On Religious Materialism…Part I By Dr. Elana Stein Hain

September 12, 2018

It is no secret that Modern Orthodoxy has a money problem. Beyond Shabbos table anecdotes, the September 2017, Nishma survey listed the cost of Jewish schooling (1), the cost of maintaining an Orthodox home (4), people being dishonest in business (5), and the adequacy of funds to meet community needs (10) among the “top ten issues that are perceived as problems facing the modern Orthodox community.” As we begin another year of paying for school, shul, meals, festive clothing, ritual objects, etc., etc., I want to share a few thoughts about religious materialism, that is, the way we spend money on religion. Consider it a more expansive version of hiddur mitzvah (beautification of mitzvot). It is not only about the cost of a shofar or a sukkah, but the costs of this religious lifestyle overall. This post will be part 1 in a series.

Usually the question posed is: How can we make Orthodox life less expensive? But I think this misses the fact that for many, having a beautiful shul (which costs money) and an impressive school (which costs money) is not a deterrent from the Orthodox life, but makes it more compelling. Who wants their child’s Orthodox day school experience to be inferior to what they could get elsewhere? Who wants their car to be nicer than their shul?

This is exactly the point that Etan Diamond makes about why Orthodox Judaism thrived in the suburbs in the mid-20th century. In his book “And I Will Dwell in Their Midst: Orthodox Jews in Suburbia,” he asserts that religious materialism played an important role (alongside the day school movement, in fact). As Orthodox Jews became more upwardly mobile, their Jewish lives had to keep up with the rest of their standards of living to be compelling. Consequently, shuls changed from the shteibel model to a more upscale, suburban look and feel: the types of place someone in the upper middle class would want to be. Likewise, kosher food and establishments began to compete with non-kosher luxury experiences to be “subtly attractive to the modern world.”

Given this possibility, I think the question should change: How can we keep Orthodoxy attractive to the whole community, given that for some it needs to be less expensive to be attractive (=possible) and for some it needs to be more expensive to be attractive (=compelling), whether people admit so or not)?  To be sure, there is what to talk about in terms of the dangers of excessive materialism generally, and we’ll get to that in another post. But right now, let’s recognize descriptively that different lifestyles are simply a fact in our communities.

To set the groundwork for addressing this issue, I turn to the Gemara in Menaḥot 89a, where Chazal recognize both spending and saving as Torah values:

שלשה ומחצה למנורה חצי לוג לכל נר:  מנא הני מילי דתנו רבנן (שמות כז) מערב עד בקר תן לה מדתה שתהא דולקת והולכת מערב עד בקר…ושיערו חכמים חצי לוג מאורתא ועד צפרא איכא דאמרי מלמעלה למטה שיערו ואיכא דאמרי ממטה למעלה שיערו מאן דאמר ממטה למעלה שיערו התורה חסה על ממונן של ישראל ומאן דאמר ממעלה למטה שיערו אין עניות במקום עשירות

I’m paraphrasing to clarity: The menorah in the Beit HaMikdash needed 3.5 log of oil, half a log in each of its seven cups. This was the amount needed for it to burn overnight. Per rabbinic understanding of Shemot (Exodus) 27:21, the menorah should have enough oil to burn from evening until morning. The sugya continues with a debate over how people calculated the quantity of oil needed to burn overnight. Did they start with more oil than needed, and decrease as they experimented and saw that less was needed? Did they start with only a little and increase as they saw that more was needed? Each side of the debate has its own logic. Those who assert that they started with less and increased the oil relies on the principle that “the Torah protects the money (=possessions) of Israel.” Those who assert the opposite rely on a principle which is evoked in the rabbinic literature only in context of the Mikdash: “There should be no indication of poverty in a place of wealth.” In other words, the Mikdash is a place meant to evoke abundance, largesse. Trying to save money in its functioning seems cheap.

Both spending and saving are valued here as religious principles. On the one hand, religious life should express abundance, a willingness to use our resources in service of God. On the other hand, the Torah itself expresses concern for protecting the hard-earned money of the worshippers. It is not that those who have less to spend should be viewed as cheap or somehow missing the mark. Their decisions reflect a different religious value. How should we mediate between these two approaches? This will be of Part II, my next blog post on religious materialism. In the meantime, כתיבה וחתימה טובה!

 


The Gay Child in My Daughter’s First Grade Class

February 18, 2016

by Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold

It was a parenting moment that came much sooner than I thought it would. My six year-old looked over at me at the dinner table and told me that her teacher had said that a boy “can’t marry a boy, and a girl can’t marry a girl.”

I paused, chewing.

“Well, what do you think?,” I asked her.

“Well, I know that isn’t true.”

She knows that isn’t true because we have had gay couples at our Shabbat table. She knows it isn’t true because she has a friend with two moms, and because her little sister has a boy in her class with two dads. She knows that sometimes boys marry boys. She knows that gay people exist. This is 2016.

I responded by reminding her (and my two- and four-year-old, who were also at the table) what I’ve told my kids many times: It’s true that MOST of the time, a boy marries and girl, and a girl marries a boy. But SOMEtimes, it does happen that a boy marries a boy and a girl marries a girl. (I think that “married” is the only word they have for attraction and romance, not to mention domestic partnership.)

I told her that it made me sad that her Morah said that it doesn’t happen. It made me sad for the people who are gay. This is how Hashem made them, and this Morah is pretending they do not exist. What I didn’t tell her, is that I was most sad for the gay child in her class. Because chances are that yes, even in her Orthodox day school, there is a child, or children, who will later discover (or might already know) that they are gay. Think what it does to these children to hear their Morah deny their existence.

