Sunday, December 06, 2009

Rav Soloveitchik on Coeducation

Some issues just won't go away. One of these is whether Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל was in favor of co-education, ab initio, or only ex post facto. A friend recently sent me this discussion of the issue by R. Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Safed (and a leader of the Hardali communuty).

Essentially he makes two points. First, the Rav nowhere wrote that co-education was permissible, halakhically. Second, unnamed students of the Rav were interviewed by Shaul Schiff of the late, lamented HaZofeh. His findings were, not surprisingly for a Hareidi publicist, that co-education at Maimonides was a concession to the times.

With all due respect, R. Eliyahu is wrong. First, his argument from the lack written sources discussing the issue is, at best, disingenuous. Anyone who knows anything about Rav Soloveitchik knows that he hardly ever wrote (never mind published) his halakhic decisions. This might be regrettable. It is, however, a fact. Similarly, the Rav never wrote a programmatic essay on the positive need for a broad secular education. Yet can anyone, save the most extreme revisionists, deny that (as Professor Twersky זצ"ל once wrote) that such a need was self-evident?

As far as Shaul Schiff's article (which is no longer on line), since I don't know who he asked, there's no way of knowing how reliable his sources were. I can only repeat what I know from close family members (as reported by Seth Farber here). The Rav and Rebbetzin never considered co-education an halakhic issue. For them it was an educational question. They were convinced that separate classes would deprive the girls of the same level of Torah and academic excellence as the boys. Therefore, co-educational classes, ipse facto, were self-justifying.

Since Rav Shmuel Eliyahu and his followers oppose equal education for girls, obviously such considerations are of no import.

[As for his claim that co-education is in violation of the Shulchan Arukh, hasn't he ever heard of the Levush?]

UPDATE: Check out the comments.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

If it was an educational issue, then what would they have said regarding recent academic research that suggests single-gender education settings are better for girls? reserach that is already being implemented in non-religious and even non-Jewish environments?
It seems that the MO co-ed lechatchilla crowd are the most resistant to accepting these findings. I find that very interesting for the people that always claimed it was "education" and not "halachic" or "hashkafic"

Ben Waxman said...

Rav Riskin stated once that he asked the Rav why Maimonides was co-ed. the answer he got was that the Rav thought that Orthodoxy as he knew it in Europe was impossible and therefore something had to be saved. That sounds completely "bedieved".

Jeffrey Woolf said...

I disagree. The Rav simply evaluated the circumstances and paskened accordingly. He used the same logic, as did the Hafetz Hayyim, to advocate full Talmudic education for women.

BTW, he had enough opportunity to change the structure of the school over the years. He refused, as did Dr. Atarah Twersky. I'd say a Maaseh Rav trumps hearsay.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

As for the question of education. I agree, if the research had existed that showdd that women do better in segregated classrooms, AND it could be shown that women are not short changed, I believe the Rav would have stuck with same-sex classrooms. However, the Hubter College and Barnard studies that made that point were only published after the Rav started to retire from public life.

FWIW, I sent my daughters to same sex schools for educational reasons, but I feel they received an inferior education from a curricular point of view. The Hardali lock on the teaching profession (lower the skirts and empty the mind) still festers.

Ben Waxman said...

i was told that the rav advocated talmudic education because it is not right that women be educated in secular studies and not in torah. that is simply saying that in today's world, this is what is needed. but it is not saying that there is some eternal value in women learning. and maaseh rav is that the rav did not teach at stern.

but it is truely a sign of the rav's greatness that both sides can claim him as their own.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

I am sorry, but that is NOT what the Rav said. He did say that's is crazy for women to have advanced secular educations and puerile jewish educations. He also said, and I quote (approximately): 'A woman is obligated to learn the Halakhos of mitzvos which she is obligated to observe. So, she must learn Hilkhos Shabbos. To study Hilkhos Shabbos, she needs to know Meassechta Shabbos, and the road to Massekhta Shabbos runs through Baba Qamma.

