Wish I Didn’t Have To, But:

Rabbi Herzl Hefter’s Why I ordained women went nearly viral, having been posted everywhere by the Who’s Who of Open Orthodoxy. Unlike other articles that promote the Open Orthodox agenda, this article startlingly attempted to utilize Kabbalistic and Chassidic ideas as a basis for sweeping halachic reform. The article was received and disseminated by Open Orthodox leadership with great excitement.

I felt a need to speak out, and here is what I posted in response. I really did not want to write yet another article about Open Orthodoxy/Neo-Conservatism, but given the circumstances, and in consultation with those wiser than I, it was decided that something had to be said.

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17 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    I think the real issue surfaced earlier in the piece:
    “Modern Orthodox people are facing unprecedented challenges today in terms of commitment to tradition on the one hand, and authentic openness to modernity on the other. We embrace western democratic values such as equality of all peoples and between the sexes. Yet, in our religious lives, we profess the revealed absolute truths of the Torah which are often in severe conflict with these values. With growing discussions in our ranks about gender, sexual identity, and the question of spiritual passion versus rote observance, we find ourselves at a crucial crossroads.

    We live the bifurcated existence”

    It seems to me once one gives seemingly equal weight to western democratic values and revealed absolute truths of the Torah, the game is lost

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

  2. J. C. Salomon says:

    A point Rabbi Gordimer approaches (“Conflating sublime spiritual experiences and prophecy with license to unilaterally introduce new halachic practices …”) but does not explicitly make:

    Rabbi Hefter attempts to justify himself halachikly by humbly (!) esteeming his moral intuition to nearly the level of prophecy. But he forgets that were he an actual prophet his authority would explicitly not extend to changing anything about the mesorah or halachah.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    In these new anti-halachic writings, we see an urge to boldly challenge Orthodoxy itself while claiming to be Orthodox. Old words are given new meanings to ease unwary people into this sect. Refuting all the mental muck must tax even Rabbi Gordimer!

  4. A says:

    I have to say, would that some of our gedolim would “get” the tension as well as Hefter does. One gets the sense that the subtle process that is the formation of the halacha and it’s intersection with human moral intuition is less a part of the discourse of the frum gedolim than the kofrim who wish to manipulate it. One cannot imagine so great a moral person as R Shtienman framing the issue as well as Hefter does. Yet that does not make the manipulators and their ilk correct.

    While I have no wish nor cause to question Hefter’s good will, there can be no greater arrogance than to assume on’es moral intuition to be greater than that of the chain of gedolim that makes up our mesorah.

    Relying on scattered chassidic and kabbalistc sources does not an argument make. In fact the psak halacha is that a contradiction between the halacha and kabbalah is resolved in favor of the halacha. (Shut Chsam Sofer OC 100)

  5. Shmuel W says:

    Yasher Koach R’ Gordimer for continuing to defend our ikrei ha’emunah when ppl (perhaps even well intentioned) are intellectually assimilated and will contort Judaism to their pre-conceived notions. (I already await “Reb Yid’s” apologist commentary).

  6. Rafael Araujo says:

    Thanks for doing this service, R’ Gordimer. While OO supporters will continue to try and fend off allegations of being on the same trajectory as Conservative Judaism (“CJ”), R’ Hefter’s piece shows that if his philosophy represents OO generally (and from OO leadership’s supportive comments, it does) then at least OO maintains the same views on revelation and Torah M’Sinai, which of course also has a direct effect on how view effects OO’s position on the shmiras hamitzvos, and effecting change to halacha.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    R Gordimer deserves another Yasher Koach in illustrating why the essay in question clearly is anti halachic in nature and proves that Apikorsus and Kefriah rooted in a Karoake style of Kochi VAtzum Yadi is unfortunatelty too alive and well-even in Ir HaKodesh Yerushalayim.

  8. YM says:

    What Joel Rich said: “It seems to me once one gives seemingly equal weight to western democratic values and revealed absolute truths of the Torah, the game is lost.”

    Yes, and Hefter’s hasidic arguments are really just asmakhta de’alma.

    The question is how did we get to the situation where a sizable number of MO people find the contemporary attitudes to feminism and homosexuality to be incontrovertibly correct?

  9. dr. bill says:

    YM, I assume we know different MO people. No MO folk I know think “..contemporary attitudes to feminism and homosexuality to be incontrovertibly correct…” While there are things incontrovertibly incorrect – women counted for a minyan or blotting out pictures of women – I think that most MO Jews understand current scientific (and certainly sociological) knowledge wrt homosexuality or feminism is far from definitive. As we reach definitive conclusions, the halakhic process will (eventually), as it always has, deal with reality. It rarely happens quickly or uniformly, but I am not afraid that the principles of our halakhic system eventually prevail.

  10. Rafael Araujoberg says:

    Dr. Bill – funny you raised women counted in a minyan. It is standard in OO congregations to wait for 10 men and 10 women to daven b’tzibbur. Others have also argued (ala R’ Dr. Sperber) that kavod hatzibbur is not a relevant halachic principle to prevent women from greater participation. So I wouldn’t bet woem forming a minyan is far behind. As for blotting out women, thanks for that red herring.

