(Religion) (Politics)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women's and Jewish Education in Germany

My response to the excellent article Tefillin Barbie's new career, about how profound and serious Jewish learning should not be confined to rabbis alone, and how women can be Jewishly involved and also involved in traditionally-male professional careers (such as computer science and engineering):

Damn straight!!! Rav S. R. Hirsch wanted to found a yeshiva for laymen in Frankfurt (which his son-in-law eventually succeeded in doing) precisely because he was afraid that as long as there was only the Berlin Hildesheimer rabbinical seminary, that even the Orthodox laymen would assume that only rabbis need post-high-school Jewish education. Even Rav Hirsch's son-in-law, however, found it difficult to found that lay yeshiva, because the congregants erroneously thought Rav Hirsch would have opposed its creation. For years, the yeshiva had to import students from Hungary, and only later did native Germans finally begin attending it.

As for women, I'd like to quote Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg (of Germany)'s teshuva on qol isha (translated here) [update: Rabbi Weinberg was born in Poland, learned in Mir and Slabodka, and became a renowned rosh yeshiva in the Hildesheimer seminary in Berlin - h/t "Skeptic"]:
I therefore instructed the leaders of [the NCSY-type youth group] Yeshurun that they may rely upon the great rabbis of Germany [viz. Rabbis Hirsch and Hildesheimer]. Those men, experts in education, were familiar with the spirit of the contemporary young woman, who, have been educated in the state schools and having learned languages and science, has a sense of self respect. Because they view the prohibition against their participation in religious singing as a form of ostracism, they have been permitted to participate in singing Shabbos melodies. We know the great rabbis of Germany were more successful in educating their young women that the rabbis of any other country. In Germany we have seen highly educated, scholarly women who are the same time G-d-fearing and enthusiastically observant. For this reason, I do not dare forbid what those rabbis permitted. In these countries, the women will feel they have been insulted and their rights have been denied them if we forbid them to participate in singing Shabbos melodies. Anyone familiar with the nature of the women in these countries will understand this. Prohibiting them may cause them to be estranged from religion, G-d forbid. Of such it is said, 'When it is time to act for the Lord, violate the Torah' (Psalms 119:126).

The women have "self respect"!!! They will "feel they have been insulted and their rights have been denied them" if they perceive themselves as being discriminated against in any way!!! And "[a]nyone familiar with the nature of the women in these countries will understand this"!!!! How many Orthodox rabbis have told these women even today that they aren't sufficiently religious, that their desire to be rabbis evinces lack of piety!!! But Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg, easily one of the greatest rabbis of recent days, held otherwise.

Does it strike anyone as odd that we can be lenient in pesaq for the sake of avoiding monetary loss, and yet so many refuse to be lenient to satisfy women? Are the emotions of women, of half the Jewish people, less important than our money? Rabbi Benzion Uziel said he'd always ruled leniently for the sake of hesed and ahavah whenever he could find a Talmudic basis to do so, and his student Rabbi Haim David Halevy said that Beit Hillel prevailed over Beit Shammai because the former knew the human condition and was lenient. Should we be surprised that it was Rabbi Uziel who said women could vote and hold political office and be a queen (malkah) and be a dayan? (The Ashkenazim of the time held that women may not hold office or even vote. The Ashkenazim today still hold by this in principle, but their selfishness and desire for political influence hypocritically outweigh their adherence to halakhah, and so they let their women vote. As for being a dayan, the rabbis today are still arguing about whether women may be rabbis, even though Rabbi Uziel settled the question some eight or nine decades ago.)

(And it was Rabbi Uziel and other Sephardim who were willing to add conditions to the qetuba, in order to make a qiddushin b'tenai, a conditional marriage, which would allow us to avoid situations of a woman being an agunah - if the conditions were not met, the marriage would be retroactively void. To my knowledge, the only other rabbis who held by qiddushin b'tenai as a practical solution for today were ... drumroll ... Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg and his student Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman asks in One Man's Judaism why agunot must follow Ashkenazi stricture instead of Sephardi leniency in this area.)

