Paskening Like the Blogs

A few people commented to me that it seems like the ruling by the OU Rabbinic Panel that women can’t be ordained or appointed as clergy is getting a real beating, as “everyone is attacking it“. Who is that “everyone”, should you ask? “So many organizations and people all over the internet“.

This article is not really about the Rabbinic Panel’s ruling; please see here and here for discussion of the topic. Rather, it is about methodology, taking a few lessons from the OU ruling and from elsewhere.

Yes, anyone with a computer and the ability to read will immediately see that the OU ruling was pounced upon and beaten mercilessly by bloggers, Open Orthodox organizations and popular Facebookers. One Open Orthodox leader denounced the ruling as “a feeble understanding of historical process“, characterized its authors as “lack(ing) faith both in the Jewish People and the Torah as a potent force in leading the people to God” (!!) and of harboring a concern that is “contaminated with fear“, and he compared the ruling to a 19th century defense of pre-Civil War slavery (!!). Another Open Orthodox leader assailed the ruling as “laughable and pitiful” and erroneously tried to negate the ruling by invoking the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein (see par. 2 here for elaboration, and please see here and here as well), and yet another Open Orthodox leader condemned the ruling as “an expression of weakness and fear“, and, like all critiques of the ruling, failed in any manner to address its halachic and meta-halachic logic. (IRF likewise responded to the OU ruling by affirming the acceptability of women as rabbis, without addressing even one argument presented in the ruling.) Another article (written by a non-Orthodox author but cross-posted by Open Orthodox leadership) assaulted the OU ruling as “hypocrisy… It’s the vicious circle of patriarchy: a panel of men, reinforcing their own power… an announcement of its (the OU’s) own obsolescence“. Over two dozen attack articles and countless Facebook posts made these same points over the past week, utterly pummeling the ruling and its esteemed and honorable authors. The sounds of the ruling being viciously ripped up, burned and mashed into the pavement by steam rollers was almost audible, as a palpable sensation of rejection, condemnation and even rebellion and anger was sent through cyberspace. It seemed that the ruling wasn’t being well-received, to make an enormous understatement. Yet it was crystal clear that the critics were bent on vilifying the ruling and trying to silence its authors simply because they didn’t like it, rather than out of any sense of objective halachic analysis.

But alas – all of the blood-curdling shrieks and death curses against the OU ruling amounted to mere noise and hype, when it came to the facts on the ground. The vocal objections to the ruling were expressed by those who identify with a specific element that does not represent the main and bulk of the Orthodox community. The tens of thousands of Modern Orthodox Jews in Bergen County, the Five Towns and elsewhere further north, south, east and west did not come out against the ruling – nor did they feel a need to enter the fray and defend the ruling – as they naturally identify with those who wrote the ruling. For these members of the community, it is pretty much a non-issue, akin to their rabbis telling them not to rely on a certain hechsher or the like; they expect their rabbinic leaders to set standards, and this was not too different than numerous other cases of rabbinic rulings. In fact, the preponderance of the Modern Orthodox community did not in the first place presume that women can be rabbis, and mainstay Modern Orthodox shuls were not considering hiring a “Rabba” or a “Maharat”; the OU ruling merely formulated what was fairly obvious to these communities, and it affirmed the status quo. Hence, there was no need for public comment and certainly not for mass blogging about the ruling on the part of normative Modern Orthodox populaces.

The opponents of the ruling represent a very narrow and small but quite vocal group that does not speak for the balance and magnitude of the Modern Orthodox community, the latter of which has no major problems with the OU ruling and doesn’t feel the need to post online about it. (Not to mention the yeshivish Orthodox community, for whom the very suggestion of female clergy does not get off the ground.)

