Thursday, 7 March 2013

What Morethodoxy Misses

Orthodoxy has often been accused of being the kind of religion that focuses not just on the trees instead of the forest but on the little lines on the leaves instead of the forest.  We become so obsessed with the little details in some areas that we forget the big picture and the importance of other areas.
A classic example of this is brought by Rav Shimon Eider, z"l, in his seminal book on hilchos Niddah.  In noting the importance of asking shailos when it comes to deciphering bedikah clothes he lamented that many  people don't ask but instead assume that it's okay to be machmir and delay the tevilah date.  But this leads to an unwanted kullah, Rav Eider noted, because it treated the woman's onah with unneeded leniency.  In fact, if one looks at all the new chumros that keep cropping up nowadays one rarely finds one that doesn't result in another area of halacha being unintentionally observed with leniency.  
How many chumros when it come to bein adam l'Makom result in leniency in bein adam l'chaveiro?  How many people are raised in the Jewish educational system and taught by strong implication that the former is far more important than the latter?  
This results from people forgetting some of the overarching principles of Judaism.  There are ikkarim that should filter down into all our actions and influence them but we get lost in the particulars and forget about them on a regular basis.
This often happens on the Chareidi side, as I've (and others) noted frequently in the past.  What's interesting to note is that it happens on the left-wing Modern Orthodox side as well but as a mirror image.  In the Morethodox world bein adam l'chaveiro often assumes a superior position to bein adam l'Makom with the resultant twisted paskening, just like on the Chareidi side of things.
Thus the latest piece on their blog by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, resurrecting the concept of the female rabbi, the Mahara"t.  The blog has recently focused on partnership minyan arrangements only to get slapped down repeatedly in the comments section by folks who note that the halacha doesn't support such things and that in the absence of a posek (they have a whole one book by Rav Daniel Sperber to rely on, not so very encouraging) Morethodoxy is hardly in a position to enact such a significant change in our liturgical worship.  
So they've moved on, or rather: back to an earlier position.
Unfortunately Rabbi Shafner's article is quite confusing.  At the beginning he writes something which sounds quite Orthodox:
Orthodox Jews believe that men and women are fundamentally different.  They have different characteristics, different strengths, different obligations and different ways of seeing the world and approaching life.
But within the same paragraph he makes a complete U-turn:
Thus, it follows that especially for us, (as opposed perhaps to more liberal Jewish movements in which the boundaries between the genders might be more blurred), it is vital that we have both genders leading our people.  
He then supports his contradictory position at the end of the article.  First he notes:
I would like to caution us against seeing women spiritual leaders in the way that  liberal Jewish movements have in the past, that of expecting women to be rabbis just like their male counterparts.
But then he says:
The Maharat will be no less powerful, no less influential, no less important, no less respected than the Rabbi
In fact what he's proposing is, other than the title being Mahara"t instead of Rabbi, is exactly what liberal Jewish movements are doing.  If he was, for example, proposing female leaders for the women in a congregation and male leaders for the men he might be onto a genuine idea.  But in practice the Mahara"t isn't a rabbi figure for women.  She's a rabbi figure for the congregation and Morthodoxy is being dishonest when it refuses to come straight out and say this.
But going back to the start of this post one can see what the guiding feature is behind this move.  The guiding passion in Modern Orthodoxy is bein adam l'chaveiro.  This is why Morethodoxy's various initiatives have all involved interpersonal relations, the role of women and the wistful dreaming of legitimizing gay marriage within halacha.  While the Chareidim overemphasize bein adam l'chaveiro by saying "no" to everyone Morethodoxy does the opposite by trying to say "yes" even when it's extremely questionable if they can within halacha.
Here's what Morthodoxy is missing, however.  Two of the distinct features of Orthodox are (1) definite distinction in the roles of men and women and (2) definite distinction in values and beliefs when compared with surrounding society.  Morethodoxy, on the other hand, seems bent on blurring these two as much as possible. For example its writers have demanded the removal of the beracha of shelo asani ishah from the morning prayers because it offends feminist sensibilities. As noted above, they have opined that they wish gay marriage could be Jewish acceptable. Now they're saying we should have women rabbis, albeit with a different name.
No, they're not suggesting we stop waiting 6 hours after meat or allow driving to shul on Shabbos but (1) and (2) are very much fundamental principles of Torah society and Morethodoxy seems to not understand that working against them means working against being Orthodox.

11 comments:

Michael Sedley said...

Sorry Garnel - I don't agree.

I'm not a big proponent of "Parntership minyanim", but I think that there are many roles for Jewish women that should be created or expanded.
We are already seeing Yoetzot halacha and Mishgachot kashrut. I'm not sure exactly what the role of a Maharat would be (also don't know what the role of a Rabbi is), however if there are people in a congregation who would like a woman with Jewish/Halachic knowledge who is able to give them spiritual advise or counselling, and they feel more comfortable speaking to a woman than a man, I think that it is great that such a role exists.

I assume the primarily it would be the women in the community who would feel more comfortable going to a Maharat for advise, but I can see married couples or even men who feel that it is easier to speak to a woman.

RAM said...

For truth in advertising to matter, people have to care about truth.

Micha Berger said...

I think he's saying that because in O gender roles are distinct, we need leadership in each sort. Thus a Maharat isn't a "Rabbah" in everything but name, she is a female leader to assist women and girls in fulfilling their role, and assist men in how that role relates to them. Thus, "[t]he Maharat will be no less powerful, no less influential, no less important, no less respected than the Rabbi" and yet cautions against "expecting women to be rabbis just like their male counterparts".

