“A Next Step” – Round Two

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28 Responses

  1. Yoel Finkelman says:

    YF – You know, Yitzchok (if I may), how much I respect you and appreciate what you write and say. But I think here is the point where our dialogue breaks down. Your response to my comment only demonstrates to me just how far “the right” is from taking the intellectual and religious issues that bother me seriously. To put it bluntly, it’s not so much that I disagree as much as, well, you simply don’t get it.

    [YA – You are partially correct. I “get” the struggle with a host of intellectual issues, in some of the historical sciences. I read, and think, and buttonhole people who can illuminate the issues. I really don’t get – perhaps because I’m not as immersed as you – the position that assumes that there was no mesorah of cultural values that would and did shape the extent of influence from surrounding societies. Maybe my lack of struggle is a curse; maybe it is a blessing.

    What I really don’t get is what any of this has to do with Partnership Minyanim in particular, or the trajectory of Open Orthodoxy in general. I’ve encountered lots of the figures in that camp, both personally and through their writings. You can lay claim to being an academic type, struggling with resolving some intellectual issues. They can’t, because they are not. Let’s not get into personalities, but for the most part, they are people who are intoxicated with newness and a greater feeling of confidence in what the secular world delivers than what they have learned in the Torah world. Your issues (the not so new ones of the academic approach to Torah in contradistinction to older, more traditional ones) are not theirs.]

    YF -In no particular order:

    1) Notice that there were parts of my original comment which you chose to replace. If you cannot address the core issue – how history interplays with sacred and holy texts – than the conversation can’t really get off the ground. Many of the other issues below ultimately boiled down to not thinking in the historical frame.

    [YA – Now it’s your turn not to get it. You know darn well why I told you that I could not publish some of your comments. (One, actually.) You just don’t get that there are real issurim involved in placing material in front of people that will detract from their yiras shomayim because they have no way of handling it. Censorship is such a dirty word in your circles, that you are hide your eyes from the responsibility we all have to protect people from material that may (just may) lead to a crisis of faith. Some of our readers would have no problem reading the comment I nixed, because they’ve dealt with similar before, and have access to Torah teachers who can guide them in the proper way to handle it. Others don’t. Would you approve of handing a loaded gun to a minor? Why is this different? ]

    YF – 2) We have a very good track record of pretending to reject cultural changes, and a very mixed track record of actually rejecting them. For every example you bring the things we rejected, I can show you just how much we have been influenced by them. (One of these days, I will convince you to read my book, but that is the core thesis – agree to read it, and I’ll send you a copy). We reject egalitarianism even as we totally change gender roles, we reject sexual permissiveness even as we completely adopted the Western notion of the companionate marriage, we rejected ideas of an internally old world (except for Ralbag), but adopted as our own much Aristotelian language.

    [YA – We’re not debating change. Change happens. Some (but not all) of us even buy into R Kook’s notion that much of the change is part of HKBH’s game plan, and had to occur in an evolutionary manner, rather than by legislation. That is decidedly NOT the point. The issue is whether brakes can and should be applied to some change when you are consciously in the middle of it, and who applies those brakes. I believe firmly in what R Schachter wrote – that deciding on how much change and when is within the mandate of the baalei mesorah, the upper echelon of Torah luminaries. I haven’t seen you propose any other mechanism than free-fall.]

    YF 3) I repeat – it has never been true and is certainly not true today the Jews have simply followed gedolim. That is not how leadership works. One does not have to be a Marxist to realize this, but it helps 🙂

    [YA – In the time of the early Rishonim, many Jews stopped wearing tefillin. They did not ask gedolim. In time, the authority of gedolim won out, and we wear tefillin again. There is a ying and yang to this, and certainly there was movement without asking questions first. But there was enough of a sense of authority in our people that gedolei Torah were able to apply correctives to movement they thought had no merit. When married women began to neglect the obligation to cover their hair, they weren’t asking questions – and it took generations to move the momentum back in the direction of halachah. But it happened. Of course we could point to other changes initiated by the hamon am that gedolim originally opposed, and then begrudgingly supported. The sheitel comes to mind. And the kashrus of turkey. But had the opposition to these things remained in full force, the outcome would have been different.

    As far as your Marxist leanings, would that be Groucho, Harpo, Chico, or Zeppo?]

    YF 4) That last point is the crux of the debate between us. Many of your arguments are ultimately circular because they boil down to the idea that we have gedolim on our side and gedolim disagree with you. But the question of how change hoappens and what role rabbis do and should have is exactly what is being debated. Again, history matters. The history does not bear out this image.

    [YA – History describes what was. Our job as devotees of halachah is to describe what should be.]