Elsewhere in the same teshuva on qol isha, Rabbi Weinberg said (as quoted here):
In any event, when I was asked ... I instructed them that they should continue their activity in accordance with the way that was delineated for them by the great [rabbis] of Germany, who were very righteous ... and the great [rabbis] of Germany were erudite and expert in the wisdom of education and therefore they succeeded by their deeds to raise whole generations of people who had both the fear of Heaven and secular learning, something that did not occur under the [most] brilliant of the great [rabbis] of Lithuania and Poland, because they did not know how to adjust the education [-al methods] according to the conditions of the time. It is known what the brilliant Rabbi Salanter told upon his return from Germany, where he met with Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer and saw him lecture classes in Bible and Shulhan Arukh in front of young single women. He [Rabbi Salanter] said thus [in reaction]: if any one of the rabbis from Lithuania would act in such a manner in his community, they would remove him from his post, and such is the law. In any event, it is my hope that my place in the afterworld will be with Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer . ... And now the rabbis of Poland and Hungary who have found their way to France see the modern practices ... and they vehemently protest them, because these practices are in opposition to explicit laws ... but these said rabbis are not erudite in the conditions of life ...

About women's semikhah, see what I've written here. About qol isha, see my article here. About women's education in Germany, see Dr. Laura Shaw-Frank's "But We Are Guilty for Our Daughters": Lessons Learned from the History of Jewish Girls' Education in Germany and Eastern Europe in the Ninteenth Century


Skeptic said...

Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg (of Poland)

Mikewind Dale said...

Good point; let me correct the post.

KWolf said...

I tend to cringe when people characterize all of European Jewry as "Ashkenazi". We are not all of one type! As a Yekke, I have a very different tradition from my brethren from Eastern Europe!
That being said, I have never heard from any of my time in Breuer's that a woman was not allowed to vote or hold office! Nor have I heard such from other Ashkies. On what basis do you say that such an attitude is valid today?

Mikewind Dale said...

KWolf, you're preaching to the choir!! I personally consider German Neo-Orthodoxy to be more Sephardi than Ashkenazi, because the Hirschian derekh is essentially a resurrection of Spanish Judaism. So when I criticize the Ashkenazim, I mean the Hungarian and/or Eastern-European ones, not the German ones.

I didn't say that the Ashkenazi attitude is valid, only that it is what the Ashkenazim hold. I have heard even Modern Orthodox graduates of RIETS say that the Sephardi permission for women to vote was/is rejected by the "consensus of poseqim", and that according to the halakhah (which is of course the Ashkenazi pesaq), women may not vote, and that it is due only to a reluctant concession to contemporary reality that women are allowed to vote.

Naamah said...

I wonder how far you could extend the logic that the women would be insulted. I mean, I find it insulting that women can't be counted as part of a minyan.

Mikewind Dale said...

It's always risky to speak in others' names, so I'll speak for myself:

Based on Rabbi Weinberg's words - okay, honestly, I felt this way already before I read his words, and his opinion merely reinforced my own - I would say that Orthodox rabbis should at least desire to extend women's rights in halakhah. Can women be counted in a minyan? I don't know, but rabbis should at least desire to count them, and if they fail, they should see their failure as unfortunate and lamentable.

Cf. the words of Rabbi Angel, quoted by me here: " I don’t have the ideal place [of women in Judaism]. 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."

In other words: Rabbi Angel doesn't know where the ceiling is, where the limit is, but he aims to find out. Halakhah is our limit, but it behooves us to find out what halakhah's limit is.

This is all because of women's dignity, which is as important as the money of Israel, for which we are also lenient. I am not advocating leniency in order to make Judaism and Western culture agree. That is not my intention.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Did you not quote where the Seridey Eish says explicitly that there isn't really any issur involved in the mixed zemirot in the first place, and behaving as if there is is just a midat ḥasidut?

Mikewind Dale said...


Good point. He was lenient on qol isha because he felt there wasn't a real prohibition in the first place.

But we could at least say this: if women today asked for a certain leniency for reasons of egalitarianism, Rabbi Weinberg would at least be sympathetic. Even if he ultimately had to prohibit, he'd at least do so with a heavy heart. He wouldn't speak as derogatorily of these women as many Orthodox rabbis today do. If he had to disagree with them and deny them, he'd at least do so lovingly and sympathetically.

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