Why the Rabba isn’t Reform

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

So the word now is that Rabba Sara Hurwitz can keep the title of Rabba, but she can’t make any more rabbas. Her Yeshivat Mahara”t will only ordain new Mahara”ts.

A number of people, including one Jewschool commenter have asked, “If the orthodox world won’t fully accept her and other women as rabbis, why doesn’t she just leave for a more liberal stream of Judaism?” Some have even suggested she become a Reform rabbi!

The thought is preposterous. What help would someone thinking and living in an Open Orthodox mindset contribute to a Reform community as its leader? No one would ever suggest a Reform rabbi just up and leave, seeking a job in an Orthodox synagogue because they are dissatisfied with something in the Reform world. So why suggest Hurwitz should become Reform?

The most interesting part of it is that one of the people who suggested this to me has been one of the loudest voices asking me to stay put in the Reform movement and try to fix what I’m not satisfied with.

This isn’t just my abstract speculation about a woman I’ve never met. I had a chance to meet Hurwitz at Limmud NY 2010 and I asked her a question about the utility of labels. The word Orthodox is important to her. It allows her to be who she is.

I don’t think Hurwitz is going anywhere and I don’t want her to either. I hope she stays put and continues to be a positive influence on her community.

50 Responses to “Why the Rabba isn’t Reform”

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    Why the Rabba isn’t Reform « · March 8th, 2010 at 4:06 pm
  2. I’m baffled that this needs it own post. Who in their right mind really thinks that LWMO leads to Reform? Is this some Reform talking point that the rest of us have never heard of? Many Orthodox Jews actively debate the line between LWMO and Conservative. But Reform???


    Josh · March 8th, 2010 at 6:24 pm
  3. Like it or not, a lot of Orthodox rhetoric still uses the word “Reform” to be synonymous with “something so far afield that pretends to be Judaism while it is in fact just treif.”

    You need to understand this to understand Orthodox rhetoric, especially when it comes to women in Judaism.


    MS · March 8th, 2010 at 8:41 pm
  4. ‘Nobody would suggest a reform rabbi up and leave…’

    Okay, I’ll suggest it, the only problem being is that it’s unlikely an Orthodox congregation would accept such a rabbi. OTOH if such a congregation would accept a ‘rabba’…

    Anyone who doesn’t know of a reform congregation with a rabbi who was not ordained at a specifically reform rabbinic school isn’t looking too hard.

    And if the word “Orthodox” is so important to her, I’m sure any reform temple would allow her to put a ‘My name is Orthodox’ sticker on her clothing.


    Dave · March 8th, 2010 at 9:54 pm
  5. Dave, how can you possibly think that an Orthodox woman, who advocates Kashrut, Shabbat ( like, no malachot Shabbat), and Taharat HaMishpachah as core tenets of Judaism, could lead a Reform shul? Give me 3 rational reasons for this.

    MS- that’s bluntly put, but… yes. I’ll give a lesser example: My Rabbi is well known as one of the most lefty Orthodox rabbis in the country. My cousin is Conservative and invited me to read torah at her shul for Minchah. My rabbi, who is one of the most liberal men I know in terms of interdenominational and interfaith dialogue, absolutely forbid me from reading Torah there. I don’t know what about the last couple weeks have made people forget that Orthodox Jews are, well Orthodox, but people need to get a grip.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 12:27 am
  6. @Josh
    I was surprised my own self when no less than five people asked the question that prompted the post over the last week. And as someone interested in definitions and misconception of Reform, I decided to go for it. And no, this isn’t a bizarre Reform talking point. But for many of my Reform brethren, standing on gender principles is so important that many have suggested that Hurwitz leave the Orthodox world. If anything, that have Rabbas is a good thing is the Reform talking point and I’m trying to prevent my Reform world from co-opting her narrative. Just keep in mind we ordained Sally Priesand in the 70′s.