My daughter knew her teacher wasn’t right, not only because of the gay people in her life. She also had read, many times, our books by Todd Parr, such as The Family Book, which states unequivocally, “Some families have two moms; some families have two dads,” along with “Some families look like each other; some families look like their pets.” Also true.

My daughter had also recently read a book called And Tango Makes Three, a true story about penguins in Central Park Zoo. Two boy penguins are not interested in the girl penguins, but are interested in each other and become companions. They are sad when they discover that they do not have an egg in their nest, like all the other penguins. The zookeeper finds an extra egg that had no penguin to take care of it, and Tango is born, making their happy union into a family. My daughter got the message, that if it’s biologically true for penguins, it could also be biologically true for humans.

These books were baby gifts from a dear long-time friend of my husband’s, who happens to be gay. I have to admit that, while I was content to read the Todd Parr books to my kids right away, I hid away And Tango Makes Three for many years – six years to be exact. I had only just pulled it off the top shelf and left it around for my first grader to read. It was not because my children weren’t ready for the book, but because I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for what my children’s questions might be. I wasn’t sure of my own feelings about homosexulaity in the Orthodox community. I wasn’t sure how I would respond, how I would engage with my children’s curiosity.

What I’ve learned, as a parent and as an educator, is that many of these conversations can be quite simple. Especially with young kids, and even with older ones, the most important message is simply that gay people are here. They are all around us, they are among us, they might even be us. They are Jewish and not, Orthodox and not, married and not, with children and not. A simple dinner conversation, spoken in soft tones, and in six-year-old language, can make it clear to children that gay people are here, and that Hashem made them that way.

Thankfully the Orthodox community is beginning to address the reality that LGBTQ individuals are among us. But beyond that, I write this piece in order to model what it might look like to have conversations with our children about complex and difficult situations. LGBTQ issues are only one of many tough subjects that may arise around the dinner table. Be ready for other important conversations, too. Be ready to explain that we don’t drive on Shabbat while other Jews do, without demonizing or disenfranchising those other Jews, and without diminishing our deeply-held value of halacha. My daughter recently said that all Jewish girls wear skirts that cover the knee. I needed to address the fact that even though it is what we do in our own family, there are Jews who dress differently. Complex conversations like these also happen outside the Jewish realm, of course. We need to discuss racism in a way that children can understand, explaining that there have been times in history when people with a different skin color were treated differently, terribly, were even enslaved, and this is wrong. Somehow, we are well prepared with robust information for our children about why they shouldn’t talk to strangers and why it’s important that they work hard in school. Let’s also be ready to converse with them about the complexities of life.

The conversation I had with my children about homosexuality was not complicated. I didn’t quote psukim from the Torah, or enter into halachic discourse. There will be time for that. Parents of adolescents will need to take a more nuanced approach. However, if parents speak openly and honestly about these complex topics when children are young, then the conversations when they are older become less fraught, more open and honest.

And then there’s my daughter’s teacher. I think about what that teacher might have responded. Had she been adequately prepared and trained for this kind of question, she could have spoken about the fact that each person is created b’tzelem Elokim, in God’s image. She could have been honest about the fact that gay marriage is legal in Canada, and has been for over a decade. She might have even been able to voice her own discomfort (or the halachic difficulties) with gay marriage, while also acknowledging that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. But the teacher was clearly caught off guard, and was not prepared to offer any answer, hence she simply brushed the question aside.

I was inspired by this video from an Eshel retreat. I hope that someday, every LGBTQ Orthodox young person can say something like this: “I’m still a Bais Yaakov girl; I just happen to be queer.” I think about that gay child in my daughter’s class. Will that child find a safe space to be both Orthodox and gay? Will he need to bifurcate his identity, thinking that he cannot be both frum and homosexual? He will, no doubt, face many challenges. But let him at least be recognized, rather than invisible.

Let us urge our day schools to equip our children’s teachers with the skills and sensitivity needed to respond to their questions. Let us open the door for these conversations with our children while they are young, although it is never too late to start. Let us take responsibility for making our community open and honest about the fact that gay people are among us. Do it for the gay child in your child’s class… who could even be your own.


Transgender Orthodox Jews

August 6, 2015

by Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber

 

An analysis of the challenges–both halakhic and social–faced by transgender individuals in the Orthodox Jewish world, with some suggested resolutions. 

 

INTRODUCTION – THE COMPLEX NATURE OF GENDER

One of the most stable identity markers for most people is their gender. We live in a world that divides itself neatly into categories of “male” and “female.” This is true of our language, our bathrooms, our sports teams, etc. For many of us, this reality is perfectly comfortable and intuitive. For those who feel that they were born the wrong sex or who don’t feel comfortable with either of the most common gender identities,[1] this dichotomy can feel isolating.

As challenging as being transgender already is in the larger world, Orthodox Judaism poses some unique challenges. In this essay, I will outline some of these challenges and suggest ways of ameliorating or solving the problems. My goal is to stimulate thought about how to integrate transgender Jews who wish to be part of the Orthodox world, into our shuls and our communities in as seamless a manner as possible.[2]

Read the rest of this entry »


The Missing Question: How Do We Experience Authority? – By Rabbi Josh Feigelson

January 16, 2015

This past fall, the Orthodox/halakhic community experienced the most honest public conversation about itself that I think I’ve ever seen. The arrest and investigation of Rabbi Barry Freundel opened up a series of powerful conversations. Husbands and wives talked about gender roles in Jewish law; friends talked about their feelings about rabbis and Jewish law at kiddush, at Shabbos meals, and walking to and from shul; and, most remarkably, the Jewish press, from the blogosphere to Facebook to the Times of Israel to the New York Times, openly and publicly discussed these questions. In my lifetime, I can’t remember anything like it.