In addition, the Rav DID give the opening shiur at the Stern Besis Midrash, and the shiur is on line at BCBM.

Finally, the Rav's mother knew Yoreh Deah inside out and would pasken for Baalebatim in order not to interrupt reb Moshe's learning.

Ben Waxman said...

he gave exactly one shiyur at stern in how many years of its existence and that is supposed to prove something?

look i have absolutely no stake in this argument. i doubt that my wife, who learned at maimonides, would send our daughter there. but since, as you pointed out, the rav didn't write out his reasonings, it is all conjecture. i have heard so many different things said in the name of the rav, people swearing that he said x, felt y, believed z and other saying the exact opposite. i think that yitz greenberg said that if you read the rav's works very carefully you see that he was a real feminist. rav meiselman would have laughed (or worse) at such a statement.

when rav aaron talks about the rav, i take his words very seriously. all the rest is good talking material and not much more. i do agree with you that someone like rav eliyahu really shouldn't be explaining the rav (i assume that he did not learn with the rav; am i mistaken?)

Ben Waxman said...

btw i am big believer in women learning torah sh'beal peh if they want. even if someone finds a secret letter from the rav saying he only did it because of the times i would still advocate it.

Anonymous said...

How does it figure that you sent your daughters to same-sex schools for educational reasons, yet they got an inferior education?

Jeffrey Woolf said...

1) Dr. Atarah Twersky, who chaired the Maimonides education committe, publically reiterated the position that I've staked out here. The other source is a very close family member.

2) The Rav delivered that shiur at Stern davka to make the point. You can ask Rabbi Blau.

3) Yitz Grenberg can interpret the Rav as he likes, as can Moshe Meiselman. As an historian, I can only pass on facts that I know were verified (aware that the Rav said lots of things to lots of people). One thing is certain. What he did in Boston reflects his most authentic ideas, because that was home and he was not dealing with the NY craziness.

Anonymous said...

"What he did in Boston reflects his most authentic ideas, because that was home and he was not dealing with the NY craziness."

I think what he did in Boston reflects what he felt as a community Rabbi was appropriate for Boston community, and that in NYC he was a Rosh Yeshiva and wouldn't pasken for the NYC community. That's not to say that had he been, say, the community Rabbi in Brooklyn (as Brooklyn was between 1935 and 1985) he would have necessarily done what he did in Boston. I don't think you can make a legitimate argument that he would have done in Brooklyn ashe did in Boston. I think that RYBS made enough public and verified statements about communal rebbinics to know that he most certainly would NOT have done so.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

We'll never know what might have been. If each community had different needs, then he may well have paskened differently. The flaw in your argument is that you assume that Brooklyn represented an ab initio reality and that of Boston, an ex post facto reality. Who says? My reading of Seth Farber's book tells me the opposite.

In Boston the Rav created our community, de facto. That, I belueve, says a lot. Sometimes you need to get out of NY to do what you really believe. That's why Ner Yisrael is in Baltimore, and why Volozhin was in a small shtetl.

Anonymous said...

There is a very relevant fact missing from this discussion. Rabbi A. Rakeffet recounts that in the 60's, an old age home about 15 blocks from YU in Washington Heights went up for sale. YU was interested in buying it so Stern could move uptown. The Rav told Dr. Belkin that if this idea were implemented, he would leave YU. (Obviously, the plan was immediately dropped.()

So is we take this post at face value, we have a situation where for 17 year olds, coeducation is preferred. However, for 18 year olds, not only can boys and girls not go to the same classes, not only can they not go to separate classes in the same building, or even the same *neighborhood*, but they have to be separated by Harlem and Central Park as well.

The Rav's opinion on coeducation is clearly far more nuanced.

Shlomo said...

