Women and Tefillin: A Study in Breached Boundaries
The horse is out of the barn. There are no rules anymore. Everything goes. Making it up as you go along.
These are among the clichés that came to mind when reading the many articles penned by those promoting and defending the decisions of two liberal Orthodox high schools to allow their female students to lay tefillin during morning services at school.
Notwithstanding the ruling of the Rema (OC 38:3) that one must protest any attempt by women to lay tefillin, notwithstanding the words of the Vilna Gaon (ibid.) that it is forbidden for women to lay tefillin, notwithstanding the elaboration of the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (OC 38:6) wherein the phrase “we do not permit” is applied to the notion of women laying tefillin, notwithstanding age-old accepted halachic consensus and practice that women do not lay tefillin, and notwithstanding the fact that no major halachic authority was consulted – these liberal Orthodox high schools decided that their female students may indeed lay tefillin.
As the Aruch Ha-Shulchan and others have explained, men do not keep their tefillin on all day and they instead limit their tefillin time to Tefillas Shacharis, due to the comprehensive bodily and mental purity that must be maintained while tefillin are worn. Since men are halachically required to lay tefillin, they have no choice and must keep their tefillin on at least for the morning prayers, after which the tefillin are customarily removed in deference to their sanctity, which could be offended should there be a lapse in bodily or mental purity. Women, on the other hand, are not required to lay tefillin, and they therefore should not do so, lest they be subject to a compromised state of bodily or mental purity while wearing tefillin. To lay tefillin and voluntarily expose the tefillin to potential offense of their sanctity due to such a lapse is discouraged or prohibited; hence do women not lay tefillin, explain the poskim. The poskim specifically differentiate between other mitzvos such as shofar, sukkah and lulav, from which women are exempt but may nonetheless voluntarily perform, and tefillin, whose voluntary performance may engender a prohibited offense of their sanctity.
Those who recently took to promoting and defending the notion of their female students laying tefillin argued that since even men are distracted with iPhones and secular reading materials while wearing tefillin, it is clear that we no longer adhere strictly to the purity requirement for laying tefillin, and women should therefore be no different:
But since nobody really does it the right way – as the Halacha cautions us – why are women any different from men in this respect? Just look at all the men who are consulting their I phones, or reading, during parts of the davening, while wearing tefillin– if that isn’t hesech ha-da’at, what is? So, essentially, we are all deficient in the scrupulous care of the body and the mind that is necessary for tefillin. If women, therefore, want to take the mitzvah of tefillin upon themselves, why is it any different from Sukkah and lulav and shofar
and many mitzvot that are time-caused which women accept upon themselves and, according to Ashkenazic practice, make brachot over those mitzvot? Why exclude them because of deficiencies in practice which men have too?
Others who recently endorsed the idea of their female students laying tefillin argued that since there are sources that do not object to women laying tefillin, female students who seek to lay tefillin as an expression of their sincere religiosity should not be prevented from doing so:
I felt it appropriate to see this as a legitimate practice albeit different than our communal practice – but one that has halakhic justification. As such, I granted the two girls permission in the context – in a tefilah setting – of a group of girls who were supportive of their practice. I felt it appropriate to create space at SAR for them to daven meaningfully. I explained this to our students in this way: it is a halakhically legitimate position despite it not being our common communal practice. But since there is support for it, I would be willing to create such space in the school. I did not, in so doing, create new policy nor invite any female student who wanted to don tefillin to do so.
Both of the above arguments are fundamentally flawed. While men in the congregation of the rabbi who proffered the first argument above may indeed be distracted with their iPhones and secular reading materials during Shacharis and while donning tefillin, from whence does one receive license to provide a wholesale dispensation from the purity requirements of wearing tefillin and thereby overturn half a millennium of p’sak in order to permit women to don tefillin, based on this newly-created dispensation?
The second argument relies on the fact that there exist halachic opinions that do not object to women laying tefillin; hence, there is a reliable basis for women who have a sincere religious desire to lay tefillin. Although halachic precedent and practice for at least half a millennium dictate otherwise, and although no poskim were consulted, those behind this decision have pointed to sources that justify their decision, while overriding the accepted sources on the matter.
Being consistent with this approach, let’s imagine if the letter from this school’s principal read as follows:
“Some of our students would like to serve ice cream for dessert after our school barbecue, and since there are legitimate sources (e.g. Tosafot in Hullin 105b) which hold that so long as one recites Birkat Ha-Mazon and clears the table after meat, he or she need not wait before then consuming dairy, I am permitting those students who sincerely seek to adopt this halachic approach to have ice cream at our school barbecue immediately after the hotdogs and hamburgers have been served and eaten, so long as the tables of these students are cleared and these students recite first Birkat ha-Mazon.”
Or, if we seek to take an example that highlights the religious aspirations of the students under discussion, we can apply this example:
“In order to enable all students to participate in our school shabbaton, those students who live far from school and have difficulty arriving before Shabbat commences may schedule their travel so as to arrive at school for the shabbaton 15 minutes after sunset on Friday, as there are halachic opinions (e.g. Tosafot in Shabbat 35a, Pesachim 94a; Orach Chaim 261:2) that permit melacha for a considerable amount of time after sunset. Those students who opt to rely on this approach, in their sincere religious desire to be present for our school shabbaton, may do so.”
Is there any fundamental difference between these two hypotheticals and the case of authorizing female students to lay tefillin in reliance on opinions that have not been adopted as halachic consensus and precedent but nonetheless are “out there”, posited by great Rishonim? This approach runs roughshod over halachic process and rabbinic authority, and if taken seriously and applied consistently, will destroy Torah observance as we know it. (Not to mention that the concepts of surrender to the halachic imperative and of connecting with the Ba’alei Ha-Mesorah, as articulated so eloquently and passionately by Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, are wholly incompatible with this entire episode and approach.)
The real question here is Why? Why did these liberal Orthodox institutions feel comfortable abrogating centuries of halachic precedent and unilaterally charting a new course, absent the guidance of any major halachic authorities? Although Rabbi Steven Pruzansky compellingly observed how these cases reflect Orthodox institutions bowing to established non-Orthodox practices, why was it so easy to bow? Why was this same bow so difficult to take a few decades ago, when the same issue arose at one of these same institutions and was handled differently?
