The Non-Rabbinic Rabbinic Training Program for Women

We have read too much lately about scandals within the larger Orthodox community, including the conviction of a former Chief Rabbi, the indictment of many Orthodox landlords from Brooklyn as part of an alleged fraud scheme at National Grid, and the indictment of the scion of a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbinic family. Some have suggested that I write about these topics, but the shameful and outrageous character of the issues involved is clear to readership, and those who would perpetrate acts of fraud and criminality will not be deterred by a Cross-Currents article stating that one must follow the Torah and be honest.

It is, rather, the issues that are less clear to some and at times require explication or publication that are worth addressing in this forum, in my opinion. Although I have tried to steer clear of controversial ideological discussion for the past many months, I felt compelled to enter the discourse in this case, as some of the primary data germane to the discussion was absent therefrom. 

(But please feel free to see here for a somewhat recent non-ideological controversy, and here (Facebook link) for readers interested in keeping abreast on new issues in Open Orthodoxy, from which I am taking a long break. And please feel free to see here, unrelated, for a very recent d’var Torah on the parsha.) 

Below is my new Arutz Sheva/Israel National News article about the current dispute regarding Rabbi Riskin’s semicha program for women. Readers are also advised to consult Rabbi Harry Maryles’ article on the topic.

The “women rabbis” issue has now become a flashpoint in the State of Israel. And oppo‎sition to this innovation is being voiced clearly.

Recently, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin ordained two women as “Morot Hora’ah” – halakhic decisors. These women had graduated from the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halachic Leadership (WIHL) of Midreshet Lindenbaum, which trains women in the exact same program of study as male rabbinical students. According to the WIHL website:

Program fellows sit for the same examinations given to male rabbis-in-training, and program graduates are equal in knowledge and skill to their male rabbinical counterparts.

Ultimately, our mission is to break the glass ceiling on an academic, professional and economic level by training and enabling women to serve as Orthodox spiritual leaders and poskot (arbiters of Jewish law) for the entire Jewish people.

This ordination was condemned by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who identified the ordination of women as characteristic of the Reform movement. In the course of his remarks, Rabbi Aviner quoted Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva (Talmudic Dean) Rabbi Hershel Schachter’s ruling that women may not be ordained as rabbis.

(Rabbi Aviner also quoted a statement from WIHL leadership expressing plans to ordain female “dayanot” – rabbinical judges – in the next few years. In fact, prior to an article that widely publicized such, the WIHL website featured: Dayanut: Ten-year advanced training program launched in 2013 for women who have completed the heter hora’ah program, equipping them with the knowledge base to serve as judges for conversion and divorce. For the first time since Devorah served as a judge, Jewish history will once again see women trained for the task, and their very presence will restore – and ensure the preservation of – women’s rights in areas of personal status.”)The Shulchan Aruch, however, clearly states that women may not serve as rabbinic judges.

In response to Rav Aviner’s condemnation, WIHL claimed that it is not in the business of ordaining female rabbis, explaining that “the role of a rabbi is to serve as synagogue leader, by conducting services and reading from the Torah; in contrast, WIHL graduates are not referred to as ‘rabbi’ and do not ritually lead synagogue services.” Thus did WIHL attempt to rebut Rabbi Aviner (albeit by use of a misleading distinction, as the title “rabbi” in Judaism does not signify leading services and reading from the Torah).

The new umbrella rabbinical organization, Traditional Orthodox Rabbis of America (TORA), thereupon issued a statement of objection to the WIHL ordination, specifically addressing the above distinction that WIHL sought to make (bolded words mine):

TORA, the umbrella organization of traditional Orthodox rabbis of the United States and Canada, finds the purported ordination of women at Midreshet Lindenbaum deeply disappointing and unnecessarily divisive. There is a consensus among the worldwide Orthodox rabbinate that granting semichah (ordination, ed.) to women – in name or in practice – lies outside the contours of our mesorah (halakha as passed down through the generations, ed.). We, together with our dynamic Rebbetzins, are committed to inspiring all Jewish men and women to actualize their potentials and contribute to Torah Life in accordance with halakha, our tradition, and the guidance of the genuine Torah leaders of our generation. Changes in community practice within halackha are possible,but only when guided by the leading halachic decisors of our nation, none of whom stand behind this move.

