Rabbi Shafran Got it Right – a Response to Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan

(This article first appeared in Times of Israel.)

In recent articles, Rabbi Daniel Geretz and Dr. Noam Stadlan take Rabbi Avi Shafran to task for his support of the Orthodox Union’s ruling that women cannot be ordained or serve as clergy. Rather than respect the integrity of this ruling, which represents the opinion of the most senior and authoritative halachic decisors of the generation, Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan take swipes at Rabbi Shafran’s allegiances and bona fides, in an unfounded and failed effort to undermine his thesis.

Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan start by attempting to delegitimize Rabbi Shafran’s right to express an opinion on the matter:

R Shafran is trying to show that the Agudah and Modern Orthodoxy are on the same page, but they are not … Rabbi Shafran is the Director of Public Affairs and Spokesman for Agudath Israel of America. Last I checked, Agudath Israel of America is not “Modern Orthodox” and it baffles me as to why someone like Rabbi Shafran would weigh in on what is essentially a Modern Orthodox issue… While he demonstrates a desire to make us think his position is relevant to the OU and Modern Orthodoxy, on closer reading we see that he and the Agudah for which he speaks are entirely irrelevant to the discussion.

According to Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan, the halachic positions of those involved with Agudath Israel should be disregarded, even if they agree with the positions of the halachic experts commissioned by the OU. If this does not lack logic, I do not know what does…

Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan then proceed to present themselves as objective Modern Orthodox experts on the matter, whose two cents should make a world of a difference. What Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan conveniently omit from their narratives is that they are not Modern Orthodox, but are Open Orthodox, and that both of their wives are actually studying to be ordained as rabbis at Yeshivat Maharat, the Open Orthodox rabbinical school for women. Yes, these two men are not writing objectively, but are “nog’im ba-davar”/interested parties to the matter as could ever be – and their allegiances are not to normative Halacha as interpreted by OU and Yeshiva University poskim (legal decisors), or by other poskim of equal stature, but are rather to the Open Orthodox movement, which is at stark odds with the Orthodox mainstream.

Whereas Orthodox mainstream halachic authorities – from Yeshiva University, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union and, yes, Agudath Israel – uniformly object to the ordination of women and to “partnership minyanim” (prayer groups led in part by men and in part by women), as well as to countless other Open Orthodox reforms to tradition, Rabbi Geretz, Dr. Stadlan and their constituencies have parted ways with these and numerous other Orthodox norms.

In an ill-conceived challenge on the issue of rabbinic authority, Dr. Stadlan posits:

Rabbi Shafran writes that we should follow what a rabbi or a group of rabbis tell us to do. Other rabbis, no matter how learned, don’t have a voice. The halachic arguments, no matter how well sourced or logical don’t matter. R Shafran is telling us that the only opinion that matters is that of a certain rabbi or group of rabbis. The rabbis he has in mind are certainly great and learned. But, not to take anything away from the greatness and learning of these or any other rabbis, it is not clear why or how they have achieved this position of authority except that someone or a group of people claim that they have. And, more importantly, every other rabbi or group of rabbis is then excluded from authority, even those who may also have studied and learned equally if not more. This is a very Chareidi idea, that only a certain small group of rabbis represent the authoritative voice of God, and that the rest of us are obligated to follow those chosen for us… Rabbi Shafran, it is always about listening to gedolim and Da’as Torah, not halacha. Hopefully the OU will stand up for halacha and Modern Orthodoxy.

Dr. Stadlan: This is not a “Charedi idea”. The Orthodox Union, and all legitimately Orthodox bodies, from YU, to Agudah, to the RCA, to Young Israel, follow Halacha as interpreted and decided by the greatest Torah authorities of the generation. Each group may follow its own “gadol”, but all agree to the system, ground rules, and total deference to senior rabbinic authority. Open Orthodoxy, in contrast, has rejected the halachic rulings of the generation’s foremost halachic authorities on the matter at hand and other pivotal issues – including the position of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who advised the RCA to oppose the ordination of women.