The truth is that the past decade has seen boundaries within Orthodoxy breached beyond belief, both in general as well as in terms of specific feminist-oriented issues. Whether it be the repudiation and engineering the deletion of the “She-lo asani” berachos, appealing for, justifying and celebrating gay marriage, ordaining women for rabbinical roles, having female chazzanim for general services, as well as females leading other parts of the service, lowering conversion standards (note the absence of Kabbalas Ha-Mitzvos there and here), and bringing church choirs into synagogues (please also see this video), leadership of the Open Orthodox movement has paved the way for major change in Orthodox practice, such that others could comfortably follow suit. Nearly every Open Orthodox reform to Torah practice has involved the combing of halachic sources in search of opinions that justify the agenda at hand. (Please see here for elaboration.) Rather than approach Halacha with a traditional, objective outlook, bound by precedent and guided by eminent halachic authorities, Open Orthodoxy has pretty much invented a new system, first targeting the goal and then conjuring up the means. Hence, if (Open) Orthodox rabbis can go so far so as to ordain women and discard gender-specific berachos mandated by the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch, endorsement of women laying tefillin on the part of other liberal-minded Orthodox rabbis is rather easy.
And there is a real nexus to consider. The same rabbis and schools who just came out in favor of women laying tefillin have been very seriously involved with the Open Orthodox movement for quite some time. (See here, here, and here. There is plenty more…) Taking a step back, we are presented with a picture of a greatly expanded Open Orthodox-oriented group taking liberties to modify halachic practice in a major way (even as we acknowledge the religious motivations of the female students involved), while disregarding halachic precedent and failing to seek the input of eminent halachic authorities for the reforms being introduced.
No one knows where this all will lead or what the next innovation may be, but we are witnessing the emergence of a new denomination before our very eyes. It is truly frightening.
Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as the New York Bar. The opinions in the above article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of any other individuals or entities.
When will the RCA, OU, and NCYI publicly proclaim that Avi Weiss
and his Open Orthodoxy are no longer part of Orthodox Judaism?
In my humble opinion, the sooner the better.
I would have to disagree with the statement made here that
“The truth is that the past decade has seen boundaries within Orthodoxy breached beyond belief, both in general as well as in terms of specific feminist-oriented issues.”
In reality, “the general boundaries of Orthodoxy were breached” more than 200 years ago, with the arrival of the Haskalah and a general abandonment of Torah observance BY THE MAJORITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE since then.
It is simply wrong to assume that all those who are pushing these boundaries of Jewish observance have some ulterior agenda or are secretly working to undermine Jewish observance. No doubt there are some who are but there are a quite a number of since, G-d fearing young women who don’t understand why if it is praiseworthy for women to voluntarily do mitzvot they are exempt from such as Lulav and Sukkah, the same does not apply to Tefillin and Tallit. Of course, the considerations of extra kedusha needed in the performance of Tefillin are very important factors, but simply saying that Rabbanim X, Y and Z oppose it and then leaving the argument at that will not satisfy many of these women whether we like it or not. The heavy responsibility that hangs on the rabbinic leadership in confronting these questions is whether propagating a hard-line on matters like these may drive those women and men who agree with them out of the mainline Torah-observant world entirely. As I pointed out, it has happened before. Most of the Jewish people reached the conclusion in the last two centuries that Torah was not relevant to them at all. Who says this couldn’t happen again? Triumphalist claims saying that “look how big and powerful we are today” may not hold up in the long run as modern ideas such as pluralism and changing gender roles can not be swept under the carpet and affect even the most insular communities (I may add that the modern kollel system has created an earthquake in changing gender roles within that community that claims it is the most traditionalist of all and the ultimate consequences of this earthquake have yet to make themselves fully felt!).
The rabbinic leadership faces major challenges in dealing with this and I hope they have the wisdom to overcome these.
The Shulchan Aruch also strictly limits which men can wear t’fillin of Rabbeinu Tam, and these limits are routinely breached, and have been for well over a hundred years. Yet I have never heard Rabbi Gordimer or Rabbi Pruzansky or anyone else complain about it. It seems to me that issues involving women generate far more heat than comparable issues with men.
Excellent; searing; amazing in the humbly passionate articulation of a truly frightening new Jewish movement.
ובערת את הרע בקרבך
While I agree with Rabbi Gordimer’s argument, I would point out that my observation has been that his *reductio ad absurdum* cases involving *kashrus* and Shabbos would probably arouse little, if any, opposition in the circles under discussion. The only reason they have not already been adopted is that they don’t serve to advance the specific ideological agendas of the left.
WADR, while I too am opposed to this break from tradition I disagree that we are witnessing the emergence of a new denomination. I see this as an anomalous phenomenon, as are many (but not all) of the innovations of OO.
They are so outside the mainstream that those who opt to do this will never reach the critical mass needed to form a new movement. I do not see this lasting into the next generation, unless we make too much of an issue about it. If we just ignore it, it will eventually die a peaceful death. But if we become too strident in our opposition, it will grow.
Think of what happened with the Women of the Wall. At first it was a few women. But when the opposition became more severe and public demonstrations opposing them took place, there numbers increased; public support increased – as did media attention.
I don’t think we ought to do that here. In my view the best way to prevent this phenomenon from increasing,is to ignore it. If there is no public controversy, the media will ignore it; the public will lose interest and the practice of Orthodox women laying Tefillin will wane. As will many of OO’s other innovations.
When we discuss the breach of woman’s roles in Halacha, the existance of the Kollel wife who supports her family (which Rabbi Avigdor Miller was stongly against) can not be ignored.
I also feel the need to point out (as I tried to in the prior thread) that “Guf Naki” is much less of an issue for women with modern hygiene practices, and therefore daying “Batla Ta’am” (similar to Mayim Megulim or burying on the second day of Yom Tom) could be applied.
All that being said, I think that you have a compelling point where you say “Rather than approach Halacha with a traditional, objective outlook, bound by precedent and guided by eminent halachic authorities, Open Orthodoxy has pretty much invented a new system, first targeting the goal and then conjuring up the means.” That (to me) is the main issue. Had SARS made an exception for these two girls who came from a Conservative School so that they would feel comfortable in an Orthodox school, after discussing with someone like Rabbi Willig, we would not be having this discussion.