While I welcome all of this discussion, I think that much of it has missed a central, big question, which has to do with a couple of central words, namely 1) authority, and 2) authenticity. To put the issue in the form of a question, I would raise it this way: 1) In what, or in whom, do we place authority? 2) When do we feel authentic? And 3) What do the two have to do with one another?

In some ways, the second question really comes Read the rest of this entry »


Pew, Continuity and Conversion – Guest Post by Prof. Zvi Zohar

July 31, 2014

Precis

The findings of the recent Pew survey teach us, that the Jewish community in the United States as a whole is in a state of crisis (aka she’at ha-dhaq) with regard to the simple – but crucial – issue of numeric continuity. This fact has halakhic consequences: we can (and should) apply be-di-avad rules, follow minority opinions etc. to the utmost of whatever halakha can allow, with the goal of overcoming or at least ameliorating the she’at ha-dhaq situation.

In this paper I argue that Orthodox rabbis should shoulder halakhic responsibility for preventing numerical decline of American Jewry as a whole (i.e., they should make halakhic decisions not only caring for the future of Orthodox Jews, but for the future of all Jews).

Concretely, this means that they should be warmly encouraging towards all persons who seek to become Jewish, and follow the most lenient options for giyyur extent in halakhic literature with regard to what is the minimum required be-di-avad for a giyyur to be valid. In doing so, they can rely upon the views of the three great scholars I cite, whose halakhic stature is objectively no less than that of rabbi Moshe Feinstein. (The fact that they are less well known in the U.S. basically reflects the quite insular world of many American Orthodox rabbis.) Even were it the case that these rabbis express a minority opinion, that is of no consequence here, because we are not discussing what is the most correct position in an ideal world le-khathila but rather what options exist that can be employed in a be-di-avad situation.

Prof. Zvi Zohar is a Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and teaches at the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Jewish Studies at Bar Ilan University. He has written extensively on the history and development of halakha. His most recent book is Rabbinic Creativity in the Modern Middle East (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2013).

Introduction

The October 2013 Pew Report underscored the fragility of the Jewish future in North America and has led to anguished discussions and debates regarding “continuity”, i.e., how to reduce the number of Jews relinquishing Judaism and Jewish identification in favor of other options.

But given the nature of the American religious scene, as I will present below, it is simply impossible to assure Jewish continuity by such a strategy alone. Rather, only if a strategy of easing the path of conversion is joined with current educational efforts and programs do we stand a chance of achieving continuity.

Such a strategy is of course at odds with the notion that conversion should be discouraged and difficult. However, that notion itself was not the primordial position of our tradition but rather historically conditioned. Encouragement of would-be converts and the intentional application of   the more  lenient positions found in our sources  can be fully justified from within the halakhic tradition — particularly in times of crisis such as ours.

Stating the Problem Honestly

Even if 100 percent of all children born to Jews in the United States were to remain Jewish, the Jewish population would decline significantly over time, because of the simple fact reported by Pew that Jewish adults aged 40-59 have an average of 1.9 children – while 2.1 children in a family represents the minimum fertility replacement level, that is, the level at which births equal deaths in a society with good health services. Although I am Orthodox, the fact that Orthodox Jewish families have an average of 4.1 children is no consolation to me. My concern is for the future of the entire community and not for any particular sub-group alone. Indeed, I believe that religiously and morally, such horizons of concern are befitting all Jews – and especially the Orthodox.

Read the rest of this entry »


Kol Kallah- The voice of a Kallah teacher

May 2, 2014

Guest post by Sarah Robinson

 

Almost as soon as I was married, I was asked by other women to study with them in preparation for their marriages as observant Jewish couples. The Kallah classes nightmare scenario outlined by Dr Maryles Sztokman was in my head for sure. The separation between spirituality and pleasure, brain and belief, personhood and obedience. I was sure it didn’t have to be that way.

Rejecting the role of teacher, I have preferred to form a learning partnership with the brides I have taught where each has her area of expertise. My expertise being my experience of marriage and relationships and hers of her self awareness and understanding of herself in relation to Jewish Law and to her relationship with her husband to be. It would seem that an insightful and informative one on one discussion between a married woman and one whose marriage is imminent cannot possibly be lecture format. How do you know where she is starting? Does she have positive or negative impressions, experiences shared by friends or family, a conflict right there already in the room?

Suffice to say I am not alone in this approach. I was extremely fortunate to attend an intensive seminar in March 2011 run and staffed by Jofa in conjunction with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat and incorporating presentations by Dr Batsheva Marcus the clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality and renowned sex therapist. collected like minded educators committed to both hunanising halacha and demystifying the sexual relationship in order to communicate honestly and in an educated way about both.

The greatest benefit of the course by far, was the creation of a group in that room which would stay in touch with each other, help explore sensitive issues, share knowledge, insight and understanding, and radically change the face of transmitting a unique, ancient and value filled approach to marriage much in demand by couples in our community. Many of us teach couples together and while both halacha and sensitivity can be effectively taught, the challenges of bringing each of the people truly into the room and attending to their sensitivities regarding halacha knowledge and self awareness is immense. This is the task undertaken by those who have participated in training and who continue to discuss and struggle with the tensions implicit in this area of living.

Sarah Hass Robinson is a licensed clinical social worker and Jewish educator in Manhattan


A Family Discovery – Yom HaShoah Comes to Life

April 28, 2014

As the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, I never heard the story of the murder of our family members directly from my grandfather – he never liked talking about it – but it was told and retold to me by my mother. She pursued graduate work in Holocaust studies, she lectured on the topic, she chaperoned hundreds of teenagers on visits to the camps and crematoria. So immersed was she in Holocaust literature that our bookshelves brimmed with the classics.