    5) My daughter – (sorry for dragging you into this without asking you) again, you didn’t hear the question, at least not deeply. She knows that tefillah is important. When it comes to that and many other issues of “frumkeit” she walks the walk and not only talks the talk. I can tell her that X is assur, but nobody thinks that a balcony with a curtain, bad sightlines, and lousy acoustics is what the halakhah requires. The establishment (myself included, as her father) gains credibility when it solves the problems that can be solved easily. It loses credibility when it does not address the problems that it could easily. More deeply, ttefillah is more important, but nobody (men included) enjoy being in places where the atmosphere states clearly that they are not particularly included. Telling women that lousy acoustics is worth facing because tefillah is more important, or that the fact that they care about such things shows that their motivations are improper, is not something men would accept in other spheres of life, and there is little reason for women to accept it in shul.

    [YA – I don’t disagree with any of that. I can point to shuls that went out of their way to design everything keeping in mind the sensitivities of their women members. I can point to those that are completely oblivious to them – and not for any defensible reason. (Men exercising undue power illegitimately over women seems to go back to what HKBH told Chavah would be one of the consequences of human disobedience to His Will.) But I can also point to shuls that had no real choice, given very meager resources of space and funds. The fact remains that men have an obligation in tefillah be-tzibbur (my real point to you in my earlier comment about what I would tell your daughter), while women do not. ]

    YF 6) Another bit of circularity: you argue that the way we address these Halakhic changes is by following the timeless and age-old Halakhic methods, which in practice means following the gedolim. But studying Halakhic history and we discover that it is not so simple. There are big questions here, the academics who write the history are less interested in the theological side of things and the posekim are (often) not interested in the historical and methodological issues. Once that question is opened you cannot simply assume that the answer is “follow the gedolim.”

    [YA – This is a bit too vague for me. You are speaking by way of allusion, and I am not getting it. Again, history will contain reactions that are angelic, devilish, and everything in between. We need to address what should happen, not what sometimes (infrequently? Frequently? Does it make a difference?) happened. Throughout that mix of reactions, I can still show that rabbinic voices arrogated to themselves the right to pass judgment on all novel elements that came up for review. And they were not preaching to the deaf.]

    YF – 7) this has been said before, but it behooves being said again. The notion of “da’as Torah” or “the gedolim” is a 19th or 20th century ideology. In practice, the definition of a gadol is determined less by scholarship and piety and leadership, and much more by the editors of Yated Ne’eman and by the popularity among the laypeople who are interested in crowning such Gedolim. The social and religious consequences of the current system of gedolim, but suffice it to say it is corrupt, and hopelessly so. You would not publish what I have to say in the rest of the paragraph, so I will leave it as this.

    [YA – And your dissatisfaction with the misuse of “daas Torah” somehow permits you to hide from all the evidence that the notion of strong rabbinic oversight of all elements of Torah society was a reality throughout history, even if the term “daas Torah” had not yet been minted. (Are you one of those who will argue that until Rambam came along and made the issue explicit, the notion of the unique Oneness of G-d was unknown? Maybe I shouldn’t ask….)
    Postscript – This is going to bring the back and forth to an end. Please feel free to continue on your end on your FB pages.

    We both realized that the dialogue was not going to convince the other, and that we were writing more to give chizuk to our own constituencies. I do think that this has been valuable, however. We have kept up a pretty respectful conversation, and both of us want to encourage more of that. While we have both asserted that the other just doesn’t get each other’s positions, that isn’t really true. We both understand some of the other’s frustration, and we both understand what it is that the other is pursuing, and why. That itself is significant. We thoroughly disagree – but we share more of a common vocabulary than we own up to. You began by saying that you don’t support Partnership Minyanim, and that is also significant. I don’t believe that I share a common vocabulary with the architects and supporter of Open Orthodoxy. In that sense, much of the debate about whether they are “in” or “out” is moot. Once the common vocabulary is lost, people cease to be part of the same group, no matter how hard some would try to gloss over the differences.

    You are not there. Perhaps that means that one day, if HKBH allows me to achieve my dream of aliyah, we conceivably could work together to strengthen our State. We might have to daven in different shuls, but the overlap in our goals is still enormous. ]

  2. Mike S. says:

    Before you give her this answer, you might stop to reflect on why this issue of presence (and/or participation) just doesn’t resonate with women in the haredi world. (You needn’t buy into the entire haredi enterprise to recognize particular accomplishments and strengths.) Could it be that the stress in haredi chinuch of terms like “yiras shomayim” and “avodas Hashem” (phrases I hear with alarmingly less frequency in the Modern Orthodox world) brings with it different expectations of what to find in shul? And is it coincidental that these haredi women exhibit more halachic consistency and less cherry-picking (not just in matters of proper dress and hair-covering, but in Orach Chaim as well) than too many of their counterparts? (Want to read about what the majority of committed Orthodox women think and complain about? Has nothing to do with putting on tefillin. Read Avital Chizhik’s terrific piece.)]

