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.