There is a second paramount point to consider: A striking parallel exists between how the OU ruling was largely portrayed online versus how it was received by the community at large, and how opinions are expressed in the news media versus how the average person on the street often thinks. When Proposition 8 passed in California, people were stunned. “Just about every article I read opposed it“, “the news reported how bad it is, and I therefore was sure that everyone was voting No“, “everyone was attacking it online“… But the truth was that the decidedly negative media coverage was not representative of the electorate, as African Americans, Latinos and concentrations of conservative white voters together came out with an unexpected Yes that pushed Proposition 8 over the top and into the law books. A majority of the state indeed supported Proposition 8, despite its almost uniformly negative depiction in the media prior to its passage. The same is obviously true with the most recent Presidential election, in which the candidate who received unprecedented negative media portrayal and was assured of a huge loss rose to victory against all expectations. Bottom line: News outlets, the blogosphere and social media are so frequently not representative of the feelings and beliefs of the person on the street, who usually does not care to blog or make a public fuss over issues, and for whom online hype is meaningless. Such is the case with the vast majority of Modern Orthodox Jews regarding the OU ruling; the fact that 90% of bloggers, Facebookers and progressive organizational leaders loudly expressed opposition, while those who have no real problem with the ruling and who comprise the silent majority were quiet on the matter in the blogosphere, is notable. The world of blogs and social media is dominated primarily by individuals who do not speak for the hamon am, the general masses, on so many issues. A small, interconnected group of progressive Orthodox-orbiting media mouths does not articulate the beliefs of the average frum Jew on the street.

And now for the real issue.

The OU ruling is the result of considered, sensitive and deliberate analysis on the part of some of the generation’s premier and most senior halachic leadership. It is a careful, clear and comprehensive ruling that carries an immense amount of weight. It is sadly the result of an “online mentality” that those who reject the ruling believe that op-ed pieces, Facebook posts and press releases can serve as refutations of a p’sak Halacha by gedolei ha-poskim. If someone would tell us that Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Chaim Kanievsky or Rav JD Bleich disagrees with the OU ruling and endorses the ordination of women for the rabbinate, we would have something to speak about. Absent that, it is utter folly for people to believe that their critiques (which are, to be honest, mostly emotional screeds and vague platitudes) detract in any way from the p’sak that the OU Rabbinic Panel rendered.

The primacy and unchallenged authority of gedolei ha-poskim and the generation’s ba’alei ha-mesorah was articulated by Rav Soloveitchik in his famous derasha about Korach. For bloggers, social media players and organizational heads to assail a comprehensive and broad-based p’sak by some of the greatest halachic luminaries is unacceptable and carries no weight.

To quote Rav Soloveitchik:

The study of the Law, Korach argued, is an exoteric act, a democratic act, in which every intelligent person may engage. Moshe’s claim to being the exclusive legal authority, and the exclusive interpreter of the Law, Korach argued, was unfounded and unwarranted.

The consequence of such a democratic philosophy is obvious. What Korach wanted, and what many want even now – and I’m not only speaking of dissident groups, I’m speaking of the Orthodox community – whether they speak it clearly or they use political terms and dubious language to cover it up, is that the instrument of the Torah be commonsensical for the everyday empirical intelligence, not the esoteric conceptual ideal logos, which can only be obtained through painstaking study and hard training. (Please see here, pp. 127-148.)

Anyone who reads the attacks on the OU Rabbinic Panel’s ruling, such as this, this, and the earlier-linked attack pieces, is immediately confronted with the approach that is adressed and dismissed by the Rav.

The same is true with the episode of the letter of foremost poskim against International Beit Din, in which Open Orthodox leaders tried to organize a popular petition to oppose the poskim’s letter. (Please see here and here.) And it is true with all matters in which rulings by the generation’s most preeminent and senior rabbinic authorities are negated and pilloried on the blogosphere and elsewhere by those who are so very distant from these sages’ ranks.

We conclude with the words of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein:

In the absence of an imprimatur from any Shofet ShebeYamecha [contemporary authority] whatsoever, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to justify adoption of norms and values in defiance of a wall-to-wall phalanx of gedolei Israel. Such action would simply be regarded as error…[T]he ordinary person must base himself upon a Shofet ShebeYamecha…[And] no such course [of action, in defiance of the gedolei Israel,] could be championed in the public sphere. (Engaging Modernity, p. 14 – courtesy here)





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34 Responses

  1. Zach Korner says:

    American Modern Orthodox has for a very, very long time been a post-halachic community. A 1973 book, on assimilating American Jewry, describes the average MO householder as a ‘highly accomplished, religious observant secularist’.  These trends need not be seen through the emotionally-charged prism of ‘heresy’ but rather through the cold, inevitable lens of assimilation. One king can’t wear two crowns. Modernity and Orthodox are conflicting, not complimentary – the vast majority of MO Jews outside of the YU stronghold and the five towns are fully modern (assimiliated) cosmopolitan Americans who observe Shabbat and keep kosher. Its time to eulogize the movement and move on.

