Sunday, May 02, 2010

another unreasonable edict of gedolim

The gedolim have again decided to impose their standards of orthodoxy on the rest of the world. Their sparsely worded edict that offers no halachic explanation for its rationale, makes no attempt to address the arguments of competent rabbonim who disagree, no invitation was extended to the individual most adversely affected by this edict to present their side of the story, and no heed was taken of the minhagim and psak of other communities who also call themselves orthodox but follow different traditions.

No, I am not speaking of Rav Elyashiv and co., but rather I am speaking of the members of the RCA committee which recently declared smicha for women off-limits.

Yes, this is a poor attempt at satire. It's not that I am particularly enamored of the idea of having a woman get smicha. It's that I find it strange that those who routinely criticize Rav Elyashiv and other giants when their psak is seen as disenfranchising the so-called centrist camp are suddenly silent or even voicing agreement when their leaders and rabbonim do the same to others. Mai shena? If you don't like when intellectual stones are thrown at you, why throw them at others?

What should we do about Rabbi Weiss and his "smicha"? I don't really see why we need to do anything. Who cares what he calls his assistant, or whether he calls his shul "orthodox"? The question is entirely semantic. Most of us don't live in Riverdale -- why is it our issue? Instead of focusing on what Rabbi Weiss should do in his community, why not focus instead of making our own communities exemplars of Torah, avodah, and yiras shamayim? And when the time comes to hire a Rav, each of our communities can seek appropriate counsel from talmidei chachamim to help find an appropriate candidate.


  1. May I inject a couple of counterpoints:
    1) Rav Hershel Schachter has been quite detailed in his objection to women getting semicha and spoke about it at length at the recent RCA convention. This is hardly on the level of a kol koreh like the recent "Most fish are now treif!"
    2) When one is in the Chareidi camp, it is relatively easy to distinguish "us" from "them". There is the way one dresses, speaks and the political/religious opinions that one holds that quickly identifies as one as a member or not. In the Modern Orthodox camp it is often not so easy. People cannot simply call themselves Chareidi if they walk up to you in a t-shirt, postage stamp kippah and shorts but they can call themselves MO and be accepted.
    As a result, there is a need for the movement, if it wishes to maintain any cohesion, to enforce some minimal standards as to what exactly makes you a member. This recent RCA convention has actually been a great thing in that it finally involved some of the luminaries standing up and saying "This is what you have to believe to be part of the group". It's no longer enough just to call yourself "Orthodox" and demand to be accepted as such.

  2. "Instead of focusing on what Rabbi Weiss should do in his community, why not focus instead of making our own communities exemplars of Torah, avodah, and yiras shamayim?"

    I think the RCA addressed this in the resolution titled, "Exercising Care When Interacting With General Society":

    "...We dedicate significant time and resources to promoting a greater emphasis in our synagogues and schools on making our traditions deeply and personally meaningful to our members and students. This includes actions such as a stress on making the prayer-book come alive through a deep understanding of the meaning, structure and purpose of our tefillos (prayers); significant time spent on teaching taamei hamitzvot (the reasons for the Commandments) so that people will be able to relate to their ritual observance as more than just rote; creating chaburot (study groups) wherein people can regularly come together with Rabbis and educators to discuss issues that are, or ought to be, meaningful to them in making our tradition come alive; adapting the wealth of material that Jewish outreach professionals have developed in presenting Judaism to the non-observant to educate our own constituents, and, in general, to create a culture in which kedusha (spiritual sanctity) can be fostered in a way that is consistent with our hashkafot (world views) and principles of a modern engaged Jewry. "

  3. Wow, I never thought I would agree with you, even in part, on this issue. :)

  4. One could indeed say it was formulated in the same manner as many public declarations from Charedi Gedolim; at heart it did not express dependence on a clear halachic argument, but on the communally recognized standing of those issuing the ruling. It was rendered to be HEARD and noted by the Charedim but HEEDED by the RCA-as-Modern-Orthodoxy constituency - or those who seek to be counted as Orthodox.

  5. chaim b.7:35 PM

    RJM, I guess sometimes I surprise.

    >>>Rav Hershel Schachter has been quite detailed in his objection to women getting semicha

    Since when does RHS' opinion preclude others from having a different view? How is this any different than my saying (for example) that anyone who takes a contrary view to Rav Elyashiv is simply not orthodox?