It is deceptive to argue that the recent ceremony at Midreshet Lindenbaum conferred nothing more than recognition of academic success. The graduates were given the titles of moros hora’ah – the traditional title for ordination – and press accounts both called the ceremony semicha and noted that the recipients had studied the classic areas in halakha concerning which ordination candidates are tested. This ceremony is part of an emerging and disturbing trend. It comes at a time when others are trying to place women rabbis in Orthodox synagogues in America, in an attempt to circumvent the traditional halakhic process.

TORA asserts that actions such as these are void and not only painfully divide Orthodoxy at a time when the community desperately needs unity, but also diminish the already powerful role played by Orthodox women in education and community service. From time immemorial, women have served in pivotal roles in the Jewish community. The implication that a lack of rabbinic ordination diminishes their contributions insults the many great women leaders of the past and the present.

At the same time, Rabbi Baruch Efrati of the Israeli rabbinic organization Rabannei Derekh Emunah issued a frontal challenge to Rabbi Riskin about his ordaining of women, asking Rabbi Riskin from whence he derives the authority to change thousands of years of tradition, challenging Rabbi Riskin’s assertion that he is not training female rabbinic judges by quoting Rabbi Riskin as having publicly stated the exact opposite, charging that Rabbi Riskin’s words directly violate the ruling of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, comparing Rabbi Riskin’s justification for his innovation to the methodology of the Conservative movement, and asking Rabbi Riskin which preeminent halakhic authorities he consulted for ordaining women.

In response to Rabbi Efrati, Rabbi Amnon Bazak issued a scathing critique, decrying what he described as Rabbi Efrati’s lack of derech eretz (respect) toward Rabbi Riskin, although Rabbi Efrati in no way wrote disrespectfully and was careful to begin with his respect for the rabbi’s warmth and other qualities. Rabbi Bazak claimed that Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l (see below for Rabbi Lichtenstein’s actual words) also favorably entertained the future possibility of women serving in the roles created by Rabbi Riskin. Rabbi Bazak concluded with this strident claim:

Only two groups in the history of the Jewish People stubbornly maintained that the Torah need not relate to and comport with the changing reality: The Sadducees and Karaites. Total denial of the changes in the position of women over the past generations is a neo-Karaite approach, which stands in opposition to the Jewish tradition throughout all generations of utilizing the tools of Halakha that were given with the intent to enable a specific dynamic, in order that the Torah continue to be a Torat Chayim – a Living Torah – rather than it becoming a deadly poison. 

In other words, those who oppose Rabbi Riskin’s innovations, such as Rabbi Efrati, are following the ways of the Karaites, according to Rabbi Bazak.

He, however, misses Rabbi Efrati’s point – he is not against changes, he is against the way the change took place. Changes do take place, Rabbi Efrati wrote, but with the backing of the generation’s recognized great rabbinic decisors, a backing sorely lacking in the decision to give women the title of  “halakhic decisors.”

In response to Rabbi Bazak, we must ask: Were seminal Orthodox rabbinic luminaries such as Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and the Malbim neo-Karaites for having resisted and opposed the Reform movement and related trends to update traditional Judaism? Were those who held the fort of Orthodoxy in America and in the State of Israel to assure that the heterodox movements and practices not compromise Torah life likewise neo-Karaites? Did Rav Soloveitchik’s famous expo‎sition about Korach and the immutability of Halakha also brand him as a neo-Karaite? Rabbi Bazak tosses out a loaded accusation with great imprecision, leading to conclusions that he would of course admit are very wrong.

I was present at the 2010 convention of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), when the RCA issued a resolution regarding the ordination of women, which reads in part:

We cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.

