Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Monday, 23 March 2009

Moving Yet Further From Orthodoxy

It's no secret to those following the political trends in the Modern Orthodox community that Yeshiva Chovevei Torah is moving further and further from even a generous defintion of left wing Modern Orthodoxy. Dabbling in interfaith dialogues, participating in forums that grant equal religious legitimacy to non-observant rabbis, and a push towards egalitarianism that resembles something out of the Jewish Theological Seminary's brain trust are all hallmarks of that organization. Indeed, one might be tempted to ask: other than a token mechitzah during davening, what is the different between YCT and the right wing of Conservatism?
And to emphasize this blurring of the definition:
“If a rabbi by definition is a teacher with knowledge, what moral justification is there to prevent women from being rabbis?”That question was posed, in writing, to a panel of five young Orthodox rabbis, graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), from an audience member on Sunday night at the rabbinical school’s annual dinner, held at the Ramaz Upper School.Alexander Kaye, rabbinic assistant at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, elicited applause from many among the more than 300 people in attendance with his one-word reply: “None.”
Yes, well. First of all, a rabbi may by definition be a teacher with knowledge but a Rav is not. He is not only a teacher, but also a guide, moral influence and leader. But he is more than that. He is also a legal authority in a system that recognizes legal differences between men and women and which also places restrictions on unfettered interactions between the genders. It's not politically correct, it's not very liberal, but it is a fact of Judaism.
As a result, a woman can be a teacher. She can be a yoetzet, but she cannot be a Rav.
So then why the urge to boldly go where Conservatism and Reform have already gone? Well, there's this gem of a reason:
the yeshiva prides itself on bucking the prevailing trends in the Orthodox world of insularity, centralized rabbinic power and a certain narrowness of halachic interpretation, according to Rabbi Weiss.
Ah yes, change for the sake of change. To what end, one might ask. Has YCT created a more robust form of Torah observance? Are YCT rabbinic scholars as scholarly as their Chareidi or Mizrachi counterparts? Are they able to darshan at the same level of depth? Are they as commited to punctilious performance of thsoe mitzvos that go against secular liberal trends? And if the answer is no, then what's the point of YCT's boldness? How it is creating a better observant Jew?
Those close to Rabbi Weiss say that he would like to give Hurwitz the full rabbinic title but feels that to do so would marginalize his yeshiva in the mainstream Orthodox community and, in practical terms, make it more difficult for its graduates to find posts at Orthodox institutions.
Someone should tell Rav Weiss that it's already too late for that. One cannot question the sincerity of his graduates, or their desire to perform their duties with honesty, diligence and integrity but the best of intentions won't qualify someone for a position in NASA's astronaut program, nor as they enough to qualify as a truly observant Rav.
But why the rush to push where there's no need to push? After all, the successful parts of the observant community, especially the Chareidi parts, have no need to discuss this issue. For them it's a non-starter. What's so different about YCT that it feels it needs to create a problem in this area that will further marginalize themselves? The answer can be found in this article on the future direction of Conservativism:
“One of the greatest frustrations is that the United Synagogue is not transparent or sufficiently responsive to the needs of the synagogue,” the executive, Rabbi Steven Wernick, told The Jewish Week. “I want to re-energize and re-engage the synagogues by creating priorities and an agenda of the United Synagogue and therefore also the movement.
If one starts off on the wrong foot, one usually ends up tripping on one's face. In that case, Wernick's entire underlying assumption is indicative of his metophorical wrong foot.
Here's the dirty secret about real Judaism: it's a home-based religion, not a synagogue-based one. The principle mitzvos that occupy the highest importance in Jewish life, like Shabbos, kashrus and taharas mishpacha, are all centred on the home. A Jew can live in a town without a shul and lead a fully observant life but the same cannot be said if he has a shul but no Judaism in his home.
Conservatism's religious downfall has been its failure to understand this basic Jewish fact. By emphasizing the shul, by working to make it egalitarian, it has neglected the home and paid for it by alienating and assimilating its potential future recruits. Is YCT following a similar path?

4 comments:

SJ said...

I personally don't see how half the human population so to speak can be left out of the law making process.

Friar Yid said...

And I don't see how making the shul egalitarian must therefore result in neglecting the home life--especially if both parents practice the same mitzvot at home and shul. If anything, it seems like it could create a more coherent family unit, since they family wouldn't be splitting their practice between Mommy's home mitzvot and Daddy's shul mitzvot.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Perhaps, the most significant indication of the problem that underlies the difficulties with YCT is that the audience applauded when he said there was no reason for women not to be rabbis. What is lost the Torah scholarship, the depth of the issue, the question and the analysis. The gemara tells us that we ended up following the postion of Beit Hillel over Beit Shammai because Beit Hillel not only always quoted Beit Shammai but they quoted their learned opponent first. And no one applauded. Halachic decision making is not a populist process. It is a function of study, depth, effort and commitment. This is a problem with many sides of Orthodoxy, in fact. Everyone presents their one view as if it is the only view, conveniently hiding the true spectrum of thought on an issue. In terms of women being rabbis, to truly address the issue, one has to investigate the question of whethery women can be judges (and if you're thinking Devorah, then you better see Tosfot), the relatinship of the present Rabbinic title to the historical one that was connected to judgeship and the role of custom in relationship to potential change. You would also have to throw in the issue of women as communal leaders and the variant views on the appliction of this law.

The problem is simply that Orthodoxy is not demeocratic. It is not the product of a decision of the people. The people do not necessarily know best. Yet at the same time it does not dismiss the people. New ideas within Torah are expected and this generally emerges from the people interacting with Torah scholarship. SJ's point is precisely on point. We can't change Torah because of SJ's problem with women being excluded from the law making process. But we can ask the question, thereby forcing us to investigate the subject and see what the real statement of Torah is. And guess what, you might be surprised -- with the result being neither the populist postion of the audience at the YCT dinner, not an unyielding Charedi position based upon an argument solely of this is what we do and have done, but new insights based on the depth of Torah study.

One day I would like to see an audience which doesn't clap for the conclusion but for the depth of Torah scholarship and analysis -- l'hagdil Torah u'l'hadiro

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The audience also clapped for the opposing viewpoints.