Friday, August 28, 2015

Effacing Women

Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll has recently called attention to the new extremes to which the aggressive erasure of women has gone in the Haredi World (and beyond). Frankly, I can't believe that this has gone as far as it has (again). Still, as Emerson put it, 'A Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds,' and there appears to be no lack of little minds about. 

Some voices of reason do decry such extremes, such as my friend Rabbi Yitzhak Adlerstein. On the other hand, some vociferous defenses of this practice have emerged from within the ostensibly Modern Orthodox Community. I have addressed the issue directly in the past (here and here). At present, I would simply like to protest that the banishing of women and girls from publications is a direct affront and attack on the integrity and piety of our sainted ancestors, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic. They saw NO problem in representing women in books, including Sacred Texts that were used in the Synagogue during Prayer.

Consider the following:

 Rothschild Miscelllany

 Rothschild Miscelllany

Darmstadt Hagaddah

The Golden Hagaddah
MS JTSA 8892 Italy 1492

I rest my case.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Talmud for Women (Redux)

Rabbi Mordechai Willig recently suggested that it might be time to reevaluate the inclusion of Talmud (and, by extension, Poskim) in the curriculum offered to women in Orthodox Jewish Schools. His remarks have, not surprisingly, engendered (no pun intended) intense' mostly negative, reactions. Initially, and predictably, these first appeared on Facebook and Twitter (and only now are appearing on various Jewish news sites). Also, predictably, the speed and intensity that so typify the world of social media prevented any type of calm discussion of Rabbi Willig's article. This is very unfortunate. It bespeaks lack of respect for Rabbi Willig (who is a tremendous תלמיד חכם, a compassionate and principled Rav, a wonderful mensch and the courageous leader who created the RCA Pre-Nuptial agreement, for those who might have forgotten). It also speaks poorly of many of those who chose to voice their disagreement in a manner that generated more heat than light . 

A careful reading of Rabbi Willig's article reveals that he is actually addressing two separate issues. The first is Torah Study for Women. The second is Ideological Challenge. He has chosen to combine the two. Upon reflection, however, it appears to me that the two are not mutually dependent. 

1. The case for providing women with a full Torah education, should they so desire it, certainly does not require my endorsement. It was set forth emphatically, by my rebbe (and Rabbi Willig's), the Rav זצ"ל. 


From: Community, Covenant and Commitment,
ed. N. Helfgot, New Jersey 2005

The Rav's reasoning for instituting full Talmud Study for girls at the Maimonides School, and for both supporting and delivering the opening shiur in the Stern Bet Midrash was consistent.

 Inaugural Shiur by Rav Soloveitchik at the
Stern College Bet Midrash (1976)

He maintained that women's educational attainments in Torah must not behind those in the multi-fold secular pursuits they undertake. In addition, as Rabbi Saul Berman stated in the Biographical Documentary The Lonely Man of Faith, Jewish women may be formally exempted from the formal requirement to study Torah. However, they are obligated to study Torah at the highest level in order to cultivate the Love of God that Torah Study engenders. As Rambam put it, (Hilkhot Teshuvah 10, 6):
ועל פי הדעה תהיה האהבה אם מעט מעט ואם הרבה הרבה, to wit: The Love of God is directly proportionate to the Knowledge one acquires of Him. That knowledge and encounter with God is achieved solely through Torah Study (in, as the Rav זצ"ל, used to put it, the broadest sense of the term). [The Rav's most accessible, and moving, discussion of this point is here.] 

It has, albeit, been suggested that the Rav's enthusiasm and support for Talmud study for women was more nuanced, and far more restrained, than has been thought. Personally, I find such a position difficult to accept, especially in light of the explicit statements of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein זצ"ל, the חתנא דבי נשיא. In his conversations with Rabbi Chaim Sabato (מבקשי פניך, תל אביב 2011, 165-178), Rav Lichtenstein reiterated the Rav's belief in providing women with a full Torah education. In his telling, the Rav believed that women require Torah Study no less than men, given that they are exposed to the same spiritual and intellectual challenges as men (170). Rav Lichtenstein was firmly in favor of Women's Torah Literacy, and explicitly viewed himself as being faithful to his father in law's heritage, in that regard (as in so many others). He himself founded the Migdal Oz Bet Midrash for Women, at the head of which stands his daughter Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg, and in which he taught.


Rav Aharon Lichtenstein זצ

I submit that with this, it is possible to put to rest the question as to the contemporary Halakhic propriety of women's study of Gemara, Rishonim, Aharonim and Poskim. The shoulders of the גדולי הדור, the Rav זצ"ל and Rav Lichtenstein זצ"ל are certainly wide enough to rely upon. Or, as Reb Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל reputedly told someone who asked about the opening of the Stern Bet Midrash: 'Your Rebbe does not require support or הסכמה from anyone.'

2. With all of the focus on Women's Talmud study, Rabbi Willig's other point (or points) have not received the attentiion that they deserve. These are, it seems to me, (1) the Goal of Torah Study and (2) the Autonomy (and Integrity) of Jewish Tradition.  

Both the Rav זצ"ל and Rav Lichtenstein זצ"ל emphasized that Talmud Torah is not only a mandated intellectual activity. It is, indeed it must be, an overwhelming encounter with God. It is a moment of intimacy with the Giver of the Torah; a moment enveloped in יראת שמים, in the Fear and Awe of Heaven. It is not, and it must not, be approached in the same manner as one might approach any other intellectual endeavor. When we studied Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim in my last year in the shiur, the Rav זצ"ל laid special emphasis on the the Talmud's statement (Baba Metzia 85a-b): 

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: מאי דכתיב מי האיש החכם ויבן את זאת ואשר דבר פי ה' אליו ויגדה על מה אבדה הארץ, דבר זה אמרו חכמים ולא פירשוהו, אמרו נביאים ולא פירשוהו, עד שפירשו הקדוש ברוך הוא בעצמו. שנאמר ויאמר ה' על עזבם את תורתי אשר נתתי לפניהם. אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: שלא ברכו בתורה תחילה.  
Rab Judah said in Rab's name: What is meant by (Jer. 9, 11): 'Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, that he may declare it, why the land perished?' This question was put by the Sages, but they could not answer it; by the prophets, but they [too] could not answer it, until the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself resolved as it is written, And the Lord said, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them. Rab Judah said in Rab's name: [That means] that they did not first utter a benediction over the Torah [before studying it]. 

The obligation to recite a blessing before Torah study, transforms it from a purely intellectual gesture, to a profoundly spiritual one. The absence of that dimension endangers the Torah and its observance; threatening it with arid, detached intellectualism. That danger is very real, and Gedole Torah and Ba'ale Mussar strove against it throughout history; from the Court of R. Bahya Ibn Paquda in Saragossa to the Bet Midrash of R. Eleazar in Metz; from Regensburg of R, Judah He-Hassid to Prague of the Maharal and to Safed of R. Moshe Cordovero. The concern with preserving the deeply spiritual encounter with God was central to the teachings of those who are most identified with its intellectual side: R. Tam, Rambam, Ramban, GRA, R. Hayyim of Volozhin, and in our generation, the Maran the Rav זצ"ל.    