As for me, after all this exposure, I had somehow reverted to my grandfather’s silence. Not that I wasn’t willing to talk about it, but the fact was simply that the Shoah was a closed piece of my history, sealed and far away. The schools I attended did such a good job of Holocaust education, as did the summer camps – which would not let a Tisha b’Av go by without showing images of gas chambers or talking about the destruction of European Jewry – that I somehow felt saturated. I didn’t need to talk about it anymore.

Until now. My second cousin received an email from a gentleman in Israel. He had heard there were members of a Chanowitz family (my mother’s maiden name) in the United States. Since this man’s mother was a Chanowitz, he thought perhaps we were distant relatives. He knew his mother was the only survivor of her entire family, which had included nine children. But perhaps this was a cousin through his mother’s distant family.

He proceeded to tell his mother’s lineage and all the details of the family. As my mother read me the original email over the phone, I was in shock. This man’s mother, was none other than Asna Mera, who figured prominently in our family’s story, the story I had heard so many times growing up.

Asna was the second sister of my grandfather’s family. She was taken away in the first of the roundups, along with many of the leaders of the community. The story I had heard (and details are now being clarified) was that when the Jews had heard that there was danger, the entire Chanowitz family barricaded themselves in their home for protection. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Asna insisted that they should open the door despite the danger, because it could be a Jew in need of protection. And so the other family members barricaded themselves into the back of the house while Asna opened the door. It was a German soldier, who immediately took her away. Asna was shot and buried in a mass grave in the forest, along with the rest of the group. She was just a teenager when she was murdered.

And now, we hear that Asna actually had somehow escaped and had made a life for herself in the former Soviet Union, that Asna had children and grandchildren, a family. My family.

And suddenly my family’s history, and my own, opened up again. Suddenly the tales of the Shoah were happening right here and right now. I felt the strange feeling of gaining family, of reviving the dead, of repairing a broken chain of my identity and of my family. It felt like a world reborn.

And then the realization hit: if this entire branch of my family could suddenly reappear, and could elicit such a feeling of rebirth and of hope, what of all the branches that never got to be? All the siblings who were, in fact, brutally murdered? Where are their descendants now? Where are all my dear cousins who should now be raising families of their own, as I am? And for the first time, I understood the loss. For the first time, I felt like a survivor.

The third generation is a strange place to be. It is the point where it is easy to step aside and allow the family story to be just that – a story rather than a living, breathing reality. For all these years, the Shoah was tucked away like a family heirloom. Now, it was suddenly dusted off and bequeathed to me, along with the loss and the void. It is my loss, too.

This piece originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News, April 24, 2014.

To read more about my family’s unfolding story, see this article from the Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters. (Our connection to Asna Mera’s family was made because of my family’s roots in Chabad.) My grandfather, Yisroel, is pictured at the right. 


Crowd-Sourced Bibliography on Tefilin, Partnership Minyanim, and the Future of Orthodoxy

February 28, 2014

Will Rogers once quipped, “I don’t belong to an organized political party; I’m a Democrat.”  To which I would respond, “I don’t belong to an organized Jewish denomination; I’m Orthodox.”

Dozens of scholarly articles, essays, and blog-posts, have been published in the past month exploring the question of women and mitzvat tefillin and the phenomenon of Partnership Minyannim. This may all be a “tempest in a teapot” or this may become a milestone in the history of our community and its self-definition. To help record and organize all that is being written on this topic, I am creating a crowd-sourced bibliography. Please post links in the comments to articles/blog-posts/essays and I will add them to the bibliography once each week or two.

Reflecting the mission of this blog, priority will be given to articles that focus on how these issues percolate within the Orthodox community. I will also prioritize those writings that contain original analysis of primary sources. But, if there is something that you have read which you think should be part of this bibliography, paste a link in the comments and make a case (please also list which section the source belongs).

Part I: Girls Wearing Tefilin at Orthodox High Schools

The Jewish Week: Ramaz Would Permit Girls to Wear Tefilin

Rabbi Josh Strulowitz: It’s Not About Tefilin But Embracing School Choice

Rabbi Tully Harcsztark: SAR Principal Explains Decision to Allow Girls ot Wear Tefilin at School Minyanim

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein: Much Ado About Something: Women and Tefillin

Rabbi H. Schachter: Transcription of a letter by Rabbi H. Schachter on Women Wearing Tefilin, transcribed by Rabbi Josh Yuter

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt: Reflections on the Tefilin Debate

Part II: Analysis of Women and the Mitzvah of Tefilin

(With a strong representation from Harvard Hillel in the 1990’s…)

Rabbi Ethan Tucker: Gender and Tefillin: Possibilities and Consequences

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper: Gender and Tefillin: Assumptions and Consequences

Shira Fischer, MD: In Pursuit of Intellectual Genorisity: A Rejoinder to R. Aryeh Klapper on Gender, Tefillin, and Normativitiy

Rabbi Shlomo Brody: Women and Tefilin: A Response to Ethan Tucker

Rabbi Shlomo Brody: Women, Tefilin, and the Halakhic Process

Rabbi Jeff Fox: The Truth About Women in Tefilin

William Friedman: Why Women Can – And Must – Wear Tefillin

Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber: Tefillin and Clean Bodies Part I

Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber: Tefillin and Clean Bodes Part II

 

Part III: RCA Documents on Partnership Minyanim and Reactions

Partnership Minyanim in the Pages of “Tradition.”

