Give New Minhagim a Chance, Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Just a quick idea to shed perhaps some new light on Smicha for Women – whether we call it Mahara”t or Rabbi or Rabbanit – and other new phenomena that we haven’t seen in Orthodox Judaism. There is a classic machloket about whether not having seen something is a proof that it should not exist – such as women shochtot – or whether it doesn’t mean anything. Most poskim say that a new phenomenon does have an extra burden of proof, but it is only invalid if we can find a good reason why it did not exist in the past. I would like to add a new status to these kind of things: probation – a lack of “chazaka” or presumption that it is proper, but the right to earn a place as a legitimate new Jewish minhag. The status of Yoatzot might have been such a phenomenon – but in the brief period that they have been around they have proven themselves invaluable to the halachik process. I would argue that they now have a presumption of legitimacy in the Orthodox Jewish world. Let’s wait and see with Mahara”t(s): For now we know that the first Mahara”t is an incredibly committed, frum and righteous religious leader. A great start. Let’s see in ten years whether Orthodox women musmachot get us closer to Torah and halachah, or take us farther away. My guess is much closer. For now, Mahara”t is a great experiment and is on Torah probabation – it needs to prove itself. But it is an exciting experiment, and we need to have confidence in Torah and Tradition to be able to withstand this test, and either embrace women musmachot or turn away from them. Let’s pray that this experiment works – and I, for one, am going to do whatever I can to help ensure that it becomes a new part of the accepted, legitimate, Jewish tradition.

8 Responses to Give New Minhagim a Chance, Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. Braveheart says:

    While I see nothing wrong with Maharats in theory, I would imagine this having practical difficulties. A woman cannot daven for the amud with men, cannot be mesader kiddushin, form a minyan, constitute a beis din, or do an entire variety of things a male rabbi can. When this line is corssed, you get Conservative Judaism. Firm boundaries must be set and abided to. People must understand that a Maharat is not a full rabbi, merely a teacher and advisor of halachic thought.

  2. Anon says:

    I think it is great you are willing to admit that maratot are not a problem. But I dont see your point about having firm boundries. What is the tovah of having firm boundries between Orthodox and Conservative. But even if we do, we (orthodox) have non-egal dovenning and mechitzot, and those have halachkic feet to stand on whereas banning woman from being rabbis does not (or not enough).

  3. dov says:

    “…cannot be mesader kiddushin”

    Why not? If it’s just a problem of the berachot – let her teach the chatan to say them himself, as he should anyway.

  4. Braveheart says:

    Once we become like the Conservative Jews, we’ll end up with a feminized religion, which has led to the downfall of that movement and the Reform movement.

    People assume that liberalized religion is viable for the long-term. It is not. Yeshivishe and Chassidishe communities grow by leaps and bounds, and these movements also do a great job at reaching out to the non-observant and being mekarev them, bringing them into the lives of these communities. Le havdil, we see the same in the Xtian world- evangelicals are on the rise while the mainline denominations are on the decline.

    My fear is that Morethodoxy is like having Neo-Reformers in our midst. Rabbi Avraham Shapira recently gave a sicha on what we have known for a while- that the Left Wing of Modern Orthodoxy is nothing more than a coalition of people seeking to justify feminism, homosexuality, pluralism, biblical criticism, interfaith dialogue, concessions to the Arabs, and everything else which the rest of us find to be anathema. You have people clamoring for liturgical reform, toeivah unions, Maharats, Batei Din with the Non-Orthodox (Darren Kleinberg), and everything else under the sun. The Rav never envisioned anything like this. It seems like David Hartman, Yitz Greenberg and Avi Weiss are becoming the gedolim for this sect- two apikorsim, who deny fundamental ikkarei ha emunah, and one activist/ignoramus, who has not distinguished himself scholastically at alll, although he is good at being loud and wearing a tallis on the streets.

    Once you embody relativism, standards go out the window. Anything goes, as long as you give it a hechsher/stamp of approval.

    While I believe that the Haredi approach has fundamental flaws and problems, this Morethodox approach also carries a host of problems, and threatens the fundamentals of our faith and mesorah.

  5. Igor says:

    Braveheart–sure, yeshivish/haredi communities do grow, but for different reasons that might not have much to do with kiruv. First, the birthrate is much higher than in other communities. Second, restrictions on secular education make it difficult for people to leave these communities even if they want to. Third, because of social isolation, those who might wish to leave have no network or resources outside the community. As a result, these sometimes large communities might have any number of unwilling participants. We should not think that everyone who belongs to such a community actually wants to be there. Regarding “left-wing Orthodoxy,” no such thing exists. Modern Orthodox people disagree on all the issues you mention, and it’s hard to see how “feminism” has anything to do with “concessions to Arabs” as part of a so-called left wing agenda. What does exist are individual people thinking for themselves, who nevertheless agree on the centrality of Torah in their lives. It sounds like this “left wing” that you heard about is just a straw man created for rhetorical purposes.

  6. Asher Lopatin says:

    I believe it was Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, not Rav Avraham Shapira who gave that speech condemning the new Modern Orthodoxy.

    Also, Kotel Update: I just got back and the shnurrers are still there in full force.

    Halachic boundaries will help guide what role women have in shul. Frankly, for Taharat Hamishpacha, halachic boundaries shape what role male rabbis can have – and women Yoatzot or Maharot are better to work with women on their questions – usually.


  7. Moshe says:

    It seems to me that any debate on this point must take into account the fact the Torah itself reflects a certain view of woman’s public roles. For example, it speaks of only male leviim and kohanim [and z’kainim, for that matter]. True, Miriam was a prophetess, but her public role seemed to be mainly with respect to leading the women. Thus we see that it is apparently the Torah’s position that a woman’s role is not to be that of a public clergywoman. And this fact is made even clearer by historical analysis. Other ancient civilizations did not lack for priestesses or women performing important roles in their cults. This was not the case with Torah law. Had the Torah mandated, or even allowed, female clergy, this would not have seemed unusual to a people emerging from an Egypt where women played important cultic roles. Yet the Torah did not so provide. This fact must be considered in any honest appraisal of the “maharat” issue. It is one thing to try and incorporate modern sensibilities that may not have been existent at the time the Torah was given into halacha, quite another to try to force political correctness on an issue apparently considered and rejected in the Torah itself.

  8. Dov says:

    “Kotel Update: I just got back and the shnurrers are still there in full force.”

    I’m very sad to hear that.

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