Schism!? –By Rabbi Alan Yuter

Acting on its Torah-informed conscience in its Torah framed response to modernity, Modern Orthodoxy   has recently endorsed what are taken in other Orthodox quarters to be really radical changes:

1.          The first out-of-the-closet Orthodox female Orthodox rabbi was  ordained, and is now serving as a Rabbah,

2.          Women are permitted to read Megillah, not only for women, but in the presence of  and for men, [at B’nai Israel of Baltimore, the Orthodox synagogue I serve, we do allow women to read Megillah],

3.          Some within Modern Orthodoxy support secular policies that protect gay and lesbian civil rights, [I signed on to this policy and was criticized roundly and soundly for doing so],

4.          in some Modern Orthodox quarters,  partnership prayer groups have been endorsed,  [these are Orthodox gender egalitarian services, stretching Judaism to but not beyond a reasonable reading of the letter of the law–I believe that partnership prayers violate no law but I do not permit these rites in practice  because of B’nai Israel’s  Orthodox Union charter that requires that we follow Rabbinical Council  policy].  The arguments against partnership prayers do reflect legitimate policy concerns  but do not convince me that the partnership prayers themselves violate any explicit normative Oral Torah rule or statute.  As will be shown below, historical Orthodox precedent has allowed for far more radical changes than those put into practice at partnership prayers.

5.          Many Modern Orthodox rabbis allow double-ring Orthodox marriage services,  [I also permit modified double ring ceremonies, to be discussed below, for those who want them as I am convinced they are permitted and a marriage is a private ceremony which not subject to public policy discipline or rulings],

6.          and some Modern Orthodox rabbis have been known to object to the Orthodox “blessing” that mandates men to praise God for “not being created a female.” [Following the letter of the law and the spirit of our times, this rabbinically  mandated blessing in my view was not originally intended to be said in women’s presence  and perhaps not  be said out loud when women are present. My practice is to say this blessing, following the Oral Torah mandate.]

These modernity inspired changes have been challenged by other Orthodox rabbis who see themselves as “traditional” and who believe that Tradition is to be mediated by their inherited and conditioned sense of propriety.

1.          Consider the Agudath Israel statement:

Rabbi Avi Weiss has conferred “semikha” upon a woman, has made her an Assistant Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale where she carries out certain traditional rabbinical functions, and has now given her the title of “Rabbah” (formerly “Maharat”). He has stated that the change in title is designed to “make it clear that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff, a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”

These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.


After accurately describing what was done using detached, restrained, objective, and descriptive narrative, Agudath Israel’s statement then  makes value judgments that tell the attentive reader much more about  Agudath Israel’s own world view  than it does about the Modern Orthodox target of its animosity:


  • It is the social radicality of the change and dislocative dissonance  and not the real, actual laws of Jewish Tradition that determines what

Agudath  Israel’s version of Judaism

really is.

  • It is Masorah, “Tradition,” –as defined and understood by the Great Sages of Agudath Israel–that defines Judaism, and not the actual, philologically parsed  words of Torah—or the sacred documents of Israel’s official religion Tradition—that define Torah and God’s mandate in our time. Agudath Israel rabbis seem to believe in a continuous revelation whereby Judaism evolves through the intuitive insights of its own select rabbinic leadership. Although the Agudath Israel agenda for change is different, this same idea—continuous revelation—also appears in the liberal Jewish movement called “Conservative Judaism” and in the non-Jewish movement called Mormonism  as well.
  • By advocating the “Rabbah” innovation, the Orthodox identity and religious bona fides  of the advocates of the ordination of women in Orthodoxy is for Agudath Israel forfeit.  No Jewish law is  even cited; for Agudath Israel, deviation from the Tradition as understood by its  leaders is not error, it rises to the benchmark of heresy.  To be acceptable,  the “deviation” must be approved by Agudath Israel’s Great Rabbis, in which case the deviation itself becomes “Masorah,” or Tradition, and then the change becomes religiously acceptable.
  • Masorah/”Tradition” is for these rabbis not the Tradition of Maimonides, when ends with the Talmud of Rabina and Rav Ashi, [bBava Mezia 86a] but the inherited mimetic culture of street Judaism  Orthodox society over which Agudath Israel  presumes to preside; the former Tradition is covenental, the latter Tradition is conventional. The claim that mimetic  “Tradition” is  holy is proclaimed but proven by Agudath Israel. For Maimonides, a religious  ruling is valid if and only if it does not violate any explicit Talmudic  statute, and as long as the mara de-atra/local rabbi stays within these legitimating, validating and defining Talmudic parameters, his rulings are  valid, at least according to the Maimonidean paradigm, the legitamacy of which is difficult to contest.

The great Modern Orthodox  scholar and  decisor, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, the world expert on Jewish custom, found no legal reason why women may not be ordained to the Orthodox rabbinate, he examined the lady rabbinical candidate’s competency  in Jewish law, and he then agreed to ordain her.

