Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Still Not Getting It

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 [2], 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.

18 comments:

Bob Miller said...

Sadducees and Karaites said they would only consider the hardest of hard evidence, namely, our Written Torah. However, they gave themselves lots of margin to fill in the blanks arbitrarily.

Shunning guidance from our Mesorah, they were unreliable even in their understanding of the Torah text.

JRKmommy said...

I think you're misinterpreting Rabbi Kanefsky's reference to these women keeping kashrut, Shabbat and Niddah.

He NEVER states that any other mitzvah is negotiable. Rather, he is making the point that these women are frum and take halacha seriously, in response to the concern of Rav Moshe Feinstein that increased participation by women today is motivated by religious disobedience.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

The impression I got is: Well these women keep the "big three" so clearly they're Orthodox which means if they're pushing for change they're beyond suspicion of being non-Orthodox. And this is clearly not the case.

JRKmommy said...

The comment about these women being observant seems to relate back to this statement:

"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. "

His argument is that these women aren't protesting against Orthodoxy and halacha, so therefore "bad intentions" shouldn't be the reason to prohibit the actions.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Look, it's like the line from Indiana Jones And The Holy Grail: Ask yourself: do you do it for God's honour or for your own?
Would the woman, if told that she cannot make kiddush, feel like a second class Jewish citizen? On one hand that would be understandable. On the other, it betrays a lack of understanding of the importance gender roles play in daily Judaism. If the only way a woman can feel connected is by taking on male roles you have to query whether she understands that.

Devorah said...

First of all, please try not to compare women and animals. Animals can't read from the ketubah, thanks.

Second of all, your argument:
"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. "

To reiterate what you just said, because a woman doesn't have the purest of intentions, and perhaps she has ulterior motives, then she is not worthy of performing mitzvos as she sees fit.

Or, as you just stated in your comment, "Do you do it for God's honor, or your own?"

Oh ho ho. Seriously? That would effectively eliminate about 90% of most male Rabbis, speakers, charity givers, principals, and Rebbes. Last I checked, no one was administering psychological evaluations on every single Rabbi undergoing smicha to ensure his motives are pure. Why is it that only men are assumed altruistic motives, but women are assumed as subversive?

Devorah said...

Consider this viewpoint: I was raised in an atmosphere where I was 20 before I understood that the Torah was raised before and after layning in shul, and that was why we stood up and said "Zos Toras Moshe". Why? Because our women's section was so far removed from the men's, with thick curtains that were not allowed to be moved. I was ignorant about many details that went on in shul, unable to hear most of the shiurim from the other far side of the mechitza, and most of the shiurim tailored to women solely concentrated on tznius.

I never learned how to open a sefer and find out for myself the halacha. I had to teach it to myself, with my husband's help, after we married. For a long time, I was forced to call Rabbis repeatedly. Furthermore, imagine my humiliation, bringing underwear with menstrual blood, for inspection from the Rabbi. On a recent trip to Israel, I wasn't allowed in to see any of the gedolim of today. I wasn't even allowed in the building.

I'm a lucky woman, with a supportive husband and, prior to that, supportive father. Very lucky. What about the widow? What about the divorcee? What about the orphan? What about the abused wife? What about the neglected mother? They are isolated and shunned in regular orthodox society. They are ignorant and have been made to feel as outsiders in their own religion, solely purposeful in their breeding or how they dress. It's not all bad, but when the main avenues and leaders of your faith are denied you, it's no small wonder that most disenchanted female teenagers state that they wish to leave Judaism because "they're not wanted, unless they're covered up and sold off to marriage."

The last two funerals I went to for women had not ONE SINGLE female speaker. In one case, since the woman had only daughters and no husband, Rabbis got up to speak about her. They both started with, "I never met her" or "I didn't really know her". At her eulogy. In the other case, one son and two Rabbis of the widowed husband got up to speak, and only the son was able to tell a eulogy about her actual life, rather than a generic "She was an aishes chayil, made challos and sent her kids to Jewish schools".

I've said this repeatedly. Relax the rules for tznius, treat women as intelligent beings, and you'll see a decline in the desperate need for women to have "their own". Until then, you leave us little choice. Sara Schneirer did what she had to do, even though most Rabbis were strenuously against the principal of Bais Yaakov. But the changing in the tide of society made it impossible to keep the status quo. I see no difference here.

Rosten said...

It is not true that Lubavicth follows the shulchan aruch harav.
I went through a large amount of it with the teshvot at the end and it never corresponds to current practice

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

> That would effectively eliminate about 90% of most male Rabbis, speakers, charity givers, principals, and Rebbes.