    Our experiences differ; I know more than a couple of Chareidi women with whom the issue does resonate. And more than one couple where the men and boys daven in a chareidi shul and the women and girls in a left wing one. But rather than trade anecdotes, look at the emergence of things like mass challah bakings, amen clubs and the like, which are more a phenomenon of the chareidi (and far right MO) world than the Modern Orthodox community. There are also organizations devoted to advanced women’s learning in the Chareidi world. I would contend that these are different responses to the same sense of dissonance; it is felt strongly in the Chareidi world, even if the response is different. And I think the Torah world should expect this dissonance to be addressed by the great Torah scholars of our day, whether that is in perspectives to make the contrast less jarring, or adjustments to communal structures outside the synagogue so women feel more apart of the community, or changes in the synagogue that are better than those advocated on the left (even if it is only attention to lighting and acoustics in the women’s section which are often quite poor.)

  3. mycroft says:

    “which Klal Yisrael did for centuries, that we need not do any more nor any less than what halachic procedure asks of us,”

    Not necessarily clear-to quote Rav Soloveitchik “Halacha is the floor not the ceiling” for proper behavior. Proper behavior is not merely what halacha demands see eg story about “Chamor kanita even lo kanita” and the the Kiddush hashem of Baruch elokei shimon ben shetach.

    “bring those issues to gedolei Torah for guidance.”
    It is natural that one should want to bring ones questions to who one believes is most immersed in Torah-but that does not equal an obligation to follow any particular gadol not matter how knowledgeable see eg RYBS on distinction as to why Jews of Vilna had to follow R Chaim Ozer and were not required to follow the Chazon Ish. It was not the difference if any in the Torah knowledge of the two-but the Jews of Vilna had appointed RCO as their leader the CI was just a private knowledgeable individual. The requirement to listen to anybody today is a more open question than many want to discuss. Since we don’t have classical smicha one asking a sheila of a Rav may merely be asking advice of an expert as to where one can find the answer-one may be a fool not to listen to one who knows more than you but it appears according to the Rambam one is not violating any rules of not following a Rabbi.
    As a historical matter much of our decisions in the past 1500 years were made by lay leaders see ed Vaad Arba Arazot-even the Gras famous issur against Chasidim was signed by lay leaders. Even an argument can be made that the Agudah was founded as a lay organization see differences of opinion of Rosenheim and Breuer as to where power should be.
    Of course one is not free to reject what Klall Israel has accepted as binding eg Shulchan Aruch for non Yeminites. It is binding not becuase of the knowledge of R Karo or Rav Isserles but Klall Israel accepted it as binding. One can’t ignore 500 years or more of binding acceptance and look for various minority opinions. Naturally to interpret
    what is binding I would go ask a Rav who I felt confidence in.

  4. hindy frishman says:

    I couldn’t read past your dismissal of the complaint about not being able to see or hear in shul.
    There is no halachic reason for building shuls where women can’t see or hear, where women can’t come because they can’t get upstairs (disabled, elderly, those who are very pregnant or come with a sleeping baby in a carriage). I am charedi and YES, this bothers me. Why doesn’t it bother most of my charedi sisters? Because they don’t care about going to shul, hearing the Torah etc. And the “not caring” is not always a positive thing. And how exactly do you know that we women don’t care? We do, but we are taught that complaining makes us “not charedi” “not frum enough” or “too feminist.” Try being a charedi woman and asking why a halacha or parsha shiur held in shul for men is not open to women (who could sit behind the mechitza.) Our husbands are ashamed if we ask, so we don’t. I think the first thing charedi communities need to do is look at the ways in which they discriminate against women in ways that have nothing to do with halacha, hashkafa, or bringing nachas to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. no, I don’t want to wear tefillin, but I would like a seat in shul that doesn’t require me to hike up stairs when I am somewhat disabled. And to say, Go to a shul without a balcony – so you are saying it is fine that I am not welcome int he shul my husband and sons go to. The slefishness of not building at least a small section ont he main floor is not justified by anything, and perhaps we cannot dismiss the arguments of feminists so easily when the evidence of unjust treatment is staring us in the face.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    The following shiur given in Riverdale by a rav of a prominent MO shul ( not HIR) with the prinipal of SAR in attendance is well worth watching on why students in an MO school should follow Halcha, as opposed to notions of observance that have their origins in heterodox movements and the improper cherry picking of sources that were never relied on as Halacha L”Maaseh. (Google: torah musings tefillin rosenblatt )

  6. Toby Katz says:

    If you want to consider resource allocation — how much time, money, energy, communal angst — should be expended on making women happy, consider these two numbers:

    1. The number of Jewish women who presently cannot count for a minyan, but wish they could.
    2. The number of Jewish women who presently do not have a husband, but wish they did.