Immediately prior to adoption of the resolution, the RCA’s venerable poskim (halakhic authorities), including Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz and Rav Mordechai Willig, delivered remarks supportive of the resolution, explaining why women cannot be ordained as rabbis. One rabbi who would have delivered remarks on the occasion – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein – was unable to attend, so he instead sent a letter to the RCA convention advising attendees to vote for the resolution against the ordination of women. The letter states in part:

Semikha (ordination) for women… touches upon elements long abjured by either fundamental Halakha or minhag (traditional custom of) Israel… Holding the traditional line (by supporting the RCA resolution against ordaining women) is, for us, very much in order. 

This is Rav Lichtenstein’s written po‎sition, publicly delivered to a crowd of hundreds of rabbis; Rav Lichtenstein never disavowed or revoked this po‎sition.

Rabbi Riskin sits on the Advisory Board of Yeshivat Maharat, the Open Orthodox seminary that grants full rabbinic titles to women. And Rabbi Riskin’s WIHL is clearly training women for the rabbinate, “regardless of the title” and semantics (to borrow from the RCA’s terminology). The now-removed and denied words on Dayanut training boldly underscore this notion.

The Rosh Bet Midrash at Lindenbaum-WIHL publicly stated at the recent WIHL semicha ceremony, under Rabbi Riskin’s auspices and in his presence:

The inclusion of women in the rabbinic world is able to provide an opening for inquiry and understanding. The inclusion of women in positions of rabbinic leadership progressively creates a space for identification and personal connection… 

Thus, WIHL leadership publicly affirms that the program is rabbinic in nature. Of course, the very notion of a “non-rabbinic” rabbinic training and ordination program is exceedingly difficult to fathom.

The most preeminent rabbinic authorities of the generation have spoken: semicha for women is not sanctioned by the Torah and is a deviation therefrom. Let us return to our Mesorah, our holy tradition, which our sainted ancestors, male and female, gave their blood and souls to protect and perpetuate. Our mesorah does not discriminate against women, it defines roles for men and women based on many considerations, ability not being one of them. Let us recommit to tradition and realize that such commitment is the only key for the service of God and for authentic Jewish survival.

Postscript: Just published in Haaretz article about Jan. 15-16 JOFA conference:

Riskin – a widely respected modern Orthodox rabbi – is beginning to urge officials to hire women to work in courts that deal with divorce. “It is important for women to be part and parcel of every beit din, to ask questions that might seem threatening” coming from men, he said. “Having knowledgeable women would be a game changer.” After that, he said, should come female judges.



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57 Responses

  1. david z says:

    I have never been able to understand why a woman would be so attracted to studying for years material written by scholars who believed her goal to be contrary to God’s will. Why would she trust then in other areas of halakha? I guess wet all have our things where we think they got it wrong but this is pretty big…

    • dr.bill says:

      i do not believe i have seen the question you raised addressed as formulated.  but i can discern very coherent answers from the books/lectures of any number of scholars who happen to be women;  shanks-alexander, fonrobert, hayes and ross  to name just four come to mind.  there also exist both men and women who you probably would consider radical feminists who are world class talmudic scholars.



















      • Steve Brizel says:

        a radical feminist should never be confused with anyone who is properly defined as being part of the community of  “world class talmudic scholars” precisely because he or she simply lacks the commitment to the underlying tradition that constitutes the white letters between the text itself. Such a person may have unusual dexterity in understanding the texts, but without a sense of understanding of the Neshama of the Torah and TSBP and a rebbe, as opposed to a graduate school professor, their works are interesting reading for those interested in their POV, as opposed to being considered Torah Lishmah under the classical definition of the same.

      • dr.bill says:

        i am reminded of what RYYW ztl said about one academic scholar in comparison to certain “gedolim” in letters prof. shapiro published.  one can easily argue that study ruled by overarching devotion to specific assumptions/axioms/traditions/beliefs is by definition subject to strong questions.  a “world class talmudic scholar” need not even be jewish, though the vast majority are.  btw i think there are many, many fewer “world class talmudic scholars” than the number of people to whose names honorific titles are attached.  most professors of talmud are rather mediocre.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        IIic RAL Zl was very critical of Dr t Ross’s view of TSBP and Chazal.