Devorah, you're absolutely right but there is a difference. In many of the cases under discussion a man is obligated while a women is not under the rules. That's Rav Shechter's point: if it wasn't that someone has to speak, then men wouldn't be allowed to either. As he himself noted, you don't even have to read the ketubah for a wedding to be valid so theoretically if every man present was as modest as he should be, no one would step forward to do it.

As for the cases you bring, most of them are either restricted to the Chareidi community or extreme examples and we don't change laws because of extreme examples (usually). For instance, last year I attened a cousin's funeral. She had 3 daughters and 1 son. The son, nebich, has advanced early-onset Parkinson's disease. The older sister got up and spoke amazingly. No one protested but then, it wasn't a Chareidi crowd.
For another example, while Rav Eliashiv's handlers probably wouldn't let you within 50 feet of him, Rav Aharon Liechtenstein or Rav Adin Steinsaltz would probably wind up have a great time conversing with you.
How about the students of Nechama Leibowitz? They adored and still adore her. She remains a revered name in MO and National Zionist circles but she never read a ketubah or needed a title to achieve greatness.
You're right, there are some segments of Orthodox Jewry where women are little more than breeding machines to be shunted to the side whenever possible. There are others where they are treated with the respect due them as intelligent human beings. But even then there are limits. Our goal is not indistinguishable equality.

JRKmommy said...

Devorah - Garnel's formatting isn't always easy to figure out, but the part that you quote starting with "Put forward.." wasn't his words. He was quoting Rabbi Kanefsky, an Open Orthodox rabbi, who was paraphrasing a common objection to women's participation, and then going on to disagree with it.

Garnel - how are you defining "equality"? Would you distinguish between equality and egalitarianism?

For example, could there be equality of intrinsic value as a human being created in the image of Hashem, which doesn't necessarily require identical roles?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

> could there be equality of intrinsic value as a human being created in the image of Hashem, which doesn't necessarily require identical roles?

This is a question that great philosophers far more qualified than me have struggled to answer.

No, there is no equality of intrinsic value as a human being. Every human being is a special individual with his/her own unique intrinsic value and worth. That is more important than bland equality. You are the only you in creation. You have different strengths, weaknesses, characteristics, strength of connection to God, etc. than me. We cannot be equal. That doesn't mean I am better than you or the opposite. What we too often do is assume inequality means "better and worse" but it doesn't. It just means different and using our differences together and appreciating and valuing a person for his/her own differences is the important value here.

BTW, any suggestions for changing the confusing format?

JRKmommy said...

Put a bit of space in between text and quotes, and more contrast other than just a slight different shade of blue - maybe bold or italics. It would also help to clearly identify the source of the quote by writing "Rabbi Kanefsky writes at X..", and then doing the quoted text.

At least you are more open to constructive criticism of formal than SJ.

I'll respond more to the equality issue after Shabbat and when I catch up on my billings.

JRKmommy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JRKmommy said...

Garnel:

I found an interesting quote:

"And for the point about Weiss and Shirah Hadashah, the idea wasn't that they're the majority but that Orthodoxy, far from being the monolithic black wall it's portrayed as here is actually quite variegated. One who looks can probably find a group he could be comfortable with. My point was not to be stereotypical and dismissive."

Discuss.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Nice quote. Who said it?

Look, many ethinc/religious groups look monolithic to outsiders who can't be bothered to stare more closely. For example, I cannot tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese facial features and my friends from that background are shocked that it isn't as obvious to me as it is to them. Same thing with Orthodoxy. The only question with Rabbis Weiss et al is: do they still practice within the minimal parameters of what you need to do to be called Orthodox? That's the real discussion.

JRKmommy said...

Has the answer to that question changed in the past 4 years? If so, how?

If not, is it misleading to suggest that Orthodoxy is a broad enough umbrella to include Rabbi Avi Weiss and congregations like Shira Hadasha on its most modern/left-wing extreme in one context, while defining them out of Orthodoxy in another?

How monolithic is Orthodoxy today?

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

The problem is that there is no universal definition of Orthodoxy. If you ask a Samtar chasid he'll point to himself and his friends as the only genuinely Orthodox folks around. In fact, it seems that the further right you go the more narrow the definition and the further left you go the more expansive. No Orthodox is not objectively monolithic but for many groups it subjectively is.
And yes, the answer to that question has changed in the last 4 years with such initiatives as women getting aliyos, the ordaining of women, etc.

Anonymous said...

from afff(o)
As all kesubos today are posul anyway whoever reads them. Since no rov understands what is written there anyway (the figures the most important part). If a women were to read and explain to the couple the sums involved it would be highly commendable!