    Why are we spending so much time and effort on the former, miniscule, number, when the latter number is an unfolding human catastrophe and tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions?

  7. Samuel Svarc says:

    What’s causing me to respond to the previous comment, is the implied assessment that the lack of convenient Ezras Nashim’s buildings is due to the perceived value of women (“the first thing charedi communities need to do is look at the ways in which they discriminate against women”). Besides for being a vicious slander, far worse is that the complaint is absurd.

    I’m not opposed if someone wants to build a shul where the ezras nashim is of the best variety. This desire is fine and praiseworthy.

    There is a shortage of resources, of physical space, etc. When building decisions are made, the obligation of men to daven in shul versus women, where some (Gra) being opposed to women going to shul, and definitely no obligation to go there on a thrice daily basis, molds them.

    To write or think otherwise is repugnant to both common sense and decency, and is prima facie evidence that the complainer has crossed all boundaries of normalcy and is driven by an agenda.

    Again, I’m not opposed to convenient Ezras Nashim’s or the desire to build one. It’s the imputation of nefarious motives when the true reasons are readily apparent. To deny reality is literally unforgivable.

  8. Daniel says:

    I don’t doubt that Finkleman’s daughter is not happy in shul where she can’t see or participate. Since he thinks she should be unhappy with that, and that she should want a different role, it isn’t at all surprising that she devalues the traditional female role and has picked up on his feelings.

  9. Reb Yid says:

    “YA – I would tell her that the mitzvah of tefillah is hugely important, and involves speaking intently to the Ribbono Shel Olam. It need not take place in a given shul – or in any shul at all. The “there” that she should feel is standing in the presence of a G-d Who listens to her davening. The rest is secondary or less. When the experience of davening is real and personal, the other issues will become less important to her.”

    Keep on writing “responses” like these, and ever increasing numbers of Jewish women (and men) will say “genug” with this condescension, however well-meaning your intentions.

    [YA – Actually, you’ve got it all wrong. It will be an ever decreasing number who will be in a position to walk out, because the absolute numbers of left-wing Orthodox will decline as people marry later, and have fewer kids. The center and the right, where birth rates are strong, will continue to grow – and there women (and men) are worrying about issues other than Partnership Minyanim and tefillin for girls]

  10. Ari Rieser says:

    “And how exactly do you know that we women don’t care? We do, but we are taught that complaining makes us “not charedi” “not frum enough” or “too feminist.”

    This to me is the most honest and compelling statement I have heard anyone make on the role of women in frum world and in shul goings on. I hope and pray that more women like Hindy will have the courage to come forward and honestly express their viewpoints to their Rabbanim. We all stand to benefit from being a bit more sensitive to those in our community, be they women, children, elderly or ppl with physical disabilities, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity and accessibility to experience a more inclusive and meaningful shul experience, that is truly Tefilla B’tzibur.

  11. David F says:

    hindy frischman,

    “There is no halachic reason for building shuls where women can’t see or hear, where women can’t come because they can’t get upstairs…”

    exactly right. there’s no halachic reason, but there is a very practical reason why some shuls are built that way. Men are required to attend three times a day. Women are almost never required to attend and most only do so on Shabbos morning. Thus, it makes little sense to allocate precious space from the main section just to ensure that they have a better view of the proceedings.
    It’s not so different than the situation in most girl schools – elementary and high schools – that I visit that have only one rest room for the male teachers and multiple rest rooms for the females. Since there are 10 times as many females as males, it makes perfect sense to arrange things thus.

    As far as my wife davening in the same shul as I and my sons do, it’s not an issue at all. She prefers a different shul somewhat closer to home and with a younger crowd and that’s where she attends when she can go. When she cannot because the children need her, she stays home and davens alone. We’ve been happily married for more than 20 years and have never attended the same shul except for a simchah. Somehow neither of us ever thought that this was a terrible thing or a reason to be resentful toward Orthodox Judaism.

  12. Toby Katz says:

    Um you guys (Samuel Svarc and Daniel), I’m not so thrilled with a mechitza that blocks out sights and sounds either! I’m fine with different roles for men and women, and I understand that shul is a necessity for men and a luxury for women, and I don’t see “discrimination against women” as an issue — but nevertheless I am actually in sympathy with Hindy Frishman’s complaint about “shuls where women can’t see or hear.”