    >>>there is a need for the movement, if it wishes to maintain any cohesion, to enforce some minimal standards as to what exactly makes you a member

    There is a need to dispense with talk of arbitrarily defined "movements" and instead focus on matters of substance.

  6. Mike S.7:03 AM

    Why did the Agguda, which has even less connection, feel the need to condemn R. Weiss. I think the reason is that neither the Chareidi world nor the MO world has yet found a good answer to the problem posed by the expanded and changed role of women in the larger society, and the contrast between that and the more narrow role in traditional religious society. Whether one thinks the role of women should be expanded, or one thinks that women should be educated so the contrast is not so alienating, no one has succeeded in developing a widely accepted and successful response. Of course, I am not such a fool as to be unaware that many women are not alienated and that the roles of women have expanded, even on the right wing. But while we have taken various steps toward dealing with this challenge, no really successful paradigm has emerged. The situation is unstable. Thus both groups felt the need to mark ordination as being too radical a step before it spreads.

  7. Small detail. Rav Weiss wasn't excluded. He is a member of the RCA. He could have personally or by proxy have presented his views to the convention. The resolutions were circulated before the convention, and everyone knew this was an issue that a committee was working on. In addition, for the whole past year of this brouhaha, he has had an audience. So it shouldn't be portrayed as if he was silenced. He's had a year of activity; now some of his haverim chose to respond.

    What's more, the process wasn't edict-like at all. That is a mischaracterization. This is a resolution. It could have been voted down. It wasn't. Even those who clearly didn't like it, chose not to register opposition.

    As for the private/public issue. This is very different from the few private supposed 'smichas' given to women in the past. This was done publicly. With fanfare. It was used to start a new 'yeshiva'. Rav Weiss is trying to force the hand of history and public policy here. That is quite different from the way you portray it, I think.

    That still doesn't mean the response is necessarily correct; but it creates a different context than the one you suggest.

  8. Every membership organization determines its rules for membership. A rabbinical organization needs some type of description of who is a rabbi eligible to join. Gray areas have to be resolved to prevent those outside the description from ever applying for membership. This protects the organization against later accusations of arbitrary rejection.

  9. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Rav Nati presented the view of Avi Weiss at the conference.

  10. Mike S, agree with you that Agudah need not have stuck its nose in. At least with respect to RCA I can see them wanting to head off the hava aminos of other of its members.

    RAM - my impression is that the intent here was not merely to define the membership criteria of the RCA, but to define orthodoxy. I think the resolution was interpreted by the velt in that way.

    Mordechai - By edict I meant there is no halachic explanation attached to the resolution. If this is an issue of halacha, the rationale should be explained clearly. If it is a private issue of membership rules of the RCA with no halachic consequence, then why publicize it? Before last week I couldn't tell you the first thing about what is required to be an RCA member; now I know one (and only one) rule. It is precisely this confusion of public policy with halacha with organizational politics which I find to be a toxic brew.

    Yes, Rabbi Weiss is trying to force his agenda. But no one says you need to play by his rules and respond. Lots of people are standing on soapboxes in Times Square preaching agendas. It usually doesn't get them very far.

  11. R Avi Weiss is not a mere soap-box orator. He is one of a group of influential rabbis with a sizable following of Jews who absolutely define themselves as Orthodox. Among Rabbi Weiss's cohort would be Rabbis Macy Gordon and Shlomo Riskin who have the credentials of Orthodox rabbinate and who consistently push the borders of what it means to be Orthodox. These people need to be addressed by the RCA. They share the demographic.

  12. "These people need to be addressed by the RCA."

    They can be addressed as needed without any acceptance of their unorthodox views. What is the relevance of influence or formal credentials or demographics to a discussion about the guiding principles of an organization? What should "pushing the borders" connote to those charged with defending the borders?

  13. Orthodoxy doesn't have to be synonymous with petrification. Good leaders know when a carefully weighed statement of disapproval is appropriate, and when you need to label innovators as schismatics. The former means that while you absolutely disagree, you accept the sincerity of those with whom you disagree. I am proud that Rabbi Kletenik chose the more nuanced path instead of the simpler reactionary reflex.