In my last post I talked about the various levels of "evidence" (for lack of a better word) within Orthodoxy for various practices we have. I noted that the YCT crowd is very good about changing Orthodox practices when they fit into the "soft evidence" category by using the "Pick a Posek" method in which a lone decisor or two are chosen as the basis of a deviant minhag despite the rest of the poskim being against it.
Now, on the whole, "Pick a Posek" is used by many segments within the Orthodox world whether or not we realize it. One large example will suffice. Lubavitchers strictly follow the psak of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav written by their Alter Rebbe. On a particular issue 100% of orther decisors might hold something is permitted but if the Alter Rebbe wrote that it wasn't they would treat it as forbidden.
There is a huge difference, however, between Lubavitch's dedicated following of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the YCT method. Come hell or high water, Lubavitchers will go with the psak of the Alter rebbe no matter how inconvenient the final psak might be. The YCT crowd, on the other hand, demonstrates no such consistency. If the Rosh permits issue "A" but forbids issue "B" then they will hold like the Rosh on "A" and find someone else to justify their permitting "B". This, they will tell you, is real halachic methodology.
An example of a YCT crewmember who just doesn't get it is Rav Yosef Kanefsky. Now, I don't mean to pick on the guy so much but he keeps providing the material. In this particular post he once again attacks another practice in Orthodoxy backed by "soft evidence", ie. this is just the way we do it even though the codes might say there are more options:
Halacha, as our community practices it, excludes women from a variety of public ritual roles. But reading the ketuba happens not to be one of them. Rabbis who have written in opposition to women reading the ketuba invariably open their arguments by acknowledging precisely this point. As one scholarly detractor has written, “If one judges the issue from the perspective of the laws of the marriage ceremony, there’s nothing wrong … The marriage would be one hundred percent valid”. Yet, he and many others would have said “no” in this case.
On what grounds? For one scholar, a woman reading the ketuba violates the laws of personal modesty. But is the reading of a ketuba less modest than teaching a class, or addressing a professional gathering? The latter are activities in which perfectly modest women engage in regularly today. For another scholar the issue is not modesty, but tradition. “Tradition possesses its own power, and why should we deviate from tradition for no purpose?”. But why would anyone assume that a particular women is being chosen to read the ketuba “for no purpose”? Have you ever been at a wedding and thought to yourself that the man who is reading the ketuba was chosen by the couple “for no purpose”?
But it is actually a third objection to a women reading the ketuba that seems to have the most currency. Put forward by numerous rabbinic writers in a variety of contexts, it declares that whenever Orthodox women perform ritual practices that are traditionally associated with men, their motivation is invariably subversive. Women who read a ketuba (or who recite Kiddush or HaMotzi at the Shabbat table, or who take a lulav, or who wear a tallit when they daven) are invariably engaged in an act of religious disobedience, cynically utilizing religious practice as a means of expressing their rebellion against perceived unfairness or injustice in Orthodox life. Thus, not only do their acts lack religious value, they actually constitute sin.
How passionate! Rabbi Kanefsky, in the spirit of modern secular liberalism, appeals to "fairness" and "justice". How can a reasonable person resist such arguments?
And then he once again shows he simply does not understand Orthodoxy despite all the learning he's done:
Is there any lack of fully egalitarian Jewish movements that are open to women who want out of Orthodoxy or out of Halacha? Surely not. But these women have not bolted Orthodoxy. They are engaged in a campaign of religious disobedience?? Are Orthodox women who read ketubot, recite Kiddush and lain in women’s tefilla groups not observing Kashrut? Or Shabbat? Or the laws of Niddah?
Right, so as long as you keep the big three the rest are negotiable. It's interesting that all the examples that Rabbi Kanefsky brings are those relying of "soft evidence". This is just what we do. As I've noted before, the Gemara itself deals with a situation in which Tannaim in a new location practice a leniency that the locals forbid. When they protest that what they are doing is fine the response is "Lo ra'inu k'zeh" and the objection stands. If we don't do a certain thing or consider acceptable then a lack of written psak forbidding the practice is not an acceptable reason to permit it. As Rav Herschel Schechter eloquently notes:
Sometimes the halacha requires of us to act in a public fashion (b'farhesia), as for example to have tfilah b'tzibur, krias haTorah b'tzibur, etc. On these occasions the halacha distinguishes between men and women. We only require and demand of the men that they compromise on their tznius and observe certain mitzvos in a farhesia (public) fashion. We do not require this of women. They may maintain their middas hahistatrus, just as Hashem (most of the time) is a Kel Mistater (Yeshaya 45:15). Of course, if there are no men in the shul who are able to lein and get the aliyos, we will have no choice but to call upon a woman, and require of her to compromise on her privacy and lein, to enable the minyan to fulfill their obligation of krias haTorah. If there is a shul where a woman gets an aliyah, this is an indication that there was no man who was able to lein, and this is an embarrassment to that minyan. This is what the rabbis meant when they said that a woman should not lein - for this would constitute an embarrassment to the minyan.(Megillah 23a.)
And the same is true regarding a woman reading the kesuba in public at a chasuna. Of course the kiddushin will not be affected in the slightest! An animal can also read the kesuba without affecting the kiddushin! The truth of the matter is that no one has to read the kesuba! We have a centuries-old custom to create the hefsek through the reading of the kesuba. Because we plan to satisfy the view of the Rambam that the kesuba must be handed over to the kallah before the nissuin , the rishonim thought that we may as well read that kesuba which we're just about to hand over. But nonetheless it is a violation of kvod hatzibur to have a woman surrender her privacy to read the kesuba in public. Were there no men present who were able to read this Aramaic document?
Many of the folks who push this kind of approach have developed a "I want to eat my cake and have it too" approach to Judaism. They'll be local Orthodox followers as long as none of their secular liberal values are compromised. Now, there is nothing wrong with many secular liberal values and again, as the Gemara has noted, when goyim develop laudatory practices (like using cutlery, treating people politely, and using toilet paper) it is acceptable to admire them and even use them. But the first and only litmus test is: does this practice contradict halacha, not the opposite which seems to be the guiding rule for this new philosophy: Open Orthopraxy.