Are We Torah True? -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

In a recent blog post Rabbi Jason Miller argues that orthodoxy can not legitimately claim it is Torah true any more than Conservative or Reform Judaism can, since things in Orthodoxy also change, only slower.  He points to the recent statement by 150 orthodox rabbis calling for more understanding for homosexuals in the orthodox community: , the expansion of women’s leadership roles in Shirah Chadasha type minyanim, Rabbi Avi Weiss’ recent decision to have a woman lead Kabbalat Shabbat in a side minyan at HIR, and the new Yeshivat Maharat which will train Orthodox women for clergy positions.

Rabbi Miller writes, “A quarter century after the Conservatives opened its seminary to women, the more progressive Orthodox Jews in Centrist Orthodoxy are now debating the leadership roles of women in the synagogue. It was only a matter of time…The Judaism of 2010, in any of the denominations, looks different than the Judaism of past centuries. That’s because the times change and the Jewish religion changes too, whether people like it or not….Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on “Torah true Judaism.” If Judaism is truly going to be true to the Torah, then we must all embrace the Torah’s dictum that says the Torah does not reside in the heavens. It belongs to humanity and it is up to us to see that it remains vibrant and evolves.”

Perhaps though halachik change or the lack thereof alone is not what determines how true to the Torah one’s Judaism is.  Perhaps it is a group’s shmirat hamitzvot, keeping of all the mitzvoth, and passionate commitment to torah study and Torah values that determines its Torah true-ness.  If this is so then a movement which makes halachik decisions that are based on strong halachic precedent, even if these changes diverge from or expand current traditions, is still Torah true if its observance of mitzvot is total.

On the other hand if a group says it is committed to halacha but does not observe it as part of its culture it is not Torah true.  Such might be the case, for instance, for the bulk of Conservative Jews today, who do not keep shabbat, kashrut or taharat hamishpacha, or indeed for some parts of the Charedi world whom though they may keep with much passion the mitzvoth between humans and God, might not keep with the same care the mitzvoth between human beings, required even toward those outside their community.  I submit that it is not one’s lack of halachic chiddush that makes one Torah true, but how one observes the rest of Judaism along with the said halachic changes that determines one Torah true-ness.

An Orthodox community that, based on gemaras and their understanding of the Shulchan Aruch’s (Code of Jewish Law) definition of Kavod Hatzibur (honor to the congregation-the reason for not allowing women’s aliyot), allows women to lead Kabbalat Shabbat, and with that keeps with passion all the mitzvoth, is indeed Torah true in every sense of the word.

9 Responses to Are We Torah True? -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    Authentic Judaism is not only about the 613 mitzvot of the Torah; there are also 13 core beliefs, enumerated by Rambam, that are required of all Jews.

    These 13 beliefs are so important, that Jew who rejects any of them is rejected by G_d, even if he does countless good deeds.

    And if he writes a Torah scroll, then the scroll is totally invalid and cannot be used. And if he slaughters an animal, then the meat is not kosher and may not be eaten by Jews. And if he participates in a Beth Din for a conversion ceremony, then the conversion is invalid and the convert remains a Gentile.

    Since Reform and Conservative routinely reject these 13 beliefs, their Torah scrolls are not valid, their food is not kosher and their converts are not Jewish.

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    • Skeptic says:

      The Rambam himself rejected a number of his own principles — he just thought that they represented necessary beliefs for the common folk. And certainly many Orthodox Jews in good standing reject some of those beliefs. Just see Prof. Marc Shapiro’s book for a comprehensive treatment.

      And with all due respect, I think it is a little presumptuous of you to pasken on the status of the food and ritual objects of other Jews. Many of things which you claim are actually debated by major poskim, and their conclusions might surprise you. See the tshuvot of R. Henkin, R. Feinstein, and see Nefesh HaRav about the views of R. Soloveitchik.

  2. chloe baumstein says:

    sometimes i wonder what my RZ European born grandfather would think of MO as it is developing.
    He was horrified by what was done TO Eastern Parkway and the homogenizing of Boro Park.
    On the other hand he quietly went to a halachic minyan for Shaharit on the morning after my bat mitzvah.
    He definitely would have been immensely gratified that he now has three sabra great great grandchildren

  3. Michael says:

    The term “Torah true Judaism” should be banished from our vocabulary. Using it to describe one’s own approach to Judaism betrays an arrogance and smugness that is the opposite of hatneah lechet im Elokecha.

    I am not saying that anything goes. It is certainly possible for a religious outlook to depart from traditional Jewish thought so dramatically that it can no longer be considered Judaism.

    But it would be more productive to focus on particular issues and thoughtful debate about those issues. Coming up with terms that are meant to describe who is in and who is out serves no productive purpose.

    It is, of course, the Orthodox who are most anxious to de-legitimize other expressions of religious Jewish identity. We do not draw anyone closer to our way of life by doing that – we only alienate and offend. Even if the judgements passed are occasionally, or even often, correct, it doesn’t make being judgmental a good thing.

    If we are confident in our conclusions about how to lead our lives as observant Jews, then the best thing we can to to promote those conclusions is to live amongst our fellow Jews, as part of the community of Israel, all of Israel, and inspire by modest, devout example. It’s not easy, and I don’t claim to be an expert at it. But that’s our challenge.

  4. […] responding, etc–Hyim Shafner, an Orthodox rabbi and contributor to the blog Morethodoxy, wrote–and I paraphrase liberally here–”Yeah, we change. But we know the Shulchan Aruch better. So we’re Torah […]

  5. […] responding, etc–Hyim Shafner, an Orthodox rabbi and contributor to the blog Morethodoxy, wrote–and I paraphrase liberally here–”Yeah, we change. But we know the Shulchan Aruch better. So we’re Torah […]

  6. Chad says:

    Isn’t this exactly the argument that the Yeshivish world uses to prove that Modern Orthodox isn’t true?

  7. Steg says:

    Mr. Cohen:

    Most Orthodox Jews in the world don’t believe in the Rambam’s principles of faith, since the popular dogmas today are shaped more by Kabbalah than by the Rambam’s Rationalism.

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