      • dr.bill says:

        he was (as am I btw).  and therefore??  his view of rabbi sherman and his (in)famous psak on geirus and the late rabbi schach’s views on science were not all that positive.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        So why cite Ross as a scholar ?

      • dr.bill says:

        read shanks alexander’s book; her (re) formulation of ross’s views was interesting.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Ain Haci Nami- RAL ZL dissagreed not just with the views of Dr Ross, R Sherman’s psak and R Shach ZL on science but also with RZ views as well. Those facts are irrelevant to RAL’s specific critique of Dr Ross and her gender theory influenced POV on TSBP and Chazal.

      • dr.bill says:

        i agree that her views are impacted by her feminist biases; as i said, i find much to criticize.  but all major figures in our history reflected to some degree or other biases that came from their environment and weltanschauung.  those that deny this are often the most egregious examples.  as i have argued, modernity even invades the inner cloisters of bnai brak.

      • DF says:

        “there also exist…. women who you probably would consider radical feminists who are world class talmudic scholars.”

        I cannot think of one, let alone the plural. [I speak only of fact. As to the why this is, and/or whether or not things are as they should be – that’s opinion.] Writing books on Talmud and world class Talmudic scholars are quite different.

      • dr.bill says:

        with your …. you left out the critical word “men.”  the most obvious is Daniel Boyarin, a radical feminist, neturai karta like, who in the spirit of rabbi adlerstein’s recent blog-piece is considered by some/many the “Gadol Hador.” (among academics!!)  among women, there is no one as radical as him, as far as I know.  but i wrote “who you probably would consider radical feminists” to emphasize that they need not be “radical” to others.  in that category, i think there are a number of candidates and i don’t want to let my biases insult anyone i would leave out.  go to a tier 1 academic conference and the names are obvious.  but as i said most academic talmudists are rather mediocre.

  2. mycroft says:

    “Rabbi Riskin’s words directly violate the ruling of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l,”

    Please enlighten me as to the ruling that R Riskin is violating. R Riskins advocacy of there being female Rabbis goes back at least about 45 years. I spent a Shabbos in the UWS at LSS and R Riskin preached advocating women Rabbis. IIRC correctly he referred to someone similar to Necham Leibowitz as a teacher and Rabbi means teacher. For what its worth afterwards I spoke to R Riskin and had an interesting discussion why I disagreed with him. My point is that his advocacy is not new on the issue. Can anyone show who objected to his position then.


  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Anyone who remembers the R Shlomo Riskin who a pioneering rav on the UWS with adult education programs of a wide variety and a wonderful rebbe in YU’s JSS program from the mid 1960s to the early mid 1970s will tell you that they do not recognize the R Riskin of 2017 who has segued to the far left and essentially identified himself JOFA and its supporters and backers and adopted the feminist line . it is tragic that theiR Riskin who used to consult with RYBS RMF the lubavitcher Rebbe Zicronam Livrachs never established a relationship with a Gadol BaTorah such as RSZA nd now has supporters who invoke the support of RAL ZL when the same never existed in the first instance. I think that R Riskin may not have realized that the leaders of the Charedi world in Israel were far less tolerant of his pushing the halachic envelope than RMF and RYK and that R Riskin reacted by moving sharply to the left which further rendered his perspective marginal because it was quite close in perspective to RDH and RYG.

    As far as the specific statement of RYBS one need only listen to or read the drasha on Korach and a a hour on gerus to understand that RYBS rejected the feminist critique of halacha despite his views on the possibility of women studying Talmud.I think that many of us who have memories of R Riskin from the 1960s and 1970s are deeply disturbed and even pained over R Riskins abdication to and adoption if the feminist critique.