2.          It has been argued that women may not read Megillah. We are told by some rabbinic voices that the women reading Megillah violates “Tradition,” here taken to be the familiar “street Judaism” we are used to seeing, and   Jewish law which in its canonical textual version seems to  allow women to sing in the presence of men which we are [wrongly] told is without qualification immodest and is therefore forbidden. [note well that a close reading  OH 75:3 does not  forbid women singing in the presence of men other than during the recitation of sh’ma and even this position is marked by the idiom, yesh le-hizaher, one ought but is not bound by rule to be restrictive!  See also R. Jacob Weinberg, Seridei Esh 3:8]. How we “know” that this behavior, women singing, is by halakhic definition immodest is proclaimed but not explained. Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote a classic responsum demonstrating that  women share men’s obligation to read Megillah, and may therefore read Megillah for men.  [“Women and the Reading of the Megillah,”  ed. Jacob J. Schacter, The Torah U-Madda Journal VIII (1998-1999 (New York, 1999), pp. 295-310]   Since the Oral Torah considered women reading Megillah to be allowed, invoking the category of
“modesty” to forbid the act is a wrongful and to our view a rather immodest proposal, because it impugns the integrity of the Oral Torah rabbis who by religious definition would not permit immodest behavior, and appealing to  culture Tradition  sensibilities as opposed to the most rational reading the Tradition of the Oral Law sacred library is not at all Traditional.   We do have a right—on policy grounds– to disallow women to read Megillah; we may not invoke the Talmud and Talmudic Tradition to do so.  It is true that the Tosefta disallows women reading Megillah, but the Talmudic permissive reading overrides and trumps the Tosefta’s nornative authority.  Rabbi Herschel Schachter disagrees with our analysis; he maintains that just because an act is not forbidden does not mean that the act is really permitted.  Great rabbis are to this—and his–view somehow authorized to intuit the mind of God and to “know” what God really requires  of Israel and humankind. For R. Schachter, only “great rabbis” have a right to intuit what “Tradition” really means. Modern Orthodox rabbis, following Maimonidean jurisprudence, advocate a more legal formalist approach to Jewish legal application  than does R. Schachter.

3.          It is one matter to argue that Judaism accepts homosexuality as proper, which Modern Orthodoxy has not done and cannot do], and quite another to advocate opposition to discrimination against that community.  Would it not be more proper, argue many modern Orthodox rabbis, to advocate minority rights for all and let God be the judge of human behavior, unlike the parochial Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin who in his “wisdom” “knowingly” attributes  earthly natural disasters to the sinful human advocacy of homosexual rights?

4.          Partnership prayer groups are Orthodox egalitarian communities that will allow female participation except when and where Orthodox halakhah explicitly and without ambiguity restricts that participation.  For Partnership prayer groups and for Modern Orthodoxy, Tradition is the Judaism of the sacred library, i.e., the letter of the publically revealed Divine law. No rabbi is in possession of  a secret, subjective  “spirit” of the Law that is empowered to trump other rational, even if radical, readings of that law.  This position, that Partnership prayer is a legitimate rite, is also endorsed by the noted above  Rabbi Daniel Sperber of Bar Ilan University.  In an oral communication, Rabbi Sperber argued that the Reformers permit the forbidden while Modern Orthodoxy “permits the permitted.”  The Rabbinical Council of America forbids Partnership prayer groups because it is a “break with Tradition,”   which seems to be the conventionally accepted culture that the Orthodox street accepts as familiarly “orthodox.”  As I understand these Partnership prayer groups, they  require ten men and ten women for a quorum [a stricture, or humra], women may lead the Qabbalat Shabbat prayers, and they may read the Torah. It has been argued that Jewish law requires  a real cantor, i.e., a male, to lead Qabbalat Shabbat services because customs “have” to follow the model of law. This claim is affirmed but not demonstrated by the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, of blessed and sainted memory, who also disapproved of women’s saying Kaddish because of “Feminism.”  For Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, policy grounds indeed do allow us to forbid the permitted; like his stellar student and spiritual successor, Rabbi Herschel Schachter, who advances an understanding of Tradition structurally and theologically similar to that of Agudath Israel, only great rabbis indeed are authorized to read  the mind of God.  Who a great rabbi is must be determined by power and not prowess. Alternatively, for Rabbi Sperber, policy grounds would also allow us to permit the permitted and restrictive intuitive hunches have to be explained and not merely declared in order for those hunches to be normatively binding  upon others.

5.          I can accept the disallowing of women’s saying Kaddish, reading Megillah, Partnership prayer groups, and double ring ceremonies  on policy grounds. But let’s have an honest and open conversation regarding the propriety of suggested change; invoking “Tradition” that is not congruent with the Talmud of Rabina and Rav Ashi will simply not do. While I approve of and insist upon  gender segregation for prayers, I remain unconvinced that outlawing the shofar blowing on the Jewish New Year without gender segregation is a proper policy, because hearing the shofar on Rosh ha-Shanah, like the “Who has not made me a woman” blessing, is in our reality a rabbinic mandate. If gender segregation is a Torah or rabbinic law, then we must cite the source in the Written and Oral law that clearly mandates the requirement. If a policy is indeed sufficient to override a rabbinic law, some strong, convincing arguments are waiting to be made. One Orthodox rabbi wrote to me that the synagogue gender partition is “Tradition.”  I agree!  But shofar is  a  documented mandate—no less than saying the “Who has not made me a woman” blessing— and given the shofar’s documented presence in Scripture– the shofar rite has an even greater claim to being called “Tradition” than does the traditionally mandated synagogue gender partition.

6.          It has been argued  that double ring wedding services, an admittedly modern, egalitarian gesture, violates “Tradition,” women’s historical role in Judaism, and is forbidden because the innovative rite appears, it is claimed, that the bride is rejecting the nuptial ring.  According to the classical codes, when the bride walks willingly to the marriage canopy, she “proclaims” by walking down the aisle  to the wedding canopy gesture “I do” to her marriage.   When the ring reaches her accepting hand, she is irrevocably married.  Furthermore, as noted above, Shulhan Aruch Even ha-Ezer 38:34 seems to corroborate our reading.  Thus,  if the officiating rabbi announces that  the now married bride is clearly giving  a ring as a gift to her halakhic husband after getting her nuptial wedding ring first, no violation of Jewish law is taking place!  If Hillel and Shammai can disagree regarding which marriage partner is proper—without a call for schism– then the claim that the double ring wedding ceremony is grounds for schism  is totally out of order. [See bYevamot 14b]  Thus, the very call for schism is unorthodox  because it reifies the taste of some authorities as an expression of the divinely revealed Torah of all Israel and the historically conditioned sacred intuition of some rabbis to be the unchanging will of God.

