When in Doubt… Mesorah

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13 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I would hardly write that “Mesorah is an equal partner to halacha.” The term handmaiden is perhaps more accurate. When a talmid asked the Rav ztl in shiur how he knows that tea is tavlin, he shot back how do you know yellow is yellow. There are many terms whose precise definition escaped chachmai ha’mesoreh, which could be conveyed only mimetically. Interestingly, the Rav continued that he saw his grandfather (I seem to recall grandfathers, but it may have been only singular) make tea in a kli sheni to which he added his brother’s chemical precision as support. Jews eating gefilte fish on Shabbat is hardly a halakha, though it may represent a way of avoiding bones. Mesorah is not an independent source of normative practice; it is subservient to halakha and like halakha can hardly be applied without context.

  2. Ari Rieser says:

    “It is not halacha. It is mesorah that allows us to remain Jews” – this seems to be at odds “with the following saying of R. Hiyya b. Ammi in the name of ‘Ulla: Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has nothing in this world but the four cubits of Halachah alone.” – Berachos 8a. I respectfully ask the author to clarify his statement in light of this apparent contradiction with a befayreshe gemara.

  3. David Ohsie says:

    Dear Rabbi Safran, you write: “It was not all that long ago, in the early and mid-80’s that I not only led the Yeshiva University High School for Girls as principal but I also taught several classes a day. Along with my teaching colleagues, we taught at the highest levels. There was no “watering down” of the content or curriculum. We expected our students to master their coursework and we were proud to introduce textual learning of halacha, and Talmud. We studied Mishna Berura intensely.”

    I applaud your service, here, but your own efforts appear to have violated your own criteria. Teaching Oral Torah (and certainly Gemara) to girls is most certainly not traditional; more than that, it goes up against an explicit halacha (which we have since abrogated).

    This seems to be an example of that fallacy that we all succumb to: our position is moderate, while we have reactionaries to our right and and radicals to our left.

    [YA – “Tradition” is not synonymous with “mesorah.” The latter certainly allows for change – within limits. Mesorah, among other things, dictates that after each incremental change, those who have changed can look at the before and after without detecting any yawning chasms, any major discontinuities. That is not the way that rov minyan, rov binyan, and rov chachmei Yisrael look at Open Orthodoxy in general, and the ordination of women in particular. This was not true in every other case of change that you and other writers have pointed out.]

    • Mycroft says:

      There never was a time that Rov Chachmei Yisrael approved of MO, approved of Zionism. There were a few who supported those movements but far from Rov. What has changed in the US can be traced to a then almost unnoticed event the Aliyah of RAL in the early 70s. It did not have an immediate impact-the Rav had a solid decade of leadership remaining. By 1984 when his sickness began to basically end his leadership it left a vacuum and Sheila’s from the institutions that the Rav used to answer-RCA,OU to some extent went to other tal meidei chachamim who even if they had been in the Ravs shiur rejected the Ravs haskafa.

    • Sara Rachel Salhanick says:

      Rabbi Adlerstein,
      Would you please convert your comment here into a full-fledged post and expand upon it, bringing sources and examples? I think that this – acceptable vs unacceptable change within Judaism – is a very important topic that many people misrepresent, and that others, who do respect mesora, have a hard time articulating.

      Thank you for your articulate and honest writing that tackles controversial issues head on yet is always in the spirit of our mesora.


      [YA – Thank you! Thinking of it. Might happen, in time. So much to learn (and write!); so little time]

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    “Es helft nisht… The “chess game” can go on forever”

    Mahrat supporters have a response to the Mesorah argument as well(see “Women Can Be Rabbis, In Keeping With Tradition”, Jewish Week, 11/3/15).

    I argued that communal unity should give pause even if one disagrees with everything else(R. Marc Penner wrote this as well in August on Torah Musing, ” It may not be fair to argue that communal unity alone is a reason for proponents of Open Orthodoxy to change their strongly held opinions. However, the possibility of a tragic schism in our tiny community must give us all pause.). However, OO may believe that they can strike out on their own. The question for them is, is it worth a split. R. Berel Wein wrote this week in “The Irrelevance of It All”:

    “Is there any evidence whatsoever that women rabbis strengthened Jewish commitment among the unaffiliated? Is there any reason, except for the empowerment of a few diehard women, to think that this issue should be at the forefront of Jewish life and rabbinic savants? It is completely irrelevant to the current situation of Jews and Judaism in the world. It will not convince the unfortunately alienated Jew to become more Jewishly committed and it will certainly not resonate with the vast majority of Orthodox Jews. So why pursue something that is so unnecessarily divisive and essentially useless? Why, indeed?!”

    OO obviously believes it is useful and worth it…

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I thought that the response by a Mahrat supporter was disingenuous, to say the least, and ignored the simple fact that even if a woman learned Daf Yomi Bhasmadah Mrubah, there neither is a chiyuv , let alone a kiyum hamizvah for any woman who spends her time doing so. Imitating what men have to do ( learning the ins and outs of TSBP) hardly should be viewed as a substitute for how women should strive for spirituality. I suspect that neither Nechama Leibowitz ZL nor Rebbitzeb Kanievsky ZL ( nor Yivadleinu Lchaim the wives of the kedoshim of Har Nof) were on a lower spiritual level R”:L than any feminist because the learning of Talmud was not part of their daily routine.

      • dr. bill says:

        Steve Brizel, First, ask your rabbaim (particularly RHS) if a women learning be’iyun or just for bekius is a kiyum ha’mitzvah. Second, a women learning Talmud/SA be’iyun are not necessarily at a higher or lower spiritual level than the women you cite – probably just different. Only God will judge their actions/sincerity; leave it to Him.

  5. Menachem Lipkin says:

    The irony of the following statement is astounding.

    “So very many of my students are now exceptional members of their respective communities. They are outstanding wives and mothers, many professional and highly regarded in their chosen fields, whether law, medicine, the arts, or education. Amongst them are highly-regarded Jewish scholars and teachers, the finest educators in the best Jewish schools. But, to the best of my knowledge, none of them are rabbis, rabbas or maharats; none of them aspired to usurp a role that has been outside the realm of their ancestors. Why would they? Their mothers and grandmothers would not recognize them! And who would want to be alienated from their forebears?”

    In case it wasn’t clear, let me spell it out for you. He says, “…many professional and highly regarded in their chosen fields, whether law, medicine, the arts, or education.” He then says, “none of them aspired to usurp a role that has been outside the realm of their ancestors.” You mean like law and medicine?

    With or without the label of rabbi, today’s women would hardly be recognized by their “grandmothers”… thankfully.

  6. Heidi Markovitz says:

    “…I not only led the Yeshiva University High School for Girls as principal but I also taught several classes a day…to the best of my knowledge, none of them are rabbis, rabbas or maharats; none of them aspired to usurp a role that has been outside the realm of their ancestors. Why would they?”

    At least one of my fellow alumna from YUHSGM, class of 1972 has worked as a congregational rabbi. I would be surprised if there have been no others in the 40+ classes that have graduated since then. Not in the orthodox realm, you say? No – they would have walked away from the Orthodox establishment because their learning fired a desire in them to lead and to spread learning. You taught them well, but they adapted your teaching to the world we live in.
    Remember, the YU motto is still Torah U’mada – we don’t want to pretend the knowledge and experience we have today should not influence our understanding of Torah.

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    I also had rabbeim who were from Europe and I am sure their reaction would be exactly as Rabbi Safran said. But, he is correct that this alone will not dissuade anyone who believes in Open Orthodoxy from continuing on that path. These and those There are some former students of great teachers who revere their memory and still want to follow in their path and others who respect their teachers as humans but feel that things can change. Mesorah is elastic. We are on the road to a schism and that is a shame but it is what it is.

  8. Mycroft says:

    The mesorah argument apparently has been challenged by Rabbi Jeremy Wieder. He is a leading RY. Since he has argued against partnership minyan in,and the IBD. His argument that there is no mesorah argument against Women Rabbis certainly should be addressed. This does not take away from Rabbi Safran’s piece where it is clear that R David ZT’L would have been against women Rabbis. Just to be picky in Ennglish he spelled his name David on his letters to th extent there was ny English. Just a sociological point that people change how people spelled their names to agree with modern Chareidi practice.

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