    I sometimes go to a Modern Orthodox shul instead of “my own” right-wing shul, precisely because occasionally I do want to be able to see and hear what’s going on in shul.

    I am fortunate, I guess, that “my” RW shul at least does not have steps — the men and women sit on the same level — but (opposite of what HF said) I would actually prefer it if my shul did have an upstairs balcony for women. That is, provided they didn’t also put a curtain in front of the balcony — a curtain that is halachically unnecessary. The whole advantage of a balcony is that the women CAN see, so why block their view for no reason?

    I didn’t catch the dig about “Finkelman’s daughter” but she did say she is somewhat disabled and finds it hard to climb stairs, so you have to have some sympathy for that. I say that as Bulman’s daughter.

    What I would also say to her, though, and to myself as well, is that she and I should both be very grateful to the Ribono Shel Olam that we have husbands and children, Baruch Hashem! On the scale of what many women lack and yearn for, the lack of a good view of the men’s section pales in comparison to the lack of a good man at home.

  13. Samuel Svarc says:

    Rn’ Toby,

    To what extent a mechitzah should prevent men from seeing the women sitting behind it, is obviously a question that touches on halacha and minhag. Different communities will naturally have varying types of mechitzas. As well, physical limitations will also play into how well women will be able to see or hear from their section, and once again the fact that women don’t have a daily obligation will determine those decisions as well.

    As before, I’m not opposed to the desire to have a shul where women can see and hear. If you decide to build one ‘mah tov umah noim’; send me a fundraising letter, I would like to contribute.

    The previous commentator’s complaint was not about how opaque mechitzas are (or aren’t), but regarding placing women sections upstairs (“…where women can’t come because they can’t get upstairs… …but I would like a seat in shul that doesn’t require me to hike up stairs when I am somewhat disabled. And to say, Go to a shul without a balcony – …. The slefishness of not building at least a small section ont he main floor is not justified by anything…) and attributed it to “unjust treatment” and “discrimination” against women.

    When what is clearly design decisions driven by scarce resources coupled with use patterns is attributed to base motives, the complainer has lost touch with reality and no further dialogue is possible.

    Not dealing with reality is a cardinal sin; placing oneself in this state is beyond the pale (similar to Oxfam equating the employment of Palestinians by Sodastream as a tool of occupation).

  14. Ari Heitner says:

    I have a slightly different question: what qualifies someone as a gadol/posek to the degree that even if he is a daas yachid, his opinion respected? R’Moshe for sure qualified, though he was arguably a centrist figure with relatively small corners of innovation (eg. chalav stam). R’Yoshe Ber is a better example in his shitos on community relations, secular knowledge, etc.

    My suggested short list for qualification: a) must come from a respected part of the yeshiva world b) well-reasoned genius combined with breadth of knowledge c) some level of charisma or proclivity to influence many students

    a) seems self-evident – no one from outside the camp will ever be respected, however learned. A candidate missing a) will probably never be able to fulfill c) either.

    b) also speaks for itself, with the caveat that a genius of a lamdan who cannot apply halacha l’maaseh or lacking people skills or psychological insight probably will not get far (and a talented shul Rov who is great with people and understands the nuances of l’maaseh psak will not have credibility to be m’chadesh if he can’t also impress with amkus and b’kiyus)

    c) I think is more of a chiddush – being Rosh Yeshiva of the kind of yeshiva that produces klal-oriented talmidim produces a direct effect on communities and on regular frum Jews (RFJ?). The surprise here is that there can be a kind of sleeper influence – I think R’Aaron is more directly influential today than he was in his lifetime, because of the spread of Lakewood kollelim.

    Maybe there should also be a d) for something like self-confidence or a will-to-posken – see R’Moshe’s preface to the Igros. You can’t be scared of anything or anyone once you are clear that you’re right.

    The point I’m making is, there isn’t anyone on the left end of the (more-or-less?) frum spectrum who meets this test, at least at the present. I don’t think Avi Weiss has impressed everyone with b) even if he has a) and c) (and d)!). Who else is there? R’Henkin? He is to my mind very retiring, I don’t think he’s doing c). Maybe some of the other YCT heads really are all that and will eventually have this kind of influence, but it hasn’t happened yet ( c) takes time …)

    [Full disclosure: Dr. Marc Shapiro once showed me a little piece of R’Kook that I think was censored by R’Dovid Cohen and R’Tzvi Yehuda that said something along the lines of, “Klal Yisroel chooses its poskim and by extension its direction through hashgocha” … apologies to the Conservative movement]

  15. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:

    Somehow these many complaints about da’as Torah and R Shechter’s article about the position if senior Rabbonim seem to have skipped over the first mishna in אבות.

    It is very specific about Torah being passed on through מסורה. That there were specific individuals in each generation who were the link in the מסורה.

