Culture, Religion

Very Groundbreaking Orthodox Jewish News from the UJA's NY Newspaper!

Our first loyalty is to the truth.” – The NY Jewish Week.
I hate to be provincial, but I was really a bit disappointed when Ner-David’s story, the story of how a non-Orthodox woman granted non-smicha to become a non-rabbi was heralded as a landmark achievement for Jewish feminism within Orthodoxy in the Jerusalem Post instead of in the UJA’s absolutely independent NY Jewish Week, whose stable of writers includes Deborah Nussbaum Cohen and Elicia Brown, to whom virtually all “gender” stories are assigned.
So I am pleased that this week’s Jewish Week features a similar story about K.O.E.’s hiring of Dina Najman-Licht for an essentially rabbinical position. K.O.E. is a Conservative post-denominational synagogue’s that broke from the JTS in 1983.
Look who she is replacing:

Rabbi Weiss Halivni, the founding spiritual leader of KOE, reflects its blend of tradition and innovation. Trained and ordained in Orthodox yeshivas in Europe, he was a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary before leaving over the Conservative movement’s decision to ordain women.

So what does this prove about Orthodoxy? Why obviously, everything!
Elicia Brown reports,

“KOE has confirmed the arrival of women to places of leadership in the Orthodox community,” said Devorah Zlochower, a dean at Drisha, an Upper West Side institution for women’s study of Jewish texts.
“This is something we have been hoping for and pushing for,” said Carol Newman, the president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which will mark its 10th anniversary in February.[…] Jonathan Sarna, a keen observer of American Jewish life, sees the decision as “part of a larger trend in Orthodoxy of pushing the boundaries.

Of course, a “keen observer” would also note that, once again, Orthodoxy is being defined by Jewish media not by the Orthodox themselves, but by developments at congregations definitively outside of Orthodoxy.  Again, to be clear — no matter who attends their vegetarian Friday night potluck dinners, K.O.E. it is a break off of the Conservative Movement.  It is not Orthodox, it was never Orthodox, nor does it claim to be. 
So all this discussion about what Najman-Licht’s hiring means for Orthodox Judaism is not merely speculative, but based on nothing specifically Orthodox.
Beyond this specific issue, I have to wonder if it is simply too much to even hope for honesty on any issue where the Jewish Week’s editors have an agenda.  This is a newspaper which, at its core, attempts to submerge its relationship with and implicit obligation to promote the UJA, and therefore promote the preferred views of the Jewish establishment’s donor base by suggesting they have a broader appeal and acceptance than they do, be they left or right, or (as these views are always presented) — center.

12 thoughts on “Very Groundbreaking Orthodox Jewish News from the UJA's NY Newspaper!

  1. It’s true that KOE broke off from the Conservative Movement but in my experience (which I admit its been a while since attending KOE) its an orthodox shul. At least my friends that attend would identify as Orthodox. KOE’s decision to hire Najman-Licht is a signal that their base is comfprtable with a woman in a position like this. Their official affiliation in terms of movement does not necessarily matter. Sarna has it right that this is a shift in the way the Orthodox community has become comfortable with women in in roles once relegated only to men. Yashar Koach KOE.

  2. I agree with Uzi.
    No matter where the original population came from, KOE would be identified as “Orthodox” by any fair analysis of the facts on the ground. It’s more clearly “Orthodox” (=upholding traditional gender roles in prayer settings) than Shira Hhadasha, that’s for sure.
    And R’ Student’s post is simply obnoxious.
    KOE doesn’t seem to affiliate, so look at what they do. Based on the fact that RK Dina Najman-Licht is Orthodox, you might as well claim that they’re “switching allegience” from R’ David Weiss-Halivni’s UTJ Conservatism to Orthodoxy.

