Friday, 16 October 2009

A Mazel Tov from Christianity Today?

I am not sure how to respond. Should I find this interesting, have a positive response? Should I perhaps be upset thinking that if Christianity is looking at something in a positive light I should be concerned from a Torah perspective? Or should my response be total indifference?

Take a look at this link. What is is about is pretty much in the wording of the link. Its actually a congratulatory note on the Yoetzet Halacha program at Nishmat in Israel (no connection) celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The one fact, and say this unfortunately, is that one of the criticisms of the program and, in fact, many of the innovations that have been applied over the years to women, as well as in many other areas of Halacha, is that they are motivated by "outside" influences and are not from a Torah true source -- and articles such as this one fuel that critique and make the whole process actually more difficult. Of course, one response to the critique is to just argue that it is not true, "outside" perceptions have nothing to do with them. On the other hand, maybe there is a place for "outside" influences to some extent within the world of Torah. After all, chachma b'goyim ta'amin. In many ways, this very congratulations may really reflect the general wisdom of the age and not the inherent values of this religion -- which itself is going through a transformation.

But bottom line, this congratulations still is strange.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


micha berger said...

Rabbi Hecht writes: "The one fact, and say this unfortunately, is that one of the criticisms of the program and, in fact, many of the innovations that have been applied over the years to women, as well as in many other areas of Halacha, is that they are motivated by 'outside' influences and are not from a Torah true source..."

The question is knowing the line between "motivated by 'outside' influences" and changes that are motivated by a need to keep up with changes of lifestyle.

Or to put the same question a very different way: How do we know which changes in our lives and values should be accepted and accommodated, and which should be challenged as being alien to Torah ideals?

Until you ascertain that feminism actually is alien, then there is no reason for the Modern Orthodox Jew to challenge it, and therefore we need to create a halakhah now that we have new metzi'us (facts on the ground).

Lemaaseh, though, I personally believe that elements of feminism, particularly that which translates into the current issue of ordaining women, does challenge Torah values. (I owe RRW a blog entry on the subject.)

However, that's more an issue for going beyond the authority given yoatzot. Yoatzot have a proven 10 year history increasing observance of taharas hamishpachah. Similarly toanit (female advocates in beis din for women who might be too cowed or less educated in the relevent halakhos to properly speak up for themselves) have proven themselves in preventing suffering.

My own objection is more exclusively to the Maharat, who is being defended as necessary solely for feminist reasons -- because some congregants could better relate and be inspired. Should they better relate? Or is the proper response to educate away from this confusion that being in the front of the room makes you more important, and that rituals in shul are the more central expression of Judaism?

And my REAL concern is that neither side seems overly concerned with an honest assessment, a confrontation with new values to see if they truly are new, society rediscovering ideas we allowed to fall into neglect, or simply neutral. Instead the right condemns the new reflexively, and the too many of the modern embrace it without critical evaluation -- as long as the halachic issues can be addressed.


Nishma said...

I am in full agreement with the distinction Micha makes between two different types of what I would term external influences, one representing ideas to be incorporated within the Torah perspective and one representing perceptions that challenge a Torah perspective. Such a decision in itself may be most difficult yielding divergent opinions but the very perception that there are two different perspectives we can have on external influences in itself has value. Not every new idea and not every old idea is necessarily correct -- and that in itself must be recognized.

Regarding the Maharat, Rabbi Michael Broyde's comments on the need for a title for Women involved with Torah education is most significant. I happen to find it problematic that a non-Jewish title such as Dr. (PhD) has to be used to distinguish a female scholar. I think we do need a title for women. Interestingly, Rebbetzin has been used as a substitute -- luckily for women who happen to be married to rabbis. The Maharat though may not be the answer.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

micha berger said...

R' Hecht,

I tried to be relatively clear that my problem with Maharat is not the invention of a title and role for women in-and-of itself. I think the to'anot and yo'atzot have accomplished wonders for shemiras hamitzvos and the lives of the women who turned to them.

My problem is with the concept of Maharat in particular. It's justified in a circular way; the need for women rabbi-like communal leaders explained in terms of the existence of women who would relate better to someone in that role if it were another woman. That's why we are left with an open question: Is this a new reality, calling for a new solution? Or is this a value system that we need to challenge, because its consequences are negative to our persuit of the Torah's goals.

And frankly I'm more bothered by the silence on that question than by the answer. The dynamic going on among R' Avi Weiss's community is that if one can eliminate the halachic objections (both by amending the role to fit halakhah and by finding lenient positions that allow more of the role), then why not do what the people want?

This pursuit of an end and getting the halakhah to fit, with no eye as to whether it ought to, is a mistake history has seen already. I pray that the results this time are more positive than when JTS began down that road.