Controversial? Sure. Post-Orthodox? C’mon. R. Yosef Kanefsky

The recent change in title conferred upon my Morethodoxy colleague Sara Hurwitz has naturally generated a lot of intense reaction. Mahara”t Hurwitz is now Rabbah Hurwitz, as affirmed by the certificate that Rabbis Weiss and Sperber have newly updated. For all intents and purposes, the gender line in Orthodox ordination has been crossed and Sara has been named a rabbi. It’s not surprising that this development has elicited negative response even within the ranks of Modern Orthodoxy, which, in the final analysis, is a fundamentally traditional movement. We are, after all, Orthodox. 

But it’s vitally important to distinguish between legitimate criticism that merits reflection and discussion, and disingenuous and overheated rhetoric which thoughtful and serious Modern Orthodox Jews are obligated to reject as a matter of intellectual and religious principle. Legitimate criticism would focus on the questions of timing and long-term strategies. Should the Mahara”t model been given significantly more time to develop before being surpassed? Might the ordination cause have ultimately been better served through twenty Mahara”ts first establishing a track record of exemplary service to the Orthodox community over a span of 10 or 15 years? Does the move to full ordination right now compromise the ability of today’s Modern Orthodox community to solidly establish itself within the broader YU/OU/RCA community as an ideological force that cannot be dismissed or marginalized? Is the Modern Orthodox laity ready for this yet? These are legitimate and serious questions, forming the basis of potentially legitimate criticism. 

 But we need to respond bluntly to criticisms that are inherently disingenuous, and which negate numerous spiritual, moral, and halachik principles that we hold dear. In recent days, there are those who have contended that the move to “Rabbah” constitutes a departure into “Post-Orthodoxy”, into a realm that is outside of and irremediably irreconcilable with Orthodox practice and law. This claim and its variants are disingenuous and polemical, intended to pre-empt honest conversation, rather than to contribute to it. Disingenuous in the sense, that they could only sincerely be made by people who honestly subscribe to one or more of the following propositions:

(1)      Women don’t have the intellectual capacity to actually master the Orthodox Semicha curriculum.

(2)      Women are halachikly barred from teaching Torah publicly, or from tending to the pastoral needs of fellow Jews, or from responding to the common battery of day-to-day halachik questions that Orthodox rabbis need to field.

(3)      As full members of the human community, women are entitled to earn PhD’s, head corporations, and hold any elective office in the land, but are inherently disqualified for a position as prestigious as the contemporary rabbinate.

(4)      Orthodox Judaism promotes gender discrimination for its own sake, with Halacha itself lacking the authority to challenge the discriminatory pattern.

(5)       Orthodox religious leadership is just fine the way it is, and could only be harmed by the contributions of the other half of the population.

I’d be shocked if the “Post-Orthodoxy” accusers believe any of these 5.

  If you too find the 5 assertions above to be alien to the Orthodox Judaism you practice, then speak up when you hear criticisms that clearly rest upon them. Let there be robust debate about “Rabbah”, but don’t let the debate be hijacked by rhetorical hot air.

5 Responses to Controversial? Sure. Post-Orthodox? C’mon. R. Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Joel Katz says:

    Did you mean to write “Rabba” (without an ‘h’)?

  2. Shmuel says:

    Been there. Done that. It is called Conservative Judaism.

  3. Danny Chameides says:

    I would be interested in finding out from the Moreorthodox rabbis on this site and others what exactly distinguishes Open or Modern orthodoxy from charedi orthodoxy. From my vantage point Open Orthodoxy is mostly window dressing. Take the female Rabbi issue. In essence Rabba Hurwitz(with no disrespect to her) does very little more than a highly educated Jewish person can do. At the end of the day she still cannot be counted in a minyan or read Torah for men and women, among other things. Why not make real changes how a woman can act as an Orthodox Jew rather than worry about what to call her.? You may call her a Rabbi, but when she and 9 men are in a room no minyan is there.
    While Morethodox Rabbis waste their time deciding on names for female Rabbis their silence on the real issues of the Orthodox day is deafening. Where was the outrage from any of the Rabbis on this site and their colleagues about the recent sefer written by a Hesder rabbi on the West Bank claiming it is permissible to kill non-Jewish babies who might grow up to kill Jews one day? Where were the protests in the streets?
    Why do these Rabbis not make real changes in halacha where it is desperately needed. Yayin Nesekh is one example. Can you imagine the reaction by these very same Rabbis if a non-Jewish religion refused to drink wine if it was ever touched by Jews? Yet, none of these Rabbis exhibit real leadership by making real changes in halacha as they look over their shoulders to see what their RCA/YU colleagues think of them. When there are no men be a man(or woman!)

  4. Mas says:

    With all due respect to Rav Kanefsky, it seems that many of the people criticized in this post would, in fact, agree with a reworded version of number 3, and argue that women are halakhically barred from holding positions of serarah in the Jewish community, regardless of what positions they are allowed to hold in secular society. This argument is based on halakhic sources, although the reading and application of these sources may not be muchrach (I am personally on the fence). I don’t see how R Kanefsky can dismiss this position without argument, and also pretend that no one really believes it. For better or for worse, many of the poskim that the greater Modern Orthodox community looks to on every question besides those relating to women’s issues hold this position.

    I also noticed that R Kanefsky’s description of “legitimate criticism” of this latest move only includes practical and sociological issues, and not halakhic ones. Is it obvious that the halakhic argumentation in favor of maharat/rabbah is so open and shut that there is no more discussion to be had?

  5. […] “Legitimate criticism would focus on the questions of timing and long-term strategies. Should the Maharat model been given significantly more time to develop before being surpassed? Might the ordination cause have ultimately been better served through twenty Maharats first establishing a track record of exemplary service to the Orthodox community over a span of 10 or 15 years? Does the move to full ordination right now compromise the ability of today’s Modern Orthodox community to solidly establish itself within the broader YU/OU/RCA community as an ideological force that cannot be dismissed or marginalized? Is the Modern Orthodox laity ready for this yet? These are legitimate and serious questions, forming the basis of potentially legitimate criticism.” […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: