Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Smoking Gun Line

Conversation is still raging over Rabbi Avi Weiss' decision to promote Sara Hurtwitz from being the carrier of an unweildly acronym to being the carrier of a new title, one that is probably far more controversial than what it replaced.
Throughout all the arguing back and forth, one thing has been forgotten.  The essential question is: What defines Orthodoxy?  I recently analyzed Rabbi Yosef Kanesky's article defending the "rabba" concept in order to refute his five straw-man arguments.  On further consideration, one line he included in there seems to be the clincher as to how YCT's initiative departs from Orthodoxy, its proponents' claims to contrary not withstanding.  Here's the line:
(4) Orthodox Judaism promotes gender discrimination for its own sake, with Halacha itself lacking the authority to challenge the discriminatory pattern.

Now remember, this is no. 4 of 5 arguments made against the concept of women rabbis that he lists.  All 5 arguments are weak and made to sound ridiculous, the idea being that you'll then say that since these are the best the anti-rabba folks can do, there is no good reason to oppose this initiative.  But it's the wording of this one in particular that needs to be analyzed.
No. 4 essentially differs from the other arguments in its style.  For example, the first argument, that women lack the intellectual capacity to become rabbis is absurd.  Anyone who actually believes that is an idiot and such people can safely be ignored during a debate.  It's the same with the rest - they can also be dismissed with the line "Only a moron would use that reasoning" - except no. 4.
No. 4, in fact, doesn't present an opposing argument at all.  In fact, it's an argument in favour of the rabba initiative.  Read it again and you can see that this is what Rabbis Weiss, Kanefsky and Rabba Hurwitz believe, that the halacha is discriminatory.  In every other argument, the opposition is presented in positive or neutral terms.  Here Rabbi Kanesky would have us believe that we who oppose his ideas are not merely on the wrong side of political correctness but openly embrace bigotry as a religious value while secretly admitting we know it's actually negative.  Yes, we know discrimination is wrong but so what?  We're in favour of it!
This would seem to be the line that YCT has finally drawn that will ultimately formally separate them from the rest of Modern Orthodoxy.  How is this so?
For the genuine Orthodox Jew, there are two principle considerations when dealing with clashes between halacha and modern values.  The first is that our approach to modern values is guided by the halacha, not vice versa.  The second is that no halachic value is bad.
Thus for the genuine Orthodox Jew, the idea that the halacha differentiates between men and women, assigning them different roles in national, religious and personal life is not discrimination.  It is a positive thing with good consequences and therefore a value to be upheld, not minimized in the face of a society that seeks to eliminate all differences between the genders (except, inexplicably, when it comes to divorce court but that's another rant). 
However, for the Morethodox Jew, these two concepts are held in the precisely opposite fashion.  Their approach to halacha is guided by modern values and therefore there can be halachic values that are bad.  This may fit the YCT way of thinking but it is certainly not Orthodox.
This article in The Jewish Star goes further in helping clarifying the large step Rabbi Weiss has taken out of Orthodoxy despite his (and Hurwitz's) impassioned protests to the contrary:
“I don’t think anything I’m doing is outside the boundaries of halacha,” she stressed. The more advanced semicha, “Yadin yadin is a little more controversial because women are not supposed to be judges or witnesses. It’s a little more halachically complicated.”
“I’m pretty traditional,” Hurwitz admitted drolly with a faint South African accent. “I know halacha. I keep halacha very carefully. I have tremendous emunah. I can’t convince somebody else that I really am Orthodox and that Rabbi Weiss is really Orthodox. The only way is for somebody to realize it themselves. And they’ll realize it.”
Now, I am not commenting on Sara Hurwitz either as an individual or on her sincerity.  However, I am criticizing her willingness to minimize the controversy she is in the middle of.  The statement "Yadin yadin is a little more controversial" is flabergasting.  A little more controversial?  Is there a crack team of scholars at YCT working overtime to prove that women can suddenly be judges and witnesses within the bounds of halacha?  As for the statement "I know halacha", well there I had to shake my head.  I don't think there's a major talmid chacham alive who would make such an arrogant statement.  It reminds me of how some of us in first year medical school thought we knew all about medicine after completing our anatomy and physiology courses.  We had no idea about the size and complexity of the corpus of medical knowledge.  Torah dwarfs even that and she "knows halacha"?
But if you look through the Morethodox website, it becomes clear that she and her friends don't actually know what they don't know.  Read up and down and the articles, with only a few exceptions, all fall into the same patters.  Here's a social issues, hey Morethodoxy has something to say about it!  No halachic analysis, no deep explanations of any gemara, no Torah at all that is not connected to a pre-exisiting social agenda. 
I don't doubt that in time Rabbi Weiss will find a way to create female judges and will overcome every barrier the halacha puts in front of him.  He will continue to call himself Orthodox and insist that everything he is doing is consistent with Torah Judaism.
At the beginning of the NHL season, Brian Burke announced that this year's edition of the Toronto Maple Leads was a fine time that would handily compete for a playoff spot.  Anyone can say anything they want, really but just at least Burke now admits he had a bunch of losers that aren't going anywhere.  Rabbi Weiss is still fooling himself.


Mike S. said...

1) The Morethodox article seemed to me not even worth a reply. I mean, if you aren't willing to concede that sticking with tradition is a positive value in Orthodox Judaism, you just don't get it. I mean, we still pray for the resh galuta.

2) I would agree with you about halachic values always being good, except that in a couple of cases the Tannaim said otherwise. I am thinking of the time when the Caesar sent inspectors to study whether Jewish law was discriminatory and found two cases, one of which R. Gamaliel changed, and the other they promised not to report. And the Medrash in Vayikra Rabbah applying the passuk from kohelet "Raiti et ha-ashukim ..." to mamzeirim who are called "oppressed by the halacha."

Devorah said...

"However, for the Morethodox Jew, these two concepts are held in the precisely opposite fashion. Their approach to halacha is guided by modern values and therefore there can be halachic values that are bad. This may fit the YCT way of thinking but it is certainly not Orthodox."

I'm not entirely sure on that. The Torah advocates the use of slaves, and for people to be slaves. Do we own slaves? No. In the world, especially the developed world, owning a slave has become morally indefensible. Does that mean halacha is wrong? Certainly not. Slavery was an attempt to deal with monetary debt without prison, and owners were forbidden from mistreating a slave. However, we have abandoned the practice because we have not been able to maintain decorum in such a situation.

I feel that a similar crisis is erupting in the orthodox world. Increasingly, women have been forced to become invisible. I cannot tell you how the separation of the sexes has hurt the ability to communicate with a rav on sensitive issues such as niddah, as well as other parenting issues, kashrus, and general guidance. Our major gedolim and leaders refuse to admit a woman into their offices. These are the only men with halachic authority of any kind, and therefore, the advice of the "rebbitzens" do not carry weight. Catch-22, that.

The only solution appears to be as follows: Set up women to lead the communities, to judge halachos. Since we have become unable to deal, with decorum, to the situation of 50% of the population being abandoned by their Jewish leaders, it's only fair to institute an attempt to rectify the situation. It's been done before, completely within the boundaries of halacha. Devorah was a judge herself, one listed in tanach - so how can you appropriately state that women can never be judges?

Also, attacking women for their "hubris" in assuming that they themselves know halacha is undeserving. I have heard plenty of men state that they know halacha. Ask any rosh yeshiva, any principal of a school, and you'll find arrogance in spades. So perhaps you're upset that a woman doesn't know her place, and should only act with humility. Well, perhaps that humility will only get her where you'd want her - in the back of the crowd. Sometimes you need to toot your own horn to convince others that you're intelligent.

Perhaps the methods in which Sara H has been promoted is a bit, um, unorthodox. But the rationale is sound, and frankly, welcome.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Devorah, I agree that women are being increasing disenfranchised by the frum community, especially the right wing of it. However, I don't believe the solution is to react by trying to do 180 degrees the other way.
Unlike some others, I think that yoatzot are a great way to cross the divide. Women should have someone to ask sensitive questions to, either a rav who isn't hung up on being "more Taliban than thou" or a competent woman with an educational background and access to a rav who will back her answers.

As for the slaves comment, I think your mention of decorum strikes the issue on the head. We often forget that just because the modern world does something a certain way, it doesn't make it the best or most moral. What's better, giving someone lashes or taking away 10-15 years of their life while introducing them to all sorts of unsavory people that can teach them allsorts of unsavory things?

As for Devorah, "judge" in that context implies political leader, not necessarily a halachic authority. For example, Yiftach was a judge yet the Bible makes cleaer he was a complete ignoramus when it came to Jewish law. Shimshon was a judge but we never see him holding court of any kind. So using her as an example doesn't work.

Finally, I was not attacking women for their "hubris". I was attacking Ms. Hurwitz's statement for its hubris and I would have done the same for any man dumb enough to say such a thing. For me, it wasn't that she was a woman saying it but the attitude that led to her thinking such a statement is acceptable which goes beyond her.

Shalmo said...

I had an epiphany last night.

Clearly Hashem wants all Jews to be secular. The Holocaust proves it.

It was the secularists that were rewarded with a state of their own, while the frummies went to the ovens!

Garnel Ironheart said...

Ah Shalmo, none of your friends home or something?

Yochanan said...

If women can't be witnesses, that means basically no man can get punished for a crime against a woman since most men make sure there's no other guys around before committing a crime against a woman.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Except you could make that argument more general - in order to get away with any crime against anyone all a person has to do is make sure there are no proper witnesses around.

Chaim B. said...

>>>"judge" in that context implies political leader,

See Tosfos B.K. 15a who asks how Devorah could serve as a dayan. She paskened dinei torah.

>>>therefore, the advice of the "rebbitzens" do not carry weight.

Calling the rebbetzins "Rabbi" won't solve the problem. What's needed is respect for people even if they have no title "Rabbi".

Josh said...

Re Devora's comment:a) The Toah does not advocate slavery, in fact opposes it in principle, but adjudicates a reality; b) the concept of slavery in the Torah is not the same as the conventional one: it is essentially an indentured worker contract-bound to work for 6 years, with essentially all human rights and more (mi shekanah lo eved kana lo adon!); c) even the case of a thief who is sold into "slavery", where he also retains his human rights, and is sold only subject to the debt with lots of qualifications which make it very difficult to apply, this is for 6 years, to repay his debt and no more.
The modern approach is to "kidnap" the thief and lock him up for who knows how long - subjecting both him and his family to terrible conditions etc. Give me the Torah-approach any time better than that!

Anonymous said...

Eved knaani?