The SA (OC 34:3) opposes the wearing of RT tefillin by those who are not well-known for their piety. This is not due to a formal issur, but due to appearances of haughtiness (yuhara). Poskim rule that there is no issue of yuhara in communities in which everyone dons RT tefillin. While there may be plenty of room to criticize the start of this custom among the masses, it is a very old issue and now no longer could be considered yuhara or objectionable.
Mike S. Please reference one source
Bravo Rabbi Gordimer!
Mike S. – if you don’t see how changing gender roles is different from pushing the limits (I don’t know if your point is valid about RT tefillin since I haven’t looked into the sources) on RT tefillin, I don’t know what to tell. Judaism will be fundamentally changed by what OO and SAR are doing. Not so by RT tefillin.
Y. Ben-David – your point about these issues in insular communities being swept under the rug does not stand. Its not being swept under the rug; instead, the response is – we don’t want to change Judaism in response. If you think that this will somehow eventually put Orthodoxy on the run, that prediction was already made in North America and in Israel decades ago and how did that fair. There are two responses to gender issues, and it happens to be that the Right’s response is that we won’t change and push the envelope to address these issues. You may not like that response, but it is a response. Also, the responsibility that the Rabbanim have to uphold halachic methodology and not be easily swayed by the winds of change is an even greater responsibility. What OO and Neemanei Torah V’Avodah and other left groups are doing is actually easier then holding one’s ground and be accused of being misogynist.
1) Rabbi Gordimer is clearly correct in asserting there is a breakdown in rabbinic authority in segments of the modern orthodox (MO) community. Some of this is an inevitable result of “modernity”, however the breakdown seems to be accelerating. My hypothesis for the reason is that MO used to have Gedolim that its adherents largely respected (the Rav primarily, but even to a significant extent Rav Moshe, Rav Shlomo Zalman, and some others). Who are those Gedolim today? Perhaps Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (he should have a refua sheleima), but by temperament and personal style he has not filled that void. Other great talmidei chachamim — rightly or wrongly — are perceived as not having the worldliness and/or sensitivity to command the respect of the left of MO. Don’t know what will change this dynamic, as the more the worldviews diverge, the harder it will be for any Gadol to reign it in. One thing that I believe is certain is that entities such as the RCA and Chief Rabbinate have no ability to do anything about this, and their actions might even make the situation worse
2) It is important to note that Rabbi Harczstark at SAR was quite clear that he was only poskening as the mara d’asra for two young women in a particular context. He was not poskening that any young woman could don tefillin, nor was he attempting to set policy for the broader community. He only went semi-public with an email to the school community when the story broke into the public domain. IMHO, undermining the authority of the local rav to posken — which many in the Establishment are doing — is also detrimental to Rabbinic Authority
Rabbi Gordiner – each time someone publishes one of your articles like this, I have the same response. Until the organization YOU are an Executive Committe member of is willing to do something about these people who are breaching the boundries, there is nothing you should say.
Talk a little – do a lot.
You know one of the reasons the Rabbanus of Israel had to back down on the Avi Weiss thing – because how could they next accept the letters of a “Rabbi” part of the RCA. He, and his lot, have the same official status as you do. Rabbi, part of the the RCA and thus required acceptance as a competent orthodox rabbi. Do something about it other than post a blog response.
The problem is lack of standards. Where standards are set, no one breaches them, but where the RCA et al will let anything slide, people will do whatever they want. Mechitza, for example, is known to be a standard. No one in OO will take down the mechitza because they would be instantly regarded as outside the pale. Ditto for women doing chazaras hashatz, etc. All the RCA (or, unofficially, any other rabbinic body or even individual rabbi) has to do is define these other items as sine qua non to be considered Orthodox, and you could stop the whole OO movement in its tracks.
[YA – It took quite a struggle (and a famous court battle) before mechitzah became recognized as the litmus test of fidelity to mesorah. It will take a while before OO innovations are similarly excluded, but it will happen. The RCA is on the verge of publishing a collection of articles regarding one of those innovations. One of the articles will be a magesterial credo of halachic process that will separate traditional Orthodox belief from the depredations of OO. Watch for it soon.]
“Essentially, we are all deficient in the scrupulous care of the body and the mind that is necessary for tefillin. If women, therefore, want to take the mitzvah of tefillin upon themselves…why exclude them because of deficiencies in practice which men have too?”
Does anybody understand Rabbi Lookstein’s reasoning? If so, I would love to hear an explanation.
His argument seems to be:
1. The Aruch Hashulchan says that because both men and women are deficient in the scrupulous care of the body and the mind that is necessary for tefillin, only men, who are obligated and have no choice, should wear teffilin for a limited time each day.
2. Things have changed since the time of the Aruch Hashulchan. In the year 2014, because both men and women are deficient in the scrupulous care of the body and the mind that is necessary for tefillin, even those who are not obligated should have the option to wear tefillin.
Am I missing something here?
Perhaps I was too snide and not clear enough. Of course at the time Chassidim began to wear RT tefillin routinely there was objection from leading rabbonim, like the Gaon and the Noda B’yehudah to this and other practices. But we have all gotten used to it, and it is (and was) far more widespread than a couple of girls wearing t’fillin.
And while the change in gender roles is a serious issue, it is happening in all communities, even those where a woman putting on t’fillin is utterly unthinkable. It is being driven by very large forces including changing economics, increased general and Judaic education and changes in how housework is done and children educated. When my grandmother was a young girl she used to take live chickens to the shochet; I do not believe my daughters have ever seen a chicken being soaked and salted, as we now buy meat packaged after being fully salted. Trying to pretend we can stop this is nothing other than silly. And one has to be foolish not to realize that adjustments in gender roles have occurred throughout our history. One need look no further than the fact that the mishnah and gemara explicitly permit women to do shichta of both chullin and Kodshim, while the Rema forbids. A couple of girls putting on t’fillin is a minor eddy in the wake of an aircraft carrier.
First, once again kudos to R. Gordimer for another excellent piece.
At the risk of violating kol ha mosif, goreiah I think one more point should be added. Many of these innovations are justified by an asserted search for deeper spirituality. Yet somehow in that search, the concept of
שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ
seems to have been lost. A woman seeks a deeper spiritual connection to the Almighty, surely a nobel aspiration. To whom should she look to as a role model? How about the nashim tzidkonyos of this and prior generations? What did they do to deepen their spiritual connection?