However one might look at it, the Rav and Rav Lichtenstein both predicated their strong support and advocacy of higher Torah studies for women on the importance (nay, the critical role) of that study for their Service of God, for Avodat HaShem. Prayer and Torah Study are, the Rav taught us, two complementary elements in the Worship and Service of HaQadosh Barukh Hu. Rambam himself, in defining the commandment of Avodat HaShem (Pos. 5), cites the Sifre that equates the two: והמצוה החמישית היא שצונו לעבדו יתעלה...ואעפ"י שזה הצווי הוא גם כן מן הציוויים הכוללים כמו שביארנו בשרש הרביעי הנה יש בו יחוד שהוא צוה בתפילה. ולשון ספרי ולעבדו זו תפילה. ואמרו גם כן ולעבדו זה תלמוד. It is in that connection that Rav Lichtenstein, in the above discussion with Rav Sabato, emphasizes how the atmosphere that reigns in the Woman''s Bet Midrash must be that of the Yeshiva and not that of the Seminar Room.[I strongly suggest that the reader download the chapter and read it very carefully.] 

3. Learning in a modality of Yirat Shamayim, by definition means entering into a dialectical stance of intellectual daring, on the one hand, and intellectual humility, on the other. The Rambam (Hil. Yesode ha-Torah 2, 1-2), identifies this ying and yang with the mitzvot to Love and be in Awe of God (a subject that I had the occasion to discuss here). 

Contemporary society lionizes intellectual daring, as it idolizes the individual and worships at the altar of human autonomy. It is, perforce, far less appreciative or understanding of humility. And yet, it was none other than Maimonides who demanded that in the search for rationales for the mitzvot, one must not (God Forbid) judge the Torah, nor offer half baked explanations for its commandments (Cf. Hil. Me'ilah 8, 8). One is better served living with a question, struggling with one's doubts, than facilely dismissing either the Torah or the accumulated wisdom of the Sages of the Oral Tradition. Now, that does not mean that the questions are not real or the struggles. However, in marked contrast to the present age, Torah is always seen sub specie aeternitatis. Simultaneous Daring and Deference, Creativity and Humility, are the hallmarks and watchwords of Torah Study.

This, of course, does not mean that the Torah freezes in time or that it doesn't engage any and all challenges. The Rav זצ"ל used to emphasize that there should be a Fourteenth Statement of Faith added to the Thirteen proposed by Maimonides, viz. that the Torah can deal with any challenge in any age. 

The critical word here, however, is 'engage.' Despite the fact that such a position is unfashionable in contemporary culture, Orthodox Judaism is 'essentialist.' It possesses its own integrity, and its Law and Lore possess an autonomy that transcends time and circumstance. Torah engages the world. It responds, and must respond, to challenge and need. It does so, however, by its own rules and its own integrated system of values. 
Changing circumstances do impact upon Torah. Such a process is very nuanced, text dependent and very much subject to patterns of evaluating outside culture that are a permanent moment in the history of Judaism. (Here I defer to important remarks made by Rabbi Professor David Berger on the subject). Assuming, as some of my colleagues do, that Judaism is nothing more than a reactive reflection of any given time or cultural nexus makes for problematic scholarship and certainly is unacceptable in terms of Orthodox Jewish discourse. By extension, subjugating the Torah to an external ideology and coercing it to conform thereto is absolutely beyond the Pale of any type of Orthodox or Traditional Judaism that I have encountered. It would constitute, to radically invert an image created by Shaul Tchernikhovsky, placing Tefillin on a statue of Apollo and calling it Judaism. 

If I read him correctly, it is precisely against that type of misuse of Torah learning that Rabbi Willig is inveighing in his article. If that is the case, then I think that he is absolutely correct. It is important, nay critical, to face and combat the deeply problematic methodological and philosophic undercurrents that appear in discussions of Torah and Halakhah within the Orthodox community.

Where, with all due respect, I beg to differ is his placing the onus on the study of Talmud by women. The type of surrender to intellectual and cultural fashion that he describes is found as much among men as among women (and perhaps more). At the same time, many of the most profoundly God-fearing and inspiring Jews I've encountered have been תלמידות חכמים who are products of Migdal Oz and Nishmat (all of whom, in their personal lives embody traditional Jewish Family roles, by the way). The Jewish People cannot afford to lose the contribution of such dedicated and remarkable women to Avodat HaShem and Harbatzat Ha-Torah. True, as Rav Lichtenstein זצ"ל noted at the end of his discussion with Rav Sabato, the birth of a generation of deeply learned and deeply pious women creates unparalleled challenges for Torah. There are also dangers, and there is a slope which irresponsibility can render slippery. In fact, I will leave the last word to him:

    
 
 And the last word? 'What will be in the future? I don't know. But what I do know is that today it is important that Jewish woman should know Torah, that they be devekot to the Torah. As to the rest, I can't say exactly. I can't know what God has in mind.'

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Famine

Over the course of the past week, my FB feed and E-mail Inbox have exploded with fevered and feverish discussions of Open Orthodoxy vs. Modern Orthodoxy; Reactions to Gay Marriage; Ordination of Women as Orthodox Rabbis and more. There are cries for schism and/or reform. Learned Discussions mix with Ignorant Discussions. Absolute Truth Claims (as to the Torah) clash headlong with Absolute Truth Claims (that each person creates his/her own Truth), On my FB feed, the discussions are Judaism is this or that.

One thing is missing.

No one, absolutely no one talks about God, the Giver of the Torah; not those who ostensibly represent the Torah and Tradition and certainly not those demanding that the Torah put the lie to itself in order to accommodate their desires and personal convictions. We are bidden to live in order to serve God. Service of the Holy One, blessed be He means trying to live according to His Will. This is no mean task, and must be rooted in the sincere, complex study of Torah.

However, first and foremost, the entire enterprise MUST be enveloped in intellectual and spiritual humility, in a tangible, palpable aura of יראת שמים. It must be predicated upon our willingness to accept the Yoke of Heaven, even if it is inconvenient, beyond our comprehension or even painful. The absence of the Fear of Heaven, on both sides, leads to Self Worship, and Self-Worship is a form of Foreign Worship--to עבודה זרה - which is the polar opposite of עבודת השם.

The Aramaic Targum on the Book of Ruth opens by saying that there will be ten serious famines prior to the coming of the Messiah. The last one will fulfill the vision of the prophet Amos (who lived not far from where I presently sit): הנה ימים באים נאם אדני יהוה והשלחתי רעב בארץ לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים כי אם לשמע את דברי ד or : 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of God' (Amos 8, 11).