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz: A Response to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz: A Resposne to Rav Herschel Schachter shlita (English Translation)

Professor Aaron Koller: Women in Tefillin and Partnership Minyanim: A Response to Rav Schachter

Rabbi A. Goridmer: The Boundaries and Essence of Orthodoxy: A Response ot Aaron Koller

“Menachem Mendel” Partnership Minyans in Israel

Rabbi Dr. Yoel Finkelman and Professor Chaim Saimon: A Next Step in Debating Partnership Minyanim and Women in Tefillin

Part IV: Opinions and Advocacy

Dr. Elana Sztokman: Orthodoxy Must Not Reject Its Most Committed Women

Rabbi Avi Shafran: TefillinGate Unraveled: In Orthodoxy Women Just Don’t Wear Tefillin

Avigayil Halpern: You Say I don’t Need Tefillin: Here’s Why I Do

Eden Farber:  Not-So Blurred Lines

Professor Aaron Koller: On Submissiveness


Guest Post by R. Ysoscher Katz: Translation of a Letter to Rav H. Schachter shlita

February 21, 2014

In response to numerous requests for a translation of my response to Rav H. Schachter’s letter on Partnership Minyanim, I am posting a translation

When translating from one language to another one runs the risk of losing some of the specifics; the nuance of an argument, and the intricacies of a line of thought oftentimes get lost. Therefore, if at all possible, I urge you to read the original Hebrew version.

כבוד הרה״ג ר׳ צבי שכטר שליט״א, ר”מ בישיבת יצחק אלחנן

אחדשה״ט כראוי לכבוד תורתו.

I read your Teshuvah on partnership minyanim and with your permission I would like to respond to some of your arguments.

Kevodo [your honor] wrote, “In my opinion not all who have learned in yeshiva, in kollel, or even those who have been ordained with the title Rav are permitted to give legal rulings.  To be considered a “sage who has attainted the ability to give rulings” one needs not only to have knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah, but also to be a person who is level in his learning.”

Clearly, one who is not trained to adjudicate cannot give halakhic instruction. Chazal (Sotah 22a) have already warned about the damage that can result from this in their reading of the verse Ki rabim halalaim hapilah/for she has felled many victims (Proverbs 7:26), which refers to a student who has not achieved the ability to give halakhic instruction. However, it is important to remember that by the same measure they also warned against the opposite, a student who has been ordained to give halakhic instruction, but doesn’t rule.  Regarding such a situation, the sages interpreted the second half of the above verse: Ve’atzumim kol harugaha/the number of her slain is great – “this refers to a student who has achieved the ability to give halakhic instruction but doesn’t.”

It is interesting to note that the Maharsha in his commentary Chidushei Agadot, explains that the word atzumim is from the language of greatness and importance.  It would seem, at first glance, that he agrees with Kevod HaRav’s [your] position, that a judge is permitted to issue rulings only if, in addition to being ordained, he is also “great and important.”  However, Rashi disagrees with the Maharsha.  Rashi explains that atzumim is from the language of “shuts his eyes” (otzem ainav, Isaiah 33), that they close their mouths and do not give halakhic instruction to those in need of such instruction.  It is clear that Rashi does not agree with the Maharsha and that according to this opinion one who “has knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah”, even if he is not “great and important”, is allowed, and even obligated, to give halakhic instruction.

The halakha codified in the Shulchan Arukh follows Rashi’s opinion, not the Maharsha’s. The Mechaber writes (Yoreh Deah 242:14) “Any scholar who has achieved the ability to give instruction but does not, stands in the way of Torah and places stumbling blocks before the masses. And of such a person it is said, the number of her slain is great (Prov 7:26).” It is important to pay attention to the fact that the Beit Yosef (the author of the Shulchan Arukh) is careful in his language and writes “any”, which appears to exclude from his view the opinion of the Maharsha who teaches that only the elite few are permitted to issue rulings.  So too, the Pitchei Teshuva writes (ibid seif katan 8): ” ‘Any scholar’ – Refer to the Maharsha in the Chiddushei Agadot of the third chapter on Sotah who writes that in our generation those who give halakhic rulings straight from the Shulchan Arukh, without knowing the reasons behind the issue – if they have not first looked into the sources of the Talmud – err in their rulings and are considered amongst those who destroy the world and therefore it is proper to ridicule them.  It is possible that this was true at the time of the Maharsha, when there wasn’t a single commentary on the Shulchan Arukh, but today, after the Taz, Shach, Magen Avraham, and other commentaries have been written, and every halakha’s reasons and sources have been discussed, it is perfectly fine to issue a ruling from the Shulchan Arukh and later commentaries.”

The great sage the Maharsham elaborated on this topic in the introduction to his book Mishpat Shalom on Choshen Mishpat.  According to his opinion, not only is it prohibited for a rabbi to restrain himself from issuing a ruling, but he is also obligated to respond to halakhic questions as quickly as he can, and to do otherwise would be considered “delaying justice.” (See Mishna Avot 5:11.) He even tries to claim that it might be forbidden for the rabbi to take an afternoon nap out of a fear of causing an unnecessary “delay of judgement.”

In Sefer Chassidim 530 (Margaliot edition) Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid writes, “Anyone to whom God has revealed something, but who refuses to write it down even though he is capable of writing it, steals from He Who Has Revealed it to him, because He revealed it only to be written as it says:  God’s secret is with those who fear Him and His covenant to inform them (Psalms 25:14). And it says, Your springs will spread outwards(Proverbs 5:16).” Rabbi Chayyim Palagi, in his book Chikekei Lev (Yoreh Deah Siman 42), writes that a scholar cannot refrain from issuing a psak, for doing so is tantamount to one who suppresses prophecy whose punishment is death (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l quotes his words in responsa Yechave Daat 1:13). And according to the Gemara in Gittin (56a) the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of a judge who didn’t have the courage to speak his mind.