    @MS
    Oh, I get that. But we’re not talking about Orthodox rhetoric about Reform here. Just the opposite, I’m talking about Reform rhetoric about the Orthodox. You should know that for many in the Reform world, Orthodox is synonymous with pre-modern, wife-beating savage.

    @Dave
    You make no sense. What would she offer a Reform community. Certainly they share big values, but when it comes to day to day life, she’d have as much to offer them as a Reform rabbi would to an Orthodox community.


    David A.M. Wilensky · March 9th, 2010 at 11:01 am
  7. Many people have asked this same question of Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the openly-gay Orthodox rabbi. In his case, though, I’ve heard “why don’t you just become Conservative” a bit more often, especially since the Dec. 2006 CJLS responsa that opened the doors to gay rabbis in the Conservative Movement.

    I’m reminded of the moment in the beginning of the film “Trembling Before G-d,” the documentary about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews. An Orthodox lesbian responds to just this question with a powerful rejoinder. She relates how difficult her life is as someone who identifies as both a lesbian and as Orthodox and that people tell her “why not just leave Orthodoxy – why not go live someplace where you don’t have to struggle” (I’m paraphrasing here). She responds that the idea of leaving Orthodoxy causes her deep physical revulsion. It is who she is. Asking her to leave Orthodoxy is like asking her to become “straight.” Either would be to deny a core part of her identity.


    Gregg · March 9th, 2010 at 12:39 pm
  8. One more thing: Josh, this is getting off topic a bit, but your “liberal” and “lefty” Orthodox rabbi forbid you from reading Torah in a Conservative shul? That actually saddens me more than this whole debate over the title “rabba.” I don’t even know how to respond. You (or your “liberal” rabbi, to be precise) just knocked the wind out of my optimism for the Jewish future.


    Gregg · March 9th, 2010 at 1:59 pm
  9. Gregg, I’m sorry, but that’s exactly the point. Any brand of Orthodox will remain Orthodox, and that means following what we see as halachah. On another note, I hate the words “liberal” and “lefty” in this context, even when I use them. It’s just that “Open” orthodox sounds odd to me.

    There is no mechitza, and thus I am forbidden from reading there, it’s kinda that simple- in the same way that someone with a Jewish father and a nonJewish mother is regarded as not Jewish by either Orthodox OR Conservative. It’s simply an issue of what we think our religion requires of us, even if the emotional content is difficult to deal with. My optimism for the Jewish future stems from the ability for different denominations and faiths to work together towards a common better future – but this really has nothing to do with who davens in whose shuls…


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
  10. Josh writes:
    Any brand of Orthodox will remain Orthodox, and that means following what we see as halachah.

    …which, like all other Jewish movements, includes halachic innovation:

    There is no mechitza, and thus I am forbidden from reading there, it’s kinda that simple

    Find me a citation for this before the 20th century. (To be clear, we’re talking specifically about Torah reading, and specifically about an individual prohibition.)


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 2:29 pm
  11. BZ- Indeed, RMF and RYBS had responsas that were mainly focused at core on maintaining separation with Conservative. But this is hardly out of the ordinary – see Mishnah Berurah on saying prayers (I think Shema specifically) in other languages, which was always allowed but changed when Reform came around and started doing everything in German. You say that Halacha evolved, but it’s a two way street- one way has been (and has always been) along the front of maintaining separation. This goes from kosher wine in the Gemarah (and shaving!) till today.
    I can’t at the same time say we should evolve- and we ARE evolving thank God, just slowly- and only look at the leftward evolutions, that would be intellectually dishonest. As a member of the Orthodox community, we follow the conversation that has been occurring for centuries (Mishnah -> Gemarah -> Rambam -> Shulchan Aruch -> Mishnah Berurah/ Aruch Hashulchan -> RMF/RYBS/RSZA and others, is just one very, very basic path). I know of NO major current Orthodox source who would allow davening for a minyan with no mechitza, and for me, that’s the end of it. I can hope that it might change, but let’s be honest, no one in the Orthodox world is currently having this discussion at a high level, we have bigger fish to fry, like finally getting women in rabbinic positions…


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 3:04 pm
  12. Josh – you make a valid point when you say that if we accept that halacha can and should evolve, it’s unfair for us to expect that such “evolution” only occur toward the “left.” But this is not a neutral field, or a pure logic debate. These decisions and shifts have real-world consequences and occur in the context of an increasingly fragmented Jewish landscape.