There are many answers to this: deeper concentration in tefillah, saying tehillim, doing acts of chessed, learning mussar, being careful about shemiras ha lashon, etc. Laying tefillin doesn’t even make the list. One cannot think of a single woman known as an ishah tsadekes in the last 100 or even 500 years who lay tefillin, although there have been many, zechusan yagein aleinu. (And yes, these same women, and virtually all Orthodox women, are careful to hear shofar, that is an established minhag, and many do try to shake lulav.)
Here is a suggestion. In the recent biography of Rebbetzin Kanievsky, it states that she was careful to daven three times a day (and, except for Mincha erev shabbos, with a minyan!) No one that I know ever accused her of being a feminist or radical innovator. In fact, acc. to many Rishonim (since we are dredging up shittos Rishonim), women are obligated to daven shacharis and minchah. So how about accepting on oneself to daven three times a day, without fail. That is an innovation I think no one would object to.
Harry Maryles, while the “innovations” of Women of the Wall are indeed parallel, it is not true that media attention tracked “opposition” from others at the Wall, and it is certainly untrue (and, in my opinion, naive) to imagine that if ignored, they will go away.
The reason why WOW seems an accurate “mashul” (paradigm) for OO is that in both cases, the leading figures will continue to push the envelope until someone objects. WOW deliberately set out to get themselves arrested in order to attract attention and funding. If there had been no objection to a Torah reading, they would have had a mixed service — after all, if women have the “right” to pray with a Torah scroll, don’t they have the “right” to pray next to their husbands? The Orthodox aren’t the only type of Jews, you know! Lest you think I’m exaggerating, Anat Hoffman has proposed in multiple forums that the Mechitzah at the Kotel be taken down for the majority of each day, rendering the site unsuitable for traditional prayer.
Similarly, not all the “innovations” came out from Riverdale on the first day. It is an ongoing process, one that makes a mockery of the Halakhic process and, indeed, the definition of observing Torah U’Mitzvos. They have gone from skirting the edge of the Shulchan Aruch, to “pick a rishon” in contravention of the Shulchan Aruch, to Kefirah Gamurah bli shum tzad heter klal u’klal (“the Deuteronomic prophet (i.e. the author of Deuteronomy) was still a human being, his scope remains limited by education and social context”). It just took a while to travel from women leading (not singing) services to “Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking, they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s,” chas mi’l’hazkir.
This is a neo-Conservative movement, which might soon join forces with the Union for Traditional Judaism, which used to be called UTCJ until they decided to sound more Orthodox. Yes, it will eventually fade. Yes, it may take just another generation. But how many Jewish neshamos will be lost along the way?
This is truly shocking and disappointing. I was waiting for how long it would take for someone to blame open orthodoxy for this. Let’s be honest, this has nothing to do with YCT or Open Orthodoxy, you simply fold everything you disagree with into one “movement” not recognizing the damage of your “strategy.” By focusing all of your attention on YCT and Open Orthodoxy, you have allowed an undercurrent of YU and other modern orthodox musmachim a free pass (one told me the other day, “I went to YU, not YCT, so nobody is watching over my shoulder”). That’s why YU musmachim are getting away with leading partnership minyanim in LA (YCT grads refused to attend it), and encouraging all sorts of behaviors that the vast majority of YCT grads are too cautious to ever allow. Just yesterday we saw the news of a YCT grad leaving his shul because they would not put in a mechitza. These guys are being very careful now, but others are being even more extreme, and you might be to blame for that. SAR and Ramaz are led by YU grads, not YCT. R Gordimer, I think it would serve you well to try to appreciate nuance and complexities of society before conveniently conflating everyone you disagree with together because the damage of your approach is making matters much worse.
Y. Ben-David – In being unimpressed that Rabbis X Y and Z have made psak on an issue that they don’t like, they belie the fact that their Jewish education has skipped that little thing called Mesorah. (Part of that is the conservative movement’s adoption of the term “masorti” to give the facade that their rulings have a basis in halacha, akin to the elephant wearing a tutu – it still should not be confused with a ballerina:))
Without Mesorah, there is no real starting point in any halachic discussion.
Yasher Koach Rabbi Gordimer
Mike S – sorry, but there is a major gulf between organic changes to gender roles as a result of non-ideological processes, which most likely had nothing to do with egalitarianism, and that driven by feminism that has changed the face of our society since Seneca Falls, for good and for bad. As for gender roles in the more insular/right wing communities, I think that it can be argued that even with acceptance of changes, such as kollel wives working, formal education, and secular education, including post-secondary and professional degrees for women, these communities’ women have still kept traditional in raising large families, performing traditional household tasks. The chol and kodesh roles for women are kept separate.
Further, these changes are not organic, they are ideological. In fact, I am certain that those girls’, who come from Conservative homes, did not consider halochoh in following the practices they saw in their own homes. Why should SAR and Ramaz honour non-halachic approaches and treat them as legitimate of “pskaning” whether these girls can continue to do so at school?
L. Stein – while that story of the YCT grad is very encouraging and I am proud of him, the difference here is that YCT grads are following public positions taken by YCT and those affiliated with that institution. Whereas, YU grads who host partnership minyanim are in fact diverging from the priciples of the institution that gave them semichah. Further, there are much less YCT grads yet a large number of them take these left wing positions on issues. The YU grads are distinct, small, and noticeable minority.
I wonder how many orthodox high schools would accept girls from conservative homes? that seems to be a more relevant issue.
What is it really about? Connecting with Hashem, praying with true Kavannah.
Young women want a more active role. They are not aware of what they already have. Women were given an extra measure of bina, understanding and we can pray for hours on end. We do not need tefillin or time restraints. Why is it that some people want us to be like men and why do men see us as they view themselves. Not. We are women, we are different.
WADR to Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer ,whom I consider one of the leading noble,courageous and articulate voices of clarity and demarcation of this generation,
there seems to be by now graver breaches (or floodgates) in the dike than this one,albeit symptomatic.
This is exaclty the point. The cadre of YU grads diverging form the principles of theihr institution is rapidly growing because all of the attention is being directed to fighting YCT and thus not looking inwards. What you dont realize is that there is a very large (and growing)contingent of YCT grads, and other “Open orthodox” rabbis, who are not happy with the way things are going and with the bad press they are receiving. They are therefore working very hard to restore traditional values/practices and avoiding anything at all controversial. At the same time R Gordimer and others continue their obsession with attacking them, not realizing that all the while, people who they see as part of their camp are being disenfranchised by the rhetoric and feel free to make contorversial moves unscathed. We thus have a YCT/Open Orthodox crowd that is becoming more traditional/careful re mesorah, and a “centrist/YU/RCA” crowd becoming much more extreme/liberal. You continue to lump them together but are actually shooting yourself in the foot. You might not realize it yet, but this is exactly what is happening. Maybe a new phsat in “kol haposel, bemumo posel.”
[YA – Afraid that R Weiss will have to bear the responsibility for the fact that his own graduates are going to be shunned by the mainstream community. After today, there is no chance that YCT members will be admitted to the RCA. After all this dies down, that is likely to be the most lasting effect. (In practice, however, individuals from YCT who have tried to come in from the cold have been able to do so in regard to other forms of acceptance, and have been welcomed by even the most vigorous rejectionists of YCT/OO. There is no reason why this will not continue.)]
I read the letter by Rabbi Harcsztark, and, despite my own inclination to be averse to this practice of girls donning tefillin (as the Rema states), I do not read it as some sort of overarching general statement on the subject, but rather as a decision taking into account the specific girls and their circumstances. In fact he specifically goes to great lengths to make that point, to wit “I felt that my responsibility was to consider the person before me and the halakha, before considering the political fallout of the decision.”
While there is obviously a lot going on in the Orthodox World with respect to many of the (sometimes troubling) issues raised in R Gordimer’s article, I for one am happy to see a Rabbi look at the Jews standing before him and render a decision based on his knowledge of their circumstances. We do not know these girls. Rabbi Harcsztark does. He is the Mara Dasra of his school and he quite clearly states he is aware of the Rema, as well as the apparently fewer, weaker sources that would allow this practice. And then he rendered a decision for his school for those specific girls. He himself apparently did not pursue the publicity that followed. Perhaps he should have refused them. Maybe that would have chased them away from his school and from any type of Jewish education, or maybe they would have accepted his decision and stayed. I don’t know. Neither does R Gordimer. We are not in the best position to determine that because we do not know the girls. R’ Harcsztark does. I think sometimes, for some congregants or students, a particular rebbe will advise in a certain way. To not look at the individuals means to chase many away from Torah observance altogether. Unfortunately this happens all too often with non-conformist students in many yeshivas. I am much more concerned about that.
Rafael: Early Chassidus was highly ideological, far more so than the left wing orthodoxy of today. It was an open rebellion against the assumption of rabbinic leadership of the period that spiritual worth was connected to achievement in Talmud Torah. But, what is more important, the dichotomy you pose is false; new ideologies gain traction precisely when economic and social circumstances render the old worldview untenable, at least for a substantial fraction of the populace.
I also find it somewhat puzzling that the role of women in raising the family is said to be a primary Torah value. After all, the halacha is quite clear that fathers are obligated in the mitzvot of raising children, and mothers are exempt from them.
This incident demonstrates the power of Reverse Psychology.
This means that the most powerful way to make someone
want to do something is by telling them to NOT do it.
Jewish girls have been told that they should not wear
tefillin; so now they want to wear tefillin, because
they were told to not do it.
If all the Orthodox Rabbis would decree that women
must wear tefillin, then the Conservative Judaism
girls who wear tefillin would stop doing it,
just to be contrary to the Orthodox Rabbis.
Yasher Koach to R Gordimer for again illustrating beyond doubt why , on this issue, in certain LW MO circles, the inmates are running the asylum.
One can argue that there is little value in taking time out to be publicly offended by other Jews (in this case young women) who you strongly contend are erroneously performing Mitzvot that they should stay clear and far away from. I say this, because the writers of cross-currents are essentially preaching to the converted. Your intended audience are those who align themselves with the right of center camp, and they no doubt agree with you and will continue to believe that Open Orthodoxy is a direct affront to Torah True Judaism. Those (myself included) in the left of center camp who don’t accept that the status quo in Orthodoxy is sufficient and fervently believe that women should be encouraged to be engaged in ritual Judaism as much as Halachikally (with a wider lens than you wish to use) possible are not going to be deterred or repelled by your diatribes. To me the larger issue here for all of us is that clearly there is a lack in Gadoley Hador to take over the mantel from the previous generations of leaders. I don’t think this issue has been formally addressed, but it warrants a great deal of consideration. We are living in a time without the giants like the Rav, Reb Moshe, Reb Shlomo Zalman, Rav Shach, Haham Ovadia,zt”l etc. Why is there such an absence and void of Gedolim? With so many Jews learning full-time, surely a hand-full around the world should have distinguished themselves and have a similar degree of authority and acceptance as their illustrious predecessors. This perhaps is why you and those who agree with are feeling so threatened by what has been going on in Open Orthodoxy the last decade. At the same time nobody here can legitimately declare themselves a modern-day Pinchas, and claim to be defending the honor of HKB”H without some measure of self-aggrandizement. If I were you, I would spend less time finding fault in others, and instead use your blog in a positive fashion to increase Torah and Mitzvot observance and to truly follow the dictum – L’hagdil Torah U’lehadeir
Your definition of “mesorah” is rather limited. The Hasidim of two centuries ago had no “mesorah” and made a lot of innovations that then became a new mesorah. While you may have Rabbanim X,Y and Z on one side, there are others who are willing to look at things in a new light WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF HALACHA, even if you are not comfortable with it.
The question that those who oppose the girls doing this must answer is whether it is wise to put up barriers to them and say “my way or the highway”, or “if your not with us, you must be agi’n us!”. Should they be told that there is no place for them in the Orthodox world or not? That is the bottom line question.
1. I’m surprised no one has commented on the theoretical examples. That ruined this essay for me because both of those fictitious scenarios are lo saasehs. (Shabbos and milk and meat) Tefillin is a positive commandment from which women are exempt. In my understanding, the implication should be totally different and therefore women wanting to do this mitzva is much more complex. In other words no aveirah is being transgressed.
2. I understand the point that wearing tefillin is risky because of the purity issue and therefore you can only take the “risk” if you are obligated in the mitzvah. My question is- just as a man can control himself to do this mitzvah why does the halacha assume that a woman interested in fulfilling this mitzvah can not ensure that she too will do what’s necessary to meet the criteria for mental and physical purity?
Rabbi Gordimer-can you please address?
Yasher Koach Rabbi Gordimer. As someone who lives in a small community with a very big open Orthodox influence, I can tell you all how important your articles are. We are losing sincere young people to this Shita, which is totally removed from Torah, though desperately seeking a Halachic hanger to hang on. Keep up the pressure Rabbi Gordimer Klall Yisroel will be thankful to you over time.
The argument that someone made that how come there is no reaction about people wearing wearing RT”s is totally different than the Sar-Ramaz Psak:
1) There are major Halachic authorities, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Ovadia of blessed memory and many others, who encouraged this, unlike women’s tefilin and all the other Piskei Dinim of the open Orthodox.
2) We all understand the temptation of the Rabbi’s to allow Tefilin for girls. The feminists, the media and certain Baal Habatim will label them as suprrtive, understanding and forward thinking. Nobody thinks that a Gadol or Rebbe who Paskened for the masses to wear Rabbeinu Tan did this to be popular among the media or their flock. Actually when my Rav Paskened that my son should start wearing RT”s at his Bar mitzvah, the extra $1,400.00 cost made this Rav very unpopular in my home. Yet we still bought the RT’s and did it with joy, because we knew that our Mara Deasra was objective and devoted to Halacha as it is.
To me, the matter is so simple, that I think that all of the fuss being made about this, is an indication that I am not fully understanding what is going on.
Here is how simple me sees this controversy. If Jewish women want to wear tefilin, or some Jews want to conduct gay marriages, or eat dairy foods right after eating meat, and so on, G-d Himself has given them the free choice to engage in such activities. All I would ask of such people, is to please stop pretending that they are Orthodox Jews. They are not.
I am not saying that one has to perfectly adhere to all of the commandments in order to rightfully be called an Orthodox Jew. After all, King Solomon reminded us many thousands of years ago that there is no person so righteous that he never sins. But there is all the difference in the world between somebody who aspires to live a fully religious life, but sometimes fails because none of us are perfect, as opposed to somebody who takes those failings, and tries to turn it into some kind of righteous deed…and then to compound the arrogance, tries to hijack all of Torah Judaism to justify their mistakes.
Feminism is just one of many isms that are passing fads, and will one day go away, just as will all sorts of other isms, such as communism, environmentalism, socialism, and so on. Each of these things may be of passing interest to us, but they should never be allowed to compromise the values and mission of Torah Judaism.
Could you explain to me how a woman who wears tefillin in addition to keeping all the other mitzvot and lifestyle customs Orthodox Jews keep is not “Orthodox”?
The whole concept of dividing Jews into ideological camps, of which “Orthodox” is just one is a recent invention, which came out of the Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s separatist community in Germany. The attitude was that if you didn’t belong to the separatist (“austritt”) community, you were essentially a non-person in the eyes of members of that community. It is true that a similar situation existed in Eretz Israel at the time of the destruction of the Second Beit HaMikdash, where there were Perushim, Tzuddikim, Haverim (people who tried to be ritually “tahor” all the time), Amei Ha’aretz (simple people who were not careful to be tahor), in addition to sectarian groups like the Essenes, the Dead Sea Sect, etc, etc). HAZAL tell us that the ideological differences ended up leading to baseless hatred, violence and finally the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.
After that happened Jews learned they have to get along with one another, even surviving conflicts between the Rabbanim and Karaim. Now, these ideological fights have resurfaced.
History shows us that to ride a woman out of the Orthodox/religious world for the “crime” of wearing tefillin (and I am NOT in favor of women doing that) invites self-destruction.
Both Harry Maryles and Yaakov Menken are factually correct and I actually, this is amazing, find myself agreeing with Rabbi Menken’s analysis. Mike S. is right on the mark and I quote “And while the change in gender roles is a serious issue, it is happening in all communities, even those where a woman putting on t’fillin is utterly unthinkable. It is being driven by very large forces including changing economics, increased general and Judaic education and changes in how housework is done and children educated. Trying to pretend we can stop this is nothing other than silly. And one has to be foolish not to realize that adjustments in gender roles have occurred throughout our history.”
So, if all of you are right, where do we go from here. I think that it gives those who love ideology a real thrill to define what is wrong with other’s practices and beliefs. It is sport,although you won’t admit it even to yourself. You are not going to change anyone by telling him or her that they are hashkafically off the mark. I am constantly seeing Kol Korei’s coming out of Israel trying to stop some practice and we all know how futile it is. The train has left the station, the orthodox community is big enough and vibrant enough to tolerate diversity and pluralism (such words shouldn’t come out of our mouths). Avi Weiss is not the threat, the problem is our children go off to college,etc. and stop being frum. Our problem is people who look frum on the outside but don’t believe it inside and feel trapped.
T.R: While tefillin is a positive commandment, violating the sanctity of tefillin is a prohibition. This is why the Rema and the Gra use the words “mochin” and “assuros” to protest women who would lay tefillin.
Halacha generally does not allow, or discourages, one to place himself (or herself, as here) in a case in which he or she risks doing the prohibited. The only case in which this is permissible is that of another halachic requirement that mandates taking the risk. Since women are not bound by the halachic requirement to lay tefillin, they are not to take the risk of compromised bodily or mental purity engendered when laying tefillin. This is the consensus opinion that has been adopted.
[YA – The RCA is on the verge of publishing a collection of articles regarding one of those innovations. One of the articles will be a magesterial credo of halachic process that will separate traditional Orthodox belief from the depredations of OO. Watch for it soon.]
I hope you are right but there was no action taken against the legal innovations of Emanuel Rackman or the theological ones of Yitz Greenberg. Maybe this time it will be better, G-d willing.
[YA Decades ago. Different membership today. Let’s wait and see]
Mike S. – you can’t compare chassidus and feminism, which is a secular, non-Jewish ideology. As for chinuch, that is not a mitzvoh of raising a family. That is a mitzvoh of training children in the performance of mitzvoh. That has nothing to do with women traditionally being those who deal with the physical and emotional needs of a child on a more consistent basis.
T.R. – the point R’ Gordimer is making is this cherry picking of Rishonim. That is the methodology in vogue today, and contrary to the established method of paskening, that results in these changes. His examples were entirely appropriate and relevant.
There must be an set of counter-luchos that tells these people “have it your way”.
As someone with no interest whatsoever in justifying OO’s halachic deviations, I think it would be well advised for those defending what Orthodox Jews commonly regard as the traditional approach to the halachic process to avoid the temptation to fall into sweeping generalisations. There are numerous examples in the halachic literature of widely accepted poskim ‘digging up’ opinions that were rejected by the Shulchan Aruch and Nosei Keilim to justify the practices of ‘holy communities’. It would be a grave mistake for Orthodox spokesmen to define the legitimate boundaries of halachic discourse so tightly that the teshuvos of these poskim fall outside of it.
While I personally find little appeal in the halachic creativity on display in works such as Minhag Yisroel Torah and Shaarei Halochoh U’Minhag, the fact that the former boasts haskomos from first rate halachists such as Rav Vozner while the latter’s citations in the Piskei Teshuvos have yet to be protested should be seen as a blessing in my humble opinion. Let us not paint ourselves into a corner that we struggle to extricate ourselves from.
Rafael: Early chassidus also seemed to flow from alien ideology to a great many leading contemporary rabbis. So did drashot in the vernacular. And a great many once controversial practices now widely accepted. One reason this is true for many changes that have an ideological components is that the leaders of the community are, almost by definition, among those for whom the old worldview still works.
As for chinuch, that is not a mitzvoh of raising a family. That is a mitzvoh of training children in the performance of mitzvoh. That has nothing to do with women traditionally being those who deal with the physical and emotional needs of a child on a more consistent basis. Of course it is not only chinuch in mitzvot that the halacha defines as incumbent on fathers but all obligations of parents toward children. And if the family role of women does not flow from halacha, why are we so sure it is a Torah centered tradition rather than a result of social circumstances? After all, no one suggests we all have to be shepherds because the Avos were. I believe the strongest praise for a woman in the Tanakh is not for her domestic role but for killing an enemy general. And the phrase is “blessed beyond the women in the tents” (which Chazal take to mean the Imahos), which would seem to imply that the domestic role is not the apex for even the greatest of women.
There is considerable halachic and historical objection to women studying Torah S’Balpeh and some Haredi groups have viewed Talmud study for women as violation of tradtional halacha to the point of this being an issar D’orasah. Can someone explain why Orthodox woman study of Talmud is Ok and why Tvillin has drawn such vitriloc response?
The feminists, their suppporters and fellow travellers IMO ignore a basic principle that differentiates men from women, despite their being both created Btzelem Elokim. Anyone who learns Chumash, whether on a deep or superficial level, can see that the roles of the genders have been differentiated and that men were given time bound positive obligations as reminders of the key events in Jewish history because men, not women, expressed cynicism, panic, worshipped AZ and rejected HaShem’s promises with respect to the conquest of EY. Women remained resolute and committed to the mission of the redemption of the Jewish People in each and every one of the above episodes. When viewed in that context, the notion that a woman needs to “accept” that which a man was obligated makes absolutely no sense. While women accepted some time bound positive obligations upon themselves, the notion that the rationale for the same can be extended beyond the short list of such mitzvos requires a sense of Lishmah which is sorely lacking and the absence of any residue of Yehura. In that respect, I think that R Goldberg’s observations and response, R Gordimer and R Pruzansky have emphasized what is the key-the current scenario in the two schools at issue can only be described as an Olam Hafuch or a classic illustration of the inmates running the asylum.
One of the most important differentiations between men and women, as is outlined as far back as Sefer Bereshit, is that the man is the one who goes out in the world, is the main one responsible for providing for the family and defending it when necessary. The woman’s primary (but not exclusive) role is in the home and the family. Both roles are equally important and they complement one another.
The interesting thing is that the mondern Kollel system, where as many men as possible are encouraged (if not subtly coerced) into studying Torah full-time for years, has, in effect, made the woman the one who “wears the pants” in the family, as it were. That is, they are now the primary ones responsible for providing for the family, going out in the world, whereas the man spends more or less time in the Beit Midrash, and dealing with the children (taking them to school, doctor, dealing with their problems) while Mom is out working a full-time job. Is this the ideal of the Torah? Yes, in the past there were great scholars who did study full-time but this was a small minority and the community and possibly wealthy fathers-in-law helped out considerably. This MASSIVE, unprecendented shift in gender roles can bring about unforseen, unprecendented shifts in the family relationships that may well be much more negative than allowing some women to wear tefillin. For a community that prides itself on being the most “traditionalist” of all Orthodox groups, this myopic view of the possible upheavals in gender roles is most suprising.
those writing and responding, ought be certain they are fully aware of the case. if they are not, their outbursts will be seen as such – halakhic rulings lacking context. I wonder how many would retract or perhaps be more circumspect if they knew the details? the danger of blogs should be clear to all. I for one, knew a bit more and refused to comment despite opposition to girl’s obligating themselves in this manner.
as to Talmud study, a gadol shebedorot was supportive. I have read and benefitted from the torah of women writing on Talmud. ironically, the topic of yuharah generated a book by an orthodox woman who studies Talmud.
I can barely read Chumash, so perhaps I’m the superficial reader you posited, but I can’t see from the text where men and women generally acted differently in key events in Jewish history. It seems, from the text, that is all the congregation that complained or were scared etc.
And that is an interesting,if unusual, reason you give for why women are exempt from time bound mitzvot.
Curiously, the Rabbis didn’t see it that way, and did obligate women on the clearly timebound Rabbinic mitzvot of those key events in Jewish life, Pesach, Purim and Chanukah.
Teaneck Jew-First of all, women study Talmud only in certain portions and sectors of the MO world. Women in Charedi schools learn Tanach, Jewish history and Halacha LMaaseh from texts. AFAIK, only in Satmar do women still not even study Tanach with Mfarshim. See my prior post why women putting on Tefilin simply has never been a mitzvah either that women accepted upon themselves or was connected to a negative that entailed a positive fulfillment ( ala Acilas Matzah)
In all places that I have been in, I have never seen anyone insist that men remove their tefillin the minute after they have completed the davening that tefillin need to be worn from (which, according to the Gemara, is Krias Shema alone, although the minhag later extended to include other elements of tefilla as well). I therefore do not understand the claim of those who quote the Aruch haShulchan, unless they also protest those who keep on their tefillin beyond the kaddish after Uva LeTzion (or Aleinu).