(Tangentially, perhaps it is important to point out the disagreement between the Rama and Rabbi Chayyim Loew, the brother of the Maharal, in his book Mayyim Chayyim.  The brother of the Maharal strongly disagrees with the Rama’s position supporting a centralized judiciary.  In the introduction to his book, he fiercely refutes the Rama using as a support the concept that “a judge rules only according what his eyes perceive” (Sanhedrin 6b) and is therefore opposed to the notion of a centralized authority which decides from a distance what should be prohibited and what should be permitted, what is correct and what is incorrect)

Kevodo continues: “Compare what Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l wrote in the year 5720 (in his book Divrei Hashkafah, p 243) “From the yeshivot emerged students who were punctilious in Mitzvah observance down to the very edge of the yod of the tradition…Bnei Torah who slept in the depths of halacha…  I am troubled by three negative phenomena… We have yet to educate great Torah giants of whom we can be proud of.  We have people who are immersed in Torah and even Torah scholars, but no men of great Torah stature. The buds can be seen in the land, but the vine has not flowered in all its glory… On the one hand, American youth tend to veer towards an extremism that is shocking in its braziness.  On the other hand, often they will tilt in the oppisite direction and agree to compromises, choosing the paths of least resisitence.  In a word, they are confused in the paths of yidiskheit and this confusion is the consquence of a flimsy word view.”

The alert reader will notice that Rav Soloveitchik z”l complains as much about those who are too strict as he does about those who are too lenient.  When I was a student of Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik Shlit”a in Yeshivat Brisk in Jerusalem, I would often hear him quote Rav Baruch Baer Leibowitz z”l who would say in the name of Reb Chayyim zt”l (basing himself on the verse in Proverbs 17:15) that to condemn a righteous person is no less an abomination than to exonerate an evil person.

Teshuvat Meimonit (Kedusha 15) quotes the Yerushalmi (at the end of the fifth chapter of Terumot) that just as it is prohibited to permit that which is prohibited, so too it is prohibited to forbid that which is permitted.  And this is how the Shach rules in his Guide To Pesika (Yoreh Deah 242:9). Similarly, it says in the Yerushalmi (Nedaraim 9 halakha 1), “Is what the Torah itself prohibited not sufficient for you?!”

In particular, in our generation, one should be cautious not to be excessively strict, when any stringency can become “a stringency which leads to a leniency,” since needles stringencies can cause many to leave a life of Torah and Mitzvot.  And these are the words of Rav Kook zt”l (Orach Mishpat, O”C 112) “I understand clearly the character of our generation, that only by virtue of seeing that we permit all that can be permitted according to the depths of the law will they come to understand that that which we don’t permit must be because it is the truth of the law.  We will find that as a result of this approach, many will attach themselves to Torah and will listen to the voices of legal instructors.  This will not be true if it were discovered that there are matters that, according to the rule of the law, should be permitted, but by not being sensitive to the struggles and pain of Israel, rabbis allow these things to remain prohibited.  And through this, God forbid, God’s name will be defiled, and more people will say regarding certain areas of Torah that if only the rabbis wanted to they could permit.  And through this, a corrupt judgment will emerge.” Although the Chatam Sofer famously wrote to the Maharatz Chayut that “we need to elevate the prohibited,” this is a singular opinion. Throughout hundreds of years of halakhic rulings, not a single decisor advanced such an idea, and after the Chatam Sofer, nearly no other decisor supported this approach.

Kevodo continues: “It is known that during the period of the vaad of Arba Arzot there was a decree not to publish any halakhic books without the approbation of Torah sages.”

Kevodo is correct, the sages of Hungary, who followed in the footsteps of the Chatam Sofer, were careful not to publish any books without an approbation.  However, a cursory glance will reveal that the the same was not true of the sages of Lithuania and many of the sages of Poland.  Many of them printed their collections of responsa without approbations. (For example: the Achiezer, Iggerot Moshe, the Seridei Aish, and many others) It is clear that, in their opinion, the ordination and permission to issue halakhic rulings that they received from their teachers or rabbis is sufficient enough approbation.

Kevodo: continues “One who wishes to demonstrate his love for their parents or wife does things for their benefit even if unasked; this is also the case with God.  In Song of Songs it is written, “your beloved is better than wine”.  Commenting on this, the Gemara states that the words of the scribes are better than the wine of Torah, with scribes refering to the rabbinic commandments, and these are all under the category of “your beloved”.  This is to say, in order to demonstrate our love of God, we perform acts that we were not commanded, acts that we understand, on our own, to be pleasing to God, as it were.”

I was surprised since these words buttress, rather than undermine, the very claim that Kevodo is criticizing. If I understand correctly, this is precisely Kevodo’s analogy: If one who loves someone does more than is requested by the beloved out of their own will, does it not follow from here that those who are not obligated in a particular Mitzvah should find ways to perform it nevertheless?

Related to this: I was surprised that Kavodo Shlit”a derides those who seek additional ways to express their yearning for connection to God, when our Sages praise them. Chazal say (Makkot 10a): R. Simlai gave the following exposition: What is the meaning of the verse, one who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor one who delights in multitude, with increase?  One who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver- this refers to Moses, who, while knowing that the three cities beyond the Jordan would not harbor refugees so long as the other three in the land of Canaan had not been selected, nevertheless said: The charge having come within my reach, I shall give [partial] effect to it, now.” One who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver- this refers to Moses. Rabenu Chananel (ad loc) writes: “Moses loved Mitzvot and, therefore, felt that the ones he was obligated with were not enough, he wanted more of them. “

The Mordechei, in Bava Metzia, went even further. In his opinion, there are cases where one is obligated to act beyond the letter of the law, and the requirement to do so has the full status of the law, so much so that, at times, according to his opinion, it is possible that we can even coerce someone to act beyond the letter of the law. In my opinion, the two stories that are found at the end of the chapter “Hasocher et Ha’omanin” (Bava Metzia 83a) clearly support this opinion (see the Ritva ad loc)

We also find in the achronim a positive approach to those who seek extra-halackic opportunities to serve God. One opinion that particularly stands out is the Chatam Sofer. In his famous responsa to the Matesdorf community (O”C 191 and in other places) he writes that the “Matesdorf Purim” that the citizens of the town added according to their own opinion to commemorate the miracle that they experienced has the status of a biblical law. (His ingenious opinion is based on the Gemara in megillah 14a that Israel sang praise when going from slavery to freedom, all the more so when going from death to life).

(With your permission, I will say that I know from personal experience that Kevodo’s appraisal of those “innovators” is not correct.  Many of my friends and acquaintances pray in these minyanim and nearly all of them are completely God-fearing; their intention is to dwell in the house of God, to behold His graciousness, and to visit His sanctuary.  Their goal is to increase commitment to God’s Torah and to worshiping Him in a way that decreases the dissonance between what happens inside the synagogue and how they experience life outside of it.

Additionally, as a general principle, it is impossible to judge the intentions of another, for, “Man looks into their eyes, while God peers into their hearts” (Samuel 1:17) The Mishna is Avot (2:4) is well known: “Do not judge your friend until you’ve stood in his place.”  The Gurer Chassidim quote a saying in the name of the Chiddushei Ha’Rim who adds on to the mishna: And you will never reach their place, therefore never judge. Insightful words)

Kevod HaRav continues: It is known that this claim was the claim of the Sadducees against the Sages in the time of the Tanaim: that the Torah discriminates against the rights of women regarding issues of inheritance.  Therefore the Sadducees claimed that a daughter is to inherit with the daughter of the son (Bava Kama 115b).  And the Tanaim had strong words for them.”

With apologies to Kevod HaRav, the Sadducees were not the first to complain about discrimination against women in issues of inheritance; they were preceded by hundreds of years by the daughters of Zelaphchad who complained (Num 27:4) “Why should the name of our father be lost among his family because he had no son?  Give us a possession among the brothers of our father.” And in the language of the Sifre “Their eyes saw that which Moses’ eyes did not see” (that is that there are times when women can see something that even someone as great as Moses, who spoke with the Shechina “mouth to mouth,” did not see.) And God consented to their words unequivocally: “Correctly have the daughters of Zelaphchad spoken.”  God listened to their claim (“God conceded the truth!” Avot D’Rebbe Natan Ch. 37) and changed the laws of inheritance to make them more egalitarian (relatively, as should be understood)

Further on Kevodo describes the excessive responsiveness towards women as a reason for the downfall of Christianity.  Kevod HaRav writes: “It is stated in the Gemara Shabbat (117b) that the first Christians would make legal decisions counter to Torah Law (that a son and daughter would inherit as one, which has already been discussed (the connection of the Sadducees to the Heretics and first Christians) by the author of the Tzafnat Paneach (in his responsa 313), that the Christians inherited their approach from the Sadducees. And this type of motivation, to create new practices, is certainly prohibited, as is known to us from history.  Go and see just what the end was for the Sadducees and the early Christians.”

I was surprised by these words, since the Sages say exactly the opposite. The Gemara at the end of Gitin (90a) says: “It has been taught: R. Meir used to say: As men differ in their treatment of their food, so too do they differ in their treatment of their wives. Some men, if a fly falls into their cup, will put it aside and not drink it. This corresponds to the way of Papus b. Judah who, when he went out, used to lock his wife indoors. Another man, if a fly falls into his cup, will throw away the fly and then drink the cup. This corresponds to the way of most men who do not mind their wives talking with their brothers and relatives. Another man, again, if a fly falls into his soup, will squash it and eat it. This corresponds to the way of a bad man who sees his wife go out with her hair unfastened and spin cloth in the street with her armpits uncovered and bathe with the men. Bathe with the men, you say? — It should be, bathe in the same place as the men. Such a one it is a religious duty to divorce.”

According to this Gemara, Papus Ben Yehuda is the negative example of what happens to one who behaves in an extreme manner with his wife.  Rashi, as printed in Chisronot HaShas writes that Papus Ben Yehuda is Miriam Magdalin’s husband, the father of Jesus. What emerges from this is that, according to the Sages, Miriam, Jesus’ mother, became pregnant because of the extremism of her husband.

In my humble opinion, the message of this Gemara is exactly the opposite of what Kevod HaRav writes. The Sages are claiming that Christianity came into the word as a result of extremism and discrimination against women and they warn us about the detrimental consequences of such an extreme attitude towards women- heresy (Christianity) was born from this behavior.

Kevodo continues: “Even according to the achronim who think that the consent of the community helps permit publicly reading from the Torah, here, regarding women reading from the Torah, the essential concern begins from the woman’s perspective – that she shouldn’t have to compromise her modesty, from which it follows that it isn’t proper for her to serve as a Shaliacha Tzibur for Pesukei D’Zimra or Kabbalat Shabbat or to read the Ketuba under the Chuppah.”

The Torah, Prophets and Chazal all write the opposite, that, at times, it is permitted to give into the desire to do God’s will, even if this leads, in a specific manner, to the breaching of bounds of modesty.  Two examples of many that stand out are the story of David when he returns the Ark of the Covenant (Shmuel II 6) and the incident of the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions that were used in the Tabernacle.

When David returns the Ark of the Covenant, he becomes so enthusiastic, to the extent that he forgets the bounds of modesty.  He wife, Michal, criticizes him saying: How did the king of Israel get himself honor today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself”.  David ignores the criticism and justifies his immodest behavior by saying that he acted this way to serve God (ibid ver. 21).  As is known, this story serves as the Rambam’s source (The final halakha in the laws of Lulav) that there is an “additional” obligation to rejoice during the performance of a mitzvah (as Rabbi Yerucham Fishel Perlow expounds in his book on the Sefer HaMitzvhot of Rav Sa’adya Gaon).