7.          My friend and colleague Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, claimed on the MoreOrthodoxy web site that he cannot in good conscience say the blessing ordained by the Sages “Who has not made me a woman.”  Extremists have said that his statement is heretical, and to remain legitimate, the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America must define itself as Orthodox by defining Rabbi Kanefsky as a heretic and removing him from the RCA rolls. Like Partnership prayer groups and women rabbis, it is not claimed that the proponents of these changes are in unquestionable exegetical error;  instead, an undefined “Tradition” is invoked  in order to revoke the good standing of dissenting others.

I recently asked several Orthodox rabbinical colleagues if they allow the recitation of the “who gives strength to the weary” blessing and the bobby-prize non-blessing, “Who has made me according His will” that women are to my mind wrongly instructed to recite,  which are post-Talmudic blessings unattested in and therefore not authorized by the Oral Tradition called “Torah,” the word of God. [Isaiah 2:3][See Bet Yosef OH 46:6 for a very sharp criticism of this “blessing,” codified in Shulhan Aruch, supra.  Note  that R. Isserles  allows the “who gives strength to the weary ‘blessing’” because Ashkenazic mimetic usage has adopted this rite.  Would it be improper for an Ashkenazi Jew to adopt the Sefardic stringency and delete the blessing?  After all, Nusah Sefard is itself an Ashkenazi innovation   and an innovative “tradition”  at that!  Although some “traditionalist” rabbis do not allow women to serve in the Israeli armed services, bSota 44b requires and does not disallow the drafting of women into the Jewish army for a defensive war—a law that enjoys greater canonical documented precedent than the gender segregation in the synagogue—and no one, not one Orthodox rabbi whom I surveyed,    expressed discomfort with the Tamudically unattested  “blessing,” “Who has made me according His will.”  The Chazon Ish sees women serving in the Israeli army as a most serious sin. Yet the Talmud, which is also   considered, de jure if not de facto, to be “Tradition” of recorded official record, requires this service.  [See however Abraham Karelitz,  Letters 1:111, pp. 122-3,   “Voluntary National Service for Girls: Compromise of a Nation’s Purity,” Jewish Observer 4 (1971), p. 21, and Alfred Cohen, “Drafting Women for the Israreli Army,” in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 16 (Fall 1988), pp. 26-43].

What makes the above referenced deviation of the Chazon Ish right and Rabbi Kanefsky’s complaint—with which I respectfully do not happen to concur–wrong?  The opposition to women’s military service seems, according to a common sense reading of the Talmudic source,  to be a frontal rejection of an explicit  Oral Torah norm.  At stake in this conflict regarding the defining of Orthodoxy is whether Judaism  is  a Torah of ethical law or a culture of that celebrates intuitive, ethnic otherness, with the Law being cited selectively and programmatically only by great rabbis endowed with a sacred intuition sufficient to determine what in the Oral Torah applies in our time and what does not.

For Chazon Ish, Agudath Israel, and Rabbi Schachter, the Jew learns Torah because learning Torah is a commandment. One who learns Torah, to this view, dares not learn Torah in order to actually learn how in practice to obey God;  normative usage is for this view intuited oracularly and proclaimed apodictically, without review, explanation, or justification bt great sages who are intuitively endowed. Alternatively, Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 25 distinguishes between errors in statute [devar Mishnah] and judgment [shiqqul ha-daat]. Given the reasoned explanations that appear in Bet Yosef, it would seem that R. Caro, the author of Bet Yosef and Shulhan Aruch, would side with his contemporary namesake, R. Yosef Kanefsky, even in dissent. Now, my own view follows tBerachot 6:18, which mandates reciting the “who has not made me [because I am a  male] a woman.”  However, we have reviewed several practices, accepted as “Tradition”/street culture Orthodoxy, that are equally if not more problematic—because they are deviationist– than R. Kanefsky’s controversial proposal, that are accepted without conversation by the Orthodox street.

Street culture Orthodoxy does allow the avoiding of blessings mandated by law, if its temporal mores are threatened by Oral Torah mandate.  At, Rabbi Shelomo Aviner examines women reciting birkat ha-gomeil, the thank-you blessing required to be recited [tserichin le-hodot (!)] by those who traversed the sea, the wilderness, was ill and was restored to health, and those who have been released from prison.  [bBerachot 54b]  Since this obligation is occasioned by circumstance and not time, woman are, one would think,  obliged to observe this rite. R. Aviner lists three possible responses to this obligation of a woman who recovered from an illness and was released from the hospital. The woman may say the blessing from the synagogue women’s section or  she may assemble and ad hoc quorum of ten men as we require a quorum for such a recitation.  He curiously adds that “some women do not recite it because of the complications surrounding the issue of modesty.”  However, Jewish law requires women to recite this blessing, no less than the Tosefta requires men to praise Heaven for not being created women.    When I first instructed women to recite the ha-gomeil blessing, the practice  was wrongly mistaken by some to be a Feminist inspired reformist innovation; since the act was unfamiliar, there “must” be a reason great not to observe this rite because  learned rabbis did not insist that women recite the blessing. The Talmud did at no occasion  relieve women of the obligation to recite this blessing. It seems to me that the culture modesty of the Orthodox street represents an ethic that is inconsistent with what the Talmud actually requires of Jewry. [by statute, women may slaughter animals. bHullin 2a-b, Bet Yosef Yoreh Deah 1:1, mEduyyot 2:2, but some voices argue, as noted above, that if we do not see an act being done, the act may not be done.]  And the culture modesty code is authorized  by social convention to override the explicit Talmudic and implicitly the Divine  mandate as well that would oblige women to recite the ha-gomeil blessing.   Street culture Orthodoxy and Rabbi Kanefsky actually  and ironically agree that social  taste does impact Halakhic change; they disagree on the agenda for change and the identity of the authorities who  are authorized to approve of religious change.