    This in spite if the fact that מרע״ה taught to all בנ״י.

    And that was certainly better than doing a search on Google, and yet they were still not considered ראוי להוראה.

    This should be simple enough to understand, how can these people consider themselves serious uf this skip over this most basic mishna, one that is taught to children, I assume even in schools that are not חרדי.

  16. yosef blau says:

    For those for whom the request that women be able to see and hear in shul is an imposition any dialogue about responding to women’s increased education and expanded public role in society is worthless. The Chafetz Chaim in his Likutei Halachos on masheches Sotah justifies teaching Torah to women in schools because society has changed and girls no longer stay at home and follow the dictates of their parents. In the over ninty years since that time Orthodox women have much greater secular and religious education and are overwhemingly working outside of home. There are differences between the Charedi and Modern Orthodox communities but it the world of kollel that is dependent on wives earnings. The Hasidic elements that refused to accept Beis Yaakov now have girls high schools.
    Clearly not every response is appropriate but ignoring the impact of education and exposure to the workforce invites dissatisfaction. Orthodox women deserve to be taken seriously and blaming their “lack” of tznius for all the tragedies in our community is insulting. Rabbinic leadership is paramount but claiming that nothing has changed is not leadership.

  17. Dr. E says:

    Given that blogs tend to have short memories, I would redirect everyone’s attention to a great piece by Rabbi Weinreb which he wrote a couple of years back in a familiar publication, Klal Perspectives (Google klal perspectives tzvi weinreb). In it, he explores Orthodox women’s roles within the range of acceptable Halacha. It is an important topic and would have been worthy of intellectually honest discussion even before the unfortunate controversies surrounding Tefillin and Partnership Minyanim. But, given those recent episodes, it’s all the more important to develop a reasonable framework for Orthodox women’s roles without being internally self-contradictory.

  18. Reb Yid says:

    Keep on writing “responses” like these, and ever increasing numbers of Jewish women (and men) will say “genug” with this condescension, however well-meaning your intentions.

    [YA – Actually, you’ve got it all wrong. It will be an ever decreasing number who will be in a position to walk out, because the absolute numbers of left-wing Orthodox will decline as people marry later, and have fewer kids. The center and the right, where birth rates are strong, will continue to grow – and there women (and men) are worrying about issues other than Partnership Minyanim and tefillin for girls]

    With all due respect, Rabbi Adlerstein, you are veering off topic. This has nothing to do with Partnership Minyan or OO. It has due to with someone (not in the OO community) trying to give answers to his daughter who cannot see or hear anything in shul.

    This is actually an issue for the haredim (as well as for the center/right community that is becoming ever more “haredized). And instead of acknowledging that there is a problem about the layout of the synagogue and trying to address it, you are trying to pacify women by saying it’s all in their minds, instead of actually entering the 20th century (one day you’ll get to the 21st, but I have to be realistic in my expectations) and trying to make needed synagogue modifications that would treat women like human beings with a neshama.

    This is not on the radar screen of OO, or even Modern Orthodoxy, simply because there would be too much of an outcry to even think of having a shul design that did not allow women a place to hear (and increasingly, to see) what was happening. That ship has sailed.

    There is a great distance between the increasingly haredization of much of Orthodoxy and the institutionalized liberal denominations. So I view matters rather differently than you (surprise!). There is plenty of room in between for committed Jews of any denomination (or of no denomination) to find (and in some cases, to create) communities that place a high value on both Jewish and secular education, follow the rhythms of Jewish life yet appreciate the good that emanates from the general surroundings (including, yes, the tremendous positive impact that feminism has made for American society, the American Jewish community, American Judaism and–best for last–Jewish women).

    [YA – Please read the piece again. It is indeed a response to R Schachter’s piece on Partnership Minyanim, not about the architecture of shuls. I am in complete, unequivocal agreement with Yoel (and you) that shuls should and must be designed to be warm and welcome to women. But if the question becomes, “Abba, the shul down the block crams us into a musty corner, and i am fed up with being treated that way! What do you think about my joining the Patnership Minyan on the next street?” then a different answer is required. When that is the choice, davening at home is better than davening an aberration of halacha.]

  19. David F says:

    I think it’s important to stress that while the modern day concept of Daas Torah wherein a Torah sage is consulted for all issues big and small [at least in theory – in practice this is hardly followed thank goodness], the idea that when a new idea and especially one with halachic implications – is introduced, we would look to the greatest among us for guidance, is not new at all. It has been going on since time immemorial and is our mesorah. One need not approve of the modern-day Daas Torah notion and yet still completely recognize the need to follow the greatest luminaries of our generation for ground-breaking ideas such a partnership minyanim and rabbah’s etc.