    Women’s rights, gay rights are inventions of modernity. Before the advent of the healthy city in the second half of the 19th century, these ideas were entirely unheardof. What I mean to say, is that these developments are the result of technology, not morality. Through technology they rise and through that self-same technology they will fall. What we are witnessing today in the Western world is a nascent post-human society whose mature end is the practical extinction of humanity as we know it , probably before the start of the 22nd century. Far from science fiction speculation, these predictions make up the water-cooler talk at start-ups and are widely available for reading on the internet. In order to regain legitimacy not only within our own community but the world at large Orthodoxy has to position itself as the countervoice to the Faustian West and its doctrine of progress over humanity.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Rabbi Gordimer hits another home run. MO has always had a noisy left, uninformed as to the need or contemptuous of halachic authority and hierarchy ,a silent majority suspicious of radical change and a committed minority who follow the teachings of their Baalei Mesorah and who see no reason to crow publicly as to why MO has nothing in common with the Charedi world and it emphasize the rapidly disappearing issues of Klapei Chutz that prevailed in prior decades. The links cited by R Gardiner illustrate why OO and its advocates deserve nothing but contempt for the positions quoted therein

  3. Shmuel Landesman says:

    Rabbi Gordimer:

    Thank you for giving this excellent perspective.

    I live in an Orthodox Jewish community in North Jersey and everyone I know either thought the OU Rabbinic Panel psak was a good idea or vaguely were familiar with it.

    The online emoting against the psak was strong.  But, it’s important to remember how unrepresentative it is.

    My solution to dealing with this is to stop reading Facebook. The pieces on Facebook are superficial and trite. I feel so much happier being off Facebook.

  4. DF says:

    To comment on the first half of the post – exactly right. There is no such thing anymore as “taking a beating” or “everyone” is against/in favor of something.  Actually, there never really was anything such as “public opinion”, but prior to the age of the Internet most people didn’t know that. The average individual thought columnists and anchormen reflected public opinion, and if the individual didn’t agree with what they were saying, well, he just assumed he was in the minority. It didn’t dawn on him to think that actually it was them that were in the minority.

    This phenomenon – the absence of “public opinion” – had been becoming better and better known since the mid 90s, when the bias of the media was slowly being exposed to the general public. But the recent election has burst the dam wide open. We now know that every article and every comment – including this one – reflects nothing more than that what that one individual thinks. Other may agree, and others may not. The point is, one need no longer fear what some writer or columnist, anywhere, says or thinks. For every commenter saying X, there’s another saying Y. For every marcher rallying for A, there’s someone else who would rally for B.  For good or for better or for worse, that’s the way it is.

  5. Dave says:

    R Gordimer,

    Well said as always, thanks for your leadership and clear thinking on this issue.

    BTW- fascinating that all the whining and crowing is found in anti tora publications like Haatez. Would anyone ever read Pravda to learn about democracy and freedom

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Some prefer heat to light.

  7. lacosta says:

    without disagreeing with a word said here, one need point out the title of one of the articles r gordimer points out is—   ‘we are here to stay’   .  YCT, Maharats, OO  are clearly on the scene; and like it or not , they probably will expand with time–maybe not to the center of the YU alum scene, but they clearly speak to [and are already servicing ]  a segment of what has till now been defined as the O community.  not yet clear whether or when this leftish segment [can’t say fringe, if they prove to be  bigger than we imagine] will break into a separate branch—but in a way that depends on how they are treated–  are their shuls in the OU, their kids in the same schools etc…

  8. Rafael Qunoaface says:

    I just looked at the blogs on Times of Israel. There are about 5 blogs on the OU declaration. One, by a Rebbitzen Rocklin, argued for the OU decision. Almost all of the comments attack her (see here: Meanwhile, Herzl Hefter compares the OU decision to slavery. What an outrageous comparison, especially since it could be argued that based on Hefter’s own view, if our society accepts slavery, one should be able to argue for it since it fits the moral view of that society! (see here: This supports R’ Gordimer’s contention that the loudest voices out there are the fringe left, whether its writing a

    • mycroft says:

      “making assertion some directly contradicted by recordings of the Rav ztl, (the famous teshuvah drasha at the 92nd St. Y (1968, I believe) with the late Pinchas Peli in the audience regarding security experts deciding to return The Kotel Ma’aravi) makes we question the overall context of anything quoted on the site”

      I recall the Rav speaking in the Spring of 1968 in Rubin Schul at YU and stating explicitly that he would give back the Kotel Maaravi to save one life. He specifically stated that decision is a military/diplomatic one and he (the Rav)has no special expertise in non halachik matters

      • Steve Brizel says:

        RYBS quoted in the same Seder stated that any ideology that has its goal the supplanting of Avodas HaShem is AZ.