At, Rabbi Gil Student  carefully outlines  his objections to Rabbi Kanefsky’s position, but thankfully and graciously does  not yet call  schism.  He argues that “I am generally uncomfortable with the changing of texts for grammatical or historical reasons. Historically, those who have tried to ‘improve’ the liturgy have often inadvertently caused more harm.”   R. Student accepts  Orthodox street culture uncritically by not objecting to the “Who has made me according to His will” and “Who gives strength to the weary” “blessings.”  He also objects to changing texts for “ideological purposes.” Abudaram says that the “Who has made me according to His will” “blessing” is a confession of an acceptance of the decree of a disability.  His view, like the “blessing” he reports and records, sounds to me to be an ideological “reform”; what the Orthodox street does “must” be an  authentic  social revelation of unchanging God’s changing will.

R. Student’s actual ideology may be teased out of his  comment:

It must be remembered that a substantial segment of the Orthodox community considers the advanced learning of the Oral Torah by women to be forbidden. This is not an obscurantist position but a well-established halakhic view that is amply supported by traditional sources.

These “Traditionalist” rabbis whose opinions are by definition legitimate and whose approval R. Student  seems to solicit, maintain a parochial policy:

I [earlier] outlined the prohibition to confirm the Heterodox in their positions. It is very likely that ordaining women as rabbis falls under this prohibition and, therefore, must not be done. The contra-halakhic trends of egalitarianism are still very much with us and we may not support them, even indirectly or unintentionally. Let us not be naive about these very real matters.

I failed to find this putative “prohibition” anywhere  on my Bar Ilan 19+ CD Rom. It just might be the case that great rabbis are indeed authorized in this version of Orthodoxy to legislate Torah for all Israel.  They alone may speak in the name of Orthodox “Tradition.” For this version of Orthodoxy, no argument is tolerated and no alternatives may be offered because only the great rabbis know how to “learn” and read between the lines of Torah in order to read the mind of God.  [See however Deuteronomy 4:2 for an alternative, Biblically ancient yet also modern Orthodox canonical view, that God’s will and Torah really do not change.]

Now, R. Student correctly concedes  that clapping on the Sabbath and Holidays is problematic at


He concedes  that bBetsa 36b indeed forbids  clapping and dancing on holy days,  but he does not—because according to his Judaic system he may not–criticize the great  rabbis who [to my mind inconsistently and wrongly]  justify the holy day clapping practice.  [Aruch Ha-Shulchan OH 339:3, 7,9, Rema., supra.,  Igrot Moshe OH 2:100, Ovadia Yosef, Yehavveh Daat 2:58,  Tosafot Beitsa 30a,  Aruch Hashulchan OH  339:9,  and  Mishna Berura 338:2,4].  If deviating from a Talmudic norm is really forbidden according to the Orthodoxy of R. Kanefsky’s opponents, then Rabbi Kanefsky finds himself in very good and fine company indeed.  My own practice is not to clap or dance on Shabbat or Holidays, Tosafot’s, supra., dispensation not withstanding.  R. Student’s Judaism, and the version of Orthodoxy opposing R. Kanefsky, upon our analysis, is  grounded in a Tradition of culture consensus but  not the Tradition/covenant of Sinai which is publically  documented and given to all Israel for review, study, and compliance.  At, R. Student’s revealed religion is further revealed to his careful readers.  He seems to suggest, like the great rabbis to whom he by conviction and habit defers, that there are values that transcend recorded Jewish law. In point of fact, Jewish law does not forbid [but rather explicitly permits at Shulhan Aruch YD 1:1] women to slaughter animals.  R. Shabbasai Cohen forbids the practice because it [women slaughtering animal] “was not seen” in practice. [supra.] R. Caro, Bet Yosef, supra., cites mEduyyot 2:2, requiring  a canonical prohibition in order to formally disallow women’s performing ritual  slaughtering.  Thus, in order to insure stability in the Jewish social Tradition, the lenient and open Orthodox norms of the covenantal  Orthodox Tradition are reconstructed and reformulated, without objections from the sociologically conservative Ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel and without any demurral  or objection from R. Student.

At,  R. Student believes that Jewish Tradition  frowns upon if not to forbids women’s Torah study, following a descriptive, i.e. not prescriptive, observation that teaching women Torah is the moral equivalency of teaching lewdness.  He summarizes:  “The Mishnah (Sotah 20a) quotes R. Eliezer who states that one who teaches his daughter Torah is as if he had taught her tiflus (I’ll leave that untranslated and we can just assume that it is a bad thing). The Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 246:6) quotes this law and states that this applies only to the Oral Torah but one should  not really teach women the Written Torah either. However, the Rem”a points out that women need to learn the basic laws that they must fulfill and the Taz (ad loc., 4) argues that women are also allowed to learn the simple meaning of the Written Torah.”

Note well that the plain sense of R Eliezer’s words indicates that for him, women’s Torah study is a “bad thing” but is by no means absolutely or necessarily forbidden by  rule. How else did the Palestinian Rebbitzin Beruriah [the spouse of R. Meir] or the Babylonian Rebbitzin Yalta [the distaff of R. Nachman] learn their Torah?  On the other hand, subsequent rabbis of lesser stature have chiseled room for leniency. An authentic Modern Orthodox approach must  have faith that the Oral Torah rules are always right, but  canonically recorded words must be understood correctly, i.e., philologically, grammatically, and in social context.  What we see is what we get!  As noted, R. Eliezer’s precise words  are descriptive and not prescriptive, i.e., normative.  Happily, the official, normative and religiously binding tBerachot 2:12 confirms our reading and explicitly allows/authorizes women to study Oral Torah, rendering R. Eliezer’s view as popularly understood a less than statutory or “Traditional” position.  Note well that in street culture Orthodox culture, the great sages of Israel are not held to the same Halakhic benchmark  review that Rabbi Kanefsky is  being held, [we are forbidden to show preference when making legal judgments, Deuteronomy 1:17 and bSanhedrin 17b] as he is subject to accounting and rebuke but they, even though they are known to be great rabbis,  somehow missed  tBerachot 2:12, are not subject to accounting, review, or rebuttal.  Perhaps there is an unrecorded but  unquestionable rule that rabbis who are higher on the theological—political food chain are not to be reviewed by those lower than they on that chain.

