KHM: It’s hard not to pick up on the male-dominated storyline; after all, it is about a Lithuanian yeshivah. Still, certain characters advocate for an expanded, even emancipated, role for women in Judaism. What do you think is the ideal place for women within all areas of the community and how might this be achieved?
RMA: I don’t have the ideal place. The issue of Orthodoxy and women exists because the world has transformed. Today, women study Talmud; this used to not be the case. But you have a glass ceiling; you can only go so far. We’ve created a dynamic by educating our women, and we don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t have an answer yet. I’m in favor of opening options: women’s tefillah groups, women’s Megillah readings, and women as members on boards. In our synagogue (Congregation Shearith Israel), we have Lynne Kaye filling the position of Assistant Congregational Leader – she does everything a rabbi would do except for the ritual aspects. Sure, these developments may be a dead-end, but how do we know unless we experiment? These boundaries – how flexible are they? A pesak on these matters would freeze the process. We must see how things unfold.
Rabbi Gil Student, at http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2004/12/ordination-of-women.html gives the halakhic issues with ordaining female rabbis, and he gives a sharp criticism of R' Avi Weiss's recent ordaining of Mahara"t Sara Hurwitz at http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2009/03/ordination-of-women-ii.html. R' Student says
The Fifth Option: Remembering
In the end, I suspect that this time silence should win. The dangers of a public relations misstep are too great. Hopefully, our community in general has a sufficiently developed instinct for what is and is not acceptable. But that means that we, rabbis and laypeople, need to speak to each other informally and reinforce what we already know. We need to take to heart the lesson of Birkas Ha-Chamah. This is the blessing we recite on Erev Pesach this year, which is said only once every 28 years. We cannot forget what has happened since the last time we said it, in 1981.
At that time, there was widespread debate in the Conservative movement over the ordination of women. Since then, they have not only accepted women as rabbis without any halakhic limitations on their functioning but they have also accepted into the rabbinate active homosexuals, all against the recommendation of the leading Conservative talmudic scholars. Cynical Conservative rabbinic students recently jokingly adjusted a famous statement by Theodore Herzl into “Im tirtzu ein zo halakhah – if you will it, it is no law.” After witnessing the quick disintegration of the Conservative movement’s allegiance to halakhah since its acceptance of women rabbis, how can we view this development in Orthodoxy with anything but pain? Aside from the meta-halakhic issues that surround this development, how can we not look at recent history and ask whether we are seeing another decent into halakhic chaos for socio-political ends?
It is our duty to learn from the mistakes of history, for reasons that require no elaboration.
I'm sorry, but I must vehemently disagree with R' Student.
All the traditional halakhic sources say we do not save a gentile on Shabbat, except for mishum eiva (i.e., to avoid their hating and harming us). Obviously, this means that on a desert island, we wouldn't save the gentile. But would anyone stand by this today? R' Aharon Lichtenstein says he'd break Shabbat and do teshuva (repent) later; R' Shlomo Riskin and R' Nachum Rabinovitch cherry-pick the RambaN (who says, based on Biblical exegesis of Leviticus 19:33, to save a ger toshav, which would essentially include any righteous gentile); R' Weinberg and many others (see R' David Berger in "Egalitarian Ethos for a laundry list of gedolim; I will add R' Yom Tov Schwarz in Einayim Lirot to the list) cherry-pick the Meiri (who says the Talmud's anti-gentile discrimination only applies to ancient wicked gentiles); R' Jakobovits uses darkhei-shalom-("the ways of peace")-as-an-ethical-override in a manner highly reminiscent of R' Eliezer Berkovits; R' Yehuda Amital says that the will of G-d is that we save the gentile even if the halakhah says otherwise.
Surely women in Orthodoxy today must be treated as gentiles are; the sources say what they do, but we must have the perspicacity to recognize that this is outdated. We must be able to recognize as R' Eliezer Berkovits did (see my comments at http://michaelmakovi.blogspot.com/2009/01/for-some-time-ive-been-troubled-by.html, that if korbanot (sacrifices; RambaM), yafet toar (taking a women captive in war; Hazal), milhemet reshut (optional non-defensive war; R' Kook), goel haDam (blood avenger, to kill an accidental manslaughter; Shadal), etc. are all concessions to primitive human nature, then so too, the Torah's laws on women are also concessions. We cannot erase the law, but we can creatively overcome it. For example, regarding gittin (divorce), we can use prenuptials to create kiddushei ta'ut (marriage entered into under false pretenses, and retroactively null and void), as R' Dr. Michael Broyde has, following R' Weinberg and R' Ovadia Yosef.