Apparently, judging from my Inbox and Facebook feed, far too many people are tragically unaware just how famished they are.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Twilight of the (Children of the) Gods

A spectre is haunting Israel— the spectre of Judaism. All the descendants of Israel's Founding Fathers have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Academics and Intellectuals, Major Generals (ret.) and Winners of the Israel Prize, Socialist Ideologues and Post-Modern Cosmopolitans, Haaretz and Channel Two.
Few are the parties that have not decried as Fascist and Medieval, Benighted and Racist the upsurge in expressions of Jewish Identity and Spirituality that has marked this country in the past two decades (especially during the difficult days this past Summer). The Israel Democracy Institute convenes emergency conferences to deplore (and stop) the invasion of Public Space by Jewish Tradition, and and by references to God. The Council on Peace and Security has set out on a nationwide series of open meetings, and fora, in a desperate effort to stop the increased presence of Religious and Traditional soldiers in the army, lest they fomentb a putsch against the government. War hero, Lt. Col. Ofer Winter, has been passed over for promotion. His crime? He had the temerity of invoking God's Name in his battle orders, and for quoting the Bible. The latest spat over the Jewish State legislation (which is really much ado about nothing- as noted by Haviv Rettig Gur) is merely the latest lightening rod for a broader phenomenon. All told, the reactions to the spectre of Judaism verge on the hysterical.
Upon careful consideration, they have serious reasons for concern. The children and grandchildren of the Founding Fathers of our country are losing their grip. They no longer control the Knesset. They no longer have a lock on the media (though, they are doing everything to block competing voices, such as Israel HaYom and Arutz 20). From their redoubts in academia, culture, and the Justice system they still sally forth to protect their ideals and to declare that everyone has the right to their opinions. Anything that does not pass muster with them: Patriotism, Religious Faith and Observance, Jewish Historical Awareness, Jewish Literacy, is excoriated as jingoistic, regressive and (the ultimate condemnation): Destructive of Democracy. This latter is a brilliant tactic, by which a system of government is replaced by a specific set of unnegotiable values, dogmatically interpreted and applied. (I guess many have never read Ralph Waldo Emerson.)
In their hysteria, the children (and grandchildren) of the gods betray the fact that they are fighting a losing battle. There comes a time in the life of nations, that the founders cede dominance to others. It happened in the United States in the 1820's. In his magisterial study of Andrew Jackson, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., describes how Virginians and (to a lesser degree) Bostonians strove mightily to maintain their control over the nation that they (and their fathers) had founded. They sought control of its resources, its policies, its values and its culture. They saw all of these being usurped by the uncouth pioneers on the western fringes of the country. These were represented by their bête noire, Andrew Jackson (himself, ironically, a Virginian). As Schlesinger notes, the declining elites made their last stand in the Supreme Court. In the end, they failed.
The Founders of our country achieved unbelievable things. We are beholden to them, and must cherish and value how they created a flourishing Jewish homeland after two millenia. They were able to do that, in part, because they were driven by a profound Jewish identity, that was rooted in Jewish Literacy and in loyalties they absorbed from the world of faith that they, themselves, rejected. Their achievements were predicated upon that rich identity. They did not think it necessary to instill the country's culture with that which they possessed (as Yaakov Hazan sadly noted). The resurgence of Jewish identity and spirituality that started in the nineties of the last century, that is borne by religious and traditional sectors of society, is a response to a deeply felt need that the founders failed to bequeath to the country they founded.
Their children filled that void with a different vision. The people want their roots. The people want to be Jews and Jewish Jews. Indeed, 85% of Israeli Jews believe in the same God that the above noted groups would banish from the scene (and who, tragically, is not well served by many who claim to represent Him). Fear of the spectre of Judaism is, thus, justified on their part.
The Jewish State, indeed, is on a powerful path to being more profoundly Jewish than ever before. With the help of God.

[First Published in the Times of Israel 28/11/2014]