  20. dr. bill says:

    it is not what is said but how, that is troubling. I for one do not know what the future may bring. a bat mitzvah and glass mechitzot certainly were not part of our tradition (and still are not in some communities). where we might end up is unclear and the rhetoric ought reflect that reality. when minhag/tradition are treated as halakha (which is only a floor), I get rather nervous. though both are important, one does not confuse the baby with the bath-water without consequences. a psak on an issue not based entirely with an unchanging reality, often reflects that reality, as it should. quoting it at a different time, treats the changing reality as unchanging.

    these issues as well as naivety over the reality of change and how it occurs in traditional societies, do not improve the dialogue. the latter in particular is an academic discipline where rabbis do not always have sufficient training.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    When a large segment of our people, responding to societal conditions and attitudes, is very wrong about something, is it the job of our Sages to find a way to surrender some principle to buy time? In the case under discussion, even buying time is an illusion, since the social forces that would deform Torah law are not weakening.

  22. Really says:

    Yosef Blau,

    I do not see anyone who says that women should not be able to hear or see in shul. No one. Even the most Chasidic shuls have an Ezras Noshim.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand where “Orthodox women deserve to be taken seriously and blaming their “lack” of tznius for all the tragedies in our community is insulting.” enters any part of this discussion.

    Anecdotally, I have found that people who constantly use that refrain about calls for increased tznius are those who intrinsically have issues with matters of tznius, to the point where they stand up for quite the opposite and would even arrange a forum for support of anti tznius behavior.

    Another observation is that the Chassidic communities which call for higher level of tznius in women, also do the same for men. Often times you will see people make fun of the dress of chassidim, but they are consistent in their dress, both for men and for women. But this is really off topic.

  23. Sara says:

    I am a Chareidi woman, FFB, Bais Yaakov and seminary education. You want to ignore it, but I – and others like me – feel disenfranchised and dismissed by our Chareidi society. We don’t usually verbalize these feelings because, well, that is what “good” frum women don’t do. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand here on the outside and watch all this discourse, by exclusively men of course, about women – what we want and what we don’t want, what our role is, how we are to be defined and excluded and relegated to the periphery – and then turn back to our mundane lives with nary a sigh. Avital Chizhik eloquently managed to capture some of the issues we wrestle with; we do not care to wear tefillin or to be part of a partnership minyan, but we do chafe at the pointed disempowerment of women prevalent in our society, at our relegation to the “feeding and breeding” department.
    I wonder if, as both Rabbi Adlerstien and Dr. Finkelstien were able to agree upon, there were an active effort to encourage the empowerment, inclusion, and legitimization of women in Chareidi society instead of just being reactionary to the rogue cases of misguided feminists, perhaps there would be a cessation of those very incendiary cases that are being debated here endlessly. All the talk and efforts to wear tefillin and join a minyan and have equal access in a shul; they are merely the misguided attempts by women who do not have the hashkafas and upbringing of a full Torah observant background to deal with the very feelings of ostracism and exclusion that I and other Chareidi women feel.
    This feels like a game of Whac-a-mole; we know these moles are hiding and waiting to pop-up, but we do nothing about it until they rear their heads and then we blast them and whack them down with a vengeance until they go away and we turn to the next mole. But the moles will keep on popping up because frankly the holes they are pushed into are dark, and dank, and less than they deserve. What if we were honest – and willing to actually listen to women – and recognize that we do have a mole/hole problem. If we dealt with the very real underlying issues (and any man who denies they exist is perpetuating the male-centricism we live with) proactively, with the recognition that society has changed and that there must be ways to positively increase the roles and perceptions of women while still remaining within the framework of halacha, we can – maybe? – end this game.

  24. hindy frishman says:

    Some people really are very defensive. I did NOT say that shuls are built with a women’s section upstairs to prevent women from coming or degrade women, and yes, I have the brains to understand that building is constrained by space and money considerations. The shul I go to, however, could make a small women’s section downstairs, enought for 10 women, without ruining it for the men. It is thoughtlessness, and puts women in a position to have to complain in order to get a decent seat if they can’t manage steps. This is wrong, as it is to build a shul with no wheelchair access when it could easily be managed – i.e., putting a small ramp instead of a twenty-foot wide step, which my shul has. A balcony could be built with a mechitza that allows women to see without compromising the blocking of the men’s view. In my shul, there are tiny holes women peer through in the balcony section – I don’t believe that there was NO money available to put one-way glass in, at least for part of the balcony. Women don’t have to go to shul, but they want to go, and we generally accept that there are many times in the year when they pretty much do HAVE to go, like for shofar and megilla…so yes, we need to think about the women when we build a shul, and not just the men. I also often go to modern shuls where I can see and hear better, and so do many others. There’s nothing wrong with modern shuls, but why don’t we look in the mirror and try to fix ourselves before being busybodies about the women who want to wear tefillin?

