One historical example of this is the appointment of Shaul as the first king of Israel. The Torah in Devarim clearly states that it is a mitzvah to establish a monarchy in Israel. Various places in the Talmud delineate when this became obligatory after the initial conquest and settlement of Israel under Yehoshua but no one denies that there is a mitzvas aseh to have a king in Israel.
If that's the case why is the response of Shmuel haRo'eh, the leader of our ancestors at that time, mainly negative? The Bible details his response to the people's request for a king and it isn't a positive speech.
The answer to that is contained in the speech. It is clear to Shmuel that the desire for a king had no holy aspect to it. It was about politics and matching the nations around that had monarchies and central governments. It wasn't "I want a king because I want to fulfill the mitzvah" but "I want a king to be like all the nations around me". This negative intention nullified the religious value of the kiyum hamitzvah which is what so annoyed Shmuel.
I was thinking about this while reading through the back and forth debate between Cross Currents and Morethodoxy on the recent "ordination" of three new Mahara"ts. It's a fascinating discussion to follow because, while it appears interactive, it is quite clear that both sides are not interested in talking to one another but rather in talking at one another. Nothing Rav Avraham Gordimer says is going to change the minds over at YCT and nothing Rabbi David Wolkenfeld writes in response is going to change Rav Gordimer's mind.
But in my humble opinion the entire point of this debate is being missed. This whole discussion isn't about whether or not female rabbis are permitted in halacha. The real point is seen in blogs and Facebook comments of people who support the YCT initiative and can be summarized by one particular post I saw: "This is a step in the right direction".
The right direction? Doesn't that strike one as a little arrogant, relegating the vast majority of Torah-observant poskim who oppose the YCT initiative as a group going in the wrong direction? If one stands up and states that after a careful analysis of the issue one opposes the ordination of female rabbis one is automatically wrong?
And if so, why is one wrong? What makes the ordination of women a step in the right direction? Does it add to the general kedushah of our nation? Does it increase habatzas Torah? Is it necessary to stem something which is widely perceived as a problem among the majority of Torah-observant Jews?
From the various comments I've seen as well as the posts on Morethodoxy none of these seem to be the case. Rather we get back to our ancestors' request of Shmuel. Secular society around us is egalitarian. Most Chrisian denominations these days, with the notable exception of Catholicism, are egalitarian or close to it. We want, the YCT folks seem to be saying, to be like the secular society around us. They have women priests, women politicians, women executives and we think that's right. Therefore becoming more egalitarian by ordaining women as rabbis is a step in the right direction.
Although this might harsh, I would like to bolster my point by bringing up a never-mentioned (to my knowledge) consideration. Up until now the YCT crowd has been emphasizing the supposed need for women to have a greater role in Jewish life and for Orthodoxy to be more egalitarian. This means women need to start leading services, need aliyos to the Torah and need to be rabbis. (Oddly there's no similar effort to ensure men start lighting Shabbos candles or baking challah) But there's another important community position, one often forgotten about by lots of folks but which is amazingly essential for the Jewish community. Like the position of rabbi, there's no mishnah or gemara that forbids women taking this position. In fact the Mishnah bpfeirush states that women are permitted to perform its duties. The Shulchan Aruch brings that mishnah as halacha as well. Yet all over the world there are no women doing the job. Not only that but there's no outcry from the YCT crowd about this. There are no women lining up to break the glass ceiling surrounding this profession.
Have you guessed what the job is?
The local shochet.
Why is it that with all the clamouring from LWMO about women assuming equal roles with men, community leadership and so on that there is no demand from women to be taught about how to slaughter animals?
I'll tell you why: there's no glamour to it.
Many of the demands of women to assume male roles in the Jewish community is, I believe, driven by the behaviour of Jewish men. Think about it: how many men wear a glitzy tallis and parade around proudly in it like it's a status symbol? How many men make a big deal out of getting an aliyah instead of approaching the bimah in dread and awe of the responsibility of performing the mitzvah properly? And don't even get me started on chazzanim. Is it any wonder that some women want in on the action?
But being a shochet? That's messy, smelly and pretty much anonymous. The hours are lousy, the work is hard and since the cost of making a mistake is not only problematic al pi halacha but also financial in terms of losing the animal for kosher sale. It's not something most men want to do. What a surprise that YCT isn't running a shechitah program for its Mahara"ts.
Ultimately that is what undermines the legitimacy of the YCt crowd's arguments. After all the picking and choosing of halachic supports, the main reason they are so passionate about their initiative is because they want to bring their Orthodoxy closer to the values of secular liberalism that they aspire to hold by. They want Orthodoxy without conflict and Orthodoxy without conflict, without differentiation from the outside world, isn't real Orthodoxy.