Hence, similar to its reforms regarding conversion law, women serving as chazzan, women officiating at weddings, and the morning blessings, Open Orthodoxy has found lesser-known rabbis who permit the ordinatation of women. These Open Orthodox rabbis are comfortable adjudicating issues that typically would be reserved for a few select and senior master halachists in a generation – and even then, these master halachists would be exceedingly wary of making such changes.

Rabbi Shafran did not invoke one of many divergent rabbinic opinions regarding the ordination of women; rather, he invoked the unanimous ruling of the generation’s halachic masters, as represented by the OU’s broad-based rabbinic panel and as concurred to by the generation’s most authoritative rabbinic personalities throughout the Orthodox spectrum. Dr. Stadlan presents the situation as if Rabbi Shafran were selecting one of many alternative and legitimate positions and sought to unfairly foist that one contested position upon the public. On the contrary, in this case, there is no opposing ruling on the matter by anyone in the same league as the halachic doyens whose opinion the OU (and RCA, and Agudah, and Young Israel) follows.

Orthodox Judaism, by any definition, is bound to a halachic tradition, a Mesorah, of heeding the opinions of the generation’s foremost halachic authorities. Open Orthodoxy has parted ways and has adopted positions that are at odds with Orthodoxy, following the trajectory of the Conservative movement of half a century ago, which shakily claimed fidelity to Halacha, yet rejected the concept of Mesorah. (It is quite interesting that the traditionalists at Jewish Theological Seminary during the 1980s, led by Rabbis Saul Lieberman and David Ha-Livni Weiss, adamantly opposed the ordination of women and other innovations by the seminary and by the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. Many of the compromised practices rejected by the former group at JTS are actually accepted by Open Orthodoxy!)

Torah/Orthodox Judaism is predicated upon ultimate deference to the masters of Mesorah. Open Orthodoxy does not recognize this axiom, as is manifest by the articles of Rabbi Geretz and Dr. Stadlan, who attempt to drive a fictitious wedge between various parts of Orthodoxy in an effort to stir disunity and sow the seeds of confusion.

Surrender to halachic authority and to the Will of God is the linchpin of Orthodoxy/Torah Judaism. As so beautifully explicated by Rav Soloveitchik in a 1968 address to RIETS Rabbinic Alumni (published here on pp. 113-119) on this week’s Torah portion:

Apparently, the mizbe’ach (altar) of the Avos (Patriarchs) was not for the purpose of offering a live sacrifice. The mizbe’ach symbolized submission, their own surrender. Because the highest sacrifice is not when you offer an animal. It’s very easy when you offer an animal. The highest sacrifice is when man offers himself.

What do I mean “offers himself”? The Torah hated, condemned, human sacrifices… It’s one of the most reprehensible abominations. Yes, physical human sacrifice was rejected, but spiritual human sacrifice – submission and surrender, acceptance of God’s will, to abide by His will even if His will sometimes runs contrary to our aspirations, His will sometimes makes no sense to us – [that was valued and required]. We can’t understand it, it’s incomprehensible. We are full with questions, we can point out so many contradictions. [But] if we surrender and submit ourselves, actually this is the highest.

And that’s what Avrohom (Abraham) taught himself, and he taught others. This means “vayiven sham mizbe’ach” (“he erected an altar there”) actually. Whom did he sacrifice? His own independence, his own pride, his own comfort, his own desires, his own logic, his own reason. He believed. If one believes, it is an act of surrender, sacrifice…

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39 Responses

  1. Bruce Epstein says:

    Not only is Rabbi Geretz’ wife studying at Yeshivat Maharat, he is the Rabbi for a partnership minyan in West Orange, NJ (http://www.maayan-nj.org/index.html)

  2. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    I will give Rabbis Stadlan and Geretz credit for one thing. They admit that what they represent and what we represent are two separate ideological streams. That is an important landmark. If we are Orthodox, they are not. If they are Orthodox, then we are something different. By the way, I wonder what the response would be if those in open Orthodoxy cited a teshuva of Reb Moshe Feinstein. Would we argue that ” he and the Agudah for which he spoke are entirely irrelevant to the discussion.”?