He also said, and I quote (approximately): 'A woman is obligated to learn the Halakhos of mitzvos which she is obligated to observe. So, she must learn Hilkhos Shabbos. To study Hilkhos Shabbos, she needs to know Meassechta Shabbos, and the road to Massekhta Shabbos runs through Baba Qamma.

How did he square this with the fact that no previous authority saw women as REQUIRED to learn gemara, as this quote implies?

Anonymous said...

if the rav was so for co-education, why was he opposed to moving stern college to the same campus as Yeshiva college. what's the difference between maimonides and YU?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

For what little it is worth, when I taught at Maimonides there were people there who had learned and worked with Rav Soloveitchik. They were quite clear that the form of the school was what the Rav wanted and intended. Ab initio.

Rav Shmuel Eliyahu should speak in his great father's name, not the name of Rav Soloveitchik.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

1) The Rav had no problem paskening against prior Poskim if he thought he was right, as was the case with women learning Gemora.

2) The Stern example is a non-starter. I once asked Prof. Haym Soloveitchik why the difference and he replied: There is a difference between a Day School and a Yeshiva.
I assume he meant that the atmosphere is different. Day School kids are younger and at home, while Yeshiva and Stern students are on their own and of marriageable age and intent.

Shlomo said...

1) The Rav had no problem paskening against prior Poskim if he thought he was right, as was the case with women learning Gemora.

Neither do Reform rabbis. Try again.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

Shlomo, you are showing your abject ignorance of Psak Halakhah. I'm allowing myself indignation because you've now besmirched the following Gedolei Yisrael, by implying they are deviationist rabbis (who make fun of and reject the entire Massorah):
The GRA
R. Yaakov Karliner
R. Yitzhok Elchonon
Hasam Sofer
Noda be-Yehudah
R. Moshe Feinstein
and
Hazon Ish.

Learn Hoshen Mishpat Siman 25 and then go issue unilateral judgements upon Gedolei HaUma.

Anonymous said...

Jeff said:
"I once asked Prof. Haym Soloveitchik why the difference and he replied: There is a difference between a Day School and a Yeshiva.
I assume he meant that the atmosphere is different. Day School kids are younger and at home, while Yeshiva and Stern students are on their own and of marriageable age and intent."

Unfortunately, Jeff, you misinterpreted Professor Chaim Solevietchik.

Yeshiva does not describe college. True the word is part of the name of YU. Professor Soloveitchek meant yeshiva vs day school.

This distinguishes people who go to Chaim Berlin or MTJ or MTA or Philadelphia or Scranton who went to yeshiva and people who went to Maimonides and Flatbush or Ramaz who went to day school. This is obvious, you can ask him...

You may have gone to a day school, but many of us went to a yeshiva ketana and a yeshiva high school, not a 'day school'.

Now the Rav may have intended for women to learn gemara, which sounds like a good idea for them to do to be better educated.

However this coeducation in Maimonides was clearly a concession to the Boston Maztav. The Rav brought boston back from assimilation, but he would not have succeeded with the crowd he worked with if he had refused to compromise and strived for creating another 'Hayey Adom' community there. There would not have been a maimonides at all.

You are projecting your own inclinations and opinions upon the Rav. I am suprised at that, frankly. I thought you would be more clear minded...

Jeffrey Woolf said...

When I spoke to Prof. Soloveitchik, we were discussing the question of bringing Stern College uptown to Washington Heights. I thought that it was self-evident that we were contrasting a Yeshiva Day School with Yeshiva University.

To repeat my point regarding Maimonides. I do not believe that the Rav was axiologically committed to co-education. As I understand it, co-education was not a marketing ploy (After all, the best prep schools in Boston, such as Milton Academy and Choate, were men only). The Rav was concerned with the quality of the education that both boys and girls would receive. In Boston, he was convinced that coeducation achieved that goal. Would have said the same in NY? I don't know. Furthermore, we can't ask, since the Torah prohibits necromancy.

Your sneer is noted.