources. Now, as you say, it is true that along with the all the Bar Ilan results from the Frimers, there are also reported private communications from a few esteemed rabbis. But I would point out to you that Rav Schachter is not quoted in a private communication — this absence seems to me to be no accident! Moreover, the Frimers summarily reject some of the views of these eminent poskim and leaders (see for instance how flippantly they suggest Rav Henkin or Rav Riskin “erred” in analysis, as opposed to respectfully considering the possibility that they considered the Frimers’ alternatives and still disagreed on principle). If this is an issue of the spirit of the law, then who are the Frimers to reject the view of Rav Henkin, whom Rav Schachter himself recognizes as a distinguished world-class posek? I respectfully suggest that it is difficult to accept the Frimers’ letter of the law approach if you accept Rav Schachter’s basic thesis that I outlined above.

      • Liberal-turned-neanderthal says:

        The common-denominator in most of the recent debates is the question of whether halkha allows, condones, or perhaps even promotes a robust egalitarianism?

        Surely this is a biased and incorrect formulation of the question (that is: if you are really interested in ratzon hashem or in the wisdom of the Torah).

        Instead: Is halacha egalitarian or anti-egalitarian? If the latter (or if both) – then is the anti-egalitarian element incidental or substantive? If substantive, then fundamentally how does it differ from contemporary sensibilities?

        I’d suggest reading what R. Shlomo Wolbe wrote regarding men and women and thinking about whether he might actually have some insights into human nature.

  10. Shades Gray says:

    I think that the larger klal  perspective and effect should also be part of the discussion of a given innovation even if, for arguments sake, it may not be an issue for some(as RHS wrote regarding the recent tefilin question, כי שאלה חמורה כזו נוגעת לכל כלל ישראל הנאמנים למסורה).

    Minimally, from an interrelated klal perspective, there might be a question in הלכות שכנים outside הלכות תפילין or הלכות תפילה.

  11. […] master, be prepared. Nice try, but… These thoughts immediately came to mind upon reading the response of R. Ysoscher Katz chair of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, to R. Hershel Schachter’s p’sak […]

  12. Mr. Cohen says:

    Is it Permissible for a Woman to Wear Tefillin?
    by Rabbi Eli Mansour

    http://www.dailyhalacha.com/displayRead.asp?readID=2641&txtSearch=Tefillin women

  13. […] Ysoscher Katz responded to Rav Schachter on a number of issues (link). His first point is on the question of who may pasken. He suggests that while the Maharsha insists […]

  14. Brooklyn Refugee Sheygitz says:

    there are great factual inaccuracies in this letter about the zionist movement, and religious participation in the zionist movement and in the return to E”Y in general.

    that being said the fact is that historically speaking it has been PROVEN that the religious leadership which allied themselves with the secular zionists SAVED Jews and the religious leadership which negated the zionist movement led their followers to the valley of the shadow of death. one need not read more than a few pages of R. Teichtal’s Eim Habanim Semecha to realize how it was IDEOLOGY and NOT halacha that drove these religious Jewish leader to oppose Zionism and lead their flocks to certain death (since R. Katz is a musmach of the “unterlander velt” I’m sure he wil appreciate the source – I can find others from other communities)

    feminist IDEOLOGY will destroy morethedoxy. I’m not surprised that rabbis such as Shmuly Yanklewitz support gay marriage. Just like I won’t be surprised when he – or other Orthodox rabbis like him – eventally come out againts Zionism, support BDS and a whole host of other ideological causes which serve to undermine the future of the Jewish people in the name of “morality” and “tzedek”. That’s where the IDEOLOGY will lead and is inevitable.

    sad – because there is so MUCH that liberal rational modern orthodxy has to offer.

  15. ysoscher says:

    Sammy,

    I will have to respectfully disagree with Rav Schachter on this one. Modern orthodoxy was originally accused by the chareidi world as being a continuation of the Reform movement, and–they were wrong. Rav Schachter’s assessment in this case is incorrect as well. We are not a continuation of the Conservative movement at all. We are actually a natural outgrowth of Modern Orthodoxy.

    MO is an attempt to create a yiddishkeit that, to the extent possible, is fully orthodox and fully modern, and, that is what we are trying to do. In most instances it is easy to integrate the two. Occasionally, however, it becomes difficult. Women’s issues is one example where integration is extremely challenging. Both sides-the orthodox and the modern-have very strong opinions on the subject. The desire not to err on either side-not be too modern at the expense of orthodoxy, or vica versa-is what makes arriving at a (correct) decision on this issue so difficult.