Friday, November 21, 2014

In Memory of Rav Moshe Twersky הי"ד





           When the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, died the Torah states (Lev. 10, 3): Then Moses said to Aaron: 'This is what God has said: I will be sanctified through those that are near to Me, and I will be glorified before the entire nation.' And Aaron was silent (וידום אהרון). Why was Aaron silent? 
           The question arose this morning, as I made a shiva call to the family of Rav Moshe Twersky זצ"ל הי"ד. I mentioned to a member of the family, that I wish I had something smart to say, at such an excruciatingly painful time. The response was: 'VaYidom Aharon--Aaron was silent. I don't think Aaron was silent because he was such a Hakham,' they said. 'I think it's because there are situations in which there is absolutely nothing that one can say.' And, that is precisely what Jeremiah said (Lam. 3, 28): 'Let him sit alone and keep silent, for He has laid it upon him.' 
          As I was leaving, it occurred to me that while silence might be the appropriate response for those who knew, loved and admired R. Moshe, it's not the only response.My reason for thinking derived from a lecture that Mori ve-Rabi R. Joseph B, Soloveitchik zt'l, R. Moshe's grandfather, almost forty years ago.
         It was Saturday Night, following Shabbat Parshat Hayye Sarah. The Rav drew our attention to second verse in the Parsha (Gen. 23, 2): 'Abraham came to eulogize Sarah, and to weep for her.' Abraham's behavior, he observed, is unusual. Normally, when a person dies, those who mourn for him or her are overwhelmed with grief and can do nothing but cry from the depth of their souls. Only after time passes, can one have the perspective that is necessary for eulogizing a person. Hence, the Rav observed, the practice was always to hold eulogies only at the end of the thirty days of mourning.
        Why, then, did Abraham deviate from the normal way of things? 
        He did so, Rav Soloveitchik explained, because Sarah was not just his beautiful wife. She was the Matriarch of the nascent Jewish People. She was an equal (and, more than equal) part of creating the 'Covenantal Community,' dedicated to the worship of the One God, out of which the Jewish People emerged. However, she was an exceedingly modest person. Few really knew who she really was. They did not know of the extent of her activities. They did not know, as Rashi observed, just how many people she brought under the wings of the Divine Presence. 
        Abraham felt that he had to inform people who his remarkable wife was. He had to set aside his overwhelming grief, and tell them how noble and devoted, God fearing and compassionate, Sarah was. He had to let the world know so that others would understand not what Abraham and Isaac had lost, but what they themselves had lost. Only once he had done that could he allow the pain and grief that churned within him to explode. Only then, did Abraham break down in tears and weep.
       In that respect, I would like to share what I knew about R. Moshe Twersky.
*****************************************************************************
       While I have known R. Moshe Twersky zt'l since we were teenagers, we were never close. Moreover, we had not had any regular contact in almost thirty years. However, there were many years in which our lives' trajectories overlapped and we interacted frequently. Those interactions gave me both an insight into who he was, and anticipated who he would become.
       Much like his father, my teacher Rabbi Professor Yitzhak Twersky, R. Moshe was extremely reserved. Yet, my earliest memory of him is rooted in a very unreserved circumstance. One of the highlights of the year for the Boston Jewish Community was Simhat Torah night in Brookline. Jews from all over the Metropolitan area would come to dance at the two Hassidic synagogues in the area, that of the Bostoner Rebbe and that of the Talner Rebbe, presided over by R. Meshullam Zushya Twersky זצ"ל. Those 'in the know,' knew that there was something beyond unique about Haqafot at the Talner's. The intensity of the spirit and the dignity of the dancing were indescribable. By the time I started attending, the Rebbe was ill, and the synagogue was presided over by his son, Professor Twersky. His sons, R. Moshe and ייבלחטו"א R. Mayer, managed the dancing. I can still remember R. Moshe, with a smile on his face, pushing people into the concentric circles that filled the small shtiebel. His smile revealed the intense purity of his Avodat HaShem (Service of God), something that would be much remarked in the coming years.
       Early on, it became obvious to all of us who studied with Rav Soloveitchik, that Moshe was destined for greatness in Torah, and that the Rav was dedicated to cultivating his obvious gifts. His devotion to learning became most evident to me, though, in the mid-1970's. At the time, I was living in Cambridge to pursue my doctorate with Professor Twersky at Harvard. R. Moshe was completing a BA there. It would be an understatement to say that he not enthused about this. His heart and soul were totally absorbed with traditional Torah Study. However, he was also a devoted son. Since his parents desired that he get a college degree, he did so and superlatively. What was incredible, though, was how he organized his 'college time.' In between classes, he had round the clock learning sessions with friends at Harvard and MIT. His apartment often had the feel of a Bet Midrash. On Thursday nights, I studied with one of his roommates into the wee hours of the morning. R. Moshe, always deep into his own learning, would unhesitatingly answer any and all questions we might pose. His style was terse, but gracious. It was clear that he was not only becoming a tremendous scholar. He was also marked to be a remarkable, inspiring teacher.
      Finally, R. Moshe was a person of incredible integrity. He was, to invoke the image coined by his grandfather, Halakhic Man. I once happened to be in Rav Soloveitchik's apartment, waiting to meet with him. In the ante-chamber, R. Moshe was deep in discussion with his dear friend and Havruta, R. Chaim Ilson. I though they were discussing some abstruse halakhic issue. I soon discovered that they were trying to determine what should be done with an item that had been misplaced and found by one of them. The discussion was on the highest level of Talmudic analysis. The subtext was just as impressive: what is the most correct action vis-a-vis the owner. Now the item was not a very valuable one. I'm not sure whether the owner actually missed it. What was important was the intensity of the lesson that Rabbis Twersky and Ilson conveyed. The Torah is the only guide to Life. Only deep understanding thereof can provide that guidance. There are no half measures in one's service of God. One must fulfill all of one's obligations to both God and Man.
*************************************************
       The many tributes that have emerged this week, from friends and disciples alike, confirm all of the traits that R. Moshe Twersky evinced so long ago. As a person who lacked facon, too few were aware of the greatness that passed among them. Hence, those who did
have the privilege are duty bound to do so. In doing so, they will be fulfilling Abraham's mandate, and that which Moses told Aaron (Lev. 10, 6): 'And let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the Fire which God has kindled.'        
 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

An Open Condemnation of the Murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

We unequivocally condemn the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It was unjustifiable under any circumstances. The killing was reprehensible and we hope that the criminals who did this sickening act are found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Israel is a country run by the rule of law. There are reports that Jews have been arrested for this crime. If a trial finds that Jews are indeed guilty of this unconscionable killing, our condemnation is redoubled. The idea that Jews could do such an act fills us with shame and horror.

The people who murdered Mohammed do not represent us in any way. It is not enough to dissociate ourselves from the dreadful act; we must also ensure that crimes like this are never repeated.

Just as the appalling murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar do not in any way justify the hideous murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, neither does Khdeir's murder justify the violence, terrorism, destruction and incitement we have seen over the past few days against Israelis and Jews.

We hope and pray that everyone, Arab and Jew, lives in peace and security in the region.

Signed,

Elder of Ziyon
Daphne Anson
Jeffrey R., Woolf
CiFWatch - Adam Levick
Internet Haganah - A. Aaron Weisburd
Liberty's Spirit - Elise Ronan
Mike Cohen
Zach Novetsky
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Edgar Davidson
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This Ongoing War - Frimet and Arnold Roth
Israelkompetenzkollektion  Shelly
Dr. Sharon Chard-Yaron
Always Write Again -Natalie Wood
Avi Eisenberg
MS Wallack
British-Israel Coalition - Harvey
Israel Matzav - Carl in Jerusalem
Joe Settler
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Yid With Lid - Jeff Dunetz
A Commonplace Blog - D. G. Myers
Mystical Paths - Reb Akiva
Erika Dreifus
Meir Solomon
Is The BBC Biased - Sue and Craig
iIDF24 - Eliyahu Yakov
Sussex Friends of Israel
Menschen Leben Blog
Daled Amos
Cherson and Molschky
Cohav.org
Lori Lowenthal Marcus at The Jewish Press
Joel Richardson
Red Knuckle Politics
Love of the Land
Michael Lumish
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Huff Watch
Springs of Hope
La Voix Juive
oldschooltwentysix
Arsen Ostrovsky
Lawrence Solomon
Blazing Cat Fur
Jewish American Patriots - Pamela Schieiber
Elizabeth Browder
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Torah Musings - Rabbi Gil Student
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StopBDS Park Slope - Barbara Mazor
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Israel Muse
Steven Kurlander
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Monkey in the Middle - Katie A. Norcross
Agitprop.me - Jelena Djurovic
Tekhelet
Ploni ben Nistar
Israel Exists

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why Should I Care When People Attack Belief?

Recently, I shared on Facebook a New York Times article entitled: Is Belief a Jewish Notion? The article addressed different patterns of belief among Jews (both Traditional and non-Traditional). I found it extremely thought provoking (irrespective of whether I agree with everything that was said there), and hope to devote an entire post to it.

That, however, is not the reason I 'shared' it. I shared it because of the post that brought it to my attention, and the discussion that it engendered. Briefly stated, these people actively celebrated the idea that Judaism has 'matured' beyond the need for an Omniscient, Omnipotent God. Jews are much too sophisticated, it was argued, to have to believe in the historicity of the Torah, and the God who (ostensibly) gave it it. Much ado was made by these posters of a recent article in Commentary, which celebrated something called 'Social Orthodoxy,' which is religious observance based on sentiment, tradition, and/or national identification. It celebrated, and the commenters on Facebook and elsewhere rejoiced, at Judaism without God, as Jews have believed in Him for almost four thousand years. (Never mind that 'Social Orthodoxy' has another name, Kaplanian Reconstructionist Judaism.)

