Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Sometimes The Answer Is No

Despite all my criticisms of him, there is one essay of Rav Avi Shafran's that I like.  It's called "The Conservative Lie" and it's about all the failings of the Conservative movement.  Some of it is unforgiveably triumphant but those who read Shafran's materials know that he is given to that style.
The part that sticks in my memory is where Rav Shafran goes through the Conservative methodology and notes that whenever a difficult issue has come before the so-called Rabbinical Assembly the answer to whether or not the issue is permissible always seems to be "yes".  From driving on Shabbos to women rabbonim and, since the article was written, on to open acceptance of homosexuality the Conservatives never seem to be able to say no to anyone.  As Shafran correctly points out there's a problem with such a methology.  It lacks any sincerity or principle.
It seems that one of Morethodoxy's guiding principles is also the desire to say "yes" no matter what to whomever really wants something. In the past its members have opined about their desire to somehow find a way to make homosexual marriage permissible al pi halacha and their great frustration at not being able to (yet).  Now they've moved on to partnership services and decided that these are a great idea despite the abudance of halachic objections to them.
The responses on the Morethodox blog have been somewhat simplistic, create distinctions where there are none in order to generate leniencies that have no firm basis and ignore the strength of minhag in the current practices within the Orthodox world.  None of this is surprising from a movement that wishes to make huge changes in the way Orthodoxy is practice, all of them without the support of a single major posek
But the real motivator comes out in their latest piece which has to do with a young Israeli lady named Ophir ben Shitrit.  Ms. ben Shitrit is Torah observant and attends an Orthodox school in Israel. In violation of the school's rules she recently performed on an Israeli version of American Idol called "The Voice".  As a penalty for violating the rules she was suspended from her school.  Not a nice situation.
Rabbi Barry Gelman's response to this seems to lay bare what Morethodoxy thinks of the word "No" when it comes to halacha.  There is first the title of the article:
I do not know if Ophir Ben Shetreet will remain observant, but if she doesn’t, I may know the reason why.
Right.  So if she goes "off the derech" as a result of being punished for breaking her school's rules then it's the school's fault, not hers.  If she looks at the school and says "This is so unfair, I can't be observant anymore!" then it's perfectly understandable.
Well no it's not.  As Gelman's article notes there are indeed a variety of authoritative rulings defining and limiting the restrictions surrounding kol ishah.  If Ms. ben Shitrit isn't happy with her current school's hashkafah it would seem the answer is clear: switch to a school that isn't so strict. 
This doesn't seem to be what Gelman is advocating.  Instead of suggesting that Ms. ben Shitrit either switch schools or decide to obey the rules in the one she's currently enrolled in, he implies that since there are valid halachic opinions that allow the young lady to perform on television then the school should accomodate her by accepting those views.
Could one imagine a LWMO guy walking into a Chareidi shul and insisting on shaking hands with the Rebbitzen because he's aware of a lenient opinion that permits this and he happens to hold by it?
Ultimately Morthodoxy is moving towards Conservatism through its selective quoting of halachic sources and its desire to eliminate the word "No" from its Torah vocabulary.  Orthodoxy, in their model, must conform to our desires instead of the opposite way around. 
And isn't this the basis for partnership congregations?  Sure we're willing to do the Orthodox thing, they seem to be saying, as long as it's set up in a way that connects to us, as opposed to hoping we'll connect to it.
Halacha certainly has a great flexibility to it and a Rav with a deep knowledge of the legal sources can often work wonders in difficult situations.  But there are limits.  Sometimes the answer is "no" and it doesn't matter how much we would like it to be otherwise.  The challenge is for us to ask ourselves how to accept that instead of stamping our feet and demanding the ruling change to accomodate our feelings.


AztecQueen2000 said...

Kol isha could technically be defined as a gray area. After all, we do have records in our history (one in Torah, one in Nevi'im) of women singing in public.

RAM said...

Here we have a movement that is not content to wink at aveirot, but actively constructs specious pseudo-halachic arguments to support them. Just what we all need!

Richie said...

You could easily write a companion piece on the Culture of Chumra: "Sometimes The Answer Is Yes".

RAM said...


Where your parallel breaks down is that few take chumrot to the point of violating normative halacha.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

RAM, Ritchie has an excellent point. This could develop into a future post but in short, when you scream at and spit on women who won't move to the back of the bus because you've decided there must be separate seating on public transportation then you are violating the halacha of publicly humiliating someone. And that's just off the top of my head. Few may take chumrot to the point of violating normative halacha but when it happens no one notices because it's the ben adam l'chavero stuff that gets violated and people don't realize it.

Joshua Josephs said...

The Conservative movements halachik methodology is more complex than you make it out to be. I dont dispute that it has often led to lenient or outright incorrect opinions, but because the Rabbinic Assembly does not operate like the Sanhedrin they accept both lenient and strict opinions. For example Rabbi Roth has accepted opinions that hold that women rabbis arent permissible, and that accepting those who are openly homosexual is not permissible. This should be distinguished from what the laity of the movement actually does.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi Joshua, thanks for your comment.
The complexity of the Conservative RA isn't the issue. The idea that if, after a vote on an issue, a significant minority of members disagreed with the motion then both the motion and its opposition become official positions is ridiculous. I mean really, take a stand! If you want women rabbis then say "They're legit and you have to accept it as the Conservative position" instead of "Well you can accept it or not accept it, it's up to you". What kind of standard is that?