Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 10 September 2009

All Hail Sameness

For some people, the word inequality means just that - a lack of equality between two or more items without judgement on whether some of those items are superior or inferior. Certainly that is one possibility but it is also possible for two items to be unequal without one being objectively superior to the other. For others, those generally obsessed with class conflict, inequality is exactly that - a way to describe a relationship between the positive and the inferior. In this case, there must be a judgement made as to which is objectively superior and, in the best tradition of socialist dogma, this inequality is automatically bad and must be removed.
Thus it is that some people acknowledge that men and women are different - duh! - but that these differences and the way they interact add excitement and challenge to the relationship between a male and female. The fact that the two partners in a relationship are different sexes is not suggesting absolute superiority of one over the other.
For others, though, such differences are an anathema. If there is inequality, then there must be superiority and inferiority and once again, that is wrong and must be eliminated.
In the non-observant Jewish world, this limited thinking took hold long ago. The Reformers started ordaining women in the name of egalitarianism 1935 and the Conservatives joined them 50 years later. Since that time, both movements have fallen over themselves to prove how progressive they are by jettisoning any remnant of traditional Judaism they still adhered to. As a result, both groups have suffered. The Reform movement has maintained their position as the dominant Jewish so-called stream in North America by expanding their definition of "who is a Jew" to extremes where it seems having sat next to a Jewish kid in grade 2 or a particular enjoyment of matzoh ball soup constitutes adequate grounds for inclusion. The Conservatives, due to their reticence to admit they have no connection with halacha, have moved slower and as a result their numbers are openly dropping. In fact, the further they go towards changing from a Jewish movement to one based entired on secular liberal values with a sprinkling of hamantaschen, the faster their membership declines.
One would think that the Orthodox world would look at these results and nod with a certain satisfaction. Instead, there are those within this group who are actually jealous of the achievements of their non-religious "sisters" and, well I guess women can't have penis-envy for obvious reasons, wish to emulate them without dropping their Orthodox label.
Thus in recent months Rabbi Avi Weiss went ahead and, in violation of Koheles' "there is nothing new under the sun", created a new title for the Jewish world: the Maharat. Interestingly, this shows a certain indecisiveness about Rabbi Weiss. After all, if the Maharat is a female rabbi, why not just call her that? After all, a doctor is a doctor whether male or female and if it's all about the title, then why have two different ones? Was it so long ago that we were told it isn't politically correct to call women actresses anymore because the term was sexist? (Of course, although women couldn't be actors, men couldn't be actresses so I'm not sure where the sexism is)
And now comes the grand announcement that a new yeshivah is going to be opened to produce an entire generation of maharats. Isn't that just grand! Except for the obvious problems with such a thing.
First off, there's the issue of why a woman would need a title in the first place. Is it to exert authority? Is it for issues of legitimacy? If so, then that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the title "rav" really stands for. A rav is a teacher. End. Stop. Dat's all folks. Yes, he generally has some authority within a community but more often than not, it's because the community has hired him for such a position. If a strange rav walks into a shul and starts ordering people around because "I'm a rabbi!" he's most likely to find himself ignored or ridiculed. There is no automatic benefit to the title. Ask the Vilna Gaon.
Secondly, why the desire for a title and position of authority? Well, Maharat Sara Hurwitz brings a disturbing proof to support the new yeshivah:
The Alshich, a Biblical commentator living in the 16th century in Safed, notes that everyone—kulchem, were standing “equally in the presence of the Lord, simultaneously.” What an idyllic image, where one’s gender or status was irrelevant; for men, women and children, old and young, rich and poor, alike were standing together, in partnership before God.
Shades of... well, Korach! What was it he said? Oh yes: "Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?" (Bemidar 16:3)
Further, one could ask: why is it that the posuk bothers to list all the classes of people standing before God? Why not just say "You are all standing before the Lord"? Could it be that there is relevance to these differentiations, that all these classes are in fact different?
Let's take it one step further. Start with the totally wild assumption that God knew what He was doing when He created two different sexes. In fact, the Midrash tells us that the original Adam was a double sided creation, male on one side and female on the other and that God split them in two. Did He do so because He had some spare time one day or is it possible that He felt that two separate humans, one of each kind, was the better way to go?
And if this is true, that the reason two different sexes were created was because through their unequal nature they could create a truly unique relationship? If this is not so, then why bother with two sexes? Why not a race of self-replicating hermaphrodites? It must be because two sexes is better than one.
In that case, what can one say about those whose self-declared raison d'etre is to blur those distinctions? They are working contrary to the purpose for which God created two sexes in the first place.
We see such a thing throughout halacha. We are told not to graft one species of plant onto another, not to mix seeds in a field or vineyard, even not to plough a field with two different animals at the same time. Everything must remain separate and distinct because it is through that separation and distinction that each item in creation fulfills its special role. Now we are told that an entire half of the human race, dissatisfied with its own nature, wishes to coopt the nature of the other half, to be "equal"?
As Princess Leia told Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, "the more you tighten your grip, the more systems slip through your fingers." The more these left wing Morthodox types push into non-religious territory, the more they weaken their connection with the rest of the Torah community. When secular liberal values become more important than time honoured traditions, then one has a serious misunderstanding of one's "orthodox" identity. This yeshivah will simply exacerbate this problem that much more.

45 comments:

David said...

There you go again.

"First off, there's the issue of why a woman would need a title in the first place."

Dunno. Why does a man need it? Why should a woman who achieves the same thing a man does think she should be entitled to receive the same recognition? Some crazy notion of justice?

"A rav is a teacher. End. Stop. Dat's all folks. Yes, he generally has some authority within a community but more often than not, it's because the community has hired him for such a position."

A teacher who can issue binding rulings on halakhic questions and disputes. A teacher who is recognized for his learning as an authority on Jewish law and a representative of Judaism.

"Secondly, why the desire for a title and position of authority?"

Yeah. Bitch oughta be barefoot and pregnant like God intended. Seriously, Garnel-- it's all well and good for you to insist that you're privy to what God thinks women ought to do or not do, but if a woman cares so much about learning Torah, and she's good at it, why deny her the same distinction that we routinely give to men of fairly ordinary intellects who can stutter their way through bechiros?

Garnel Ironheart said...

A man doesn't need the title, to be frank. If a woman wants to learn at the highest level, more power to her. I have no problem with that. But it's not about that or there wouldn't be this issue. This is all about "well the men have a title and we want one too!"

And a rav is just a rav. A posek is a teacher who can issue binding rulings on halachic questions and disputes. A rav just gives his opinions and answers basic questions.

Put it this way: would I learn if I couldn't have a title to show for it? Well if I truly loved learning for its own sake, then I would. If I was doing it to pad my CV and wasn't going to get anything in that direction, I just might not. But that makes a huge difference.

David said...

No, put it this way-- would you still be a doctor if only women were permitted to receive the degree "MD," be addressed as "Doctor," or prescribe medication? And, if not, how would you react to someone who said: "Oh, Garnel doesn't really want to help people and doesn't care about medicine, per se, he just wants to be like the women who can write prescriptions and get all the kovod of being addressed as 'Doctor.' Clearly, he's in it for the wrong reasons, and it's good that only women are allowed in the care-giving professions"?

Garnel Ironheart said...

After I wrote my comment above, I actually thought about it in precisely those terms. But I quickly realized there's a fundamental difference - it's called "licence to practice medicine".

The question would be better phrased: would I go to medical school and audit all the courses without actually being able to get credits for them?
Well, if I had the spare time and loved studying medicine, then I might actually do such a thing. I have some older patients in my practice who do just that, go out to the local university and audit courses they're interested in. Why only audit and not actually register as a student? Because they just want to learn. They don't want the hastle of assignments and exams, just to sit in the lectures and pick up some knowledge.
If being a rav was a licensed profession, then your argument would be a good equivalent.

Anonymous said...

Fine, if you don't think women should be given a title then take away the title for me as well.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Huh? What title do you have?

Anonymous said...

typo - should have been "take away the title for men as well."

David said...

It gives me such nakhes when I see you writhe like that, Garnel! Is that something I should feel bad about in Elul?

So (just to recap), assuming that men were not permitted to be doctors, if you had the spare time, and if you loved the study of medicine, you might invest several years of your life and prove a very apt medical student, but would cheerfully accept that, notwithstanding your diligence, aptitude, skill and dedication, you would never be accorded the recognition, authority and privilege that others who had neither your qualifications nor your variety of genitalia would receive. Really? Would you expect a sane person to feel the same way?

Garnel Ironheart said...

And what exactly do you think happens in undergrad in most Canadian universities, David? Kids go for three years for the love of learning because Heaven knows a BA doesn't get you any job better paying than the server at the donut shop anymore.

Excuse me, but I don't make any money from my Torah learning, nor do I expect to one day be a Rosh Yeshivah or Posek. I'm not learning for anything more than my love of learning Torah, thank you very much. That's enough for me and it should be enough for them

David said...

I've never been to a Canadian university. I assume that the students party for four years, and then go on to be either whores or hockey players. What's your point, here?

As to your Torah learning, that's irrelevant. You didn't seek to spend your life in the clergy-- you went to medical school (after going to college at some Canadian University, right?), and darned if you didn't take the degree they offered at the end of it and go off and practice (socialist) medicine, instead of just politely declining and saying that it was all lishma.

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt that your Torah learning is such as to entitle you to semicha. So, your argument is irrelevant.

What else you got?

Good Shabbos.

Bartley Kulp said...

The truth is that in Israel you already have woman who have very high certifications in learning such as answering questions regarding nidda and you also have female rabbinical pleaders. Keep in mind that the learning that is required to be a rabbinical pleader is virtually the same as a dayan. This is a lot more than your average pulpit rabbi Has. However these woman are not called rabbis because men have an allergy to calling them such. They do have titles but the implications of them are that they are not the same as a rav. This being in spite of the fact that some these qualifications are much more difficult to come by than the average smicha that is bestowed on many rabbanim.

Another practical reason to give a learned woman a title is for them to teach other women Jewish studies. This is becoming important as more woman are starting to learn advanced Jewish studies such as Gemora and Shulchan Aruch. Whether voluntarily or in a predetermined seminary syllabus.

Devorah said...

Garnel, Garnel, Garnel. You had me! You totally had me until this post.

First of all, you're (sadly) a man. Therefore, you couldn't possibly understand what it's like for a woman out there, in the Orthodox world. It's only a recent occurrence that women are even educated in Torah studies, and the Bais Yaakov movement was hit with some pretty harsh condemnations in its day. This post reminds me of those arguments.

As a whole, the orthodox world has moved into greater stringencies of separation between the sexes. As a woman, you face it every day. You can't go here, you can't walk there, you can't be seen, you shouldn't be heard. Fine. However, some very upstanding Rabbaim have taken to stating that they will no longer allow women into their offices. They must simply ask questions through their husbands or fathers, or brothers. In addition, this contrived separatism has further alienated women from men, and induced a kind of discomfort at asking personal questions of their local rabbi.

Enter? The Female "Rabbi". The Maharat title is simply to appease anyone that ridiculously entertains the notion that this move equals the Transformation Of Orthodoxy Into Reform. The Maharat's purpose is to help women with day-to-day halacha questions, niddah sha'alot (which can be horribly embarrassing to discuss with a man, let me tell you), and other minutiae in halachah.

Your sole basis to your argument is that gender division is vital to our society, but you neglect to define what special role you believe God has relegated to women. Have you forgotten Devorah? She was the star of her very own section in Navi. Most men can't claim that distinction. You also err on your own reasoning, in which you once distained that the derech has to be 1 mm wide. Isn't that your point here? That all women must fit into a predetermined role? I don't believe that even God is that inflexible.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

> totally had me until this post.

Oh yeah?

> you couldn't possibly understand what it's like for a woman out there

When I was in final year med school, I was sitting at a desk in a family practice office and this older woman comes in, sits down and after I ask "How can I help you today?" she gives me a funny look. So I stutter "Um, is something wrong?"
And she keeps going with the look and says "You're this young boy. What do you know about what menopause feels like?"
And that's when I developed a new appreciation for the beracha "Shelo asani ishah".
Now, I don't mean to deprecate women at all. I am fond of noting that if men had to bear the babies, the human race would have ended with Adam. But I do feel strongly that each gender has its distinct roles to play in Jewish society and that blurring the roles in EITHER direction simply for the purpose of feigned euqlity doesn't benefit that society.
I also have the good fortune of living in a small community where the mushugas of Taliban-like men/women separation has not taken hold. Out here in the sticks we don't worry about who's talking to who and we have several women in the community who have no hesitation to speak to our rabbonim face to face. Sometimes I forget about the crazies out here.
But Enter the female "rabbi"? The purposes that you attribute to the Maharet already have their practitioners in Orthodox, including Chareidi, circles. They're called yoatzot and they also perform other functions as Bartley Kulp wisely noted. Should women have female halachic advisers who can competently guide them through the particulars of halacha? Absolutely. I am very sensitive to the fact that women often prefer other women for intimate questions.
What special role do I believe God has relegated to women? As Dr Schweitzer notes in his article on Modern Orthodoxy, the three fundamental pillars of Jewish life are kashrus, Shabbos and taharas mishpacha and all three are the responsibility of the Jewish woman. It is on the faith and actions of Jewish women that a community prospers and produces a God-fearing next generation which is our principle responsibility in life. In many ways, they are far more important than men and I have also sometimes thought that the reason we men are sent out to shul and the beis midrash is to give women a free hand to do what they need to do without some nebbish sitting around the house making stupid comments.
So then what's my problem with the Maharat idea? Firstly, the Maharat seems to be more in the mold of a non-Orthodox rabbi - good preacher, family counsellor, all-around decent person, than the Orthodox rav - halachic guide. I disagree strongly with this shift in the idea of what a rav should be. Secondly, I question the intentions. Despite David's insistence to the contrary, I do believe there is value in learning for learning's sake. I also disagree with his assessment of my Torah learning, the amount I've done and the reasons I've done it. I have no problem with spending time learning simply because I want to know things. If Jewish women want to learn at the highest level, kol hakavod. But I don't think that's what's happening here.

David said...

Devorah:

You go, girl!

Garnel, did I mention how much I enjoy watching you squirm? You're really serving it up big-time!

"So then what's my problem with the Maharat idea? Firstly, the Maharat seems to be more in the mold of a non-Orthodox rabbi - good preacher, family counsellor, all-around decent person, than the Orthodox rav - halachic guide. I disagree strongly with this shift in the idea of what a rav should be."

Fair enough! So let women become rabbis, and I'm sure everyone will agree to do away with the "maharat" business. Problem solved.


"Secondly, I question the intentions. Despite David's insistence to the contrary, I do believe there is value in learning for learning's sake."

Whoa! You're mischaracterizing my argument. I am a great proponent of the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake (or for the pleasure in the acquisition). I am, however, opposed to insisting that, absent a penis, the learning process must stop there. If a woman wants to learn lishma, I have no problem with that, and wouldn't goad her into becoming a rabbi. However, if she really wants to be a rav, I'm also disinclined to say: "well, babe, you've got the smarts, the spirituality, the aptitude, and the scholarship-- come back when you've got a schlong."


"If Jewish women want to learn at the highest level, kol hakavod. But I don't think that's what's happening here."

How unbelievably hypocritical of you! Women are not permitted to learn at the highest level in most Orthodox circles, so how the heck would you have such insight into what they really want? The only way that you can maintain any argument against allowing women to become rabbis (other than dancing around like Tevye the Milkman and singing "Tradition!") is to impugn their motives. Well, I'm sure that I could find you male rabbis with less than sterling motives... would that be evidence that men shouldn't be rabbis?

Bartley Kulp said...

David said...

"How unbelievably hypocritical of you! Women are not permitted to learn at the highest level in most Orthodox circles, so how the heck would you have such insight into what they really want? The only way that you can maintain any argument against allowing women to become rabbis (other than dancing around like Tevye the Milkman and singing "Tradition!") is to impugn their motives. Well, I'm sure that I could find you male rabbis with less than sterling motives... would that be evidence that men shouldn't be rabbis?"
----------------------------------

Number one there are already opportunities for women who want to do advanced learning. The issue here is whether this program is priming them for leadership. Please read the following article;

http://www.jewishjournal.com/morethodoxy/item/an_inaugural_moment_39090910/#When:10:40:36Z

Devorah said...

Thank you for responding, Garnel. Forgive me if, reading your post, I find that emotion rather than sense colors your arguments. What emotion? Fear. There is this strange, pervasive fear amongst the male population whenever the topic of female leadership emerges.

"What special role do I believe God has relegated to women? As Dr Schweitzer notes in his article on Modern Orthodoxy, the three fundamental pillars of Jewish life are kashrus, Shabbos and taharas mishpacha and all three are the responsibility of the Jewish woman."

Done. Next!

No, seriously. Women today hold jobs that help support the family - which I don't find men protesting all the much, by the way. Isn't that a form of "leadership" and "male responsiblity"? Shouldn't this be part of your argument about the division of work among the sexes?

Simultaneously, we also manage, even with the tiny brains we have been allotted, to buy kosher food and count seven days after our period. Quite demanding tasks, let me tell you! Counting is hard! So is taking a bath!

Shabbos is a requirement for BOTH sexes, although women do the enormity of the cooking, so that's really under the "kashrus" heading.

" It is on the faith and actions of Jewish women that a community prospers and produces a God-fearing next generation which is our principle responsibility in life. In many ways, they are far more important than men and I have also sometimes thought that the reason we men are sent out to shul and the beis midrash is to give women a free hand to do what they need to do without some nebbish sitting around the house making stupid comments."

Ah. The ol' apologist argument. No, really! You're better than us! Which is why you must stay far, far away from any role of importance in this community! Unless it's a role that men don't want to do, like cook for everyone. That role you can have.

I file this one under, "We only say 'shelo asani esha' because you're, um, so much better than us" category. When the reality is far different, and really has to do with status and oppression. The apologist argument doesn't placate us. It just makes us feel vaguely irritated and patronized.

"So then what's my problem with the Maharat idea? Firstly, the Maharat seems to be more in the mold of a non-Orthodox rabbi - good preacher, family counsellor, all-around decent person, than the Orthodox rav - halachic guide."

Untrue. Read the description of the course again. Even if you were right and she is "a family counselor and decent person", than you'd have even less of an issue! Right? For guys, women not learning difficult gemara and halacha = yay! Since far too many women have bristled at going to a Rabbi for marriage counseling, this seems like a somewhat better possibility.

But no, you disagree with that, too. We can't seem to win here. You don't want us to learn halachah, but you don't want us to not learn halachah either.

"I disagree strongly with this shift in the idea of what a rav should be."

Truth be told, you don't know what you disagree with. You really disagree with women moving out of the homemaker/teacher/mother role you'd like her to stay in. And I'm sorry, that's impossible.

"Despite David's insistence to the contrary, I do believe there is value in learning for learning's sake."

From your arguments, it's apparent that this has nothing to do with learning. It has to do with gender defined roles. And your fear of change. I promise you, women will not be the cause of the entire Orthodox Religion falling into rampant immorality and idol-worship. What's really scary is that we might - just might! - be better at this job than men are. All those years being drilled into not reaching for kavod, acting modestly, and sacrificing the self for the collective seems like ample education for this role - education that men don't seem to be receiving. And that's the real problem.

David said...

Game, set and match; Devorah.

Chaim B. said...

Devorah, I am curious as to how you deal with halachically imposed restrictions on a women's career path. For example, unless you can point me to a halachic source to the contrary, a woman cannot serve as a sofer while a man can. What if a woman finds herself drawn to the craft of writing sta"m and masters the halachos and practice -- how do you justify the exclusion of her putting those skills to practice for the noble purpose of serving the community? And whatever logic you use, why not apply the same reasoning to the role of Rabbi?

Secondly, what bothers many people is the fact that in the case of Maharat and many similar cases, the "rabbinic will", in this case the intent to create a titular position for women identical for all practical purposes to Rabbi, preceded the "halachic way," to borrow Blu Greenberg's phrase. Do you see halacha as something to be shaped and molded to one's agenda, akin to Greenberg's "where there's a rabbinic will there's a halachic way"? Do you not think that many of those cheerleading the Maharat do espouse such a philosophy, which as antithetical to the notion of halacha as an objective system?

Garnel Ironheart said...

> What emotion? Fear. There is this strange, pervasive fear amongst the male population whenever the topic of female leadership emerges.

Not the first time I've seen that kind of faulty reasoning. I've found it usually fits into the "Well since there's no good reason we can see, their reasons must be a cover for their fear!" logic. Unfortunately I'm not aware of any evidence in the literature for this other than feminist accusations.

No, I don't think it's fear. I think it's more a concern of ensuring that the Jewish community is proceeding in a direction guided by Torah values as opposed to secular ones.

> No, seriously. Women today hold jobs that help support the family

Certainly true, and no you don't find men protesting that much (maybe we're afraid? Heh) but I think that any man who can support his wife but instead sits back and allows her to support him is a freeloader. Yes, I know I've just described the entire kollel community, don't remind me. I feel very strongly that it is the husband's duty to support his wife and children and one I take very seriously myself.

> Shouldn't this be part of your argument about the division of work among the sexes?

Absolutely. The only argument against it is that due to a combination of frummer-than-thou standards, keeping up with the Jonesteins attitudes and the kosher mafia, it's extremely expensive to be a frum Jew and for many that means both parents must work.

>Shabbos is a requirement for BOTH sexes, although women do the enormity of the cooking,

But without the woman to enhance it the man does not get the full Shabbos experience.

>You're better than us!

Well that's what most of the mephorshim say.

>I file this one under, "We only say 'shelo asani esha' because you're, um, so much better than us" category.

Actually the bracha has nothing to do with that. Like it or not, I am obligated to perform all available mitzvos while you are exempt from time-bound positive ones. And so I thank God for that extra burden. Who says He doesn't have a sense of humour?

> When the reality is far different, and really has to do with status and oppression.

And that's exactly what I'm talking about. You're preaching secular values like the deprecation of maintaining the home and acting as the anchor for the family, all things that Jewish values place in high esteem and which secular feminism treats with disgust.

> For guys, women not learning difficult gemara and halacha = yay!

Please don't generalize. I've said repeatedly that I have no problem with that and I know many other rabbonim who don't either. Yes there are rabbis out there who do. They're not in my community.

> You don't want us to learn halachah,

Again, please don't put words in my mouth when I've actually said the opposite.

> You really disagree with women moving out of the homemaker/teacher/mother role you'd like her to stay in.

I think that women are far better suited to doing that than us dumbass guys, yes.

> It has to do with gender defined roles.

Absolutely. That's one of my points: men are men, women are women, and men trying to be like women or vice versa isn't something I'm fond of.

> And your fear of change.

That has nothing to do with it.

> I promise you, women will not be the cause of the entire Orthodox Religion falling into rampant immorality and idol-worship

No, we can blame the Chareidi leadership for that, I'm afraid.

> What's really scary is that we might - just might! - be better at this job than men are.

Considering how much men have screwed up over the years, you're not aiming that high.

David said...

Chaim--

What makes you think halacha is an "objective" system? It's whatever rabbis say it is, and has long been so. Where does it say in the Torah that a woman can't be a sofer? Where does the Torah even discuss a sofer? Nowhere; it's purely rabbinic, and purely a function of the times in which it was invented. Rashi's daughters put on tefillin (or so they say) and Beruria paskened shaylas (or so they say). Deborah was a judge (or so they say). The marginalization of women is hardly a necessary or objective requirement of Judaism. It's just a popular fad with some people whose minds are as diminuitive as their... well, never mind.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Halacha is a combination of subjective and objective.
There are rules, after all, by which a posek works. Granted they are sometimes observed in the breach but they're still there.

This all goes back to the same endless argument
Side A: the rabbis invented the oral law!
Side B: the oral law was given with the writen law at Sinai.
Side A: the rabbis invented that too!

Listen, there's this argument going on over at another blog: is the whole concept of reward in the afterlife invented?
Side A: the rabbis invented the idea of an afterlife where reward and punishment are handed out because that's the only way they could justify why the righteous are punished in this world.
Side B: there is an afterlife where reward and punishment are meted out and that's why life in this world seems unfair in the first place.

Who's right? Well for the individual it depends what you believe. If you are prepared to believe that God doesn't care about what's going on and the whole system we live in has been invented, then the belief that the afterlife was an invention makes perfect sense. If you properly believe that God does care about us and that our system is Divinely inspired, then believing that the afterlife is a necessary part of things makes sense.
But someone with one belief can't possibly make someone with the opposite belief understand that.

The same goes here.

lvnsm said...

Some people don't understand the thing about diff mitzvos for the genders, and the being a rabbi thing etc.
I think that we should accept our differences and understand why our differences are for the best. We don't need to do the same things men do in regards male mitzvos; We have our own mitzvos. The purpose is to fulfill our obligation. For us it's Shabbos candles etc; For men it's tefillin etc.

In regards to being a rabbi, there are plenty of things that we can do without having that title. Many women are great lecturers and do a lot for the community.

Chaim B. said...

David,

I don't see any difference between what you write and what the Conservative or Reform movements espouse. Please enlighten me. By your reasoning why should Rabbi Weiss or others bother trying to justify their decisions based on Talmud and Codes? These books and their laws are just products of a misogynist society and can therefore just be discarded along with all kinds of other made up antiquated laws.

Here's the Catch-22 that you've fallen into: If your goal is to defend the ordination of women by dispensing with tradition, then who needs Mahara"t when you can go to JTS or HUC and get real ordination; if your goal is to defend "Orthodox" women Rabbis, then your arguments fail because they are (as I am sure you recongize) far outside the mainstream of Orthodox thought.

>>>But someone with one belief can't possibly make someone with the opposite belief understand that.

Absolutely true, but that's not the issue; the issue is what should be labelled Orthodox. Someone who thinks the entire Torah is a human construct but calls him/herself Orthodox is no different than calling a polygon with 4 corners and 4 equal sides a circle. Rabbi Weiss can give anyone he wants ordination -- but if the only way to justify his actions is by asserting non-traditional ideas about halacha, then Orthodox smicha it is not and he has undermined his own cause.

David said...

"If your goal is to defend the ordination of women by dispensing with tradition, then who needs Mahara"t when you can go to JTS or HUC and get real ordination; if your goal is to defend "Orthodox" women Rabbis, then your arguments fail because they are (as I am sure you recongize) far outside the mainstream of Orthodox thought."

No, Chaim; there is no Catch-22 for me. My goal is to see Orthodoxy move its ponderous hind quarters. Halakha changes and evolves, albeit slowly. It used to be a "halakha" that one should not spend one's day learning if one couldn't support a family-- that all changed fairly recently, and now there are entire groups of Jews who consider it beneath them to do any honest work. And there's the real Catch-22; the "mainstream" of Orthodox thought does, in fact, change, as you and I know perfectly well. The catch is that, even as it evolves, it likes to pretend that it never has and never will.

There are solidly Orthodox rabbis who refuse to allow women to learn Gemara; there is a growing number who allow this. Now, there is a tiny fraction of Orthodox rabbis who believe that some form of ordination should be available to women... this group, too, will grow.

So, it's not your Zeida's Orthodox Judaism. Big deal-- it was never going to be!

Holy Hyrax said...

Garnel

Your nazi stalker JP (ie,OTD) linked to your post again :)

>I file this one under, "We only say 'shelo asani esha' because you're, um, so much better than us" category. When the reality is far different, and really has to do with status and oppression. The apologist argument doesn't placate us. It just makes us feel vaguely irritated and patronized.

I have been thinking of this pasuk for quite a while now, and I have to say, at least for me, its not so easy to dismiss this as apologetics. Simply because of the way the prayer is structured that it is connected with the other two tfillot (shelo asni goy or eved). All three of these tfillot share a common thread, and that is they cannot fulfill the commandments (or at least most of them.) Now, to be intellectually honest, when has to do a cheshbon of where the reaction to this comes from. Does it come from a sincere belief that it was based on them believing women were inferior and thus stuck it in the morning blessing, or is it simply a 21st century knee-jerk reaction to anything we deem as possibly offensive.

Chaim B. said...

>>>My goal is to see Orthodoxy move its ponderous hind quarters.

Why not get people together and clamor to allow for driving on Shabbos or repealing the ban on fowl and milk? All you need is one "Orthodox" rabbi to give it an OK and then you can start the ball rolling. Where do you draw the line?

>>>Now, there is a tiny fraction of Orthodox rabbis

Please define Orthodox in that sentence. IOW, you haven't answered my question: what is the difference between the Orthodoxy you espouse and Conservative Judaism? Why pretend to be committed to Orthodoxy and advocate for change when you can just accept the label Conservative and be part of a movement that philosophically and practically seems to match your outlook better?

Why make a big deal over Maharat? JTS is way ahead of this game. Why should any Jewish women accept a second rate title when she can have the real thing in a school and movement that believes in just the sort of change you desire?

David said...

"Why not get people together and clamor to allow for driving on Shabbos or repealing the ban on fowl and milk?"

Why? Nobody has articulated a reason to do that. But, as long as you're so convinced that everything remains unshakeably the same or it stops being "Orthodox," why not get people together and clamor to repeal Rabbeinu Gershom's edict? Why not do away with Prozbul? Why allow people to buy houses in Israel and not return them on Jubilee Years?

As to the difference between what I'm suggesting and Reform or Conservative, can you even give me a basic definition of Conservative or Reform theology (from their perspective, not yours) without resorting to a search engine? Didn't think so.

And, for the record, who gave you the right to decide who is or is not Orthodox? What if he doesn't follow Neturei Karta? They think they're the only legitimate ones. What if he isn't Chareidi? They think they're the only legitimate ones. What if he doesn't recognize Menachem Schneerson as Moshiach? Those guys think they've got a monopoly. Or, what if he simply disagrees with Chaim B.?

Chaim B. said...

>>>gave you the right to decide who is or is not Orthodox?

I'm not the one claiming that the ordination of women meets the criteria of "Orthodoxy" -- you are. So the burden of proof is on you to define exactly what makes your approach more orthodox than that of JTS, and HUC. So far you are 0 for 2 and keep ducking the question.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

David, I'd mention that it's fun to see you squirming for a change but I'm more mature than that so I won't.

What's the definition of Orthodox? Traditionally, it was someone who believes in God, Torah MiSinai and the authority of the Oral Law.

Now the problem with that is nowadays various sects have added onto that definition to suit their parochial needs. Hence the Neturei Karta added on the anti-Zionist thing. The Lubavitchers added on the dead rebbe as Moshiach thing. And on it goes. However, all that means is that these groups, despite their supposed piety and scrupulousness, have lost sight of what Orthodoxy really is and of the more general concept of achdus.

Chaim, I think the difference between YCT Orthodox and Conservatism is the concept of the ultimate red line. The JTS has none. If they can find a heter to allow something, they will. If they can't, they'll hold a vote. At this time, Rav Weiss and his crew do not hold votes. However, what they do is not quite Orthodox. As Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein noted in a recent post on Cross Currents, there is a time honoured method of paskening in new situations. YCT ignores this method and simply finds a heter to justify what it wants to do. However, therein lies the limits. Rav Weiss will not allow mixed seating or dancing in his shul no matter how much people clamour because he simply can't find a heter for it.
Hence the "maharat". Rav Weiss knows he can't just start calling women rabbis. He also knows that women can learn Torah as per the Rav's heter on the issue and he wants to put them in leadership positions so he's tried to bypass the controversy by coming up with a new title. It's just that he's not fooling anyone.
That's not to say some well meaning rabbi like Asher Lopatin won't simply decide one day to allow mixed dancing because "it's the right thing to do" but I doubt anyone will take him seriously when he calls himself Orthodox if he does.

Chaim B. said...

You (David) earlier wrote --
"Where does it say in the Torah that a woman can't be a sofer? Where does the Torah even discuss a sofer? Nowhere; it's purely rabbinic, and purely a function of the times in which it was invented."

Compare your position with that of Rabbi Dov Linzer, head of YCT, writing in their journal Me'orot, Nov 2007 --
"I empathize with the author and others like her who want to participate fully in the field of safrut. I do not know what I can say to them, other than that this is one of many sacrifices that must be made for the sake of halakhah. While it is necessary for us to explore opportunities to allow for greater inclusion of women in areas of ritual, we cannot allow such an impulse to compromise a rigorous approach to halakhah and the halakhic process. If we rightfully take offense when halakhah is misread to exclude women’s participation when such a conclusion is not warranted, then we must be extremely careful ourselves not to misread halakhah to include women’s participation when the sources do not allow for such a reading."

If all of halacha is subjective and a product of historical condition, then why insist on fidelity to the meaning of antiquated texts instead of simply twisting the meaning to meet the agenda of our more enlightened times? I don't want to debate YCT as an institution, but suffice it to say that it has not gained acceptance by the Orthodox mainstream (the RCA does not recognize its ordination). Nonetheless, even its leaders take a more conservative stance toward halacha than your own.

If Maharat is "orthodox" ordination than I think it is fair to ask what your litmus test for orthodoxy is so we have some basis to judge whether your claim is true or false.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Now the problem with that is nowadays various sects have added onto that definition to suit their parochial needs.

I don't think so. These are details, not part of the definition of Orthodoxy. Just because I do not believe the Rebbe was Moshiach does not mean Chabad thinks I am not an Orthodox Jew.

Here's the bottom line: I think there is a divide between David's outlook toward halacha -- "It's whatever rabbis say it is, and has long been so." -- and even Rabbi Linzer's or Rabbi Weiss' -- "We must be extremely careful ourselves not to misread halakhah to include women’s participation when the sources do not allow for such a reading." Is halacha subjectively pliable to meet whatever ends you desire and any Rabbi's say-so makes it so, or is halacha about fidelity to tradition, albeit allowing for innovation so long as consistant with the text and spirit of past precedent?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Not to speak for David but I think he's coming from the position that the entire Oral Law was invented by the rabbis of the Talmud in order to create a new Judaism that they controlled. If that's the case, then "it's whatever the rabbis say it is" makes perfect sense. A man-made law can be adjusted by other men.
The proper Orthodox position is that the Oral Law was written down by the sages of the Talmud after being preserved in a non-written form since its appearance at Sinai. As a result, just like the Written Torah is a divine document so is the Oral law which means it can't be tampered with willy nilly. Clearly the comment you brought from Rav Linzer agrees with that view. There is flexibility in halacha but there are red lines they will not cross which is why, despite the controversy, they remain within the Orthodox community.

Nishma said...

Part One

One of the problems with debating any specific issue is that it often is removed from its greater context. Sometimes, some need to define and consider the greater context emerges as evidenced in this case by the recognition of the need to actually define the parameters of Orthodoxy. Still, the discussion did not move in that direction. That fact is significant. Oftentimes, people just assume that certain facts that they have learned -- or better were taught within a narrow context -- clearly define Orthodoxy while in fact they do not. The result is that they assume any person who doesn't accept these facts and related parameters are outside the pale when, in fact, they are not -- or at least that that really is the disagreement. For example, in the Slifkin Affair it came down to whether there is a definite psak in the mesorah of hashkafa with some saying that there is absolutely one and others saying no and that we are open to choose our personal hashkafa from any position of the gedolei Torah over history (and of course with others advocating numerous shades in between these two poles). Here also there is a need to look at the larger picture.

There are actually two issues involved in this matter. One is the question of women learning, specifically learning exactly what men would learn. The other is the question of ordaining women, more specifically creating a school with this purpose, in other words a professional school to create rabbis, specifically women rabbis. What people often don't recognize is that the very issue of a Rabbinical school for men is, and was, in itself a major issue. While yeshivot may call themselves Theological or Rabbinical Seminaries, this is not really the case. They are yeshivot where people can go to basically learn. YU is actually unique in that they actually have a formal smicha program but how many people learn there without any intention of becoming professional rabbis. It is really patterned after classic Litvak yeshivot. YCT, on the other hand, is much more of a Seminary patterned after the Berlin Hildesheimer Seminary -- but they are the exceptions within Orthodoxy. Rabbinical Seminaries, even for men, have been, genrally, looked upon negatively by Orthodoxy throughout hostory. That is the context one has to view the present issue of a Maharat school.

So let's break it down. Is it an issue of a school where women can learn exactly the same material as men? Yes and no. Garnel many times said he has no problem with women learning on as high a level as men. That can be accomplished, though, without the context of a professional school. So the issue is this creation of a professional school to create women with this title of Maharat. So while there are people who would challenge women learning this material, that is not the issue here. If you want a debate over what women can learn, go to some charedi blog. (I do not say that derogatively. There is a halachic issue which is, on many levels, very complex. You may want to see my piece on women learning at http://www.nishma.org/articles/update/updatesept92-wij. This is just not really what we are discussing here.) Our debate concerns the nature of a professional school for women and the nature of titles that should be associated with such a professional school or, in fact, any place of women's learning.

To be continued

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Nishma said...

Part Two

The issue is more complicated by the fact that the word rabbi is both a profession and a title (indicating scholarship) and simultaneously both. So when we ask whether a woman should be a rabbi are we asking whether they should be a member of this profession or are we asking whether they should receive the title of Rabbi or some combination of the two with the further question of how we make this combination?

So lets first look at the professional question. Here, the question becomes more confusing because the profession of rabbi is inherently hard to define. Whether we like it or not, Torah makes a distinction based upon gender which oftentimes is incomprehensible. As such, there are activities that are involved in the profession of rabbi that, halachically, exclude women to a lesser or greater extent based upon one's halachic view. There are also activities within the rabbinate that clearly women can do and in which they are already active. So a large segment of the question is what exactly is the nature of this profession that will be taught in a theological school for women? And this is further complicated by the classic perception that a woman's place is in the home, although that in itself can be challenged. So the question is professional school for women and if so what it its nature? The further problem is the question of gender and the tendency to answer this question by looking at the male, which may actually just confuse the issue. So herein lies a further problem with a Maharat school Given even that we should create a professional school for women of this nature, what should be its nature? Looking at the example of male professionals in this field may actually be detracting and many may find the Maharat school problematic because it doesn't want to deal directly with the greater issue of the nature of the profession, even for men.

We thus move on to title. So one problem is the very learning for the motivation of a title which some may inherently find challenging even for men. How often have I heard the fact, presented as a praise, that the Chafetz Chaim didn't really have semicha? That is going to be a critique of a Maharat school in itself as yeshivot, even if they give out titles, are not built around the title. Still, though, a title may be important as it does indicate to another one's position and level of compitance. Rabbi Michael Broyde recently addressed this issue in an article in the Jewish Press where he contended that, given that women are already active within the Jewish world in a variey of ways, it may be worthwhile to clarify their positions and abilities with appropriate titles. We actually already do so albeit problematically. Rebbetzin Jungreis uses the title of Rebbetzin effectively creating certain atmosphere as a result of the title. But what does this title mean? It really just means that she was married to a Rabbi and has limited real consequence on what we may really want to know about the person which may affect the way we want to relate to them. I personally have always found it difficult that the only message of a women's level of scholarship, let us say within the academic world, was through the title Dr. Would it not possibly be nice if a teacher at Stern College was not a Miss/Ms./Mrs. or a Dr. but that there was some Judaic title from within our ranks that informed me of her standing within the field? But is that the Maharat title? Again was it developed organically from the actual need within the community or motivations that emerge from the issue of male-female equality, which has its place but still is vastly different than the standards of our host society?

I have gone on enough, most likely for the vast majority more than enough. t its time to understand the real issue within the greater context. That way we may actually find a solution which all can live with.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

David said...

Chaim:

"I'm not the one claiming that the ordination of women meets the criteria of "Orthodoxy" -- you are. So the burden of proof is on you..."

Your short-term memory is failing you. The point of Garnel's original post was to excoriate (Orthodox) Rabbi Weiss for moving in the direction of ordaining Orthodox women. You may try to push the burden onto me, but, in fact, it's not-- the idea that Weiss is outside the pale and that his actions are indefensible was raised by Garnel and seconded by you. I merely challenged you on it, and, to paraphrase you, you're ducking the question. Who gave you or Garnel the right to expel Rabbi Weiss from the Orthodox fold?

David said...

Garnel:
No squirming needed. A woman rabbi can fit perfectly well within your definition of Orthodox (which, you seem to admit, doesn't coincide with everyone else's, but we'll just assume that yours is the only correct one). You don't seem to have a problem with women learning. So, hypothetically, you shouldn't have a problem with a woman teaching (let's just assume that a particular woman has learned all of Shas-- would you ignore her if she had the answer to a question of yours?). Thus, a woman can already do everything that your hypothetical rabbi can do. Finally, let's consider that the title "rabbi" is no longer the same thing that it was in the Talmud, as actual semicha from Moshe has, according to Orthodox Judaism, died out. Thus, what's left is not governed by what's in the Talmud.

bankman said...

"there are activities that are involved in the profession of rabbi that, halachically, exclude WOMEN to a lesser or greater extent based upon one's halachic view."

huh? what would that be?

you (s)could have said "there are activities that are involved in the profession of rabbi that, halachically, exclude MEN to a lesser or greater extent based upon one's halachic view."

LIKE DISCUSSING STAINS ON A WOMAN'S UNDERWEAR, OR PASKANING BIRTH CONTROL (WITHOUT TALK TO THE WIFE)

Hecht, you are twisting yourself into a pretzel and are complicating a very simple yes or no issue.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Who gave you or Garnel the right to expel Rabbi Weiss from the Orthodox fold?

You make it sound like Orthodoxy is a club with membership cards and a secret handshake and we got together to expel Rabbi Weiss. Obviously that's not how things work. Let me answer your question by rephrasing it:

Let's say a Rabbi allows his congregants to drive on Shabbat and eat kosher fish at Red Lobster but he calls himself Orthodox. What gives me or anyone else the right to challenge how he labels his identity and expel him from the fold? The answer: nothing!

You can go around calling yourself Napolean and there is nothing I can do to stop it. But I can assess reality and say that 99% of the people in the world probably don't think you are Napolean, so I'll call you David instead and leave you to delude yourself.

Rabbi Weiss can call himself Orthodox, but if 99% of the world thinks he is deluding himself by adopting that label, then it is more than fair for me to not subscribe to it. Labels are meaningful only to the degree that they reflect a public consensus about reality -- otherwise they are just empty words.

For the record, it is not Rabbi Weiss' views on women that I think are not Orthodox, but your views that "it's purely rabbinic, and purely a function of the times in which it was invented." Calling that philosophy "Orthodox" is just empty words; it bears no relationship to what most of the world considers Orthodox.

bankman said...

chaim b, many of the rabbinic "laws" - which began as minhagim, were implemented with a svara, or to fix a problem - of which these potentially could be rectified or changed....rabbis change stuff all the time throughout our history (l'chumra, unfortunately) - why cant we change stuff now? TSBP evolves....

Also, to compare allowing people to break shabbat, or eat treif, with relaxing a supposed "law" (not a lo sasei) to deal with modern times IS REDONCULOUS. There are certain pillars which we observe that calssify us as orthodox, or observant - primarily shabbat, kashrut and taharat hamishpacha.

Chaim B. said...

>>>why cant we change stuff now? TSBP evolves....

Because the Mishna (in Ediyos) tells us that to undo a law requires a Sanhedrin of greater wisdom and authority than the one which made the law, a condition which is impossible to meet. Secondly, our judgment as to why a law was made may be incomplete; the GR"A explains that even where a reason is given for a law, there are other unstated reasons that may be unknown or not apparent. Thirdly, even with respect to minhag, as a general rule they may not be changed or tampered with -- see Pesachim 50a.

Halacha changes as new conclusions are drawn from past precedent -- but past precedent itself cannot be discarded.

As Rabbi Weiss put it:
"Moreover, in the area of rabbinic law, we Orthodox - Modern and Right alike - contend that legal authority is cumulative, and that a contemporary posek can only issue judgments based on a full history of Jewish legal precedent."

Driving a car on Shabbat according to most Rishonim is only a Rabbinic violation. Eating a kosher fish cooked at Red Lobster similarly can be done as to violate only Rabbinic laws. Where do you draw the line? Who decides what's important and what's not?

Chaim B. said...

Rabbi Weiss has also written (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0411/is_n4_v46/ai_20583577/):

"In the same framework, all those who hold to Orthodoxy contend that "new Halakha," which emerges constantly from the wellspring of the halakhic process, must always be based on the highest caliber of religio-legal authority. There must be an exceptional halakhic personality who affirms the new ruling on the grounds of sound halakhic reasoning."

So who is the "exceptional halakhic personality" who affirms the ordination of Maharats? Certainly no poskim on the right, and no poskim like R' Hershel Shachter or R' Willig from the YU world either. Shouldn't the opinions of "exceptional halakhic personalities" deserve attention when they oppose our own thinking just as much as they deserve our attention in cases where they affirm our innovations?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

R' Herschel Schachter on women rabbis

Devorah said...

Thank you, Rabbi Ben Hecht, for attempting to introduce a bit of decorum to the proceedings. You explained the conundrum quite clearly.

"That is going to be a critique of a Maharat school in itself as yeshivot, even if they give out titles, are not built around the title. Still, though, a title may be important as it does indicate to another one's position and level of competence. Rabbi Michael Broyde recently addressed this issue in an article in the Jewish Press where he contended that, given that women are already active within the Jewish world in a variety of ways, it may be worthwhile to clarify their positions and abilities with appropriate titles."

Thank you. End of discussion. Let's leave discussion of "What is orthodox? You're not Orthodox! You hate Rabbis! And Halachah!" rhetoric out of the basic, original issue.

There is this pervasive feeling in the community that it's a female obligation to do work for the community, and yet do so without any recognition, or get any rewards for her efforts. Men feel that they do require rewards, in the form of respect, money, and privileges. All women ask is to receive the same, but suddenly it's "against halachah". I'm not sure which halachah everyone speaks of. I'm not trying to be belligerent, I'm honestly trying to find the Torah Decree that states that women must never obtain status within our ranks. Especially when this status is as much for helping the klal as it is for themselves.

I also ask you to realize that women are forming their own unit in the community, thanks to the increase in segregation. We've got our own spots at the back of the bus, on the balcony of a shul, behind a wall of an auditorium, on separate schools or staircases, and far away from our Gedolai Yisroel, most of whom have decided to have nothing to do with us. (This is not to belittle them, it is a mourning on our parts that we are no longer connected to our Torah leaders)

Rebbitzen Jungreis, whom you mention, speaks to women about women's issues. Esther Wein, who spoke so eloquently on the O-U website on "shelo asani isha", also has a following of women on analytical Torah concepts. More and more, we are seeing rising women stars, speaking to women. And we need more. If we are to be denied the face of our leaders, we will make our own. We are Orthodox women, and we are dedicated to Torah and its teachings, and this sentiment in society cannot be denied without a hefty penalty to stable Orthodox families.

Off the Derech said...

Welcome to rabbinic corruption, Devorah. I hang around Garnel all day, so I'm used to it by now.

You know, the one thing that might make me frum again is if the women revolt, dethrone all the male pigs for leaders and take over the leadership of the Jewish people. I would be back in a heartbeat, guaranteed. Too bad Orthodoxy by definition means male asshole rabbis.

Off the Derech said...

Where do I sign up?