      • mycroft says:

        I am not advocating “radical feminism” but show how that is an “ideology that has its goal the supplanting of Avodas HaShem”

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Not exactly relevant as opposed to RYBS well documented rejection of the feminist critique of halacha notwithstanding Talmud being taught for practical reasons of running a kosher home in Boston and RYBS giving the inaugural shout in Talmud for women at SCW.

      • mycroft says:

        “notwithstanding Talmud being taught for practical reasons of running a kosher home in Boston”

        a very debatable point-there is strong evidence that the Rav believed that women should be taught talmud not only as an adjunct to  halacha lemaaseh. I am aware that there are close students of the Rav taking your position and there are others taking a different approach. There is strong practice evidence different than your approach-maasei Rav

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Name one Talmud neeman uvasik of RYBS who thought or thinks that women should be learning Sidrei Nashim and Nezikin in the same way that men learn in any yes give worthy of the name

      • mycroft says:

        Steve Brizel
        “Name one Talmud neeman uvasik of RYBS who thought or thinks that women should be learning Sidrei Nashim and Nezikin in the same way that men learn in any yes give worthy of the name”I am not going to get into a debate of who is a talmid neeman-but to read  the debate start with Rabbi Gordimer’s citations  in an article

        I disagree with his analysis of the quotes of some of the people who he quotes-but read all the people quoted and you’ll see a different approach.

        Would it surprise you that at least one year when smicha students in summer went to Boston for the Ravs summer learning he invited a women  to sit in the same room and listen to his shiur.

        You are  taking a very debatable point where there is at least as much evidence to go against your position as for your position and not accepting the ideathat there are different traditions on this matter by loyal students of the Rav.


      • dr.bill says:

        i assume the Rav ztl spoke about this on a number of occasions.  someone who the Rav often turned on particular matters told me that on occasion he would insist on hearing expert opinions and then deciding personally and at other times telling people to get a professional opinion from X and follow it.  obviously, if he felt there was a halakhic element he would follow the former method.  apparently (or as he would say “interesting is”), returning the kotel did NOT fall in that category.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Yet we see that the idea of land for peace as viewed as desirable by the Israeli left and the State department which has always been and will always be Arabist has not saved Israeli lives thus rendering the reliance upon the assurances of the experts rather dubious in nature.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        No proof other than wishful thinking with disastrous results on the ground except by Arabists in Foggy Bottom or the Israeil political and academic left that any such decision making process ever has occurred or will happen in the near or distant future.

  9. dr.bill says:

    Given the totality of what the blog you linked at the very end of your article says, making assertion some directly contradicted by recordings of the Rav ztl, (the famous teshuvah drasha at the 92nd St. Y (1968, I believe) with the late Pinchas Peli in the audience regarding security experts deciding to return The Kotel Ma’aravi) makes we question the overall context of anything quoted on the site. Nonetheless, the implication of your argument that those rabbis of the OU committee, established RY and poskim that they are, cannot be challenged by others, requires a few extra logical steps.
     As I have often noted, life in Israel continues down a path where such declarations are seen as efforts to put the genie back in the box, from which it has long ago left. (Rabbi Binny Lau’s response is typical.)  And in Israel, some of their equals have not objected anywhere near as strenuously as Rabbis in the US have.  Others who some might argue are their equals have a more positive approach to women assuming rabbinic roles.
    My view, similar to what Rabbi Lamm wrote years ago, is that the real issue is timing.  Get ready for real change.   However, trying to accelerate it is counter-productive; it will happen gradually as I have outlined often.  The day comes where its halakhic nature weakens and societal pressures grow and voila – change is institutionalized in parts of the traditional community.  It happened throughout our history of the last 3000 years.  When YU musmachim get a Ph.D. in Talmud supervised by a woman professor, the times they are a’changing.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Don’t hold your breath waiting for such developments.