  11. Ben Bradley says:

    Dr bill, claiming that blotting out pictures of women is incontrovtibly incorrect, alongside counting women for a minyan, doesn’t help your (our?) case. Especially if your vision of Judaism is the bottom-line-halacha version, since there is no such halacha prohibiting blotting out pictures of women. I agree that it’s wrong-headed but you need to get to broader Torah thought to define why.

  12. joel rich says:

    If this is accurate, it tells a story about where jofa (and who else?) is headed:
    Elana Sztokman

    So now that we’ve established that women rabbis is a thing even in Orthodoxy, it’s time to get down to the really fundamental issue: How can it be that a woman who is a rabbi still won’t be counted in a minyan? Is there anything that is as deeply offensive to women as the idea that we’re not really even people? Even women rabbis aren’t human enough to be considered people. So much cognitive dissonance it takes to be a practicing Orthodox Jew.
    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

  13. dr. bill says:

    Ben Bradley, You are fundamentally correct, counting women for a minyan and blotting them out of pictures violate different norms one halakhic and the other perhaps not. Before I explain why I say perhaps, let me tell you a story I witnessed 47 years ago. A young man was pacing outside the Rav ztl’s shiur room waiting for him to emerge. As the Rav emerged he hesitatingly asked him about bowing to judo instructor to which the Rav shot back it is not allowed. As the young man tried to quote an opposing halakhic principle, the Rav shouted, I know the gemara; I did not say it was not allowed because of a halakha, it is not allowed because it is stupid, and the halakha is, we are not allowed to do stupid things. I consider doing some stupid things, well beyond bowing respectfully, or what is worse, skirting/abusing the law, something that is on occasion possibly a chillul haShem or makes you a “naval bereshut haTorah.” I do not believe that halakha, which the Rav called the floor, not the ceiling, is the only set rules governing behavior. I have noticed that both the OO and ultra-orthodox are called out for behavior that there opponents consider improper, despite nominal adherence, at least according to their respective proponents, to the strict parameters of the halakha.

  14. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I thought I knew R. Herzl Hefter. For me this came like a rainstorm on a mid-July day in Eretz Yisrael. My knowledge of his background and history of being knowledgeable and faithful to Torah Judaism makes it imperative to ask him, not how he justifies himself, which would simply be a call to … justify himself, but how he got here from there. The problem may be the definition of clergy in the non-Jewish world, which would allow the inclusion of the rebbetzin or senior female teacher without breaching halachic norms. Or something may have happened to R. Hefter. I don’t know, but he deserves to be spoken to rather than only spoken about.

  15. joe36ct says:

    Dr. Bill writes:
    “Dr. Bill – funny you raised women counted in a minyan. It is standard in OO congregations to wait for 10 men and 10 women to daven b’tzibbur.”

    Exactly what do you mean here by OO congregations? I know of NO established synagogue that follows that practice, including those led by a YCT, IRF, or otherwise OO affiliated rabbi. I challenge you to produce evidence of even one of those.

    With respect to partnership minyanim, it is true that Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem does wait for 10 men and 10 women before davening b’tzibbur. (Shira Chadasha was started without the imprimatur of anyone from YCT or OO except for Rabbi Sperber, to my knowledge.) I have heard of another partnership minyan in LA that does the same. I can say from personal knowledge that with respect to Darkhei Noam, a partnership minyan in NY and probably the largest one outside of Shira Chadasha, that they do NOT wait for 10 women (but do wait for 10 men, if need be). I have attended at least 3 other partnership minyanim that also do not wait for 10 women. Some of those, it must be said, have enough trouble getting 10 men to come early enough to davening (as do many small shuls) so that they don’t have to wait, so perhaps they might wait for “10 and 10” if it wasn’t so incredibly impractical. I’ve also heard of some “minyanim” that are fully egalitarian i.e. no mechitza, women lead devarim shebikedusha, where they also wait for 10 and 10, but that should have no relevance to this conversation.

    So while you certainly might have a reasonable point regarding the DESIRE of SOME OO people to implement such a change, that is a far cry from your statement that it is “standard”, or even to suggest that such a practice is a miut hamatzui. It is a minority within a minority of any type of congregation that do this. It’s nice to see honesty among a critic, so I’m sure you will issue a retraction of that statement.

  16. Rafael Araujoberg says:

    Joe36ct – See link here to Makom Toronto from September 2014, run by a YCT musmach: https://guestlistapp.com/events/272532

    “Makom services need a minyan of 10 men and 10 women to start, so we encourage you to come on time. Both women and men lead services and read Torah and there is a low partition between women’s and men’s seating; children are welcome on both sides.” So know you know if a YCT lead minyan that follows this practice but does not describe itself as a Partnership Minyan.

    Anyway, while I have limited time to search, I am more than willing to agree that my use of the term “standard” is wrong and I apologize for my implication that 10 and 10 is standard among YCT, IRF or OO affliated rabbi-led minyanim.

  17. joe36ct says:

    Rafael-and my admission as well that Makom exists. (though whether it is called a partnership minyan or not, that seems to be what it is.) That’s the only one I know of (now) where the 10 and 10 was instituted by a YCT musmakh. So I would revise what I said that it is not the case that any YCT musmakh has established a partnership minyan and/or 10 & 10 practice in an already established synagogue, and in face, while YCT musmakhim (as well as YU and other yeshivot) are involved in the leadership of some other partnership minyanim, I know of no other one that was started by a YCT musmakh. (Not that this would change my original contention that calling this practice “standard” by any stretch is not true.

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