    • dr. bill says:

      i totally agree. i prefer to use the term traditional leaving orthodoxy to those to my right. as has been demonstrated reform and chareidi reactions going back to the 19th century, deviated from traditional judaism. otoh, after more than 150 years of existence, almost anything can claim the mantle of tradition.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Viewing Charedim and the adherents of OO as having equally deviated from.rhe mimetic tradirion not only is a facetious and overly simplistic comparison but ignores why and what caysed the development of the same. I would abd have no difgiculry in davening in ant shtiebel . I would not step foot in an OO oriented and identifying synagogue especially where there is a maharat and partnership service present.

      • dr.bill says:

        you continue to amaze me. where did i say about OO and chareidi deviations or any deviations being equal. since the Rav ztl is often quoted on this blog, let me tell you a comment. a young man was having a bad day reading when called on. The Rav looks at him and says : You must be a genius. at that point, everyone was looking away, not knowing what to expect. the Rav continues: you came here straight from the eighth grade and cannot read. i know we disagree but please comment on what I say.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Read your comment from.yesterday posred ar 2:58 PM. You made rge equation which I questionned

      • dr. bill says:

        ok – i reread. your turn. tell me which word confused you into thinking i said ANYTHING about equal, equation, etc.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Almost anything can claim.the mantle of tradition- who were you referring to ?

      • dr. bill says:

        many streams.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Which “many streams” are you referring to?

      • dr. bill says:

        i said many, but perhaps i should have almost all. tradition is a tricky word. most in the orthodox camp, claim it covers over 3000 years of practice. some look to biblical / prophetic traditions; others attach tradition to 18th century hats or other practices. even what many called secular zionist had a past to which they desired to emulate. to some tradition is a belief; to others it is subject to historical investigation. there are few who deny some validity to all things traditional. saying i am and you are not requires much more than just the word traditional.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      The likelihood of any OO advocate citing any teshuva of any Gadol.such as RMF in proper context when viewed in light of their past writings remains highly dubious.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Not at all. It has happened in my shul more than once by those who teach in the OO world.

      • Lawrence M. Reisman says:

        Proper context is not necessary, although possible. Also an accurate citation is not necessary, either. I remember Rabbi Steven Risking misquoting the Chazon Ish to a large audience at Lincoln Square Synagogue back in 1990.

      • dr. bill says:

        Have you read all the teshuvot of rabbis katz, linzer, sperber, etc. As the rabbis said, tofastoh merubah, lo tofastoh. you now have to prove every teshuvah from the above three misstates every gadol every time. good luck.

  3. dr. bill says:

    Divine Law must be obeyed regardless of its apparent irrationality. While some laws are almost intrinsically irrational, some are rational only given a certain perspective. Human law, on the other hand, demands rationality. Even the rabbis, whose laws have a Divine nature, base/limit their legislation and judicial rulings to the rules of logic and the human rationality. The difficulty is determining what Divine Law demands versus what we humans have wrought.

    Even if we were to agree on the requirements of Divine Law, we might still disagree about how it ought be enforced. As has been extensively documented, Jewish communities have had very different approaches to what violations deserved expulsion; some stressed the interpersonal, others offenses against our obedience to God.

    When we disagree, we tend to view the other as hopelessly biased, while we are entirely rational. In our day, organizations employ individuals whose role it is to extol the rationality of their decisions despite the bias that such a position entails.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Are you implying either that Poskim have biases based on their community of origin or that the ability to pasken and determinr halachic and hashkafic norms is not itself rooted in the Torah?

      • dr.bill says:

        OF course and delete “of origin.” Poskim’s authority is rooted in their God given talents to rule ethically, their ability to read sources in our mesorah correctly and link the pesak credibly to our traditions. none of the three are entirely rooted in just the Torah. their creativity and brilliance and courage and weltanschauung all play a role. a Posek is not always provably correct, but hopes to be always provably consistent with our relevant traditions. important/innovative rulings of poskim often fall into that category. btw, this leads to a solid basis for understanding eilu ve’eilu consistently with modern notions of logic.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Lo Saor does not imply to many Rishonim.other than Rambam tgat the power of psak is rooted in Torah Shebicsav itself? Please clarify.