    • dr.bill says:

      to compare rabbi riskin to either the late Rabbi David Hartman or yibadail le’chaim rabbi yitz greenberg, exhibits a depth of understanding i have come to equate with your black/white, no shades of grey perspective.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Riskin in some ways has become quite reactionary and very different from his days on the Upper West Side.   I had the misfortune of hearing a Dvar Torah he gave in Israel (in Hebrew)  the Shabbat right after the US elections.  A very bitter man.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        R Riskin has always attempted to be both a strong RZ but willing to work with friendly Arab neighbors.OTOH R Riskin made some very strong anti Obama statements which he subsequently backed off when they created a storm in LW circles.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Believe me, since then he has come out even stronger against Obama (and against most American Jews–the stuff I heard him say in Hebrew to Israelis was very sad–little did he know there was an American Jew in the room who could understand him) and for Trump.

        Thankfully, the bitterness does not extend to his continued work to promote greater possibilities for Jewish women in the synagogue, beit midrash and greater Jewish world.


      • Steve Brizel says:

        I stand by my assessment which is not mine alone but which is shared by many who also do not recognize the R Riskin of the 1960s and 1970s in his pronouncements over the last ten years. That is the tragedy.

    • mycroft says:


      I quote the speech that I heard R Riskin speak in the early 70s advocating women Rabbis to show that his beliefs go way back. Why I don’t recall any public controversy about his advocacy back then  is interesting.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        My point exactly-MO thought it could coopt the feminist critique of halacha.there was no real public response until the mid 1980s.

      • mycroft says:

        Just as likely possibility, the Rav did not wish to make this an important issue. Not every issue that one disagrees with someone should be made into a yahareg val yaavor. It was only in 1984 while the Rav was still giving shiur that the then younger Roshei Yeshiva made their call to arms without the Rav signing the statement against actions which they believed were done for feminist reasons.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        That is exactly what I meant by co-opting the feminist critique of halacha. Obviously, the inroads of the same were far greater and have continued since the 1970s. Take a look at the essay by the RIETS RY which describes the same.

  4. leah yordis says:

    Instead of criticizing the left-wing modern Orthodox, perhaps the yeshivish Orthodox need to take a long, hard look at….ourselves.

    Why is it that in our community, despite numerous scandals involving male rabbis/teachers, we still do not have women available to counsel women? to teach Torah to adult women? Why are men teaching in seminaries (would we allow a woman to teach in a boys’ high school yeshiva? Well, it’s just as inappropriate the other way).

    Women can’t be rabbis, fine. But what positions of leadership are available to them? Being seminary heads, high school principals etc. – and at the very least, ALL of those jobs should be reserved for women.


    • Steve Brizel says:

      Wake up and smell the coffee many high schools and seminaries are headed and run by women even in the Charedi world

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Leah yordis, no Torah teachers for women? Many communities have women’s learning institutions for women, such as Baltimore’s WIT, Atlanta’s Bina, where both hashkafic and textural classes are offered by women teachers and/or rebbetzins. I have found in my city in the midwest that a lot of the best “female leaders” are in kiruv, and I have observed that in other cities where the most dynamic and articulate frum women devote themselves to that field. I think frum women need to find other frum women to consult with, whether it is a rebbetzin or local teacher, or even a very insightful friend. You’re right, they don’t have a rabbinic or even a communally recognized role (and maybe shuls should consider this for non-paskening matters…ideally the rabbis wife would be fit for the role, but they aren’t always), but I take consolation in the fact that there are amazing frum women who are teachers, community leaders, parent coaches, etc who serve a very important function in the orthodox world. Also wanted to add that in more yeshivish communities, the shiurim offered are normally all hashkafa. Would be nice to see some more in-depth text based shiurim, besides the ones offered at our MO shuls. (maybe yeshivish ladies don’t want to feel like they’re back in hs or sem, or in general, intellectual pursuits are less emphasized as valuable in and of themselves.) It’s certainly a stereotype worth exploring the origins of and reasons for.

  5. Adina R says:

    When it comes to discussing very personal questions about marriage, fertility, intimacy, etc. we need to be realistic. Many women are simply not comfortable discussing those issues with men – and many rabbis I have turned to fail to ask the right questions or understand the need to listen, not just issue a ruling. In our efforts to insist upon male rabbinic authority, we are failing women (and by extension, their husbands). Where is the post about the need to address this problem?