    Sam Heilman explored this in great detail, from a scholarly point of view, in “Sliding to the Right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy.” Rav Haym Soloveitchik explored it from the perspective of an Orthodox rabbi in his classic 1994 article in “Tradition,” “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy.” And this web site, among others, documents it regularly by sharing with us the ever-more stringent and divisive rulings by haredi rabbinical courts in the U.S., Israel, Britain, etc.

    The efforts to use halacha to erect or prop up boundaries between different visions of Judaism seems to me, to use your terms, a poor focus of energy when we all have “bigger fish to fry.” I’m not dismissing the need for limits and boundaries or for clarity between different “brands” of Judaism. But in my mind, such discussions MUST serve a bigger purpose and too often all I see is a narrowing of focus and a parochial, defensive posture that fails to deal creatively with the very real problems of Jewish peoplehood.

    And no, it’s not news to me that for an Orthodox Jew there are halachic contraints on davening in a minyan without a mechitza. But two things: One, the fact that this was your cousin’s shul and you were invited to join them for one service. Refusing to do so (or at least refusing to read Torah during the service) strikes me as somewhat petty, given what might have been over-riding halachic concerns about affirming family, responding to a host with respect, and not shaming your fellows (and sisters). I don’t want to speculate on how this conversation went down between you and your cousin, but I’d bet that even if she didn’t say so, knowing that you would not take her up on the offer to read Torah at her shul made her feel that her, and/or her understanding of Judaism, had been disrespected. Please correct me, though, if that’s not the case.

    And the second, which I don’t want to make TOO much of, because it’s obviously complicated, is that there remains one synagogue in the U.S. that is a member of the Orthodox Union and has mixed-gender “family” seating: BMH-BJ in Denver. The point being, the question of mechitza vs. no mechitza in Orthodox shuls isn’t quite as “simple” as you describe.


    Gregg · March 9th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
  13. There is no mechitza, and thus I am forbidden from reading there, it’s kinda that simple

    Find me a citation for this before the 20th century. (To be clear, we’re talking specifically about Torah reading, and specifically about an individual prohibition.)

    Fair enough, BZ. But, am I the only person here who actually likes the mechitza (a high one, that is) because, yes, I do find females distracting and, also, I’m a lot less self-conscious if I know that females might not be looking at me. Nobody else feels that way?


    Jonathan1 · March 9th, 2010 at 4:13 pm
  14. Gregg,
    To you first point, I agree, but remember that Halacha takes this into account, and the rabbis knew perfectly well what they were doing when they did it – especially in this case. From the Orthodox perspective, fragmentation doesn’t really apply when we talk about movements that they regard as, well, outside the pale in the first place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in conversations where people bring up Conservative (or other) perspectives and the immediate response is, “That a good point, but no one cares, this is a halachic discussion.”

    This is a separate issue from the point you make in the second paragraph. Soleveitchik’s article was breathtaking to me when I read it, and solidified my own perspective, but it frankly irrelevant to the mechitza issue and its surroundings. These types of articles are an intra-Orthodox discussion.

    In terms of my personal situation with my cousin: It was very hard, and I framed this question to my Rabbi specifically as a respect issue. No dice. She understood, she knows where I’m coming from, and I was happy to say a Sheva Bracha at her wedding meal later. Feelings matter, and they are to taken into account, but they do not override everything. We can have a much larger conversation about emotion and Halacha, but that is a better conversation for another time, I think.