  25. David F says:


    “All the talk and efforts to wear tefillin and join a minyan and have equal access in a shul; they are merely the misguided attempts by women who do not have the hashkafas and upbringing of a full Torah observant background to deal with the very feelings of ostracism and exclusion that I and other Chareidi women feel.”

    Perhaps you can offer some examples of the exclusion and ostracism that you feel? I’m not saying that they don’t exist, but I’ve never seen or heard any and I’m from a fairly Charedi family and background myself. I have never once heard my wife verbalize such thoughts and believe me, she’s not shy about sharing what’s on her mind. Nor have I heard it from my sisters or the more than 10 Charedi women in my office.
    They complain plenty- but not about ostracism or exclusion. They’re more focused on the issues having to do with their sheitels not holding up, the cost of tuition, problems marrying children off and the like. I honestly have never heard any of them express a desire for greater inclusiveness or whatever it is you’re after. You provided no examples either so I’m asking you for a few so that I, and others, can better appreciate your point.

    I do know that Charedi shul I attend does not have good views for the Ezras Nashim because space is at a premium and we could simply couldn’t put them on the main floor. Upstairs is very comfortable and we’ve gone out of our way to ensure that their needs are always taken into account when we make decisions that might affect them, but that doesn’t mean that their needs overrule all other needs. Yet, for all their dissatisfaction with whatever they don’t like, none have ever asked to situated on the main floor and or for greater roles within the governance of the shul. They’ve always been perfectly happy to allow the few hardy souls who take care of everything else [fundraising, maintenance, purchasing – all on a volunteer basis of course] to make decisions and leave it at that.

  26. Sara says:

    David – your post provides me with a first, though not very dramatic, example. You note that your wife and the women you know are “more focused on the issues having to do with their sheitels not holding up…”, again, perpetuating a stereotype of frum women whose body of thoughts revolve around sheitels, recipe sharing, shopping and potty training. While some of these may indeed be components of the roles we play, many frum women in no way limit their thoughts and focus to mundane, material, and frivolous matters. Now perhaps your wife truly does have a passion for sheitels and shidduchim, and that is perfect for her. Equally likely, in the words of Avital Chizhik, is that frum women “are not encouraged to articulate their thoughts”, and are taught to “switch off… on demand” their minds. Then to intensify the problem, “men have insisted that we faint-hearted ladies are happier in the quiet of the home” without having ever verified if this is unanimously true. I do not tend to run with the shopping and sheitel crowd, so I may have over-exaggerated the number of women who feel like I do. Still, there is a strong tendency for Chareidi men to, and here I quote myself, relegate frum women to the feeding and breeding department, making erroneous assumptions which are then perpetuated into destructive social norms. This is one example of the “disempowerment” I indicated above. Deeper still is the strong dissuasion against pursuing education or knowledge of any sort, Jewish or secular, with the pointed argument that “a woman’s place is at home”. Somehow that argument does not stand when it comes to women going out into the world for the purpose of supporting a husband who is learning, but under all other circumstances women are discouraged from standing tall, from being independent, from recognizing and pursuing our strengths and passions, from speaking out, and from being respected and recognized for work we do. Which brings me to another point; the insidious erasing of women from public eyes. As a chareidi woman who values the idea of tznius I would never advocate the depiction of a women’s dance team in a magazine published for both male and female readership. I would feel discomfort over it. But when a deceased tzadekes’ face is obliterated in a magazine for women only, when 3 year old girls are erased from a tzedakah solicitation ad, when a frum woman is honored by a mosad but is then denied the right to publicly accept an award, these are elements of the “dismissal” I wrote about. The fact that decisions are made on a communal level without any input – or even any recognition that women would want input and that the kehillah would strongly benefit from female input – that contributes to the “disenfranchisement” I brought up. And there is more. Lots more.
    So why don’t you hear this more often? Believe it or not, I am shaking as I am about to hit the “submit” button, as I did before submitting my above post. I am afraid that someone who knows will identify me as something other than a good, frum, submissive girl. We are the silent majority, selectively mute, but not because we have nothing to say.

  27. David Z says:

    Sara where do you live and why can’t my wife find your group???

  28. Charlie Hall says:

    “Think what you will about the support of gedolim (and you left out the Gerer Rebbe) to Sara Schneirer; in fact, had she not garnered that support, her idea would have died on the vine. ”

    Not to diminish the important contribution of Sara Schneirer or the great rabbis who supported her, but young Jewish women were getting Torah educations in Germany and America decades before she was born.

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