Rabbi Heshie Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere posted a challenging and perceptive comment on my article – really not so much on my specific article, but I think on my approach in general – and let me quote if you haven’t seen it: “Dear Asher, You like quoting Rav Aharon Soloveichik ZT”L. Especially his liberal piskai halacha. If he’s your Rebbe, then undoubtedly you know about his stringent decisions especially when it comes to change in the Synagogue. You have to be fair and take the dvash as well as the oketz.”
Dvash meaning the sweet, easy, “progressive” stands, and oketz, stinger, meaning the hard ones that don’t square as well with an Morethodox point of view.
I’d like to answer Rav Billet:
Yes, I do consider Rav Ahron to be my rebbe. However, Rav Ahron himself was committed to each person being able to think for themselves and not to follow a rebbe in a dictatorial fashion. So even though he had many rulings that, yes, spanned the political and religious spectrum, he was always open to his talmidim making up their own minds, and thinking for themselves. In fact, he felt that there was too much “hero worship” of Gdolim and Rebbes and Rosh Yeshivas, and that hero worship was a form of idolatry.
So, yes, I quote Rav Ahron frequently in my sermons and writings, and usually it is when his rulings are the “honey” I agree with. However, I am cognizant that Rav Ahron himself evolved in his rulings. Earlier in his life he took a much more stringent view of abortion. By the time I was able to spend the most time with him, the last 15 years of his life, he had developed an much more “liberal” attitude towards abortion. If a woman was raped, he would tell her to go quickly to get an abortion, and he could even see allowing her to abort in such a circumstance in the third trimester, if necessary. By his last years, when I was a rabbi already in my shul, he paskined for me on a difficult case that a woman carrying a Trisoma 18 baby, which would not live for more than a few years at most, that allowed her to abort, if she felt she was not strong enough to endure. So I don’t know how Rav Ahron would paskin on many of the issue of today. I know that when he felt women were sincere in the yiddishkeit, and not just taking a political stand, that he was open to them participating and taking on obligations: saying Kaddish, even when there was no man saying kaddish with them, davening three times a day, in the right times, and washing mayim acharonim. In fact, he joked that he was willing to be called a feminist in that he felt women had the same obligation of men to do mayim acharonim.
The one area where Rav Ahron felt the strongest against was pluralism and sitting on the Board of Rabbis. He was always against it. However, when we set up our community, pluralistic school, (Chicago Jewish Day School) I asked him if we could admit children of Jewish fathers, non-Jewish mothers. He said yes! Then his grandson who was there said, But Zayde, these are “goyim g’murim”! His answer was, So what? You can teach Torah to goyim as well! And he quoted the S’fornu.
So even in areas where I don’t think Rav Ahron would “sign off” on the positions I take, he had a depth and breadth that allowed a crazy lefty like me to be part of his Torah world, and see myself as a real talmid of his, but at the same time pursue a separate path.
More next week,