    To your last point: singularities are just that- singularities. Berkeley’s orthodox shul has mechitza that is shorter than it should be because it has a specific dispensation from a pre-eminent rabbi. No one would say that what Berkeley has can work anywhere else. I won’t pretend to know what is going on with the Denver shul, other than to say that OU policy has always been to allow an OU rabbi to be at a shul for some time if as a result the Shul adds a mechitza. It would appear that the last rabbi there left precisely for that reason.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 4:17 pm
  15. @ Gregg – I know this is just a side point, and you might very well know better than I do on this one – but I was under the impression that BMH-BJ had been a Conservative congregation that got an MO rabbi and has moved significantly to the right since then.

    But I’ll happily stand corrected if I’m wrong.

    This is what their Web site says about the seating:

    To accommodate the diversity of worshippers, the synagogue has both a main sanctuary with mixed seating and a chapel with a mechitzah for separate seating.


    em · March 9th, 2010 at 4:35 pm
  16. Josh-
    If Orthodox rabbis want to make up halachot out of the blue to promote their social agenda (kol haposeil…), they’re entitled, but then it’s disingenuous to then turn around and say “I’m sorry, it’s nothing personal, but the halachah is what it is, my hands are tied.”


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 4:43 pm
  17. BZ,
    You are absolutely correct IF the larger community decides not to follow them. That’s not the case here. Not to mention that the mechitza responsa are in fact halachic arguments, based off of, if i’m not mistaken, the mentions of the water festival. Frankly, worse arguments have been made- like Taharat Mishpachah laws of Hakachot coming from a story in masechet Shabbos about a dead husband, or gvinat akum, which has practically no reasoning, and provokes gemarah discussion about why it has no reason and yet still is the law of the land.

    Orthodoxy doesn’t have a law committee. It has rabbis that people can choose independently whether or not to follow. Your problem right now is that no rabbi follows the ideas presented here. When they do, you can expect Orthodoxy to shift, if only by a little. It’s happening with regard to women right now, just not at the pace we would all like.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 4:52 pm
  18. BZ,
    case in point- there’s a whole controversy going on in the orthodox community about worms in fish (I can find a link if you’d like). I think Rav Elyashiv has signed on to it, but no one is backing it because everyone (including the OU) thinks it’s ridiculous.
    Likewise shabbos elevators, which Rav Elyashiv forbid recently but took it back when everyone similarly ridiculed it.
    No one has ridiculed/challenged the mechitza responsa (no one Orthodox, that is), so it’s not being taken back. That’s how it works.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 4:55 pm
  19. Josh writes:
    No one has ridiculed/challenged the mechitza responsa (no one Orthodox, that is), so it’s not being taken back. That’s how it works.

    And it’s back to the No True Scotsman argument! If someone did ridicule/challenge it, how long would they still be considered “Orthodox”?


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 4:57 pm
  20. A final point:
    Notice how Rav Broyde phrases his rejection of female rabbis-
    ‘”Contemporary Orthodoxy has decided that this is not appropriate,” said Rabbi Michael Broyde, a judge in the Beth Din of America, the RCA’s rabbinic court, and a professor of law at Emory University. “It is outside the bounds of normative Orthodox Jewish practice.”’ (www.forward.com/articles/126454/)
    This is all about what Orthodoxy as a general community will put up with and not. He’s not saying that halacha is against it – he’s saying that no current argument from someone major in the halachic community supports it (something that I might disagree with, but whatever). At a de facto level, this is how Halacha works.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 4:59 pm
  21. BZ,
    Don’t be so troubled by this. Rambam was considered an apikores for a time. In terms of laws of Begged Ish/a, you’re a sinner until you’re not (depending on whether what your doing is within the trend or not). That’s the way it works, and within the Orthodox community we understand this. I guess the way we look at this is whether someone who is a gadol back it. Like say, Ravs Shachter, Lichtenstein, Henkin (perhaps, probably not), Blau, even Linzer. In the case of Mechitza, there’s no one at all…


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 5:12 pm
  22. Josh writes:
    ‘”Contemporary Orthodoxy has decided that this is not appropriate,” said Rabbi Michael Broyde, a judge in the Beth Din of America, the RCA’s rabbinic court, and a professor of law at Emory University. “It is outside the bounds of normative Orthodox Jewish practice.”‘

    Josh also writes:
    [S]ingularities are just that- singularities. Berkeley’s orthodox shul has [something] because it has a specific dispensation from a pre-eminent rabbi.