      • dr. bill says:

        i would if i had so much as an inkling of what you are trying to question / argue / present. alas, i don’t.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Being both supercilious and pedantic as a means of avoiding a question to your post is a poor way of avoiding an issue at hand. Again there is a mitzvah of Lo Sasor are you asserting that the obligation to obey Psak is not rooted in the Torah based on the view of the Rambam as opposed to other Rishonim? You can answer in the affirmative ngative or that you Re unfamiliar with the issue but dont avoid a discussion of the issue or your post. That is intellectual arrogance writ large.

      • dr. bill says:

        are you asking if the role of rabbis in their executive, legislative and/or judicial roles are of biblical origin, i.e. de’oraysah? i said nothing about the source of rabbinic authority; and i would say it depends. i happen to prefer to view it to be of biblical origin, despite some obvious misgivings. this is all i will tell you about another irrelevant issue to what i was writing about.

  4. dave says:

    Basically, they are telling R’ Shafran and his Rabbis – “you are not the boss of me”. My kids used to say such stuff when they didn’t get their way. It did not make a deep impression on their parents, unless giggling is a deep impression.
    What OO is creating is a religion of their own ideas (amazingly similar to the nonsense of the current zeitgeist, dontcha know!). Being true to the halachic spirit means asking questions and being ready to be answered “no”. I agree with LM Reisman above – at least they are letting the cat out of the bag now by proclaiming that the gedolim are not the boss of them.

    • lacosta says:

      but it is a relevant point that r shafran is speaking from another branch of judaism, one that lends limited credence to the thesis that ‘modern’ orthodoxy is a valid expression of torah judaism. No one would pay any attention to rabbi shafran’s opinions about Tzahal or Yom Haatzmaut for example—those are institutions his branch of judaism doesn’t recognize. Similarly , no one outside of Chabad would grant validity to their poskim deciding on issues that the rest of klal yisrael denies [eg the messiahship of their last leader ]

      so on some level critique from outside ones group is taken with a grain of salt, if paid attention to at al. the issue here is that OO is fighting to be recognized as not beyond the pale; and the OU has been as wishy washy as humanly possible on these OO matters….

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Look at it this way. The real fight within MO is really do we share more in common with the Charedi world than R and C except for a committment to Israel as a theoligical reality which R was very late in acknowledging and C has moved away from in its quest to be the RW of R.

  5. Noam Stadlan says:

    Thank you for linking to my paper. I hope that anyone interested will read it and not make judgements based on Rabbi Gordimer’s misunderstandings and misinterpretations(nor Rabbi Shafran’s misinterpretations that he has posted). If anyone thinks my facts are in error, I hope they will let me know.

    I am saddened that R. Gordimer feels it necessary to burden me with all of his complaints against every possible position that is to the left of him. It is also sad and rather pathetic that he resorts to what he thinks is name calling rather than address the specific facts.

    I think that we agree that Halakha is the cornerstone of what we believe and do. Which is why I wrote an article illustrating how the Halakhic arguments presented to the OU were based on wrong or unproven facts, conclusions unsupported by the premises, and/or inconsistent applications of the law. It is available here:


    I hope those who want to have a source and fact based discussion, rather than an exchange of insults, will read it, and I will be happy to respond to any questions or concerns.

    The other point is that there are great poskim who support ordination for women. My conclusion was that the OU, if they want to follow Halakha to the upmost, would follow the position that not only has the support of great rabbis, but makes the most logical and consistent sense based on the sources. Because we are ‘ shulchan aruch’ Jews, and Halakhic arguments have to count for something. Furthermore, unlike R. Shafran and it seems R. Gordimer, I do not think that the fact that ‘my gadol’ says something, that you have to follow it. There is room for differences of opinions. I will be happy to address any questions or concerns regarding the paper referenced by R. Gordimer or my analysis of the OU paper.

    Since it has been mentioned, I am immensely proud of my wife and her studies. She has taught Torah and educated many in her many years of service to the Jewish community, and her receiving semicha will allow her to do even more. I am saddened that R. Gordimer and others are opposed to more Torah, more learning, more Halakhic observance, and more service to the community.

    I apologize that I will not be able to follow the comments here closely nor respond much to them, so please feel free to email me. I can be reached at noamstadlan at gmail dot com thank you

    • Avrohom Gordimer says:

      I will not enter into a detailed back-and-forth with Dr. Stadlan, and he as well writes that he will not be closely following or reponding to comments.

      That said, Dr. Stadlan and I have very different, irreconcilable views about halachic authority. Readers can determine how our views fit or do not fit into the halachic tradition.

      I did not misrepresent Dr. Stadlan’s articl. Rather, as always, I extensively quoted and provided links to the original, so that readers can go through it and think about the issues objectively.

      Finally, I am entertained (for lack of a better word) by Dr. Stadlan’s allegation that “R. Gordimer and others are opposed to more Torah, more learning, more Halakhic observance, and more service to the community.” The goal of my public writings and all that I do is geared toward dissemination of Torah, strengthening mitzvah observance and serving the tzibbur – but Torah, mitzvos and klal work must be authentic and must embody our Mesorah. Innovating in these areas in ways that contradict our Mesorah is not laudable.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        An excellent response to an attempt to view criticism as beyond the pale of discussion. If being a SA Jew was so simple why would we have so many volunes of ShuT and Chidcushei Torah as to what the words of the SA mean today?

      • dr. bill says:

        thank God for your comment. you had me nervous that my ability to reason and communicate is in decline. but you did it to dr. stadlan as well. where did you find that in his response he claimed that being a SA jew is so simple? Halevi, perhaps. I guess you are giving us yet another example of creative reading.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Simply because just looking up what you mat think is the applicable halacha in SA and how it applies or doesnt mean that it is so. Thats why we have Piskim.who provide such guidance whether the query is simple or complex.

    • lacosta says:

      so much in O life ultimately revolves around the question ‘who is a gadol’ [and corrollaries lie my gadol is greater than your gadol, our community can ignore others’ gedolim etc] .

      that’s why the statement — The other point is that there are great poskim who support ordination for women. — would be discounted by all non-OO communities of being patently false ….

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Putting aside hashkafic differences, there is much in terms of a basic commitment to Torah and Mitzvos that the MO and Charedi world have in common that should be accentuated as opposed to the hashkafic differences. Like it or not, any MO or Charedi can daven and go to a shiur and find the same classical sefarim in each other’s shuls and hopefully their homes as well. Hashkafic differences really are the icing on the cake once one has fulled his belly with the Shakla vTarya of TSBP as opposed to being that which counts in terms of defining one’s committment or lack thereof to Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

    • Mycroft says:

      Agreed, so why are there many blogposts not directed to SA observance but to hashkafic differences.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Blogposts on hashkafic differencescmerely illustrate the same. Differing views on what and how SA applies have actual halachic ramifications .

  7. Daniel Geretz says:

    Thank you Rabbi Gordimer for linking to my post. I’ve gotten much more traffic and shares than the ten I usually get. While your criticism is not unexpected, it should be noted that your employer actually agrees with the suggestions in my post that you linked to and is making a big commitment to implementing some of them. (Truth be told, my suggestions were aimed primarily at the more “Modern Orthodox” segment of the OU community and Moshe Bane implies that the OU project is aimed at ALL OU communities including the “Chareidi Lite” ones.)


  8. Steve Brizel says:

    TIime will tell which shuls implement all some or none of the suggestions in tbe linked article.

    • lacosta says:

      is the problem leadership or laity? lax praxis and slippery slope doxy is i think more a laity problem than messaging received from the top [at least outside of OO ]….

  9. Bob Miller says:

    The belief that all religious conflicts on principle are merely political has a long, sorry history. Expressing it sidetracks any useful, substantive discussion of theory and practice. Somewhere between naive and cynical is the space where constructive engagement goes on.

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