I had a very visceral reaction to the comments, to wit:

I am proud to be a primitive believer in an Omnipotent, Omniscient God, who created Heaven and Earth, who brought Israel out of Egypt, gave us the Torah, and brought us to the land He promised to our father, Abraham. I would rather, much rather, struggle with my primitive belief and accept the vastness of all that I cannot comprehend, than to find myself among those who would sophisticate themselves to death, and eviscerate the Torah and the Jewish People while doing so.

After publishing this, I was asked: Why are you being so defensive? It was a good question, and I thought about it over the next few days. Why, indeed, should I react so strongly to such a discussion? After all, I am well aware that myriads of people are atheists, agnostics, pantheists, deists, and what have you. After all, I read what many of them have to say, and I've studied all types of religions. Nothing should surprise me.

So, why did I get so emotional? 

Last Shabbat, I realized that I reacted as I did because the participants define themselves as (and claim to represent) Orthodox Jews, and thereby distort the Torah and undermine its viability from within. Judaism cannot survive without God, who sanctifies us with His commandments and (thereby) sanctifies us. To assert otherwise is, and I really don't like to use the word, heterodoxy. Such positions may be principled, reasoned, logically consistent, and coherent. They remain, however, heterodox.

The question remains, though, why the hurt? Why didn't I get indignant?

The answer came to me, when I recalled a passage in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (56a). The Mishnah and Gemara there discuss the procedure by which one tries a blasphemer (מגדף). The rule is that a blasphemer is not definitely liable for the death penalty unless he uses God's ineffable Name (Tetragrammaton). Out of deference for God's honor, when describing the acts of the blasphemer during the trial, the witnesses use a euphemism for God's Name.

The Mishnah states:
The entire day [of the trial] the witnesses are examined by using a substitute for the Divine Name, as in ‘May Yossi smite Yossi’ (Where the blasphemer actually used God's Name instead of Yossi). When the trial is over, the accused cannot be executed on this evidence. [At this point], all persons were removed from the court, and the chief witness was told: ‘State exactly what you heard.' At that point, he does so [using the Divine Name]. The judges then rose and tore their garments, a tear that may not be resewn.

Now, it makes sense that the proceedings be carried on with a euphemism for God's Name, so as not to repeat the blasphemy over and over. It makes sense one who hears a Jew maliciously blaspheme against God that should tear one's clothes (Sanhedrin 60a). In addition, it makes perfect sense that prior to voting for or against convicting the accused blasphemer, that the judges must hear precisely what he is alleged to have said. But why do the Judges then have to tear their clothes? The witnesses weren't blaspheming! They were simply reporting what they heard.

I recall that Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל deduced from this odd situation that it is not the malicious act of blasphemy that requires tearing one's clothes in response. Rather, simply hearing blasphemy reported requires that one tear one's clothes in mourning (לא המעשה גידוף מחייב בקריעה, שמיעת דברי הגידוף מחייבים בקריעה).

The Rav's observation lead me to understand why I reacted to these discussions as I did. We really are supposed to be sensitive to God's Honor, and to experience an encounter with disbelief, emotionally (even if it is not malicious in intent). There is nothing wrong with, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of, blanching and hurting when one hears that which one holds most holy attacked, or more insidiously--- blithlely dismissed (and its dismissal celebrated). It's incredible that it needs to be spelled out to ostensibly Orthodox Jews that there is no Judaism without the Holy One, blessed be He, Creator of Heaven and Earth. There are no מצוות without a מצווה. Indeed, mitzvot without a מצווה become mere ceremonials; and ceremionials, Rav Soloveitchik taught us, are fundamentally pagan.

I know that I am not alone in this conviction, and have been pleasantly surprised over the past few days to read calls for to the critical need to restore God to the center of our religious universe

Pesach is all about renewing our covenant with God. In doing so, we would do well to try to implement, in this world, the ideal that Hazal described as achieving its full realisation in the next (Ta'anit 31a):

Ulla Bira'ah said in the name of R. Eleazar: In the days to come the Holy One, blessed be He, will hold a chorus for the righteous and He will sit in their midst in the Garden of Eden and every one of them will point with his finger towards Him, as it is said, And it shall be said in that day: Lo, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us; this is the Lord for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.         

Friday, February 14, 2014

Of Halakhic Integrity, Halakhic Change and Kavod ha-Torah

It is the fate of careful thinking to be the victim of ever shorter news cycles. That is probably for the best, as the types of polemics the engulf the Jewish World, generally, and the Orthodox Community, in particular, generate far more heat than light. It is, in my view, better to let things calm down and review this dispassionately; thereby fulfilling the dictum of our Sages: הוו מתונים בדין.

This morning, enveloped by a glorious Judean Erev Shabbat, I finally had the opportunity to review the recent Tefillin Controversy, and many of the attendant responses. Others, are going to address the halakhic particulars, so I would like to proffer some observations solely regarding the ongoing debate that was engendered by the two long statements that were issued on the subject by HaRav Hershel Schachter שליט"א.

I will start by stating that I consider Rav Schachter to be my teacher, by dint of the four years that I was privileged to learn in the Kollel which he still heads. I revere him as a גדול בתורה, the scope of whose knowledge, and the depth of whose sincerity and piety engender, for me and many others, both reverence and respect. Following in the tradition of our mutual Rebbe, Rabban shel Yisrael, HaRav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik זצ"ל, I maintain my own opinions on many issues; opinions that diverge from those of Rav Schachter. Nevertheless, these do not diminish to any degree the honor, respect and deference which is his due. Therefore, I must start by protesting in the strongest terms possible the arrogant, disrespect with which Rav Schachter was treated in the various threads that discussed his responses. I do not care how strongly one might disagree with him. אין זו דרכה של תורה. Period.

In his letters, Rav Schachter makes three basic points. 1) Not every learned person has the right to offer a normative Halakhic opinion. 2) The motivations, and the context, of those seeking radical changes in Jewish Law are legitimate halakhic concerns 3) Specific changes suggested by various Feminist advocates are legally problematic. Here, I will briefly address only numbers 1 and 2.

In principle, anyone with any reverence for Orthodox Jewish Tradition should have no issue, in principle, with any of these stated positions. They are bread and butter for כל בר בי רב דחד יומא. The question at bar, in my opinion, is the application of each assertion. And it is here, with all respect, that I find that my position diverges somewhat from that of Rav Schachter.

