Thursday, 14 June 2007

Women, Gemara and the Other Issue

Originally published 6/14/07, 10:18 PM, Eastern Daylight Time is reporting the following:

Rabbi Eliyahu: Women shouldn't study Gemara.
Prominent leader of Zionist-religious public rules girls should not engage in Gemara study due to risk of obscuring differences between genders. Details may be found here.

Obviously an article such as this brings out all the issues of Women and Judaism.  I invite you to look at the substantial material on this subject at Nishma, both in the Online Library through our subject index on this topic, as well as in our Research section reflecting our on-going research on this subject. Both are available through links on the home page. The latest entry in the Research section on whether men and women are to be seen, in halachic terms, as separate entities, or two parts of the generic entry of Jews, is actually to the point. The answer to that question reflects greatly on one's attitude to women within the corpus of Torah.

Rabbi Eliyahu's remarks, and similar remarks by Rabbi Aviner, actually raise another issue that may even have greater repercussions. I remember reading a comment by a noted Torah educator in the USA. He  wrote that the issue of women studying Gemara was no longer an issue within the Modern Orthodox community once the Rav gave the first shiur in the Stern beis medrash. It was not just that the Rav said it was okay; he did it. Now, of course this educator knew that someone could still disagree with the Rav -- after all many of the Rav's talmidim are on record as disagreeing with their rebbi regarding various halachic issues.

 It's the way that disagreement is voiced, though, that is the key. The position of the Rav cannot be summarily dismissed, without even being raised. Usually, when one disagrees with the Rav, the position of the Rav is mentioned and then, with respect, the disagreement is voiced. The reality of differing views within Torah, the non-monlithic nature of the community, is recognized.

I have not seen what either Rav Eliyahu or Rav Aviner actaully wrote or said. As such, I am at a disadvantage in even voicing these comments. The question I have, though, is whether these opinions were voiced with the recognition of the Rav's opinion voiced. If not, we have the potential for schism within the two worlds of Modern Orthodoxy.

Of course, there is a great distinction between Israeli Modern Orthodoxy, which is really built on the hashkafa of Rav Kuk and focuses, in distinction form the charedim, on its view of the State of Israel, and American Modern Orthodoxy, which is really built on the hashkafa of the Rav (Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik) and focuses, in distinction, on its view of the outside world. Certainly, there is some overlap, but there is also room for distinction. This distinction is sometimes not recognized. In the words of Rabbis Eliyahu and Aviner the distinction emerges -- and the question is what will occur with this recognition of distinction?

Of course, Torah is not monolithic. We want a world of divergence under the principle of Eilu v'Eilu. But such a world begins with the recognition of the principle that Beis Hillel quoted Beis Shammai first. That, sadly, does not exist in the broader Orthodox world. The question is whether this sadness of greater Orthodoxy is also going to be part of "the world within the world" of Modern Orthodoxy?
Further in regard to this topic, you may also want to take a look at the discussion on this topic at the following blog.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

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