Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rabbi Mark Angel on "cultic" Modern Orthodoxy

I have no idea what to make of this Jewish Week story about Rabbi Mark Angel’s remarks on the need for more Modern Orthodox Rabbis who feel confident to pasken shaylos. Sounds good to me! But I’m afraid that’s about all I can agree with Rabbi Angel about. My concern is that psak should be more accessible to laypeople who might not call a Rosh Yeshiva to discuss an issue. Rabbi Angel, on the other hand, is concerned that Roshei Yeshiva are robbing Modern Orthodoxy of “intellectual dynamism” and we are crossing the fine line between “true religion and cultism”. Rabbi Angel is giving up the pulpit to start an organization “to focus more on ideas than action and to develop religious responses to questions that have not been adequately addressed in the existing Orthodox legal literature.” What sort of issues does Rabbi Angel have in mind that can better be addressed by Rabbis than Roshei Yeshiva?

“I know there are plenty of good Orthodox Jews who go to the opera,” Rabbi Angel said. “How do we understand kol isha [a woman’s voice]? What are its parameters, what does it include and not include?”
Huh? It seems that the attendance of “good Orthodox Jews” at the opera is in-and-of-itself evidence enough for Rabbi Angel to throw out the prima facie meaning of “kol isha” and open the issue for examination. In fact, the conclusion seems to have already been reached – opera must be permitted because “good Orthodox Jews” attend, and the only question is coming up with a justification. If Roshei Yeshiva seem unable to square these deeds of “good Orthodox Jews” with halacha, then rather than question whether the nominal Orthodoxy of these Jews is all it should be, R’ Angel directs his ire at the Roshei Yeshiva who just aren’t understanding enough.

I wonder if Rabbi Angel ever asked one of the "good Orthodox Jews" attending Carmen how they prima facie justify their actions in light of the prohibition of kol isha. I think the answer would be revealing.


  1. Rabbi Angel's point is definitely diagnostic of a serious problem, but at least it is in the spirit of this week's parshah, where Moshe says "Shimu na hamorim," and Rashi says "Shotim shemorim es moreihem."

    I never knew why they were called 'morim.' I would say they were just troublemakers. But no, Rashi teaches that Jews can't just make trouble. They have to rationalize it and justify it and make up a heter-- when they're moreh hetter, they act as if it were a old psak halacha.

    Of course, it is most probably a Rav Huna Hetter- ovar aveiroh veshonoh bo, neesis lo ke'hetter.

    Someone told me a good he'oroh on Rav Huna. If 'shono bo' is ne'esis lo ke'hetter, what happens if you do it three times? The answer is that then it becomes a mitzvah.

  2. I don't remeber wheere I saw recently that RSRH A'H attended opera. It was a documented report not just hearsay.

    My problem with roshei Yeshiva as opposed to old style poskim who were usually rabanim in their towns, is their disconnect from reality and total ignorance of what a ba'al habayit has to contend with at work, in business and whatever other endeavor. they are taught to look down on them and what they do. Rabbanim on the other hand were involved in the Khal, dinei torah came to them, she'eylot where they had to take into consideration she'at hadechak, hefsed merubah etc... RY have no concept of that and it is the source of some of the unpractical psak we hear nowadays. I did not read Rabbi Angel's artic;le yet, just responded to your comment on it.

  3. Maybe RSRH did, maybe he didn't, but is one isolated opinion enough to sway your perception of the halacha? Your other point (which Rabbi Angel made as well) is well taken - pulpit rabbis are more aware than those in ivory towers. And a Rabbi may certainly at times advise relying on a shitas yachid. The question I raise is whether the motive here is to provide advice for those facing a sha'as hadechak, or to provide an out for those who l'chatchila have chosen to place themselves in a halachically precarious situation?

  4. I remember seeing a while ago on the internet, a whole discussion about going to Operas, and whether there is a Heter for it. (basically, if i remember the crux of the discussion, it was based on the fact that so many 'frum' people go to operas, so there must be a heter), I'll see if i can call it back up.