If I learned anything from the Rav, it was that a rav needs to make up his own mind, and bear responsibility for his actions. It is the responsibility of the מורה הוראה to do his homework, and rule based upon learning and the specifics of the case before him. Of course, assuming that one is qualified in learning, has practical experience, and posseses both יראת שמים and יראת הוראה). The Rav was wont to chide us for constantly asking him to decide for us, for that very reason. On the other hand, anyone who has ever read a responsum in his life knows that even the greatest Poskim consulted with colleagues on questions of significant import. There is a hierarchy of learning in the world of Halakhah, one based upon merit and scholarship. (Indeed, Rav Schachter notes a particularly poignant example involving R. SZ Auerbach זצ"ל and R. Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל). In addition, it was the Rav who admonished R. YY Weinberg זצ"ל, author of the שרידי אש, to consult with R. Chaim Ozer Grodzenski זצ,ל before issuing a far-reaching allowance that would have facilitated Shehita in Nazi Germany. With no relation to the rabbis involved in allowing women to wear Tefillin in their schools (whom I both know and respect), the cavalier way in which many on Blogs and Facebook have discussed serious, repurcussive changes to Jewish Life is the antithesis of this.

There are profoundly committed, learned Orthodox Women who strive for ever greater Avodat haShem, and their aspirations can and must stimulate the search for (and discovery of) commensurate modes of religious growth and self-expression, from within the modalities of Traditional approaches to Torah and Mesorah (a word that has been abused by some beyond recognition). On the other hand, Feminism, Egalitarianism and Post-Modernism represent integrated world views which, in many ways, can or do contradict core Orthodox axioms. To blithely 'adapt' Rabbinic Tradition to their dictates would be a violation of the former's integrity, which we believe is rooted in the Word of God. This, after all, is precisely what the Rav referred to in his discussion of Korah, viz. the autonomy of Torah.

Learning how to engage them, to see to what degree they are commensurate and to what degree not, and knowing where to place the boundaries of that engagement, is a core challenge to the Orthodox World. Conservative and Reform Judaism are no longer the challenge to Orthodoxy that they were sixty years ago. The question is setting the parameters of Orthodoxy. It is my conviction that these are broader than many would have it, and narrower than many woould like. As the Rav taught us, at the end one must surrender to the Will of God. If a position is, as we say, אויסגעהאלטען, those who demur are duty bound to respect it. If the Torah can't accomodate a desired end or change, if one wishes to remain within Orthodoxy, then one is bound to bow to the Torah's verdict.

We live, the Rambam says (פ"ב יסוה"ת ה"א-ה"ב) in a dialectic of growth and withdrawal, audacity and surrender. The conditio qua non of all of this is יראת שמים,
שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