He is extending different but equal in value to leadership as well.

He doesn't define what that woman's role is.

So, we are left with nothing but a vague statement that "it is vital that we have both genders leading our people". Nor do we know how he sees the female role as consistent with leadership in any form, in contrast to many translations of the word "serarah", as used in discussions against bestowing serarah on women.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

But this is why I have no problem with yoatzot, for example, while I do with the maharat concept. A yoetzet is a woman advisor for women. Michael was spot on when describing how valuable their role could be.
But if that's the case then what role would a Maharat fill? Furthermore let's look at the only one ever produced. Does she deal exclusively with women or does she minister to her congregation in general? As for paskening, I think there's a huge difference between "It's okay, the spoon is still kosher" and actually issuing major psak and I don't know if Morethodoxy appreciates that.

Micha Berger said...

I am not saying I agree. I just want to be clear on what it is we are disagreeing with. It's not so trivial as to be self-contradictory.

Lisa said...

I have to disagree -- strongly -- with R' Micha. He is naive in the extreme if he doesn't understand that the goal of Shafner and his ilk is to have women rabbis who are no different than male rabbis. Who serve the congregation in exactly the same way. Not as an adjunct to the male rabbis, but as an alternative to them. He doesn't even suggest that maharats only serve at shuls that also have a rabbi.

Hevei dan et kol ha-adam l'khaf zekhut is often misunderstood to mean that we should give the benefit of the doubt out of context. But it doesn't say "kol adam"; it says "kol ha-adam". You can't read what he wrote outside the context of everything else he's written.

Micha Berger said...

Lisa, I think you do more damage to our common cause by assuming the opposition are idiots who don't realize when they contradict themselves. As I wrote, if you want to oppose something, you have to take the time to know what you're actually opposing. Just because they're wrong doesn't mean they're trivially illogical or stupid.

Lisa said...

I am the last person to suggest that Hyim Shafner is an idiot. I think he is an opponent of Orthodox Judaism and of the Torah. I think he is machti et harabbim.

I have taken the time to know what I'm opposing. I'm very familiar with the entire Orthoprax / Open Orthodox / Morethodox / YCT / JOFA/ Edah / IRF / Post-Orthodox axis than you may be aware. You shouldn't assume that I'm uninformed. After all, isn't that what you're accusing me of doing?

Let's take the blogger who calls himself "The Orthoprax Rabbi" as an apt example. As a self-described atheist, it's problemtic that he serves as the rabbi of an Orthodox shul, however far to the left that shul may be. But had he kept those views to himself, it wouldn't have caused an uproar.

Similarly, if Shafner kept his heterodox views to himself, that would be one thing. But he isn't trying to make small changes or local changes. He wants to present Maharat as a new model for leadership throughout Orthodox Judaism. He, and the rest of the crew over at Morethodoxy, are actively engaged in trying to present heterodox views -- and in not a few cases, actions -- as an acceptable expression of Orthodox Judaism.

Rather than have the honesty to say, "I left you guys", they want to drag the rest of us down with him.

I had to explain to someone recently how the term "Modern Orthodox" spans the gamut from Jews who are committed to the mesorah, but don't see the modern world as irredeemably inimical, to those like the bloggers at Morethodoxy, who aren't Orthodox in any way other than the label they choose to (mis)use. It was tragic.

Devorah said...

I take a huge hiatus from your blog because of these very type of posts.

1) Obscure, made up name for a subset of Judaism you don't agree with, in an attempt to belittle them.

2) Loosely constructed premise to tie in the entrenched notion that women should know their place and stay far, far away from any kind of visible position.

3) Twisting of someone else's words to suit your own perspective on gender.


How about you read an article like this, http://forward.com/articles/172568/cracks-in-a-holy-vessel/?p=all, and tell us again why men are better at being Rabbis than women would be?

Micha Berger said...

"Morethodoxy" is the name of a blog by people loosely affiliated with Open Orthodoxy -- carried on their own site and at The Jewish Journal. It's not a nickname our host made up.

See the list of regular contributors. They pretty well represent where Open Orthodoxy is headed.

Moving on to your second point, I think all people are supposed to be staying as far as they can for any kind of visible position. If men weren't obligated in minyan, and if a minyan didn't require a chazan, we wouldn't need to have a man standing in front sacrificing his pursuit of tzeniut for the sake of the community. Just because people are warped and enjoy the limelight doesn't mean we're supposed to. Nor that we should help others get their share of the poison.

As for your closing question... G-d said so. While a woman's testimony is accepted on matters of fact, it is not accepted to establish guilt. And only eligable witnesses can serve as judges. She isn't obligated in prayer or Torah study... All in all, little of the role of rabbi is open to her.

Which is why a female halachic advisor that would help women with matters they would be embarassed to bring to a man were labeled "yoatzot", not rabbis. As we say in the Amidah, "Restore our shofetim (judges) as at the start, and our yoatzim (advisors) at the beginning." A woman is excluded from much of a shofeit's job, but she can be a yo'etzet. A similar yet very different role, labeled differently to make that point clear.

Lisa said...

Devorah, you realize that "Morethodox" is the name of the blog on which Shafner's article appeared, right? Garnel didn't make it up. It's a made up name that was invented by people who wanted to imply "more than Orthodoxy". The way you're talking, it seems to me that might be right up your alley.

The issue of women as rabbis has nothing to do with whether we'd be better at it or worse at it or the same. If you think it is, you haven't bothered to learn about it.