Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sometimes Intention Is Everything

It's a well known dispute in the Gemara in Berachos as to whether kavannah, intention, is necessary for the proper performance of a mitzvah.  It is, however, pretty well agreed upon that negative kavannah, intending not to fulfill one's obligation, while performing the mitzvah, does invalidate the act.
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.


FrumGeek said...

I think you hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

Hey, they do have "mohelets" though it can be argued that a mohelet is more glamorous than a shochet.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Well Professor, that just proves me point a little further, doesn't it?

Chana said...

For a long time, I've wanted to learn to do shchita, not as a career (I have more work than I need already as a nurse) but because I thought I could do it pretty well. Also, I have concerns about the humane treatment of animals in kosher shchita as commonly practiced, and I think the most moral way to eat meat would be to shecht it one's self.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

So that's actually a not uncommon thing in Israel. I have a couple of friends who did the shechita semicha because they visited commercial plants and saw what goes on there and were disgusted so they learned to do it for themselves and only eat what they themselves have killed.

SJ said...

In other words basically, Orthodoxy without conflict with liberal Sodom is not Orthodoxy.

SJ said...

Chaim B. said...

>>> Like the position of rabbi, there's no mishnah or gemara that forbids women taking this position.

First Rama in Yoreh De'ah says that the minhag is to not allow women to be schochtim.

Meat tastes the same no matter who the shochet is. The same cannot be said about Jewish leadership and Jewish scholarship. A woman may bring a different perspective to an issue than her male counterpart. Forget the issue of semicha and Maharats -- do you think women should be excluded from all positions of leadership in the Jewish community and their voices not heard on any issue? If instead of calling her Rabbi Maharat you called her Rebbetzin or Morah but allowed a woman to say a public shiur, respond to questions of halacha, etc. (functionally the identical role) would that be OK?

Michael Lipkin said...

You had some decent points, but lost it with the shchita logic. First of all, you have no way of knowing if any orthodox women WANT to be shochtim. It's also a non-sequiter, the lack of desire, if that's the case, for a "non-glamorous" job says absolutely nothing about the desire for the more glamorous job. Third, I'm sure you'll find that the number of men with smicha far outnumber, by orders of magnitude, men who are shochtim.

As to your point about the "right" or "wrong" direction. That's good, but moot. The only way we'll know that is retrospectively. Of course people who are advocating for a change will say that it's the "right direction". That no chidush, and certainly not "arrogant". Lehefech, you'd be a pretty big fool if you were advocating something, thinking that you were going in the wrong direction.

I think that women getting "smicha" is simply the logical conclusion of what the Chofetz Chaim set in motion and then Rav continued. It was completely foreseeable and inevitable.

People need to ease up on this issue. The Chareidim should just shut up as it has nothing to do with them. Their women aren't doing this and their shuls aren't hiring them. And Modern Orthodoxy is being grossly hypocritical by making such a negative fuss about it. You shouldn't have taught your women gemorah if you didn't want this to happen.

News flash. It's happening. If you don't like it, don't hire one.

The biggest red herring of all is the "mesorah" argument. People trot that one out whenever they think some is the "wrong direction". Of course our current kollel system is not part of the "mesorah" but everyone's pretty mum on that one.

As anyone with a half a brain knows, our "mesorah" is far from static and is filled with change. We'll only know in a generation or two if this was part of it or not.

tesyaa said...

You shouldn't have taught your women gemorah if you didn't want this to happen.

Good point.

FrumGeek said...

Well perhaps we never should've thought women Gemara...

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

The real question is: how does proper halachic movement actually happen? The first key in approaching this question is actually the very recognition that proper halachic movement does exist -- but it needs to be defined. This is the essential problem here. Advocates of the mesorah in a narrow way challenge the very idea that there is such a thing as proper halachic movement -- thereby rejecting a whole side of Halachic Judaism and opening themselves up to the challenges against this position within the Torah literature. On the other hand, advocates of movement often take a diametrically opposite view, almost declaring that any change in line with society's changing ethic attitudes reflects proper halachic movement. That clearly also rejects a whole side of Halachic Judaism. The answer lies actually in the dialectic that is created in this process -- and the recognition of the very difficulty that the system inherently reflects.

In presenting the case of Shmuel, what Garnel is really highlighting is the significance of personal motivation as a factor in the process. This is also significant in regard to the Bnot Ztlaphchad in last week's parsha. The Torah value within the motivation is indeed an important factor in the process of dealing with this dialectic. Other motivations, as evidenced by the many cases in Responsa literature, may, however, also be significant. The real demand is the recognition of the difficult and powerful challenge of this dialectic -- and this is what is so often missing. When one has a dogmatic view in regard to either of these poles, the very essence of Torah is missing.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

tesyaa said...

Well perhaps we never should've thought women Gemara...

Maybe, but the train has already left the station.