יהדות ארה"ב: קהילה על סף טמיעה

            בחודש שעבר, התכנסו מנהיגי יהדות צפון אמריקה (על זרמיה) בבנייני האומה בירושלים. הם הגיעו לאירוע המכונה 'האסיפה הכללית' (GA) של הפדרציות היהודיות. האסיפה היא שנתית, אבל כל ארבע שנים היא מתקיימת בארץ הקודש. התוכנית הייתה מגוונת מאד, ודנה בשלל נושאים הקשורים לחיים היהודיים בגולה, מחד, ויחסיהם עם מדינת ישראל, מאידך. הופיעו בפני הצירים גדולי ושועי האומה והעם: הנשיא פרס, רה"מ נתניהו, שרים, ח"כים, אנשי ציבור ואנשי רוח כמו הרב הלורד יונתן זקס, הרב הראשי לשעבר של בריטניה. האווירה ששררה במסדרונות ובאולמות השונים התאפיינה בעוצמה וסחבקיות אירגוניות, כמיטב המסורת היהודית האמריקאית.
              אולם, למרות אופיו הנוצץ והמרהיב, ריחפה עננה שחורה מעל המתכנסים בבנייני  אומה והעיבה על כל הדיונים. לעננה קרואים דו"ח מכון פיו (Pew).
               הדו"ח מכיל תוצאות סקר רחב ומעמיק שבוצע במשך השנים האחרונות ע"י אחד ממכוני המחקר היוקרתיים ביותר בעולם, במגמה לשרטט את קלסתר פניה של יהדות צפון אמריקה (בעיקר ארה"ב). הדו"ח הכניס את יהודי ארה"ב להלם. מהממצאים עלתה מסקנה ברורה ומפחידה. קהילה יהודית זאת, המונה יותר מחמישה מיליון נפש, הולכת ונטמעת בתוך המרחב הלא-יהודי. כמעט רבע מהנשאלים טענו שהם אינם מזדהים כיהודים מבחינה דתית (הקריטריון המוביל בחו"ל), ועוד 34% סבורים שאפשר להיות גם יהודי וגם להאמין בישו כמשיח מושיע. שיעורי נישואי התערובת מגיעים לכ71% מכלל המתחתנים (לא כולל האוכלוסייה האורתודוקסית והאגף השמרני של התנועה הקונסרבטיבית). במקומות שונים, השיעור נושק ל90%. זו"ע, מחקרים שבוצעו בעשרים השנים האחרונות מוכיחים שזיקתם של ילדים הנולדים לזוגות כאלה לזהות יהודית בעלת ערך מהותי, שואפת לאפס.
            במקרה, דווקא בשבועות שקדמו לפרסום הדו"ח התנהל ויכוח ער, לוחמני ומנומס (מהסוג שרק אמריקאים יודעים לנהל) סביב שאלת המענה הראוי והרצוי לנחשול זה של נישואי התערובת. היו כאלה שצידדו בהקשחת עמדות והתויית קווי הגנה מסביב לקהילה. אחרים טענו שחייבים לבוא לקראת זוגות מעורבים, לכלול אותם כחברים מלאים בקהילות היהודיות למיניהן, מתוך תקווה שאלה יגדלו ילדיהם כיהודים מזדהים, ואולי אף יתגיירו (באיזושהי צורה). תימוכין לעמדה האחרונה מצאו תומכיה בנתון המדהים והמלבב שיותר מ90% מכלל יהודי ארה"ב וקנדה הגדירו את עצמם 'מאד גאים' ביהדותם. מעוז ההתבוללות, קיוו שתוציא גאווה יהודית את מתיקות ההישרדות.
            לדעתי כהיסטוריון (וכיליד ארה"ב), ההתמקדות בהיבט הדמוגרפי היהודי מפספסים את הנקודה העיקרית. נישואי תערובת ושיעורי ילודה נמוכים אינם מהווים את הסיבה להתכווצות הקיצונית של הקהילה. הם אך מסמנים תהליך הרבה יותר עמוק. יהודי ארה"ב תולים את יהדותם והמשך קיומם על בלימה.
אסביר את דבריי.
כשנשאלו לגבי המרכיבים העיקריים של זהותם היהודית, הרוב המוחץ של הנשאלים השיבו: פעילות לצדק חברתי, חיים מוסריים, זיכרון השואה, וחוש הומור בריא (41%). נתונים אלה מאד מאלפים ויש בהם משהו מאד עמוק, אמתי ואוטנטי. בשורה התחתונה, כל מרכיבי הזהות הנ"ל הם אוניברסליים במהותם. אין בהם שום דבר המיוחד ליהדות. הדברים נכונים, במידה משמעותית, אפילו לגבי זיכרון השואה הפושטת בהדרגה את הייחוד היהודי שבה,לפחות בשיח המערבי הכללי. כך, בסך הכול, הסקר מוכיח שהרוב המוחץ של יהודי ארה"ב הפנימו את האתוס השלט במערב הפוסט-מודרני, הנקרא 'אתוס ההכלה.' אתוס זה, בין השאר, שולל הבחנות בין אנשים וקבוצות מכל סוג שהוא. הוא מקדש את היחיד על פני כל שיקול אחר, ומקדם מגמות סינקרטיסטיות בתחומי הדת, המוסר, והזהות. האוניברסליות המוחלטת היא אמונת היסוד של התפיסה הזאת, והיחסיות התרבותית חרותה על דגלה.
מסקנה זו מתבררת כנכונה עוד יותר לאור עוד ממצא, לפיו מרכיבי זהות יהודיים סגוליים (בעגה המקצועית: פרטיקולריסטיים) הולכים ונעלמים מהחיים היהודיים. ליתר דיוק, רק 19% מהנשאלים סברו שקיום מצוות התורה ו/או רכישת אוריינות יהודית על גווניה, מהווה מרכיב חשוב בזהותם (בהשוואה ל41% הסבורים שחוש הומור הוא אבן יסוד לזהות יהודית!). לאור האמור, התכווצותה הקיצונית של יהדות אמריקה לגמרי מובנת. המורשת היהודית מיועדת לשימור העם היהודי כחטיבה לאומית-דתית מזוהה, מבוררת וסגולית. לכן, זה בכלל לא מפתיע שיהודי ארה"ב מתרחקים דווקא מתורה ומצוות, מזיכרון ההיסטוריה היהודית המיוחדת ומזהותנו הפרטיקולריסטית. דברים אלה, שהם חיוניים להמשך קיומם של היהדות והעם היהודי, עומדים בסתירה מוחלטת לאתוס האוניברסליות הדוגמטית שמאפיין את התרבות המערבית השלטת. אחרת, למשל, קשה להבין את התפיסה ההולכת ומתחזקת בקרב צעירים יהודיים בצפון אמריקה, לפיה העדפת בן זוג יהודי היא לא פחות מגזענות טהורה.
              כיליד ארה"ב, בוסטונאי דור רביעי (אומנם בן למשפחה שגורשה מארץ ישראל ע"י הטורקים), ראיתי בשנותיי המכוננות (שנות ה-60 וה-70) איך שהנאמנות היהודית-האתנית של דור הוריי הלכה והתפוגגה בקרב בני דורי (ועוד יותר בדורות שלאחר מכן). סנטימנטים למזרח אירופה (משם היגרו רוב יהודי ארה"ב) פשוט לא היו ברי העברה, או שלא היו מספיק חזקים לעמוד בפני הסחף של תרבות הרוב, הפוסט-אתנית והרלטיביסטית. התוצאה הייתה כפולה וטבעית: האצת קצב ההתבוללות וזינוק שיעורי נישואי התערובת.
            למה טבעית? בגלל שהתבוללותו של מיעוט אתני-תרבותי בתוך רוב היא תהליך נפוץ, נורמלי וכמעט בלתי נמנע שעברו אותו מאות ואלפי עמים וקבוצות במהלך ההיסטוריה. אין דבר מתבקש יותר מזה שמיעוט ירצה להצטרף ולהיות מקובל אצל רוב מושך ומשגשג. הטכניקה להשגת יעד נכסף זה הוא יחסית פשוט: החלפת דיסקט. מחליפים את הזיכרון הקולקטיבי ואורח החיים הקודם באלה של הרוב. לשם דוגמא, אציג סיפור אישי. כשהייתי בכיתה ד', קיימנו מופע לרגל ימי ההולדת של הנשיאים לינקולן וושינגטון (שנולדו ב-12 וב-22 לפברואר). הצגנו את חתימת הצהרת העצמאות האמריקאית, וכל ילדי הכיתה היו לבושים כמו האבות המייסדים, עם כובעים משולשים וכדומה. היה מאד נחמד ומאד מרגש. שנים אחר כך, כשהתחלתי את דרכי כהיסטוריון, נוכחתי שכל חבריי וחברותיי לכיתה היו צאצאי מהגרים שהגיעו לארה"ב לא לפני אמצע המאה ה-19 (חוץ מילדה שחורה אחת שאבותיה מן הסתם הובאו לשם כעבדים). למרות זאת, כולנו הזדהינו לחלוטין עם האבות המייסדים. זו הייתה התבוללות במיטבה וכך היא פעלה בכל מקום ובכל זמן.
            בסיפור זה של התבוללות וטמיעה, לפחות עד למודרנה, היוו היהודים החריגה הבולטת. המשך קיומם, הן בצל הצלב והן בצל הסהרון, סותר את כל כללי הדימיקה הבין-קבוצתית ונחשב כלא פחות מחידה. כפי ש ציין עמיתי, ד"ר שמחה גולדין, פיתרון החידה טמון בכמה גורמים משתלבים: אמונה בקב"ה, התעמקות בתורה ובמורשת היהודית, הצבת הקשר לעם ישראל בראש סולם העדיפויות הציבורי, והמוכנות להקריב נוחות אישית לטובת הכלל ושרטוט מרחב חיים יהודי ייחודי בתוך המרחב הכללי. זאת אומרת, שהמשכיות יהודית, פרוות הזהב של יהדות ארה"ב, מושתתת בדיוק על אותם מרכיבים שמהם מתנערים יותר מ-80% מיהודי ארה"ב. לאור מציאות עגומה זאת, תוצאות דו"ח פיו היו צפויות.
            יהיה מי שיציין, בצדק, שישנם סימני עשייה ופריחה יהודיים בארה"ב. יש יצירתיות רבה בתחום הפולחן והדת, האמנות והמוזיקה. מגייסים מונחים מהמורשת היהודית, כמו 'תיקון עולם' ומציבים אותם בראש סדר היום של הקהילה. אולם, כפי שהראה מזמן החוקר פרופ' ג'ק ורטהיימר, חלק הארי של העשייה הזאת מהווה ניסיון לנכס את הלך הרוח הכללי במלואו דרך קישוטו בסממנים יהודיים. בקיצור, ובאופן אירוני, ניתן לתאר את המצב הזה בדימוי משירו של טשרניחובסקי 'לנוכח פסל אפולו,' בהפך המכוון בו במקור: 'ויאסרוהו ברצועות של תפילין.'
               כמי שעלה ארצה לפני יותר מעשרים שנה, ולמרות היותי מעורה בנעשה שם, אינני מתיימר להכתיב לאחיי מעבר לים איך להתנהג. אולם, בניסיון האמריקאי יש לקח ברור עבורנו בארץ, והוא נמצא בניגוד הבולט בין המצב כאן למצב שם. כאן, בצורה פלאית, מתחוללת בעשור האחרון תחייה יהודית עוצרת נשימה. דו"ח גוטמן האחרון המחיש את ההתרשמות הקיימת מזמן שהציבור יהודי מחזק ומעמיק את זיקתו למורשת היהודית ( תופעה ברוכה כשלעצמה, אפילו כשביטוייו אינם מסורתיים). במקביל, יהודי ארץ ישראל מחשלים את זהותם הלאומית הסגולית. ההיסטוריה היהודית מלמדת שדווקא חיזוק אושיות היהודיות של הציבור היהודי מאפשרים מפגש מפרה עם תרבויות החוץ. כך היה בספרד המוסלמית, וכך היה באיטליה בתקופות הרנסנאס והבארוק. בשני המקרים, המגע עם תרבות אחרת עוררה יצירה יהודית פנימית מזהירה, בלי שהציבוור היהודי יוותר על יושרתה המהותית. בעולם שבו ההתבצרות מהעולם איננה אפשרית, ולדעתי גם איננה רצויה בכלל, חיזוק המגמה הברוכה הזאת תאפשר העצמת קיומנו הלאומי בארץ אבות.
          לבסוף, אולי בכל זאת נקווה שיהיו כאלה בין יהודי ארה"ב שיחקו את המתרחש אצלנו. אירוני ככל שזה יישמע, העשרה פנימית ושרטוט גבולות בינם לבין הציבור באמריקאי יבטיח גם את המשך קיומה של קהיליתם. אולם, כפי שהדברים נראים כעת, בפעם הראשונה באלפיים שנה, הולכת להיעלם קהילה יהודית המונה מיליונים. גם אז, בשלהי התקופה הרומאית, נעלמה יהדות האימפריה המערבית בגין בורות יהודית, סינקרטיזם דתי, וערעור הזהות הלאומית. איך אמר פעם הפילוסוף ג'ורג' סנטיינה? 'מי שאינו זוכר את העבר, נגזר עליו לחזור עליו.'
[מאמר זה הופיע במוסף שבת של עיתון מקור ראשון, בתאריך: 31.1.2014]