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Talk to your local Yoetzet. A yoetzet halacha is perceived as enabling women to properly observe taharas hamishpacha .the notion that Rabbanim because of gender cannot relate to issues as fertility and intimacy should not be accepted without proof of such a claim as opposed to feminist rooted perception of an inherent inability solely because of gender.

  7. Yossi says:

    I think a lot of the posts here do make a good point about the need for women who can deal with women’s issues instead of having to ask a Rov. It just gets really weird for a woman to be asking her intimate questions to a Rov, and while many yeshivish men may not accept the final authority of a woman, they would at least be able to take the information back to their own Rov and ask it.

    And while I am very aware of many Rebbetzins who are good people to talk to, many are more of hashkafic influencers than people who can talk about intimate issues that a woman may be going through including nidah, sexuality, infertility etc.

    And I do think the whole male rabbis teaching in the girls’ seminaries makes NO sense, scandals or not. There’s many an inappropriate relationship where nothing happens but the whole thing is off.

    As a seminary Rebbi once told me, “Look, if I didn’t like girls I wouldn’t be teaching them but I just make sure to channel it.” Maybe, I’d be happier with a  female teacher for my daughters.

    And as an aside, my daughters are in an elementary school charedi Bais Yaakov and I’m actually consistently impressed and often blown away by the level of learning, the ahavas Hatorah, and the creativity.



  8. Acco1 says:

    just to clarify, the note from RHS does not appear to have been written by Rav Aviner.

  9. motti says:

    Rabbi Amnon Bazak’s words were very assertive but short on substance.

  10. dr.bill says:

    I can find thousands of teshuvot from the past that NO ONE (outside some far-right charedim) would have the guts to follow  today leHalakha.   Halakha evolves; unless one reads the works of the late jacob katz and his students and grand-students, hashkafic rationales for change are likely to be asserted as THE truth.

    Actually, i am almost through a number of books of a virtual grand-student i became acquainted with on this blog.  Elisheva Baumgarten is a obvious feminist with the ability to read rishonim in context.  here books are brilliantly written and highly recommended.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    Hey, what’s a little phony baloney to someone blowing in the wind of the zeitgeist?

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Take a a recent survey about who Jewish college students turn to in momenrs of stress in their undergraduate lives-the local Chabad shliach and his wife.

  13. Marty says:

    I quickly glanced through the article, and I think I am not repeating what the author wrote:

    Another big problem with having women Rabbis is the issue of Tznius and keeping the genders separate.  Rabbis need to interact with Rabbis, and having a system where a male Rabbi needs to interact with female ones will reduce the level of Kedusha in the Rabbinate, and may even cause other more serious Michsholim.  Just like with davening it is important to keep the genders separate, so too with learning and paskening.  Also, there are many Gedolim and Rabbonim who make serious efforts to not interact with women that are not their immediate family, and it would be harmful to do anything to change that.

    • Reb Yid says:

      I really hope the author does not believe this.  Our (Orthodox) rabbi regularly studies Torah with the other rabbis in our community.  They are from all denominations and include females.  It has raised the level of respect, knowledge, insight, community awareness and achdut not just among these rabbis but among the congregations represented as well.

    • A.S. says:

      So Marty, it’s OK for rabbis to be uncomfortable with interacting with women, but are you not concerned about those women who are uncomfortable discussing personal, female issues with rabbis?

      • Reb Yid says:

        Just as I’m sure every male on this list would have no problems with their personal physician being a female (note–I am personally quite comfortable with this arrangement although I respect those who prefer to only have male ones)

  14. pinchas says:

    The bottom line is those Rabbis that support the idea of women Rabbis are themselves lightweights in the world of Torah, while those who oppose it are the more learned and more respected Rabbis.  In such a case there is no argument.  Amnon Bazak is neither a posek nor a known Halachist.  He is simply a lecturer on Tanach and often purports questionable ideas.  Rabbi Riskin, although he has done much good, he is not recognized as any Halachik authority and certainly not as a Talmudist. Is there any real contest here?  Does it really matter what they think?  They may cause a lot of harm to the traditional way of Jewish life by carrying out their beliefs, but their opinion does not matter.