R. Student regards the opinion of a “substantial segment” of Orthodoxy to carry normative valence.  Yet no one amongst the restrictive cultural Tradition school even addresses the normative Tradition of tBerachot 2:12, which provides an explicit—and undeniable–license for women to study the Oral Law. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik did not flinch when he permitted women to study the Oral Law at Stern College for Women.  I strongly suspect that R. Solovetichik was well aware of tBerachot 2:12.   For Rabbi Student, the locus of Torah authority resides in the person/gavra of the living sacred sage and not in the canonical document/heftsa of the sacred text; he also seems to concede that Ultra-Orthodox recognition of his own Orthodox bona fides is also a concern.    For some Orthodox affiliates, the fear of suffering human rebuke is greater than the fear of losing God’s approval.

A claim similar  to Rabbi Student’s is made by the urbane Haredi Rav Yitzchak Adlerstein in Ami Magazine (Nitsavim Va-Yelech 2011), whose critique is both cited and addressed below:

•    Very few on the left can show the competence with text that comes with many years of serious immersion in learning. It just doesn’t have such members, neither as role models, nor as products of their institutions.


This statement is plainly and blatantly untrue. The so-called Orthodox Left  applies the tools of academic Judaic studies which empowers the individual rabbi and student to make their own  critical judgments.  See Daniel Sperber,   Legitimacy and Necessity: Scientific Disciplines  and the Learning of Talmud (Jerusalem:  Bet Morasha, 2006).  This approach and its advocates are not recognized as Orthodox by their detractors. Their “sin” is not their infidelity to a defensible reading of Jewish legal texts; their error/aapostasy  is reflected in their wanton insubordination to those persons who claim be the great sages  of Haredi Orthodoxy who  to their view, must be accepted witout question, and whose legal readings are not subject to review or conversation.

*    In traditional halacha, very serious  questions are taken to the greatest contemporary  halachic minds as a kind of “reality check.” This is true both in deciding about new areas of halacha, as well as
weighing and deciding between competing opinions stated in the past.


This view is as noted above explicitly rejected by Maimonides in his introduction to   his code.  As long as a post-Rabina/Rav Ashi ruling does not overrule the actual, real rules of the halakhic legal order, like disallowing female conscription in the Israeli army or the allowing the “Who has made me according to His will” formula, the ruling remains valid.  Unless we wish to read Maimonides out of the Orthodox Tradition, his mindset remains at minimum  legitimate and his legal theory must be regarded to be normative.  And it is the community rabbi and not the dean of the yeshiva that “traditionally” holds legal office, as it is the sitting judge and not the law school professor who in everyday life determines the content and application of the law.

  • The left balks at this, seeing this as an affront to individual autonomy. It also believes that talmidei chachamim should have input, but it should be one of many contributions, alongside great academic
    scholars, who have much to add in their view to halachic debate.


Ironically,  this statement is correct. The Orthodox Left regards the texts of the Torah and empirical reality  as essential to authentic decision making. However, rabbis who have not studied college math and science have  no business dealing with or ruling on those subjects. Only Torah contributes moral halakhic vectors, but the so-called Orthodox “Left” does not feel obliged to concede to the so-called “Right” that the Right’s culture biases are themselves sacred and definitive but its own sensibilities, experiences and intuitions are not.


  • Taking questions to its own gedolim  or stellar halachists is not an option anyway. It doesn’t have any, at least not according to the definition that has held sway for centuries.

This statement is circular at best, and scandalously and maliciously evil at worse.  Rabbis Daniel Sperber, Rason Arusi, Nahum Rabinowitz, Dov Linzer, Yosef Faur [my own rav muvhaq], and David Halivni are great rabbis who are “recognized” by their constituents.  For Haredi Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy cannot by definition may not possess a great rabbi/godol because a great rabbi cannot, by Haredi definition,  be both Orthodox and “modern.”  A modern Orthodox great rabbi/gadol is, for this view, both a definitional impossibility and a theological oxymoron.  Thus, by dint of his modernity, even  the learned, saintly Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik cannot be considered a gadol.  [See N. Wolpin’s mean-spirited screed in Agudath Israel’s Jewish Observer, May 1993, 43] The “definitions that held sway for centuries”  are proclaimed but not demonstrated “to have held sway for centuries.”  Specifically, we recall that Maimonides did not demand that the local rabbi’s judgment undergo great rabbi/godol review but Maimonides did maintain that the local rabbi may rule within the limits of Talmudic statute, and need not submit to the office or charisma of other rabbinic persons holding office outside of his jurisdiction. So much for the views that “have held sway for centuries.”

Rabbi Kanefsky’s greatest “sin” was expressing the audacity to ask a probing question, which was mistakenly framed to  be a rejection of the Oral Law. Numbers 21:9 speaks of a one  time ritually licit serpent statue which, when it was [ab]used for idolatry, it was destroyed.  II Kings 17.  Thus, Torah application may, should, and did change with changing circumstances. R. Kanefsky challenged the public recitation of a blessing which was at its origin not a public rite and it remains a private rite in the Edot ha-Mizrah usage to this day. Nowhere in canonical, i.e. Written and Oral Torah, do we find a source that forbids asking pointed or probing questions of God or humans. Furthermore, Abraham asked God “will the judge of all the world not act justly,” [Genesis 18:25] Moses asks God why God appears to be angry with the entire community when only one man sins, [Numbers 16:22] and David asks God “why have you forsaken me?” [Psalms 22:2] If Abraham, Moses, and David did not sin by questioning God’s justice, then the explict norm supposedly violated  by R. Kanefsky should have been cited by his detractors, or it is they, i.e. his detractors, are guilty of defamation.