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thoughts on the Great Tefillin Controversy

[I have been wary of getting involved in the latest polemic, this one surrounding the decision by SAR and Ramaz to allow women to wear Tefillin to the school minyan. However, after following the various postings and threads on Facebook and elsewhere, I decided to briefly (with an appropriate amount of adrenaline) summarize my thoughts on salient aspects of the issue. As you can see, I view the specific question as almost secondary to broader issues.]

This issue has generated so much anger, so much frustration been fed by so much prejudice and ignorance that I don't know if a reasoned discussion is possible. Still, a few points to consider:

1) For those who buy into thoroughgoing, radical egalitarianism and reject Judaism's gender distinctions there is nothing to discuss. They will aggressively defend any move in that direction and will vilify anyone who disagrees. Orthodoxy will, I suspect, find that with those of such opinion there is only a dialogue of the deaf.

2) There has been much discussion of the description of women who don Tefillin in public as being guilty of מחזי כיוהרא. This phrase does does not mean 'appearance of arrogance,' but of being presumptuous (just as מחזי כמבשל doesn't mean cooking, but appearing to cook which will lead to people suspecting one's actions or possibly leading one to cook). Demonstratively practicing a mitzva that one is not obliged to do, according to Tradition, impugns others who do not do so. That, for example, is why R. Israel of Brunn (Resp. Israel Bruna no. 96) forbade wearing one's tzitzit outside of one's clothes. The category has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with the questioning the motives of the individual. It does question the sensitivities of the individual who is ipso facto making a statement about others who do not accept their new practice. Did anyone ask other women if they are put off by women putting on Tefillin, with the implied judgement that they are less spiritual or less committed?.

3) For the same reason, there is more reason and room to allow women to wear Tefillin in private, not because it is wrong (necessarily), but because doing so keeps their act of piety pure. That is true of every Humra, and rabbis should condemn people who use any personal Humra for self-aggrandizement.

4) I am stunned by the persistent, superficial equation of Black Hats and Tefillin. Yes, black hats are frequently arrogant displays (and prove my point about מחזי כיוהרא).  However, wearing a hat has no religious significance, though it is socially significant as a sub-group marker of identity. Adding religious obligations (whatever the legal mechanism in force there, נדר or חובה) is a deadly serious question. Those who dismiss it in the name of spiritual self-fulfillment only show that they are insensitive to the long term issue of sins of omission, when these same women may not be able to maintain their newly found personal obligation. And the reply that there are men who aren't fastidious in their observance is myopic. Since when do we justify religious lassitude by pointing out that of others?

5) I have spent thirty years fighting for the right of learned rabbis to have their own halakhic opinion, contrary to some Rashe Yeshiva who deny them that prerogative. After seeing the half-baked, uninformed and revoltingly disrespectful way in which Facebookers and other Commenters treat Hazal, the GRA, the Rema, the Arukh HaShulhan etc. I begin to wonder. Orthodoxy maintains a balance between deep reverence for Tradition and Gedole Torah, alongside the need to confront new questions and challenges. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l used to predicate his hardest decisions on the agreement of colleagues. He was a giant of Torah and Piety and Humanity who was attached to the entire Jewish People, from Haredi to Hiloni. Still, he was cautious and responsible when he ventured into new territory. Yet here are people filling the Blogosphere, the Newspapers and Social Media who blithely toss out established halakhic categories as if they were so much detritus because 'it makes no sense to me.' As my revered teacher, Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל once said, innovations are the lifeblood of the Torah, but they occur within its autonomous sphere. You engage the system. You don't violate it by judging it because it doesn't fit superficial, media driven ideologies.

6) At the same time, there is no room in principled Halakhic discourse for base vilification of either side. Hence, the insidious attacks on Rabbis Harcstark and Lookstein are equally contemnable.

7) I have no idea if Rashi's daughters wore Tefillin. I actually doubt it, because Tefillin was a largely neglected mitzva in medieval France, and Rashi actually was against women reciting blessings over mitzvot that they weren't obliged to fulfill. If they did, I am sure they did not where them in Shul.

8) Rashi's daughters were, on the other hand, learned. This brings me to another example of herd-like thinking on this issue. There is no such thing as 'The Forbidden City' of mitzvot from which women are barred and that must be conquered. Each mitzvah, each obligation, has its own parameters and dynamic. Talmud Torah for women is easily allowed. Mitzvot from which women were exempted and for which there are larger reasons to continue that exemption, are another story. It's not all of one piece, unless you are determined to impose an egalitarian, leveling agenda on the Torah. Such a position is, frequently, no longer Orthodox because it denies the integrity of Halakhah and lacks the intellectual and spiritual modesty and humility that are its essential ingredients.