I reccomend that those who are interested read the latest article by Rabbi Mark Angel on this topic. Interestingly, he is not in favor of allowing females to don tefillin in school or shul. He distinguishes between two seperate and non connected mitzvos and says that wearing tefilln is a seperate act and a different mittzvah and the two should not be conflated into one mitzvah. He suggests that women who desire to do so, don the tefillin privately at home. So, you see, not all liberal orthodox rabbis or scholars are marching to the tune of the most permissive. To my knowledge, Rabbi Avi Weiss does not allow a Partnership Minyan in his shul but those who desire have it in another venue.
The Conservative Movement is in a different place on this for a very simple reason. Their home Judaism is atteenuated and the major expression of Judaism is in the synagogue setting. They also need to find gimmicks to keep the people interested and having been doing so for over 100 years. The problem is that gimmicks don’t seem to have a long life span.
“I can barely read Chumash, so perhaps I’m the superficial reader you posited, but I can’t see from the text where men and women generally acted differently in key events in Jewish history. It seems, from the text, that is all the congregation that complained or were scared etc.”
mb-compare the lives, roles and responsibilties of the Avos and Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon HaKohen and Miriam HaNeviah, and the response of HaShem with respect to after the episodes of the Golden Calf, the spies and the requests of the daughters of Tlofechad. Pesach-men and women are obligated on a Torah level with the positive and negative commandments. Women are obligated on a rabbinic level as to Purim and Chanukah either because their actions contributed to the miracles being celebrated or because they were in the same level of danger as men. Even so, there is an opinion of the Baal Halachos Gdolos cited in Tosfos in Megilah that the obligation of women to “hear” the reading of Megilas Esther is not on the same level of men who must “read” the megilah twice, with a major dispute in Rishonim and Acharonim as to whether the night or the day reading of Megilas Esther is of primary importance. I should add that there is a similar and related dispute as to whether women are obligated to hear the reading of Parshas Zachor.
Aren’t forums like this (no offense intended, just raising the issue) the cause and effect of this problem under discussion. At least part of the problem, beyond the basic halachos involved is that every Tom, Dick and Harry (including every R’ Tom, Rabbi Dick and R’ Harry) has their own two cents regarding communal/public issues including psak halacha.
For example, regarding kollel, Israeli politics, metzitzah etc…, these things are discussed at length by people who have no practical connection to these topics. And even those who do, like someone who may have to choose a mohel or decide where to send his children to Yeshiva, doesn’t it make sense to have a Rav you trust guide you? What is the value of complete strangers discussing problems not practically relevant to them? Note where one is mekayem Talmud Torah, my point is rescinded, but the vast majority of forums and comments would not be cateorized as such.
R’ Gordimer’s point is well taken, liberal orthodoxy is extending itself further and we must be cognizant of that to protect our souls and those of our loved ones, which should include all of Am Yisrael. But was do we hope to come out with when the keyboards fall silent and the last comment remains unanswered?
Obviously, what starts in Ramaz and SAR will spread to Flatbush and Teaneck.
How these people can view themselves as spiritually superior to the Imahos, Miriam HaNeviah and Chanah, strikes me as more proof that feminism is an “I rooted” modus viviendi with its intellectual and pyschological core at intellectual self gratification, and denial of the fact that HaShem Yisborach decreed that man and woman were Btzelem Elokim but with different functions.
This is all evidence that in certain LW MO sectors that the inmates are running the asylum.
It is tragic that some MO rabbinic leaders and educators must engage in what can only be described as knee-jerk apolgetics so as not to offend feminists, their supporters and fellow travellers within and outside of the LW of MO.
I think that some women want to do it to enhance their prayer, while some might want it for equality and so on….
While it could enhance one’s prayer, they should understand there are many requirements to do it properly, like physical cleanliness, pure thoughts, no talking etc…. Anyone who puts on Tefillin could easily mess up with something and people do. But since men are required to do it, the benefit is greater than the risk.
We women don’t have to, and so if we put it on and sometime during, make a mistake, we cause an aveira that we could have avoided.
In regards to equality. On the surface, it doesn’t look fair that men have more mitzvos. However, since men and women are different including spiritually, men were given more because they spiritually need it.
Despite different roles, we are all important to G-d. The Rebbe, Schneerson gave an anology about the brain and the heart. Even though they have different roles, they are both important organs to the body.
When praying, we women can enhance our prayers in other ways like working on kavanah and making it meaningful(Which both men and women should do.) Our prayers can be powerful when said with passion in our soul. If we don’t have that passion, we can pray to have it. Every prayer, formal or personal helps us to connect to Hashem
There are many other mitzvos to help us connect to Hashem and connect to others, like chesed and helping people in the community. Plus, we have the beautiful mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles and praying. And many other mitzvos.
Let’s appreciate what we have and connect to Hashem through our own mitzvos.
I have heard from an extremely reliable source that anything in the above linked JW article about any discussions at Yeshiva of Flatbush are 100% Sheker LGamrei.
Your response to me is a non sequitur.
Meanwhile,here’s 2 out of many that disprove your theory. Apparently Chazal and them imposing time bound mitzvot on women were not good enough.
Exodus 14: 10 ff
and Numbers 14:1 ff
MB-I stand by my reading of Chumash, Tanach and the roles of the Avos and Imahos, Miriam HaNeviah and Chanah, among others, with the benefit of Chazal and the classical Mfarshim, as well as the fact that we follow the Mesorah of TSBP even when it imposes less of an obligation or a different obligation than Torah SheBaal Peh-you apparently view the words of Chazal in many sugyos im Kiddushin and elsewhere as R”L “not good enough”.
Neither Bamindbar nor Shemos 14:10 is not a definition of a Tzibur or a definition of a mitzvah Min HaTorah or Drabanan imposed on both genders. The spies were the 10 males designated by each tribe-women neither participated nor supported the same. The Talmud in Megilah derives the requirement of a minyan for Tefilah BTzibur from a Gzerah Shaveh with the ten male spies.
Is it any wonder that according to an article in the JW written by two YCT supporters that the founder of YCT received a standing ovation at SAR’s annual dinner?