According to bPesahim 108a, important women are obliged to recline at the Passover seder; at Orah Hayyim 472:4 Rabbi Moses Isserles claims that “all our women are important” yet their custom is not to recline. It would be their obligation and not merely their discretion or custom to recline. It seems to me that if R. Isserles’ codification is legitimate, than so is R. Kanefsky’s; if we wish to criticize R. Kanefsky, we must out of  integrity apply the same benchmark to R. Isserles!

If there will be a schism in Jewish life, it will not be caused by the modern Orthodox, for whom Torah law does not change but the times do change, which necessitates changes in usage that are situationally appropriate

25 Responses to Schism!? –By Rabbi Alan Yuter

  1. Moshe Averick says:

    “R. Isserles” and “R. Kanefsky”, both “Rabbis” and both entitled to their opinion. This alone illustrates your contempt for the Mesorah and contempt for the concept of Gedolei Torah.

    I was immersed in your type of “Modern Orthodox” world until I was 21 years old. Very heavy on the “Modern” , light on the “Orthodox”.

    Moshe Averick

    • alanl j. yuter says:

      We are a religion of rules that even bind great rabbis. Recall that the Rambam does not name the rabbi who makes a ruling. Real Masorah is given to all Israel. and no one gets a pass.

  2. Lisa Liel says:

    Just out of curiosity, are you implying (“out of the closet”) something about Ms. Hurwitz’s sexuality?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Gemara in Sota 44b does not even mention a female serving in the army much less condone it? Have you posted the wrong reference?

  4. Levi says:

    The Gemara that you quote in Sotah 44b does not even mention women serving in the army, let alone condoning it. For the record the Beit Yosef and his Sefard origins should not be confused with Nusach sefard.
    Perhaps the first defining characteristic of Orthodox Judaism can be to accurately site (and perhaps to even quote!) sources. Of course this would only be done with the proper thorough understanding of the issues involved and what each respective source is saying. This is as opposed to following the methodology of politicians running for office who conveniently use sound bits and quotations out of context to serve their needs.
    Although I am guilty of the same sardonic and belligerent tone as your article takes, I would hope that it may encourage your readers to not just sit back and accept your writing because it comfortably runs parallel with their own beliefs and values, but rather to go through the sources carefully and honestly and then make a decision. (Start with the two source i have challenged.)

    • S. says:

      He is referring to במלחמות חובה הכל יוצאין אפי’ חתן מחדרו וכלה מחופתה. This is no mention of women serving in the army?

    • Your entire post is deeceiving.
      “Modern Orthodox” is not some centralized group or movement with a set of standards incumbent on all its members but rather a loose association of people who wish to call themselves Orthodox but do not identify either as Dati Leumi or Chareidi. Therefore to say “Modern Orthodoxy has done such ‘n’ such” is false.
      Further, most of those groups within the loose framework of Modern Orthodoxy have accepted none of the innovations you have mentioned. In fact, other than the YCT crowd none of them have. “Morethodoxy” or “Open Orthodoxy” remains a fringe movement at the left edge of the greater Modern Orthodox community whose innovative actions are looked upon with amusement or annoyance but never acceptance. Sorry to burst the bubble.

      • Anonymous says:

        Orthodox affiliating Jews often use the idiom “accepted.” Rites and reasons that become “accepted by the community now become “Orthodox.” If the reason or rite is not “accepted” by the community, it is not only not part of the social fabric of the community, it is painted as unorthodox and quasi heretical.

        This framework represents street culture religion. Sinai’s Torah is a normative order consisting of norms, values, and rules. For an act to be invalid, it must violate a norm in the legal order. If to use our example [a] important women are to recline and the seder, and [b] all of our women are important, do we have a right to justify our important women not reclining at the seder? Do latter day authorities have the legal right to suspend such a law? Being “accepted” does not necessarily make a ruling valid. See Leviticus 4:13 and Lamentations 5:7.

        For Modern Orthodoxy’s view to be invalid, an Oral Torah norm must be violated by its rulings. Women not saying zimmun or reclining at the seder, the use of Yiddish for Torah instruction when Hebrew is available [See Sifre Deuteronomy 46] or clapping on Shabbat Betsa 40a] seem to me to examples where it is “accepted” to ignore Oral Torah mandates. I concede that almost all modern Orthodox colleagues do disagree with me on this latter point. I am also very aware that Tosafot disagrees. However, if Tosafot disagrees, we may rightly ask if we can apply the legal theory that the law changes with the time, as suggested by Tosafot.

        Therefore, being “accepted” does not make a given ruling definitively right or wrong. We first examine the ruling’s validity, i.e., does it violate an Oral Torah norm, and then we discuss the ruling’s wisdom, i.e., is the act situationally proper or appropriate.

        Let the conversation begin.

      • alan j. yuter says:

        Orthodox affiliating Jews often use the idiom “accepted.” Rites and reasons that become “accepted by the community now become “Orthodox.” If the reason or rite is not “accepted” by the community, it is not only not part of the social fabric of the community, it is painted as unorthodox and quasi heretical.

        This framework represents street culture religion. Sinai’s Torah is a normative order consisting of norms, values, and rules. For an act to be invalid, it must violate a norm in the legal order. If to use our example [a] important women are to recline and the seder, and [b] all of our women are important, do we have a right to justify our important women not reclining at the seder? Do latter day authorities have the legal right to suspend such a law? Being “accepted” does not necessarily make a ruling valid. See Leviticus 4:13 and Lamentations 5:7.

        For Modern Orthodoxy’s view to be invalid, an Oral Torah norm must be violated by its rulings. Women not saying zimmun or reclining at the seder, the use of Yiddish for Torah instruction when Hebrew is available [See Sifre Deuteronomy 46] or clapping on Shabbat Betsa 40a] seem to me to examples where it is “accepted” to ignore Oral Torah mandates. I concede that almost all modern Orthodox colleagues do disagree with me on this latter point. I am also very aware that Tosafot disagrees. However, if Tosafot disagrees, we may rightly ask if we can apply the legal theory that the law changes with the time, as suggested by Tosafot.

        Therefore, being “accepted” does not make a given ruling definitively right or wrong. We first examine the ruling’s validity, i.e., does it violate an Oral Torah norm, and then we discuss the ruling’s wisdom, i.e., is the act situationally proper or appropriate.

        Let the conversation begin.

  5. alanl j. yuter says:

    bSota 44b states clearly that all go out to war, the groom frrom the room and the bride from her canopy. y point regardinig susah sefard is that it is an innovation adopted ny many Ahkenazi Jews.

    I am calling for one benchmark called Torah. The criticism of the so-called Right, has to be measured by the same benchmarks by whilch they criticize others. If, for example, “we follow Rema if we are Ashkenazi Jews, we must wear tefillin on hol ha-Moed, like the Rema. [see OH 31]

    • Not-A-Yuter says:

      What does the Radbaz say about this Gemara? Or was he also guilty of “a frontal rejection of an explicit Oral Torah norm”?

      • alan j. yuter says:

        It is not my habit to answer rhetorical questions, which are statements is the tone of questions. Peshat is what peshat is; may the best reading convince. Casuistry is often aapplied when we are uncomfortable with Talmudic readings. See Jose Faur, Legal v Thought of Tosafot, Dine Israel 1975 for Tosafot”s use of davqa and lav davqa.

  6. Skeptic says:


    Sotah 44b

    אבל במלחמות מצוה הכל יוצאין אפילו חתן מחדרו וכלה מחופתה

    Next time at least look at the gemara before you criticize.

  7. Anonymous says:

    ha-kol yotse means all go out– in this case to war. The exemptions apply to milhemet reshut. Contextually, the brde and groom are being drafted. for service in time of war. Peshat is what it is. Later authorities were uncomfortable with this understanding, See Alfred Cohen, “Drafting Women for the Army,” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 16 (Fall 1988):26-43, who believes that the great rabbis have a right to suspend a literal reading of the law if the application violates mimetic culture sensibilities. These parochial Orthodox rabbis invoke da’as Torah, and not hora’at sha’ah, to justify their views.

  8. Levi says:

    I am embarrassed by my mistake and I apologize. I only looked in the Gemara and not the mishna, I still maintain that the Chazon Ish knew that Gemara when he rendered his decision and that the issue is much more complicated than a precursory reading of the Mishna. If it was indeed a Mitzva and an obligation for women to go to war, do you honestly believe that the Chazon Ish would not allow it? I agree that my earlier comment looked imbecilic and I am ashamed. It was the dismissive and flippant tone towards the Chazon Ish that provoked me. When dealing honestly with a man of such intelligence (not even considering the fact that He was a Gadol BaTorah), one cannot make the assumption that He made such a gross mistake.
    I will take my own Mussar and try to be more thorough in the future.

    • Anonymous says:

      You are a talmid hacham with guts and integrity who has passion and zeal for Torah. Hazaq Baruch to you! The CHazon Ish probably felt that his ruling was a Horaat shaah. See Mamrim 2:4. Rabbi Yosef Kanevsky took a parallel tactic.

      IF Abraham may ask God about justice for Sodom–see Genesis 18:25– then the Chazon Ish may be questioned, just like Rabbi Kanevsky. Torah does not recognize sovereign immunity but s a rule of liberating law only gave one Torah with one system of benchmarks

    • Lisa Liel says:

      I regret with your apology, Levi. I don’t think you made a mistake at all. Simple pshat in “ha-kol yotzim” isn’t that everyone goes out to war. Imagine everyone in the country leaving for the battlefield at once with no one remaining anywhere else. It’s that the authorities can send anyone out to war. Including kallah me-chuppatah.. And it’s assumed that the authorities in question are Torah authorities and that the war is going to be prosecuted in a Torah way. The brothel called Tzahal doesn’t necessarily qualify.

    • S. says:

      ” If it was indeed a Mitzva and an obligation for women to go to war, do you honestly believe that the Chazon Ish would not allow it?”

      That’s not an argument. No one will give this courtesy to a modern Orthodox rabbi when they rule in opposition to a clear source.

      Yes, he had his meta-halachic reasons for choosing to rule as he did and to use guzma as he did; even if he himself was unaware that he was using guzma. Indeed, one can entirely understand it: Chareidi teenage young ladies cannot in reality grow up to be Chareidi wives and mothers if they enlisted in the IDF, or even do Sherut Le’umi. So whether he was issuing a hora’at sha’ah, an et la’atot, or Daas Torah – he ruled as he did. But the Mishnah still remains the Mishnah, and no one has the right to say that it entirely does not apply or that any argument to the contrary can’t exist simply because the Chazon Ish also knew the Mishnah.

      • Levi says:

        I believe you are guilty of my mistake as well. “No one will give this courtesy to a modern Orthodox rabbi when they rule in opposition to a clear source.” The “courtesy” that I’m asking for is that in light of the Chazon Ish’s grasp of Kol HaTorah Kula and his absolute intellectual brilliance, we at least try to understand his ruling without pre-supposing “guzma” or Hora’at Sha’a etc. Have you read the mishna? I certainly did after I embarrassed myself. It makes a distinction in the type of war. I haven’t looked through the Chazon Ish’s teshuva nor did I look through the sugya of Gemara that we are discussing. Unless you have gone through it carefully and have seen both sources and understand them well, how could you pass judgement? One thing I do know, and that is most of our criticism of the Chazon Ish or any other Gadol BaTorah (even Modern Orthodox ones) is probably more often than not akin to arguing with Albert Einstein regarding the theory of evolution based on an elementary school knowledge of science. More often than not, I have found in this type of scenario that when I delve into the writings of these people, I find that I didn’t understand it as well as I thought the first few times around. I had the opportunity to observe a great person learning and explaining what seemed like very simple sources and SHOWING that they meant much more than first glance. Without bringing other Rabbis into the discussion, do you or do you not think that the Chazon Ish had very salient, logical and Torah based reasons for his point of view. I just cannot except that he ruled based on Dogmatic reasoning and bent the Gemara and Mishna to suit his needs. And yes I am narrow-minded enough not to be able to except anything different about him. Again, our goal is Emes. If our starting point is what I want the Torah to say and not what does it say, we are in danger of perverting it. So let us go through the sources and then pass judgement. (Where can I find the Chazon Ish’s teshuva?)
        Lisa, as far as your comments, I don’t believe that the Mishna is readily understandable based on a “light” reading, rarely is any Mishna. (That’s why we have the Gemara.) However, I did argue that the Gemara says no such thing and the words certainly do indicate that. To be a “talmid hacham with guts and integrity who has passion and zeal for Torah” (thanks for the semicha), one has to be as honest as what he is demanding from the other side. I did no favor to anyone by sounding like a Kannai who doesn’t know what he is talking about. My sentiments are the same and I was saddened by Rabbi Yuter’s article. I still feel that I owe him and those who do not agree an apology. Now, I can try to continue with an honest debate.

