"My tradition is more real!" "No mine is!" "Nuh-uh." "Yeah-huh."

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle
As previously noted here at Jewschool:

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.

16 thoughts on “"My tradition is more real!" "No mine is!" "Nuh-uh." "Yeah-huh."

  1. Word.
    There are more than a few ways I can think of where the Conservative way of doing it is closer to “how it was done a long time ago” (if that matters) than the Orthodox way. Recent Orthodox halakha is more about stringency than tradition, really.
    Take conversion, for example. Used to be conversion was deemed sealed with the performance of one mitzvah after tevilah and milah. You’d give a shekel to the poor, or something. Now, it’s like being on trial for the rest of your life.

  2. Oo! Oo! I have one…
    (I’m not actually going to say, because we could be playing that game for the next year… okay, just one -how about changing the requirement of a wedding from any two Jewish witnesses to an Orthodox rabbi?)
    But yeah, in lots of ways stringency to rules set down with regard to cases that are long past are actually not halakhically more Torah true than the way the Conservative movement makes change (quite the contrary). Not that I love everything that CJ rules – the driving tshuva is particularly boneheaded and deliberately obtuse about both how halakha works and how a car works, but overall…. yeah.

  3. Thanks for referencing my blogpost David. I’ve had this recurring dream since I was about 20 years old that I could get Orthodox Jews to read the section in Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s book “From Our Ancestors to our Descendants” in which he explains the flow/evolution of Jewish Law (THE Halakhah). He explains it through the lens of each of the movements, but basically explains that the way Halakhah evolves in Conservative Judaism is not different from how it has evolved for centuries.
    Remember, my Orthodox friends, evolution can mean more strict and more lenient. Saying that it’s Halakhah to wear a sheytel or a black fedora on Shabbos demonstrates change from previous generations. So too with using timers in your home for electricity on Shabbat, the notion of Glatt meat, and Brussel Sprouts being deemed to hard to check for bugs to be kosher.
    In my blog I wasn’t prophesizing a time in the near future when all Orthodox Jews blindly follow the lead of Avi Weiss. I acknowledge that there are a 100 flavors of Orthodoxy in Judaism, but the most liberal flavor is certainly moving more progressively on certain social issues (gays, women, etc.) and that doesn’t mean they’re just going to mesh into the Conservative movement any more than Conservative Jews liberalizing on certain issues means they will become Reform.

  4. I think Rabbi Shafer’s response was weak intellectually, but it kind of had to be. Rabbi Shafner has pushed his hashkafah so far to the left, his view of Judaism is so relativist, that all he can muster as a defense of Orthodoxy is “we know more than you do”, which is just lame. I love the blog Morethodoxy (I’m proud to have one of the bloggers there as my Rabbi) but I feel that Rabbi Shafner doesn’t think fully before what he posts. Maybe that’s just me.
    Rabbi Miller- I find your argument triumphalist and demeaning. I can’t believe that when MO finally gets some balls and do something, the only thing you have to say is “well, conservative got there first!” This so completely misses the point- it’s not where we got, it’s the journey we took to get there. That is the halachic process that is so sorely lacking in your movement (and certainly in the Reform movement), and when you compare us to you, you demean our struggle to be where we are.
    How can you possibly talk about timers on electricity as being an innovation when electricity itself is an innovation? Who do you know in any normative orthodox world (and not one sect of another) who really argues that a shaytl is actual halachah (they might argue it’s a chumra that l’chatchila we should follow, but that’s different)? Your arguments are lazy as well, and if you read Hirhurim you’d see the pain you’ve caused me today.

  5. DAW- It really did. Gil at Hirhurim has been looking for just such a post to advocate all his past crappy polemics. But you’re right, a bit (lot) dramamtic it was.
    In terms of all the other examples, the only reason I didn’t take them up is because I was trying to address Rabbi Miller. I actually had something on conversions, but I wanted to be more narrow in what I addressed- otherwise, we’d still be talking about details before the big picture.
    I think talking about conversion as now versus then misses the point- conversion meant something very different centuries ago (when being Jewish also, I think, defined you differently than it does today). This is what is at core to why some people are trying to crack down on. Not that in a million years I’m going to defend the crazy conversion policies in Israel or elsewhere today.
    I have no idea what KRG is talking about in terms of marriage. A rabbi doesn’t have to marry people- I’ve been in very right-wing places where they discussed just this point. What halacha does (seem to) require is that the officiating person have some specific halachik knowledge (among other things, can the people getting married be halachically allowed to marry). But I am very, very far from an expert on this. Perhaps KRG was referring to women officiating?

  6. BZ – hey its a hot article on the times, by one of their premier op ed columists – I’d say its at least note-worthy. Might be off topic, but its interesting. Sorry to distract you

  7. In the last sentence of this post Wilensky compares liberal views of Jewish law with liberal views of the constitution. I speculate that there could be a historical relationship between these two things. And that relationship is the Brandeis Brief.
    The Brandeis Brief
    In 1907, Florence Kelley and Josephine Goldmark hired Louis D. Brandeis to represent the state of Oregon in Muller v. Oregon (208 US 412), a case before the US Supreme Court that involved the constitutionality of limiting hours for female laundry workers.
    To support his argument that overwork was inimical to the workers’ health, Brandeis (with the help of Goldmark, his sister-in-law) compiled a number of statistics from medical and sociological journals and listed citations to the articles in his brief. The brief was significant in that it was the first one submitted to the Supreme Court that relied primarily on extra-legal data to prove its argument.
    Not only did the brief help Brandeis win the case but it also became a legal landmark in its own right. Briefs that cited non-legal data quickly became commonplace and became known as “Brandeis briefs.”
    The most famous Brandeis Brief is the one used in Brown Vs Board of Education that referenced doll experiments showing that segregation had unequal effects on self worth.
    Here is where I speculate: Was Brandeis influenced by his liberal Jewish upbringing and liberal Judaism’s thinking about Jewish law and how it should change in response to new knowledge in his development of the Brandeis Brief?

  8. Glatt meat – The Shulchan Aruch requires this for Sefardim. The Rama, who is the main Ashkenazi commentator on the SA, permits it. Those Ashkenazim who follow the Rama to the exclusion of other Ashkenazi commentators (this is common, though the basis for it is not so obvious) may eat non-glatt meat. For one who is unsure of with authority to follow, it makes sense to “play it safe” and only eat glatt, especially in the US where the vast majority of kosher meat is glatt.
    Brussel Sprouts – The SA and commentators give examples of vegetables that were not eaten in past generations, because it was too hard to check them for insects.
    Marriage by rabbi – Presumably this refers to the fact that the Israeli rabbinate will only officially register a marriage if done by an approved rabbi. Any other marriage will still be halachically valid (if you have one the rabbinate won’t marry you to a third person), but because it’s not in the registry, there may be negative bureaucratic or legal consequences for you.

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