NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.
So then Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi wrote a post at his blog, the thrust of which was, “Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on ‘Torah true Judaism'” because, Miller says in the post, Orthodox Jews change things too.
In response to that–its moments like this that make me love blogging, re-blogging, posting, responding, etc–Hyim Shafner, an Orthodox rabbi and contributor to the blog Morethodoxy, wrote–and I paraphrase liberally here–“Yeah, we change. But we know the Shulchan Aruch better. So we’re Torah True.”
It’s notoriously hard to figure out what the Torah really says. But here it’s not even clear what Torah we’re talking about. In our tradition, Torah can mean, most narrowly, the Five Books of Moses. It can also mean the whole Tanach. And sometimes is refers to all of Jewish law.
So when Miller says that things change, he’s cluing us into the fact that things that may seem sacrosanct now were once innovative. Monogamy and the daily requirement of prayer are innovations that do not come from the Five Books of Moses, just as a woman leading Kab Shab at HIR is an innovation for that community–and definitely not an issue that the Torah directly says much of anything about.
But when Shafner says, “Yeah, but no”–again, I’m paraphrasing here–what he means is that it’s narrow and ignorant for a rabbi–like Miller–to claim that Torah is just Torah. Torah is also the broad, sprawling body of work that is Jewish law, writ large.
There’s plenty more to be said about this, but it’s my bed time. So I’ll end by saying this:
It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when people claim that something is any more or less legitimately what that something is because it has or has not changed over time. It drives me nuts when we talk about Jewish practice, the Constitution of the United States and just about everything else. Change is the only constant, friends. Now that’s miSinai. Good night.