  9. S. says:

    When I said “modern Orthodox rabbi,” I didn’t mean someone who simply holds a pulipit (for obvious reasons I am not going to name names). We all know that many people are called “rabbi,” no matter what sort of sector they affiliate or are considered to be affiliated with.

    The point is that there are and were “modern Orthodox rabbis” who also grasp Kol Hatorah Kula and are possessed with intellectual brilliance. But their views – essentially promoting and justifying modern Orthodoxy – are given no courtesy and no credence simply because what they are promoting is “krum.” That is wrong, and that is krum. The next time the RW world doesn’t just dismiss say a Rav Kook out of hand or say that so-and-so isn’t in our Beis Midrash then we can talk about whether this courtest is given all around in practice.

    On the other hand, who says that I presupposed guzma and hora’ah sha’ah? Frankly you don’t know how much time and thought I have given to his ruling. Apparently you just assume that with enough time and thought the only conclusion is that it wasn’t some kind of hora’at sha’ah?

    Of course I read the Mishnah. I understand that obviously it is only talking about a milchemes chovah – I quoted those words after all – and that as soon as you define something as not milchemes chova it doesn’t apply. “Yehareg ve-‘al ya’avor” for Sherut Le’umi? That’s not guzma?

    As for the substance of the Chazon Ish’s ruling, as I said, it is understandable since the truth is that the IDF or Sherut Le’umi would destroy Chareidi society as we know it, much less the nascent and weaker society which obtained 65 years ago. Why is it so shocking that he would rule an es la’asos or a hora’as sha’ah? As far as I’m aware these are legitimate halachic methods, especially when someone is convinced that it is saving the bnai Torah from shmad.

    As for being sincere or disingenuous, I already said that I am prepared to believe that the Chazon Ish was unaware that he was using guzma if that could be proven (or maybe he was aware of it). There is a famous Chasam Sofer quoted by Maharatz Chajes where he says that it is good to raise up prohibitions to a Torah level in order to shore in the breeches. You know how when you’re a kid you’d hear rabbeim point out that since there is a D’oraisa to listen to the Chachamim then technically every violation of a D’rabbanan is an issur D’oraisa? That’s pure sophistry. Maybe in some technical sense there seems to be no way around it, but clearly there is a distinction between d’rabbanan and d’oraisa, even in practice (safek, for example). So you can play this game, and the Chasam Sofer said explicitly in a teshuva that this can be done. As far as I know the Chazon Ish doesn’t rank higher than the Chasam Sofer. So I don’t see what is so terrible if, from his perspective, he has to give a ruling that staves off a churban (in his view) even if it goes against the Mishnah.

    Finally, there is nothing wrong with arguing on Einstein. The world doesn’t end if someone who merely dabbles in science takes on Einstein. A good point remains a good point no matter who says it, conversely if it’s ridiculous then Einstein’s view will not become unseated. Frankly how many Einstein’s are there? If only Einstein’s can argue on Einstein then the conversation and intellectual debate becomes exceedingly weak. מכל מלמדיי השכלתי.

    Remember, R. Moshe Feinstein ruled that another rav – not another Chazon Ish! – can rule against the Chazon Ish even in Bnai Brak. This is Torah.

    Anyway, although it probably isn’t my place to pile on the compliments, surely it must be said that public contrition and free admission that one has made a mistake is very very impressive.

    • Levi says:

      Mr. S, first of all, thank you for your compliment. I am only sad that it is something to be complimented. I have greatly appreciated our dialogue in this forum. I don’t disagree that someone could argue on Einstein, I disagree whether it is prudent to do so based on elementary school knowledge. As for Rav Moshe’s allowance for disagreeing with someone greater, I honestly haven’t loomed at the teshuva. I still think its safe to assume that he wasn’t talking about someone “shooting from the hip”, but rather someone who has done due diligence in his research and has a firm grasp on the subject. I can’t verify the authenticity, but I was told that he instructed his son Rav Dovid to argue on him when he.didn’t understand his peak. (I heard it specifically regarding Rav Moshes kulos ). Be that as it may, I feel like our arguments have been largely semantical and emotional. I have felt that we have at least had an honest discussion. I haven’t always felt that way on this site. Y’yasher Kochacha!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think that the phrase “responsum” and R. Avi Weiss do not really belong in the same sentence. Especially, as we know, that he did not really write his book on the topic.

  11. Jon Baker says:

    Come on, Anonymous, you can’t just leave that kind of slanderous innuendo hanging. The anonymous “we” “know” that R Weiss did not write his own book? How do “we” “know” this?

  12. Anonymous says:

    It’s one thing to argue for a simplified approach to halachic Jewish practice (based on the Gemara). “How do we stop this ship?” is a valid question. However, in doing so, he has maligned the post-Talmudic G’dolei Torah and imputed to them a desire for power and aggrandizement. Rabbi Yuter has placed himself in the difficult position of sounding like Korach.

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