      • dr.bill says:

        as Rabbi Lamm said, change occurs slowly.  not having prophets,  only God knows when.  much simpler changes required generations to become normative across large segments of traditional judaism.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Name a potential “peace partner” wiling to recognize and not destroy the State of Israel. Until then your mentioning RYBS on this context is purely hypothetical.

      • dr.bill says:

        the kings of jordan, saudi arabia, various arab emirates, the leaders of egypt probably hold the key.  some who talk about no partner, are in fact trying to maintain that situation.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        All of whom have had under the radar contacts with Israel because of the disastrous Iran pact

  10. YbhM says:

    The tens of thousands of Modern Orthodox Jews in Bergen County, the Five Towns and elsewhere further north, south, east and west

    I agree with your perspective and arguments, but I would suggest using a less NYC-centric formulation the next time around.

  11. Steve Brizel says: All one has to do is read the endless promotion of the feminist freak show known as the JOFA conference and links like the posted link to conclude that the editor of the JW in his editorial and news covrage has long been a press agent for YCT and JOFA as opposed to a journalist in his coverage of the same. The promotion of the feminist/LGBT agenda in the JW is rivaled only by the attitude of the “mainstream media” towards President Trump during the campaign and since the inauguration. Like it or not, I suspect that the overwhelming majority of the Torah observant world would rather daven elsewhere that a shul that a maharat or the equivalent. The unwarranted senses of persecution, and false martyrdom in the linked article are illustrative of all those who simply don’t understand why their views have never been accepted within the mainstream of the committed MO and Charedi worlds.

    • dr.bill says:

      You demean your side by referring to JOFA as a “feminist freak show.”  Pejoratives, especially repeated, do not strengthen rational argument; rather they often expose weakly reasoned positions.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I stand by my description and the free press coverage given by its flack who edits the Jewish Week

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Like it or not the subjects and forums discussed at the most recent JOFA conference cannot be viewed as normal subjects when viewed from halacha and especially the goal of helping build a future Bayis Neeman BYisrael

      • dr.bill says:

        you continue to assume that only extremes exist – building a bais neeman or a feminist freak show.  have you ever considered the possibility of a spectrum of opinions??

      • Reb Yid says:

        Sadly, for some folks diversity and pluralism are viewed as threats of the worst kind while for others like us they are essential sources of vitality, wisdom, understanding and life.

        While we can appreciate the limitations of these sources, they pale in comparison to the benefits.  Sadly, it is often not possible to have a meaningful conversation with others who have such a different perspective.



      • Steve Brizel says:

        Why do you view extended single good of either gender within the possibility of a spectrum of options? Walking a child down to chupah and serving as a transmitter of the past to the next generation is our job description as parents not presenting Torah observance as a mere option


      • Steve Brizel says:

        A spectrum of opinions should never be the basis for rationalizing away such real halachic terms that are operative ( and certainly not hypothetical) as chupah vkiddushin, mamerus, shtuki, pilegesh, toevah, pritzus, kadesha and zonah or encouraging and endorsing women to think that they can be rabbonim and “poskos”.. The same cannot be rationalized with a life rooted in consannance with Kedoshim Tihiyu That was certainly the theme of JOFA, the sessions at its conference and its blog to which the JW and its editor act as an unabashed press agent and flack.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Here is another example of what IMO cannot be viewed as within the spectrum alluded to in prior posts. The following are the words of someone who has posted here previously, and who initially wrote at Dr Alan Brill’s blog with no comments permitted about his son going OTD ( another term that many see as politically incorrect) and now about his son, a product of classical MO, intermarrying:

    “We raised our children with rules unlike those of our parents; we instilled a sense of freedom and respect for their personal decisions. They responded in kind and we are left baffled as to why they didn’t continue to think like us”

    The “JOFA blog” at the JW has a link to another parent’s view which she calls OAD ( on another derech). The easy road out is not to look in the mirror and ask oneself what I did do wrong. It is far more difficult to realize that instead of being so open minded either in the above quoted link that our primary role as parents is to serve as role models in the transmission of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim to the next generation, as opposed to merely paying for 12 years+ of expensive private education and then inculcating a sense of whatever makes a child happy is the supreme value.

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