Unchanging Orthodoxy, Constantly Evolving

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Michoel says:

    Very good mashel.

  2. sam says:

    I’ve heard the “rules of the game” analogy to orthodoxy before, and it always seems to lose sigh of its proper argumentation in the gleam of metaphor’s rhetorical flourish. With all due respect to Ms. Katz, earnestly claiming that orthodoxy has always played by the same rules doesnt make it so. The analogy breaks down in at least two significant ways:

    1) A grandmaster would be equally flummoxed by a midgame position where new rules were invented at points throughout the game as he would be by a game where rules had been annulled. While the Feminist player may be claiming that the queen now deserves as much value as the king (an ironic choice of metaphor indeed, since the queen has all the true power in chess), the orthodox player has been systematically introducing new strictures (both meta-halachic and halachic) over the past 2000 years. New rules undreamt of by the Indian king who invented chess are new rules, no matter which way they swing, or how legitimate you may think the legislation process may be. While you may argue that all changes to orthodox judaism over the centuries have been within an acceptable framework of halachic innovation, you’re eliding the basic fact that Judaism has changed. Thus, your issue is not with the idea of change which has necessarily occurred, but rather with the individuals who havelegislated the changes. Why then (aside from the obvious) are the rishonim or hasidim different from the folks at JTS, HUC, Edah and JOFA (and to forestall angry cries, I’ll hasten to add that this question is lesaber es ha’ozen, and not a real comparison)? You can’t say “we changed the rules BY the rules” – your metaphor breaks down when you do – but that’s what has occurred.

    2) I have historical problems with the idea that the orthodox methodology of evolving halacha has been constant or even rabbinically approved over time. Haym Soloveitchik (in his article in AJSReview 12) makes a compelling argument that the baalei tosafos’ discussions of basar vechalav or kiddush hashem were informed mostly by a desire to justify prior mass practice. Not exactly a systematic approach to legislation, is it? Similarly, his article “Rupture and Reconstruction” delineates the meta-halachic considerations behind the changes in orthodoxy over the past 100 years. What is clear is that there have been numerous and varied impetuses for wholesale change in the history of halacha, and that these changes have not been following any sort of rules other than a few imposed in a transparently post hoc fashion.

    The concern of critics, both here and in the broader discourse (such as it is), is that orthodoxy (specifically, yeshivish or haredi orthodoxy) over the past 100 years has developed a pathological fear of chadash assur min hatorah, coupled with a newfangled doctrine of rabbinic infallibility on all matters (hashkafic and halachic) that has led to the trenchant (albeit not quite unjustified) condemnation of any stream or movement’s innovations.
    This trend has been amplified over the past 50 years to levels undreamed of by any of the rabbinic leadership of generations past. Consequently, a spiritual paralysis has stricken the yeshivish and haredi worlds, where movement of any kind expects to draw the ire of some angry faction somewhere; any group’s kol koreh eventually gets signed (often blindly) by the mainstream leaders of the community, and thus all true adapatations of halacha to contemporary circumstances get torpedoed.

    Incidentally, as a metaphor, scrabble would have worked no better. Sorry.

Pin It on Pinterest