  5. See here:

    Marc Shapiro quotes Professor Mordechai Breuer as disputing that RSRH went to the opera.

  6. Yea, i searched around, and it was a whole big tadoo on the Jewish Blogosphere a little while back. But, it seems the link to the YU commentator article where it has his arguements are dead. (weird)

    In regard to the Rosh Yeshiva vs. Rabbi thing, I think he is kind of taking it to an extreme. Maybe he should be pointed to that blog post about the instituted Yeshiva vs. Rosh Yeshiva type of learning. Because having a Rosh Yeshiva with a 'cult like' following, is not really so rare, even for the misnagdim...

    Assuming that everyone remains an individual and 'normal' as they say (along with being men of halacha etc.) then, reaping the benefits, in perhaps a cult like fashion, may be important for many Jews...

  7. He's not doing anything Halachically inconsistant by looking for a justification for what people are doing.

    The Aruch HaShulchan did much the same when looking for a justfication why people didn't wash their vegetables.

    I may disagree with it, but he's following a long tradition of Rabbi's.

  8. Natan, the AhS was justifying long established community practices. Is attending the opera an established minhag of the Orthodox community?

  9. The Rav zt"l - along with a number of other gedolim of that period - was known to have attended the opera regularly in Berlin. He even had a subscription to it.

  10. Rabbi Maroof,

    Can you provide the source for this ? Professor Breuer writes in(link below) in an e-mail to Prof. Shapiro:

    "In another e-mail [Prof. Breuer] wrote similarly:

    I know of no Orthodox rabbi in Germany who regularly visited the opera. This applies also to Rav S.R. Hirsch. Very musical as he was, he sometimes visited a concert, especially while on holidays, but never, to the best of my knowledge, the opera. "

  11. I think this is getting off topic. RJM, with all due respect, Rabbi Angel is not just asking us to be tolerant of legitimate halachic positions l'kula which he has a right to be someich upon (I take no issue with that); he is advocating *creating* kulos to justify the actions of ba'alei batim ex post facto.

  12. Baruch,

    My source was Rabbi Rakeffet who stated this in an audio a shiur on YU's website. I don't recall the specific file.


    I hear you.

  13. Anonymous5:42 PM

    But just how clear are the parameters of kol isha? Tanach itself speaks of female singers as a recognized element of the Temple establishment (Ezra 2:65).


  14. Chaim, that sounds a little bit like Conservative movement..."Well, they are all driving anyway..."

  15. Anonymous - just wondering why you have to go all the way to a pasuk in ezra instead of referring to miriam singing shira at yam suf? Anyway, again, the geder of kol isha is certainly a topic to be looked into, but I would distinguish between be spurned to such an analysis by a pasuk in ezra and being spurned to such an analysis because one really wants to attend Carmen (or one has already attended Carmen) and now has some explaining to do to justify a done deed. (I think I'm repeating myself by now)

  16. Mike S.6:27 PM

    "Creating kulos to justify the practice of Ba'ale baatim ex post facto." There is a fairly long and honored tradition of this, for example, you can see the Aruch Hashulchan being melamaid z'chus on those (in the climate of Lithuania) who do not eat in the sukkah on Sh'mini atzeret. or for that matter, the RM"A's justification for abandoning daily duchanen.

  17. Anonymous12:37 PM

    So we're supposed to feel there is a problem when halachic decisors feel bound by the halacha?

    Rabbi Angel, meet Solomon Schechter.

  18. i heard from a source very close to R' Angel that the article doesn't quite accurately explain what it is that he wants to do.

  19. Anonymous9:34 PM

    I think that some are misinterpreting the article. In reality due to the current modern day circumstances it may have to be readdressed. I know there was a time when a woman's voice was deemed provactive. Not too say that it is still the case, just not to the extent as it once was. I have noticed, however, that modern day women tend to be be very "moved" by a man's voice. Maybe he is on to something and it should be revisited.

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