  3. The Orthodox and their nitpicking about who is and is not orthodox and what is and is not groundbreaking in orthodoxy could not interest me less.
    This is a big day for KOE – possibly too late, and also weird, since halivni left JTS over this issue exactly – but “Orhodoxy” and their nonsense are so yesterday, that I could not care.

  4. David, I’m having trouble understanding why the issue of accurately classifing KOE into a specific denomination interests you more than the actual significance of the story itself. Care to elaborate?…pretty please

  5. I have been dealing with the issue of whether it matters how one difines him/herself as opposed to how the rest of the world sees itself. KOE may not identify as orthodox however many of its patrons do. As well, heterodoxy would classify it as orthodox. Moreover, Orthodox in its own right is more of a classification for the non-orthodox (the out-group) than for the in-group. There are what I would call sects of Orthodoxy that would not consider each other Jews. The diversity of the Orthodox is far greater than that of the heterodox.
    All that being said, I come back to the original question, does it matter how KOE sees itself? “Orthodox” transitions happen within select blocks anyway. Does what happens at Chovevei effect the Satmars in other aspects of Torah?

  6. BZ,
    My issue was that the congregation was started at R. Finkelstein’s house in 1983, R. Halivni’s role came later. Having said that, the congregation as K.O.E started later in partnership with R. Halivni, so what Brown wrote was also correct. So you were right even if that’s not what you meant, so I took out the “sic.” Hope we’re cool.
    Amit,
    You don’t have to care, but Orthodoxy is hardly restricted to “yesterday.” That’s pretty silly.
    Avi,
    There is no significance as was portrayed in the story regarding the Orthodox, which was asserted. It is wishful thinking on the part of the writer and others selected for quotation in-line with the writer. I found such fantasy itself significant, and “part of a larger trend in” The Jewish Week.

  7. I was kind of shocked that the article was on the front page of the print edition. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, for precisely the reasons mentioned here, that KOE is non-Orthodox (and because she was selected months ago, with a contract pending because housing in Manhattan is impossible). They’re also non-Conservative. But they’d describe themselves as traditional. And so would I, and I think that this may be a sign of progress in terms of traditional Judaism’s attitude toward the role of women in leadership positions at synagogues.
    But while the inclusion of women in such a way in more traditional synagogue environments is a good thing for progress, it is incremental. Traditional Judaism is not a movement–it serves as a convenient definition for those who prefer its label to the pre-existing “Conservative” or “Orthodox” because they feel those assignations aren’t fully descriptive of their respect for tradition and/or certain aspects of their liberal approach. (Which, given, includes this writer.)
    The hope is that with women in positions like this one and the yoatzot positions in Riverdale, there will be increasing acknowledgement that the job of rabbinic advisor or spiritual leader should go to the person who is the most qualified and appropriate for that community, and that women are fully capable of serving in that capacity, if the structure of “the way it’s always been done” is flexible enough to permit the educational opportunities and the service positions. (Which, currently, it probably isn’t. But it might be getting there. And I think that’s what the presence of the article is responding to, the potential.)
    What did I start with? Oh yeah. I don’t think this should have been a front-page story either. But the JTA did a story on that “Denis Leary v. Mel Gibson” thing, so maybe a cease-fire means a slow news week.

  8. What she said.
    Thanks, Esther, for summing things up so well. There’s a mistaken assumption that in order for a synogogue to be orthodox, it must be affiliated with the OU or the RCA, as though orthodoxy (note the little “o”s) is a franchisable entity.
    It’s interesting to note that many Rabbis who have received smicha from the UTJ (Union of Traditional Judaism), the instirution founded by Rabbi Weiss Halivni, are the leaders of orthodox congregations. Some have membership in the RCA.

  9. “many Rabbis… have received smicha from the UTJ?” Could they even form a (non-egal) minyan? the UTJ couldn’t be more irrelevant. i’m happy for KOE, now they can all go back to their parents and old ramah friends and tell them that after all that, they’re back to the way they grew up. btw, orthodoxy is and always will be, a purely political distinction.

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