We find a similar idea in the story of the mirrors (Ex 38:8) And this is how Rashi explains its importance.  “From the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions” – Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Tabernacle, but Moses rejected them because they were made for temptation [i.e., to inspire lustful thoughts]. The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Accept [them], for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would sleep with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: Under the apple tree I aroused you (Song 8:5). This is [the meaning of] the mirrors of those who set up legions]. From these [the mirrors], the washstand was made.”

These women merited for their mirrors to be fixed in the Tabernacle precisely because of their immodesty, since their actions all along were done to fulfill God’s will.

Kavod Toratoh HaRamah concludes:  In addition to all the above it also appropriate to recall what I wrote an article Tzei lach in Ikvei HaTzon (11) in the name of the Rav “That anything that becomes a symbol of destroying religion, even if, in truth, according to halakha it doesn’t inherently violate any prohibitions, since it has become a symbol of breaching the bounds and of destroying religion, this causes it to become prohibited [and this has already been written about in the book Nefesh HaRav (page 233)].  And it is well known that the Reform and Conservative Jews breached the bounds in including women in a minyan, and counting women as rabbis, and calling women to the Torah.  It is clear, then, that it is forbidden to imitate the heretics (See the Mishna in Chulin 41a)

Astounding! What is the difference between this and Modernity and Zionism? Modernity and Zionism are also, at their core, impure. The intention of their founders was “to destroy religion” (modernity: the Maskilim and Reformers; Zionism: Herzl, Gordon and the like).  Nevertheless, they were purified through Rav Kook z”l (Zionism) and Rav Shimshon Refael Hirch z”l and Rav Soloveitchik z”l (modernity) (See Bechorot 6b: “an unclean animal born from a clean animal is not Unclean, but clean.”)

In conclusion, in my humble opinion, all of the above arguments are secondary to Kevodo’s innovative twofold claim: 1) That what Kevodo calls the spirit of the law has halakhic standing equal to that of what you call the letter of the law. 2) That adjudication of the spirit of the law can be done only “with the agreement of giants of Torah who have knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah, and who can understand what is the spirit of the law”.  Kevodo bases his claim on the verse in Isaiah (59:21)

It is clear to me that this verse was brought as eisegetical support.  Certainly, Kevod HaRav has solid proofs for such broad claims.  As one who still struggles with the concept of partnership minyanim and who attempts to present a position that fits with what I understand to be the correct “spirit” and “letter” of halakha on these matters, I want to ask if Kevodo could graciously elaborate on the topic.  Personally, I would also like to hear more specifics about the criteria for successfully deciphering the true “spirit”: who, how, and what establish what is the correct “spirit” in any event?  What are the parameters that we need to establish for ourselves in our search for the “spirit” of halakha generally and specifically, when we come to adjudicate a topic as difficult and complicated as ours, one that has far reaching ramifications for our future?  If the “spirit” is essential to judgment, it is important that both sides of the argument strive to articulate their approach to “the spirit” of the topic “clearly and with meaning” (Nehemiah 8:8).

May it be His will that the Shechina rests in the deeds of our hands and that God’s name shall be sanctified by our work.

11 Adar 1, 5774

Sincerely,

הצב”י יששכר כ”ץ


Anti-Anti Communism and Anti-Anti ‘Partnership Minyan”

February 7, 2014

by David Wolkenfeld

During the 1950s and 1960s there were American liberals who adopted (or who were labeled) “anti anti Communists.” These figures, although not supporters of Communism, recognized that McCarthyism was a greater threat to American democracy than armed Communist insurrection. With all necessary caveats and havdalot,  some of the  published articles criticizing partnership minyanim, has pushed me towards adopting an “anti anti” partnership minyan position.

 

I have never attended a partnership minyan and I don’t think I will change that policy anytime soon. Ultimately, although shuls can and must change to accommodate women’s religious needs, Orthodoxy cannot be competitive on the plane of equal women’s prayer leadership and we would be better served as a community shifting the discussion to arenas where we can compete and win (such as opening the doors of the beit midrash to women as teachers and students of Torah at every level and in every subject and in every venue). I furthermore think that it is still too soon to know if Rav Henkin shlita was correct in his prediction that a community that instituted women’s aliyot would not “remain Orthodox in practice.” I am not prepared to take that risk.

 

And yet, I have come to feel that the stridency and forcefulness of the opposition to partnership minyanim is now more of a threat to Orthodoxy than those handfuls of independent minyannim ever could be. We are facing substantial threats to the continued vitality of American Modern Orthodoxy. Day school tuitions are pushing the middle class outside the community. Too many of the graduates of our day-schools and yeshivot complete their formal Jewish educations uninspired and without any positive example of how Torah and mitzvot can be relevant to their real lives. Our busy bourgeois lifestyle fills our days with tasks, but leaves them devoid of opportunities for introspection and transcendence. And our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel remain under threat of missile attack and war in an ever more unpredictable and unstable region.

 

To respond to these threats we need an “all hands on decks” approach. We cannot afford to discover new issurim where none had been found before. At the very least, a silence motivated by a “mutav she’yehiyu shogegim” stance, would make it more likely that those who find it necessary to avail themselves of a partnership minyan, still consider themselves Orthodox, still send their children to Orthodox schools, and still make their “weekday shul” one that is Orthodox. There is so much Torah scholarship and intelligence to be found among the critics of partnership minyannim. Think of what they could discover if they used their gifts and training towards formulating solutions to our community’s many problems rather than critique solutions they consider misdirected.