I have a friend converting Conservative. She says she chose Conservative because of the egalitarianism, and I asked her, in other areas (kashrut, Shabbat, etc.), why not follow the Orthodox? She told me that if the Conservatives are right here, she'll trust them across the board.
(Update: I found the following exchange in the Hirhurim comments to be highly relevant: R' Gil STudent said,"A Reader": The changes you suggest were emergency measures in order to preserve the religiosity of our community. Why do you think Rav Soloveitchik was so supportive of women studying Talmud? Because he was certain that otherwise many women would go completely off the derekh [Orthodoxy], as he had witnessed in Europe."A Reader" respondedI think that your justification for Beis Yaakov [i.e. teaching women Torah on a level more equal with mens' learning], etc., on the grounds of "preserv[ing] the the religiosity of our community" is just as applicable in the present case, if not more so. To deny that many young women, raised and/or educated in Orthodox Jewish settings, have not struggled mightily, and ultimately abandoned Orthodox (or any form of) Jewish practice because of the perceived secondary role of women in Jewish life is to be completely out of touch with reality. Just as you note that R' Soloveitchik encouraged women to study Talmud in light of what he perceived to be the likely alternative (complete abandonment of Judaism), the same can be said here. Furthermore, as noted above, you also must consider the potential this may have to encourage many Conservative (even Reform, perhaps?) Jews to consider Orthodoxy as an option. I know personally many Conservative Jews who are open about the fact that women's roles are the reason for their identifying as Conservative and not Orthodox. Does this not also merit consideration?
The difference with early Conservative is that whereas the right-wing of Conservative (i.e. the JTS Talmudic staff) was practically Orthodox, the left-wing was far from. It was only once the RA split from JTS, that Conservative really took a downturn. But I don't think it is hard to decide whether R' Avi Weiss is more like JTS or like the RA. I think we can trust R' Weiss to not take this beyond halakhah; as R' Weinberg said of R' Berkovits, he may be radical, but he has tremendous yirat shama'im all the same. See also David Glasner's words, regarding R' Moshe Shmuel Glasner (the father of R' Berkovits's teacher) at http://www.math.psu.edu/glasner/Dor4/Dorrev7.html: "To critics, R. Moshe Shmuel seemed to be sanctioning the heretical views of Wissenschaft des Judentum and its American offspring, Conservative Judaism. But R. Moshe Shmuel's commitment to halakha was absolute, and his conclusions, unlike those of the Wissenschaft des Judentum, rested exclusively on Talmudic and rabbinic sources."
Another point: regarding confirming the heterodox, while this does have theoretical significance, I believe that it is highly dangerous to rely on overmuch in practice. For too long now, we have let the non-Orthodox set the agenda, and the Orthodox have been the ones on the defensive. No one listens to the Orthodoxy anymore, for everyone knows we're purely defensive, and we only say things once we've determined they are the theological equivalent of "politically correct". This must stop. We must have the courage to set the agenda ourselves, and speak for ourselves, without any concern for what anyone else is doing or saying. We need to stop looking over our shoulders. Whether or not one is lenient or strict on women's ordination, we mustn't be influenced by the non-Orthodox in this.
Now, I recognize the legitimacy of the halakhic system. In fact, this is why I haven't previously raised this whole topic. However, on the other hand, I do have an ideological agenda here. But until a prominent authority finds the legal means to change the law, I will not act on my ideology.
The law says that women cannot hold certain roles; these laws trouble me. But until a halakhist finds a way around them, these laws are like any other law which offends our sensibilities. Was Judaism ever up-to-date, as Rav Hirsch asks? Was monotheism a popular and sensible law for the Biblical Jews? Does kashrut fit "the times"? Surely, one must recognize that Judaism has many laws which do not satisfy our expectations and desires, and the challenge of Sinai is to subordinate ourselves to Hashem's will.
But once a halakhist finds a way around these laws, then no longer must these laws stymie me. Another challenge of Sinai is that we are "Yisrael", the "wrestler with G-d", and "it is not in Heaven", but rather, the Torah is here on earth for us to develop.
As said by Professor Shapiro recently,
[W]e have to follow the guidance of R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, who believed that if there is a dispute among halakhic authorities, the poskim must reject the view that will bring Torah into disrepute in people's eyes (Kitvei ha-Gaon Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, vol. 1, p. 60):ואגלה להדר"ג [הגרא"י אונטרמן] מה שבלבי: שמקום שיש מחלוקת הראשונים צריכים הרבנים להכריע נגד אותה הדעה, שהיא רחוקה מדעת הבריות וגורמת לזלזול וללעג נגד תוה"ק
[My own unexpert translation: And I will reveal to Rabbi Unterman what is in my heart: Where there is a dispute between the rishonim, the rabbinical authorities must decide against that opinion which is far from that of society and which will bring disrepute and scorn against the holy Torah.]