    Isn’t this “Outside the bounds of normative practice”?

    Also, Hurwitz “has [semicha] because [she] has a specific dispensation from a pre-eminent rabbi”. Why is it OK with the shul but not with the Rabba/Maharat?


    Desh · March 9th, 2010 at 5:28 pm
  23. Desh,
    The short answer to your first point is that Berkeley is its own community, with very special circumstances- special enough for I believe the Rav (though it might have been RMF, I forget), to allow it. That it is outside the bounds of normal practice is why it’s not done in any other community. The idea at the time was that it’s either this way or not at all. That being said, I know of many orthodox jews who won’t daven there for that reason.

    In terms of Hurwitz, the point is that she hasn’t been given smicha from pre-eminent rabbis. No one really regards Avi Weiss as a great posek (which is why rav Linzer is rosh yeshivah of YCT and not Weiss). Now, I consider Rav Sperber, the other signer, as a major authority, but to say he’s widely held by just wouldn’t be true. For instance, he thinks that women can have aliyahs on the grounds of kavod habriyot (see the Edah journal). This is a minority viewpoint and is not held by. He hasn’t shown himself to be someone whom any reasonable number of Jews will follow on controversial issues. And I say that as someone who absolutely respects him, the both of them really.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 5:41 pm
  24. Look, and it’s not like if one great rabbi says it, it has to be true. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s opinions on electricity for shabbos are held by no one (he’s extremely permissive), and yet no one would question how much of a Gadol he is. You need a great guy to say it, and a lot of people to follow it.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 5:44 pm
  25. Yeah, now I agree with BZ and KRG. This is definitely “One True Scotsman”. I’m convinced. If you’re interested in further unpacking “No one really regards Avi Weiss as a great posek”, though, I wouldn’t mind hearing it. (Is Joel Roth a great posek? How many people think of him as such?)


    Desh · March 9th, 2010 at 5:49 pm
  26. I don’t think unpacking the Weiss statement is necessary, because it becomes disrespectful and is self-evident in the Orthodox world. I don’t know why you bring Roth into this since he’s Conservative.

    I’m glad you’re convinced that it’s a logical fallacy, but the growing Orthodox world doesn’t think so, which is a whole lot of people to hoodwink… Not to mention I don’t know how you work a giant community figuring out halacha with no unifying structure in any other way but this way. We don’t have a CJLS (nor do we want one), so this is the system that brung us.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 5:57 pm
  27. Josh writes:
    I’m glad you’re convinced that it’s a logical fallacy, but the growing Orthodox world doesn’t think so, which is a whole lot of people to hoodwink…

    And now we’ve moved on to the Kuzari proof!


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 6:22 pm
  28. Josh writes:
    I guess the way we look at this is whether someone who is a gadol back it. Like say, Ravs Shachter, Lichtenstein, Henkin (perhaps, probably not), Blau, even Linzer.

    Of course, no true gadol would support such a thing. Even if one of those rabbis supported it, that would be proof that they’re not really a gadol.


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 6:35 pm
  29. BZ, your second point is disingenuous, and you should know that. I started writing down specific counterexamples to your claim, then realized it was futile. Do you study halachah? From your comments, I would think that you might. Do you see that there are points to be made on almost all sides, and then some are taken into account, and others aren’t? This is not a modern thing at all. Frequently rabbis- very, very smart ones at that- make claims, and then they aren’t followed. That’s how it goes.
    On a global level, if what you said were true halacha would never change at all, and that isn’t the case, even in the glacial orthodox world.
    Look, if you were following this (being women and smicha) at all, you would know that considerable distance has been covered, and the intellectual groundwork is being laid. It’s a matter of time. Avi Weiss moved too fast; everyone, even on the far “left” thought so. It’ll happen, just not yet. Let the community get used to the notion of maharat…

    On another note, if I have the Kuzari on my side (and since I haven’t read it, I’m not fully sure how you are referring to it), then I’m in good company as far as I’m concerned…


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 7:04 pm
  30. I guess the way we look at this is whether someone who is a gadol back it.