    As for your second question, of course! We follow a very traditional model of pesika; we study, we deliberate, we discuss, we debate, and, finally, we consult with the experts. (a.k.a. gedolim) If you go to the YCT website you will find a list of our Rabbinic advisers.

    To be sure, the “gedolim” culture is not as prevalent in our community as it is in the Chareidi community, we don’t run to a gadol for every little shaila. However, when the issue necessitates expert advice, we, of course, turn to the gedolim.

    Derech agav, you might be surprised, but we don’t limit ourselves to only MO gedolim. We quite often turn to gedolim from the chareidi community.

  16. Jay Green says:

    Sam obviously still hasn’t read the Frimers’ article if he can think that their sources can simply be gathered from Bar Ilan. Moreover, Sam further confuses R. Yehuda Henkin with his grandfather, the world class posek, R. Eliyhu Yosef Henkin. The Frimers took issue with the former; not the latter!

    • Sam says:

      Jay,

      Perhaps you are unaware, but Rav Schachter believes that Rav Yehuda Henkin is himself a highly respected posek, even though they may disagree on some matters. He has said this in public and in his shiurim. So I asked: who are the Frimers to question Rav Henkin on a matter of the spirit of the law, if Rav Schachter accepts Rav Yehuda Henkin as a posek of recognized high caliber? But of course, the answer is simple — the Frimers don’t consider this a question of spirit of the law, rather they are conducting a standard technical examination of the sources. And I suggest this approach is strongly refuted by Rav Schachter’s 2 letters.

      As for the Bar Ilan comment, most of the sources in the Frimers article are available on Bar Ilan, Otzar ha-Chochma, or Hebrewbooks.org. You might be surprised how much is currently available on those sites, including rare and old books. But the reason Rav Schachter criticized people like the Frimers is not because of where they got their material, the issue is that they are not qualified as recognized poskim to deal in matters of the spirit of the law (unlike Rav Yehuda Henkin, who Rav Schachter said is).

  17. Sammy says:

    Thank you again for your continued willingness to respond.

    You write “and, finally, we consult with the experts. (a.k.a. gedolim) If you go to the YCT website you will find a list of our Rabbinic advisers.”.

    I looked at the list, but none of the rabbis are particularly noted for expertise in psak halacha. They guide the OO community in matters of halacha?

  18. Jon says:

    Rabbi Katz, With all due respect (and I say that seriously), to the rabbis, academics and communal leaders on the YCT website, none is known for his capacity as a poseik and, frankly, it’s insulting to the movement to have to reference them as such. Consider that the credibility challenge of the OO world (from a sympathetic voice).

    Similarly, I suspect part of what RHS was alluding to (having been a talmid of his for a few years) – OO is like the Cons. movement of the previous generations in that it was started by well intentioned leaders but not grounded in a senior R”Y/poseik. In that way, according to RHS, it differs from MO’s origins (the Rav). Therefore, in RHS’s worldview and the view of many serious MO bnei Torah, OO has a credibility-challenge that it must overcome. I pray that you guide your students to help overcome that challenge – but please recognize that it exists.

    • Rabbi David Wolkenfeld says:

      Hi Jon,
      From my experience as someone who was a student at YCT, I saw the rabbinic advisor board as a body that exists to offer advice to the yeshiva as it navigates various policy decisions. Rabbi Weiss has spoken publicly about the specific advice he received from Rav Amital z’l concerning a political/policy issue that the yeshiva was facing (I’m happy to tell you offline what the issue and the advice was). The group of poskim with whom YCT students and alumni consult is broader. Again, I’m happy to share names offline but don’t want to post the names of individuals who might not appreciate seeing them listed by me in this context.

      There might also be a difference of opinion about precisely how weighty certain issues are…

      Best wishes,
      David

      • Jon says:

        Rabbi Wolkenfeld,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. My comment, though, was specifically from the perspective from with-out the kotlei beit hamedrish of YCT. My observation was that if YCT cares to both (a) push a message which some even in the MO world view as chutz la’machaneh and (b) maintain broader credibility within the O world, having a universally respected talmid chacham at the top of the pyramid is necessary. I’m not suggesting anything about the rabbis in the yeshiva (frankly, I only know most of them through their writing), only about how best to position OO with a chance at broader O acceptance. And, in that context, whatever role Rav Amital zt”l (or other advisors) played is less important.

        If I’m mistaken and OO/YCT is not looking for that level of credibility within the larger Torah world, then I am confused as to why YCT rabbis even bother to engage in these types of debates / back and forth.

        Kol tuv,
        Jon

    • Sam says:

      Jon,

      You raise an interesting point, but I don’t think it is possible to suggest that “the Conservative movement of the previous generations was not grounded in a senior R”Y/poseik”. The Conservative movement of the previous generations had HaRav HaGaon Saul Lieberman, HaRav HaGaon Louis Ginzberg, etc. Having existed under the auspices of widely recognized gedolim did not seem to help matters. Now you could be right about Open Orthodox — I don’t know — but the idea that having a gadol on board publicly will make everything okay is not true. Rav Lieberman joined JTS and instead of making JTS kosher, it made Lieberman treif in the eyes of many Orthodox. Don’t you think the same thing would happen nowadays?

      • Rabbi David Wolkenfeld says:

        I think the halakhic seriousness of the community may be the most important factor. A halakhic innovation that is acceptable to a community (with critical mass) of shomrei mitzvot Jews, by definition, was supported by a posek of sufficiently broad shoulders.

  19. Brooklyn Refugee Sheygitz says:

    Rabbi Wolkenfeld – if an innovation that is acceptable to a comminity with critical mass of shomrei mitzvot jews becomes normative enough then unfortunately there will always be rabbis who will claim that OO should support that.
    I’ll give you an example – intermarriage. Everyone knows that this is unacceptable – and truth be told the pintele Yid of most reform Jews over the age of 50 also knows that it is wrong. However this just flies against what is acceptably “modern” in American society – which today challenges any form of particularism as foreign and often as racist. So it is inevitable that some elements of OO will eventually come to accept intermarriage. When VP candidate Senator Joseph Lieberman said that there is no problem with intermarriage in Orthdoxy, ten years ago he was expressing a way out there view on the fringe of liberal orthodoxy and it was easy for most modern orthodox Jews to laugh that off as ‘am haaratzut” or political expediency. Today? 15 years later? in the soon to be post-Obama America? I’m not so sure anymore…
    As I expressed elsewhere on this blog – just as we will see [Liberal Orthodox] rabbis come out in support of anti-zionism, we will also see them come out as suggesting that Orthodoxy can co-exist with intermarriage – or even that it’s OK. This is inevitable – UNLESS THE OPEN ORTHODOX RABBIS DRAW THE LINES IN THE SAND – not Rav Herschel Shachter. YOU need to draw those red lines – and need to draw them loudly and clearly.
    Everyone knows that normative orthodox Judaism is against social recognition of same gender and polyandrous marriages. The Rambam and Sifra are clear on this point – and they are speaking to the marriage registrar – not the couple. But as soon as [a Liberal Orthodox rabbi] comes along and says that Orthdox Judaism leads him to support recognition of same gender marriages (even if he wont perform one) because of social justice then it is inevitable that there will be those who say that this is acceptable as an orthdoox Jew and that the right wing Jews who are against this are anti-deluvian miscreants who are backward and just not with the times. and you will just push the liberal modern orthdox Jews who could, should and would support your views on women’s torah learning, women’s participation in shul and communcal leadership (and you know what – even egalitarian and partnership forms) and will just push them into the right wing camp.

    You guys need to get Rabbi Einat Ramon to speak to the students at YCT and give you advice – not Rav Amital z’l…

    [Edited by David Wolkenfeld]

  20. Jay Green says:

    Sam,
    Why are you doing everything to avoid reading the Frimers’ article? If you did read it, you would immediately realize how wrong you are on both counts.

    • Sam says:

      Jay,

      Please stop accusing me of not reading the Frimers’ article. I read this article, which, as I am sure you are aware, is an updated and extended version of the same article they have been publishing regularly since the early 80s, against women’s prayer groups, women’s Torah reading, women serving as shul presidents, women’s Hallel recitation, etc, etc. And I read those articles too. I just respectfully disagree with your assessment of the importance of the Frimers’ contribution. It is certainly a valuable academic study, collecting many interesting sources, but I happen to find R. Schachter’s approach more compelling, that some issues are not technical halachic questions and must be answered based on “spirit of the law” considerations. Because of this, I don’t believe that the Frimers are capable of making a contribution to the “spirit of the law” debate, since they are not (as I am certain they would readily admit) poskim of recognized stature, unlike R. Schachter or R Yehuda Henkin. But I respect your point of view that this is a standard halachic question, and I sympathize with your desire that someone should respond to the Frimers article. But I was hoping that my comments would help you to understand why you should not actually expect anyone to respond to the Frimers: many other people, on both sides of these issues, agree with R. Schachter that these are really questions of spirit-of-the-law, of methodology, of custom, even of wisdom. And for those people, the Frimers’ article is interesting, but not practically relevant.

  21. […] response to numerous requests for a translation of my response to Rav H. Schachter’s letter on Partnership Minyanim, I am posting a […]

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