R. Kook was ... "confident that if a particular moral intuition reflecting the divine will achieves widespread popularity, it will no doubt enable the halakhic authorities to find genuine textual basis for their new understanding." (Tamar Ross, Expanding the Palace of Torah (Waltham, 2004), p. 292 n. 38.) R. Kook formulates his idea as follows (Iggerot ha-Reiyah, vol. 1, p. 103):ואם תפול שאלה על איזה משפט שבתורה, שלפי מושגי המוסר יהיה נראה שצריך להיות מובן באופן אחר, אז אם באמת ע"פ ב"ד הגדול יוחלט שזה המשפט לא נאמר כ"א באותם התנאים שכבר אינם, ודאי ימצא ע"ז מקור בתורה
[My own unexpert translation: If a question arises on some particular Torah law, that according to some ethical notion, [the Torah law] will need to be understand in another manner [than it traditionally has been], then, if indeed the Sanhedrin will decide that this law was stated only in conditions of the past which are no longer operative, then surely a source [for this ethical notion, which motivated a new understanding of the Torah law] has been found in the Torah.]
R. Kook is not speaking about apologetics here, but a revealing of Torah truth that was previously hidden. The truth is latent, and with the development of moral ideas, which is driven by God, the new insight in the Torah becomes apparent. In a volume of R. Kook's writings that appeared in 2008, he elaborates on the role of natural morality) Kevatzim mi-Ketav Yad Kodsho, vol. 2, p. 121 [4:16]):כשהמוסר הטבעי מתגבר בעולם, באיזה צורה שתהיה, חייב כל אדם לקבל לתוכו אותו ממקורו, דהיינו מהתגלותו בעולם, ואת פרטיו יפלס על פי ארחות התורה. אז יעלה בידו המוסר הטהור אמיץ ומזוקק.
[My own unexpert translation: When the natural moral instinct strengthens in the world, in any form that it will be, every person is obligated to incorporate this into himself from its source, namely from its revelation in the world, and its details will be explicated by the Torah, and then the pure morality will come into his hands, pure and refined.]
Rafael Araujo says,Lisa - you are correct. What these types of moves involve is exactly that - removing distinctions and trying to invoke halachah to minimize those distinctions as much as possible. Of course, this only seems to occur in the realm of gender distinctions made in halachah and minhag, and not other distinctions (Cohen v. non-Cohen; katan v. gadol;) and this is a result of the pressures exerted by the changes made to general society as a result of feminism.
Re: People arguing on women and not kohanim.
I believe one reason is that most people recognize that kohanim are limited due to their holiness, and not due to discrimination against them. On the other hand, people are much more likely to assume that discrimination against women is negative, not positive. Given human history, this is not so unreasonable an assumption.
Moreover, many women either leave or spurn Orthodoxy for this; I suspect there aren't droves of kohanim doing the same.
Rabbi Shalom Carmy suggests that really, we shouldn't save a gentile on Shabbat, since Shabbat is like idolatry. He says that if gentiles really truly understand why we wouldn't save them, they'd understand. But since they won't understand why, since Shabbat simply isn't a coherent part of their value system, they're liable to misunderstand and assume we are being xenophobic. Therefore, says Rabbi Carmy, we must save gentiles on Shabbat.
Cannot the same logic be applied to women? Perhaps, like saving a gentile, there is really really truly a good reason to avoid egalitarianism. But since women will misunderstand, as gentiles will, we must change the law.
P. P. S.:
If anyone wants to argue that women are completely equal, but that for some other reason, they shouldn't be given smiha, I'm all ears. That is, if one agrees that women are as equal a component as the men, but that other considerations dictate a different role for men and women, I'll listen and respect your view.
But as soon as one argues that R' Weiss has alienated other sectors of Orthodoxy, committing lo titgodedu [do not factionalize], etc., you've lost my audience. Such a stance automatically assumes that we must appreciate other sectors of Orthodoxy more than we appreciate the women. Why is alienating women not lo titgodedu [factionalizing]? Are the women, who constitute literally half of Orthodoxy, any less a sector of Orthodoxy than the right-wing? Are women any less a part of the tzibur [community] than the men?