    The true Scotsman strikes again.


    ML · March 9th, 2010 at 7:15 pm
  31. Having the Kuzari on your side and the “Kuzari principle” are not identical (or IMHO, desirable).

    From Wikipedia: A modern statement of the Kuzari Principle is as follows: Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred. [1] Therefore, if people believe that E occurred, it is only because it actually did.


    ML · March 9th, 2010 at 7:26 pm
  32. ML, thank you for clarifying what was meant. At the same time, I don’t what I claimed is such an example, respectfully, especially since we’re not talking about myths but about demonstrated halachic arguments over the last couple of centuries.
    I’m getting self-conscious about the level of comments I’ve made here. At this point, if you’d like to debate this offsite (since I certainly am not the proper defender of the Orthodox way, especially in public), I’d be happy to continue elsewhere.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 7:49 pm
  33. What could she offer a reform temple? She would be a person who knows Hebrew and English, the order of the service, and how to run various ‘lifecycle’ events. For a reform rabbi that’s more than what’s needed

    As to her advocacy of kashruth, etc.: The vast majority of reform congregants don’t care what the rabbi advocates. They’re out in the hallway during the sermon (or whenever the rabbi opens her mouth) anyways.


    Dave · March 9th, 2010 at 8:08 pm
  34. ML writes:
    From Wikipedia: A modern statement of the Kuzari Principle is as follows: Let E be a possible event which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E occurred. [1] Therefore, if people believe that E occurred, it is only because it actually did.

    One of the best examples of unintentional Purim Torah we’ve had here at Jewschool was when Victor tried to apply this principle to Megillat Esther.


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 8:37 pm
  35. Dave writes:
    The vast majority of reform congregants don’t care what the rabbi advocates. They’re out in the hallway during the sermon (or whenever the rabbi opens her mouth) anyways.

    Have you ever been to a Reform service? If you had, you would know that (regardless of whether congregants care what the rabbi advocates) Reform services are far less likely than any other denomination’s services to have people getting up and moving around during the service, arriving late, etc. — it goes back to 19th-century ideas of “decorum”.


    BZ · March 9th, 2010 at 8:39 pm
  36. @Jonathan, I hate it when anyone looks at me; should I get a phone booth? I bet it would help the problem of all those people I find distracting – like that guy who keeps talking two rows behind me.


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · March 9th, 2010 at 10:38 pm
  37. If everyone wore one of these when davening, all these problems would be solved. To me, that would be the pinnacle of tefillah b’tzibbur.


    Desh · March 9th, 2010 at 10:57 pm
  38. @KRG. Ok. I guess I’m supposed to deny to myself that I’m much more self-conscious with women around me in an intimitate setting (like prayer) and, also, that I find just about every woman sexually attractive . . . or you might want to consider that the mechitzah works for some people, just not you.


    Jonathan1 · March 9th, 2010 at 11:03 pm
  39. @Dave
    I could be your Rabbi by that description, and I’ve been ordained nowhere. More importantly Rabbah Hurwitz can’t possibly lead services at a Reform (or any) synagogue; she knows the order, but that doesn’t change the two basic facts that she is (a) Orthodox and (b) female.


    Jacob · March 10th, 2010 at 2:28 am
  40. Jonathan1: In my personal experience, many Reform Jews quite like the mechitza. I’ve staffed several youth Shabbaton where we held services in different styles in order to illustrate these differences. Every time, a majority of both girls and boys expressed a liking for services with separation of the sexes. They also overwhelming preferred the service with the most English as well.


