Thursday, March 10, 2005

The RCA, Bris Milah and the Orthodox Roundtable

Seventeen years ago, in response to a proposal from, and with the support of, leading lay and rabbinical leaders in the YU World, I initiated and guided (as Executive Chairman) a Modern Orthodox Think Tank called the 'Orthodox Roundtable.' The idea was to push back the frontiers of Halakhic discourse, engage issues that were being avoided, and provide a responsible, God-fearing Modern Orthodox approach to pressing halakhic issues.

During the five years that it functioned, the Roundtable managed to publish some truly ground-breaking papers on subjects like conversion and adoption, smoking, Child Abuse (by Rabbi Mark Dratch), The limits of Parental authority (by Rabbi Reuven Bulka). an annotated responsum by Rav Ovadia Yosef on enforcing sanctions against recalcitrant husbands (a collective effort of Rav Yosef, Rabbi Michael Broyde and myself) and a number of others. The response to our activities was mixed. There was a lot of lay and rabbinic support, and a lot of vitriolic dismay in other circles. Over time, for a combination of reasons, which I might yet write about, the Roundtable ceased operations in 1994.

One of the earliest pieces the Roundtable published was a learned, heavily documented, call for the use of a glass tube by mohalim for the oral suction the Talmud requires be applied to the wound after a Bris Milah (Metzitza). In light of the rise of AIDS and STD's, we thought that the issue wa a mix of Piqquah Nefesh and Qiddush HaShem. Our suggestion was summarily ignored (and not so politely) by muuch of the Orthodox community. Typically, the position was heard such problems belong in the non-religious community, NIMBY.

I"m bringing this up, because today's Jewish Week reports that the RCA has now endorsed the use of a glass tube for Bris Milah. The action comes in the wake of a scandal in New York in which a baby appears to have died from an infection contracted from a mohel who directly used his mouth. (Gil Student has all of the details.) On the one hand, I feel that we are now vindicated ( as we were on the issues of child abuse, adoption/conversion, recalcitrance etc.) I really applaud the RCA for showing leadership while the Haredi world is in deep denial. OTOH, the obtuse response to the Roundtable, in this case, was (at least, indirectly) responsible for a little baby's death. If there had been a responsible response to our call then, if using a glass tube had been required of all mohalim (at least in our circles) this baby might still be alive.

OTOH, the Commentator reports that Rabb M.D. Tendler was savaged by Yated Ne'eman for supporting the use of the tube. Plus ca change...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

How was the Roundtable different in approach than the Orthodox Caucus and Forum?

Jeffrey said...

The Forum is a think tank that restricts itself to theory and ideology. The Caucus is an activist organization that is project oriented. Both are composed of laity, academics, communal professionals, rabbis and Rashe Yehiva.

The Roundtable was made up solely of rabbis. It was intended to provoke debate and expand the halakhic parameters of the rabbinate.

Nachum Klafter, MD said...

Is there any chance of re-convening the Orthodox Roundtable? There are so many issues which require responsible rabbinical attention, and I belive there would be less opposition to it in 2005 than one decade ago because there is recently a lot of sentiment against the ultra-constervatism which now characterizes part of the Haredi world.
doctorklafter@cinci.rr.com

Lisaantlip said...

It seems obvious that the Yated's articles written by the editor, Pinchas Lipschutz, are biased and seem to be overtly attacking Rabbi Moshe Tendler, as if fueled by some by personal animosity rather than Kovod Shem Shamayim. This bothered me because the articles seem to be so slanted and one sided, and the transcript of the tape this past week that was published seems to be transcribed so incriminatingly (NOTE: As one who HAS heard the tape, it is very unclear, but it is obvious to anyone who actually hears it that the Yated took it out of context, and did not transcribe any emphasis or inflection that was on the tape, and the transcription greatly varies from the text that the Yated printed as fact) I recently spoke to an older rabbi who was involved in kashrus for many years and now I think that these attacks ARE personally motivated. It is well known that Pinchas Lipschutz's father started the NK Kashrus organization. What may not be well known is that he was the head of the OU's Kashrus organization before that. Sadly, the RCA's Kashrus Committee at the time discovered some horrible things that were going on in the OU, which involved major halachic problems with the administration of kashrus by Rabbi Lipschutz Sr. and the result was that Rabbi Lipschutz Sr. was thrown out of a job. He THEN founded the NK. This is all public knowledge, which people have known about for years. What I discovered that was astounding was that of all the rabbis on the RCA Committee that leveled the charges against Rabbi Lipschutz Sr., there were 2 or 3 rabbinic figures who were key and instrumental in the investigation. Rabbi Moshe Tendler was one of those key rabbis, who exposed Rabbi Lipschutz Sr. So now the son is out to avenge the father. Seems like this is something that readers of Pinchas Lipschutz should know before they take what he writes in his newspaper as fact.

Nachum said...

Just wondering- was it called "The RCA Roundtable" at some point?