    • dr.bill says:

      if change (even in halakhic practice) was always the result of gedolai horaah, you would have a coherent argument; it doesn’t and you do not.  as i noted above read the works of the late jacob katz and the two generations of scholars who learned so much from him.

      for those who do not know Prof. jacob katz, one anecdote will suffice.  In his first Littman volume, Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik translated and greatly expanded one of his earlier hebrew articles.  he apologized for the difficulty of the original article, admitting it was primarily written for his father, Prof. Saul Lieberman, and Prof. Jacob Katz (zichronom lebracha) and they did not need citations and references to talmudic texts and the works of rishonim.

      • Bob Miller says:

        By what objective criteria would you allow some changes in halachic practice and prohibit others?  Do authority and precedent, or your personal likes and dislikes, play any role?

      • dr.bill says:

        often change was driven by behavior of a religiously aware populace.  rabbis would then proscribe those activities they felt are clearly outside halakhic boundaries.  this sounds somewhat incredulous given recent history – the last 150 years.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        How do you and the historians you mentioned account for the strongly antinomian tendency within classical RJ and its equally strongly negative view of Halacha? You seem to be willing all too easily to avoid mentioning this factor which was and remains a cardinal element of RJ theology and practice? Like it or not ideology does matter


      • dr.bill says:

        pardon my ignorance, but what is RJ??  In any case, most of the great historians of halakha – before and after prof. katz were observant, traditional Jews.

      • Reb Yid says:

        To answer Dr. Bill’s question:

        RJ stands for Reform Judaism.  But there is no pat answer here.  Yes, Reform particularly in Europe evolved with an ideological bent.  In America, there were several streams at work–some like IM Wise were much more practical and simply wanted to unify American Jews while others (say Einhorn for example) were much more doctrinaire in orientation.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Why compare the traditional pre enlightenment Jewish world with the decidedly secular portions and the sector of MO where modernity is the determinating element in ones commitment to observance?once again you downplAy the role of ideology

  15. DF says:

    To understand R. Riskin you must realize he is a product of the 1960s. For he and so many of his generation, “success” is tantamount to “change.” Their entire generation is one big Movement, even if, at times, many of them cannot even articulate what is so terrible that needs changing. They all just want to be crusaders and pioneers.

    That’s the motivation for R. Riskin.  What he doesn’t  realize –  and at his age, it is asking too much to expect it – is that the zeitgeist of 2017 is not the same as the 1960s. The winds are blowing in exactly the opposite direction, as the destruction caused by his generation has become apparent. [And nowhere more so that in feminism and the erosion of the family unit.] Unfortunately, no force on this Earth will make him realize how foolish is this last grand adventure of his. It will never succeed, that’s for sure. Sadly, he is hurting his legacy even among those, like me, who have great admiration for his many accomplishments.  At best it will be seen as a late-life quixotic obsession. At worst, it will be seen as much worse. There have been Others in this situation as well.




  16. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent point when R Riskin is applauded by Blu Greenberg for obtaining women as rabbis and seeking ordination of women as dayanim at a venue that exudes apikorsus kefirah pritzus and the legitimacy of illegitimate life styles it is obvious that the R Riskin of 2017 is not the R Riskin of the 1960s and 2970s who decried tefulon dates and worse from his pulpit. I think that is fair comment that R Riskin has aided and abetted the always present and never renounced goal of the destruction of the family and in particular the model of a bayis neeman BYisrael uvToraso regardless if his stances of trotting out radical ideas and then walking back in a way that he doesn’t seem radical.this has been R Riskin modus operandi for decades .what R Riskin should have realized was that his increasingly radical and halachically unacceptable stances (see RR D Bergers critique) have moved him by choice and design into the territory occupied by RYG and RDH.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr bill RJ has been used as an abbreviation for classical Reform Judaism here and all over the net for years .my question still stands as to the antinomian and hostile to Halacha ideology of RJ. That has nothing yo do with the mimetic view of observance which you are so fond of quoting.

    • Reb Yid says:

      You are too hung up on ideology, doctrine and theology.  To the extent that it existed at all in Reform, it was because of its European origins and rebellion against the existing order.  But in America, those who were ideological “purists” (of any kind) were often disappointed–the emphasis was much more on the practical.

      FWIW, “traditional” Judaism as practiced in America from 1654 through the mid 19th century was precisely the mimetic tradition you refer to.  Changes in America that evolved from this mimetic tradition spoke to the existing conditions of contemporary Jews which often bore little to no resemblance to certain aspects of that tradition.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        The separation of ideology doctrine and theology cannot be divorced from this discussion. Like it or not, RJ has a strong legacy of antinomianism that was rooted in a POV that post Emancipation Jews should behave in all respects like their German Protestant neighbors ( but which could not account for why the most cultured nation in Europe perpetrated the Holocaust) and which until  the Holocaust and  1948 was marked by a notably anti Zionist streak as well. That was replaced in the US by adopting the prevailing views among the Democratic Party as what it means to be Jewish in America, which has an equally antinomian streak but which uses buzzwords like Tikun Olam , and reproductive rights and assumes that the contemporary liberal and progressive agenda  together with right to critique Israel,  whenever it exercises its self defense somehow in 2017 , as well as either a studied ignorance and or hostility to Torah observance whether MO or Charedi, constitute authentic Jewish values.

        Like it or not,  what the practitioners of the mimetic tradition actually practiced or left behind for the benefit of the academics and historians really has very little relevance for today, and as you have drawn the historical boundary, and such a POV as utilized by you,  has no appreciation for what the Eastern European immigrants, both before and after the Holocaust viewed as authentic Jewish practice observance and piety. Dr Judith Bleich in one of the Orthodox Forum volumes offered a critique of the mimetic tradition that would be well worth reading before invoking the purported superiority of the same,

      • Steve Brizel says:

        The dismissal of ideology as an important if not a paramount reason on understanding all social movements is characteristic of all who assured us that Mussolloni made the trains run on time Hitler merely sought the revision of the treaty of Versailles and that Lenin Stalin. Mao and Castro merely were implementing socialism in practice by crushing dissent and any vestiges of free exercise of religion and capitalism.feminism as an ideology which never stopped viewing the conventional family as a comfortable concentration camp was responsible for the anti inauguration spectacle of irresponsible rhetoric led by the high culture that populates the media culture and academia today and similarly deserves close scrutiny when it adopts Jewish sounding slogans with no comprehension of what Torah and Mitzvos mean and attempts to effect hate hashkafic and radical halachic changes

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    On January 15, 2017, at least 1, 500 men and women attended the OU’s Torah in the City all day program with shiurim on Halacha, Tanach and Machshavah by a wide range of speakers. On the same day, the JOFA conference was held.  The following two links are a sample of the contents of the JOFA program. I leave it to the reader to determine which of the two programs was a great example of Harbatzas Torah and which failed to meet the criteria of the Mishnah in Avos 2:6. I think that a fair comment can be made with respect to the first link that I posted that the speakers at the first linked program are intellectually honest in admitting that the feminist agenda drives their view of marriage which has always been that of rejecting marriage as the “comfortable concentration camp.”

    I find it particularly disturbing that the program that took place at the JOFA conference which readers can read about  therein  but which I won’t describe was based on a similar program that took place at SCW and that at least one speaker at the JOFA conference was a faculty member at YUHS for Girls. I fail to see how such a program and faculty member reflects positively on the mission of SCW and the education of high school students as Bnos Torah.

    One can only read the coverage of the events from JOFA and realize that the speakers and attendees, regardless of their numbers, represent a subset of LW MO who are still letting gender issues and feminist theory and the contemporary zeitgeist on a wide range of related issues  dictate how to respond to gender related issues, while far more of their contemporaries have built and are building a Bayis Neeman BYisrael UvToraso.  What a tragedy that so many people who have such pride in their commitment to modernity have allowed the AZ of our times-feminism-to dictate and direct their view of Torah and Mitzvos. 

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