    ML · March 10th, 2010 at 2:32 am
  41. I’m not sure what the benefit is of trying to disprove what Josh is saying. He’s very accurately describing the socio-halachic process of evolution and boundary-setting as it functions in the Orthodox community. You can say it is inconsistent, or doesn’t make sense, but he’s not saying you should adopt it — he’s describing a human phenomenon that exists.

    All educated, self-conscious Orthodox Jews are aware that there’s a fuzzy feedback loop between halacha, rabbinic policy, communal approval, and the status quo. That’s how it’s always been, even before the development of “Orthodoxy” as an ideology.


    chillul Who? · March 11th, 2010 at 4:03 pm
  42. CW, I just wish more Orthodox Jews acknowledged the fuzziness of that process, and the fact that it can be deliberately driven in a particular direction by certain people, and that when it is, that direction is not necessarily “more” or “less” halachic than some other direction.

    Ideally, I also wish that more people would deliberately drive that fuzziness in a way that benefits women, or positive interactions with liberal ideologies, or kitniyot. Too much to wish for, I guess.


    Desh · March 11th, 2010 at 5:43 pm
  43. How about two out of three? I’ll take women and kitniyot. :)


    chillul Who? · March 11th, 2010 at 11:02 pm
  44. But yeah, one has to be a particularly non-fundamentalist, educated, and politically aware Orthodox Jew to be able to describe the process the way Josh did above. Not every Orthodox Jew has that privilege.

    I do think something else to keep in mind is that (to paraphrase Wade Davis) “Orthodox Judaism” isn’t a failed version of “Liberal Judaism”. It’s entirely plausible (and okay) for Orthodox communities to discuss and think through the options available for creating change and decide that they find things more meaningful the way they are – whether that means retaining gender-based role differentiation, or other things. As long as it’s everyone’s informed choice.


    chillul Who? · March 11th, 2010 at 11:06 pm
  45. Gosh, CW, you’re making me blush.
    I just read an amazing article on the blog for Tradition (put out by the RCA), from the editor of their online site:
    text.rcarabbis.org/?p=780#identifier_1_780

    It talks about halacha, how we view other movements, and how we need to be careful when we make laws just to mess with other movements. It may not be what you want to hear, but it’s a wonderful introduction to just the kind of things I was talking about.


    Josh · March 12th, 2010 at 2:07 am
  46. “He’s very accurately describing the SOCIO-halachic process of evolution and boundary-setting as it functions in the Orthodox community.”

    That’s one thing, but the main beef we have is that certain Os claim that they themselves are influenced ONLY by halakha (not to mention Torah miSinai), and the non-Os are influenced ONLY by social change. (That was a very strong theme when JTS made the decision to ordain those of same-sex orientation.) The truth is, both are major factors in the evolution of Jewish law and practice – even in Reform – and it would be ludicrous to claim otherwise.


    B.BarNavi · March 12th, 2010 at 3:11 am
  47. BBN,
    No modern orthodox Jew, and in this case you can construe that definition rather widely, would say they are influenced only by halacha and not by social change because everyone knows that halacha is always related to social change- if only because society/technology is always changing!

    CLASSIC example is women and education from the chofetz chaim. but electricity on shabbos will do as well. hearing aids is a particularly good example about halacha versus social change. I also just read an interesting piece about shabbos buses for old people to get to shul.


    Josh · March 12th, 2010 at 3:29 am
  48. Or do you mean only certain kinds of social change?


    Josh · March 12th, 2010 at 3:30 am
  49. Josh writes: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s opinions on electricity for shabbos are held by no one (he’s extremely permissive)
    That’s a lie. Every shomer shabbat soldier in the IDF holds by them.


    Amit · March 12th, 2010 at 6:37 am
  50. Amit, I didn’t know that. But let me guess this- they hold by that opinion because it is a matter of very pressing need, correct? If I’m wrong here, let me know.


    Josh · March 12th, 2010 at 11:39 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik