A “Prophecy” Sadly Fulfilled

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Mindful of the Talmudic teaching that after the destruction of the First Holy Temple the only semblance of prophecy resides in children and fools, and well aware of my age, I should hesitate before claiming the mantle of a seer. But a prediction I made in an article for Moment Magazine more than five years ago — and for which, at the time, I was roundly pilloried — has been confirmed by recent events.

I entitled the piece “Time to Come Home,” and it was addressed to Jews who belonged to Conservative movement congregations. That movement’s claim of fealty to Jewish religious law, or halacha, I contended, is dishonest. Through citations of fact and the words of Conservative leaders, the essay demonstrated how the process of determining Conservative “halacha” differed qualitatively and radically from the halachic process of the millennia. Halacha, I wrote, has always been decided (as it still is by Orthodoxy) through the objective examination of verses, mediated through the Talmud, with determination only to discern the Torah’s intention. By contrast, the Conservative process has often involved first deciding a desired result, and then manipulating the sources to yield that outcome.

That might not disturb some Conservative Jews, to be sure, but they likely belong in the Reform movement, which allows halacha a “vote but not a veto.” Those Conservative Jews, however, who truly respect the concept of halacha and had always accepted as fact that their movement was committed to the traditional halachic process, the article contended, needed to realize that such was not the case, and that their true home (hence the title) was in the Orthodox community.

Whether because of that thesis itself or Moment’s renaming of the piece (against my wishes) as “The Conservative Lie,” the article met with loud and angry protest. There was much positive response, too, mostly from erstwhile Conservative Jews who had left the movement for Orthodoxy and from members of Conservative synagogues who had already come to suspect that things were as I had described them. But a small army of Conservative leaders angrily blasted what one called my “nasty diatribe” and accused me of hating Conservative Jews — even though my article had dealt with a theological process, not people, and was expressly aimed at engaging other Jews’ minds.

In any event, time has a way of putting things into perspective. In my Moment piece, I identified the issue of same-sex relationships as a particularly telling topic, since the larger societal milieu had essentially embraced such relationships as morally acceptable and yet thousands of years of halachic literature (not to mention explicit verses in the Torah itself, in the case of males) declares them sinful. Hence my “prophecy”: The Conservative movement would come in time to “halachically” sanction what the Torah forbids in no uncertain terms. My prediction, of course, required no supernatural powers, only the natural one of observation.

Fast-forward to September, 2006, when the media are reporting that Conservative leaders are proudly poised to effectively sanction unions that, by any objective measure, are halachically indefensible. A fig leaf of sorts is being planned, in the form of a contradictory “second opinion” that Conservative congregations (or, presumably, individuals) can choose to accept instead. But the abandonment of an uncontested Jewish moral verity — even as one of two or more “alternatives” — speaks piercingly for itself.

Conservative Rabbi David Lincoln, the spiritual leader of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, put it well: “Jewish law is flexible in many instances, but there are certain things that are very straightforward, like this.”

Truth be told, Rabbi Lincoln’s lament, like my prediction, has long been clear to others, even within the Conservative world. At the 1980 convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, influential Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner asked his audience “Is the Conservative movement halachic?” and then answered, honestly: “It obviously is not.”

And so, what remains, still, is the thought with which I ended my Moment article. The courage to recognize misjudgments is a laudable and inherently Jewish trait, one the Talmud sees in the very root of the name Judah (derived from the Hebrew “li’hodot,” to admit), from which the word “Jew” derives. Such self-examination is what all Jews are to engage in at this time of year. And it is, moreover, why there are so many once-Conservative Jews who have already blazed a trail of return to a halachic lifestyle. In the wake of the upcoming Conservative decision, others, I hope, will come to follow.

And what I hope no less fervently is that that my own world, the Orthodox, will demonstrate its own self-improvement and commitment – to other Jews, welcoming them warmly into our shuls and into our lives. Here, too, there is a well-blazed trail—and much cause for optimism.

Because Ahavat Yisrael, love for fellow Jews, is not only a sublime concept and an underpinning of the Jewish people, it is as compelling and immutable as any halachah.

© 2006 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

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34 Responses

  1. Avi Shafran says:

    I lied. I’m back on this string for now. Please forgive.

    The reason is that I want to apologize for a mistaken reference in my earlier posting; I misread Tzvee’s recollection of something Rabbi Keller had apparently heard at his (RK’s) chasuna as what Tzvee heard at his own. My points in that posting stand, of course, but I should have read Tzvee’s own posting more carefully before trying to be cute. Tzvee, I hope you forgive me for not doing so.

    I also want to thank Ori for his kind sentiment and invitation – I indeed feel these days like quite an active member of C-C! Unfortunately, while I do try to check the postings on the blog regularly, I don’t feel I can commit the time to write for it, either as a contributor or a commenter.

    I do pen a weekly column, though, that is distributed to the Jewish (and some general) media, and Rabbi Menken knows that he is always welcome to post any of the pieces he thinks might be of interest to C-C’s readers (individuals who want to be on the list for the essays need only send an e-mail requesting the same to [email protected] ).

    But I do appreciate the invitation, and want to take the opportunity to commend Reb Yaakov for his wonderful contribution to responsible Orthodox interaction, and to commend all who comment to the postings on the site for being part of what makes it all work. Tizku li’mitzvos!

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I want to second what mycroft said. Rabbi Yaakov Menken, if we asked nicely, would you ask Rabbi Avi Shafran to join cross-currents.com? Rabbi Avi Shafran, would you join us? I promise to be argumentative, but polite.

    Thanks,
    Ori

  3. mycroft says:

    RW YU Rosh Yeshiva attitude to secular studies (this quote I have heard attributed to R’ Mordechai Willig): “Penn ifteh levavchem.”
    Is that the Modern Orthodoxy that Lakewood would fear

    It is really an open question how many YU RY-if any are MO? Very few were at any time. But wo RYBS there wouldn’t have been an MO in the US.

  4. mycroft says:

    I hesitate to post again (and will, bim’chilas kovod kulchem, make this my last posting on this chain) for fear of overstaying my welcome.

    Not that I can speak for Rabbi Menken-but I’m quite sure that Rabbi Shafran has no fear of overstaying his welcome. Not only do I look forward to his unfortunately too rare postings, but I appreciate his polite discussion even with those who may differ with him. BTW I suspect a lot of the differences are somewhat based on language-rather than real ideological differences.

    I understand he is certainly a busy person-but his polite responses are something that should be emulated.

  5. Joel Rich says:

    Aryeh,
    If the BMG officially allows secular studies (liberal arts)lechatchila for even a significant percentage of its college age students (or realy for any students) then I stand corrected(happily).
    KT

  6. Aryeh says:

    “R’ H Schachter favors secular studies. AIUI this is feared and discouraged in Lakewood. If I’m wrong, I stand corrected.”

    It seems to me that the difference here are of a degree. In Lakewood, people go to technical colleges like Chubb’s to get into parnassa and occasionally to law school. In Ner Israel they go to college at night. I know another Yeshiva where bachurim can go to a local college (under a program structured together with the Rosh Yeshiva of that Yeshiva) in the summer.
    RW YU Rosh Yeshiva attitude to secular studies (this quote I have heard attributed to R’ Mordechai Willig): “Penn ifteh levavchem.”
    Is that the Modern Orthodoxy that Lakewood would fear?

  7. Joel Rich says:

    Aryeh,
    Redefinition = (R’ Herschel Schecter and other right wing YU roshei yeshiva) is not really “Modern Orthodox”

    R’ H Schachter favors secular studies. AIUI this is feared and discouraged in Lakewood. If I’m wrong, I stand corrected.

    KT

  8. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “I hesitate to post again… for fear of overstaying my welcome”

    I found this exchange edifying. Maybe you can do it again in the future.

  9. Aryeh says:

    Joel, I don’t understand what you mean by redefinition and the general thrust of your first paragraph.
    Modern Orthodoxy in general is not a very well defined term, but I meant it as an idea, institution (YU) and the communities that are associated with it and associate itself with this term such as Teaneck, NJ, and I think my comments are correct to a large extent insofar as the “yeshivish” community not being threatened by “Modern Orthodoxy” (whatever it may be and however the yeshivish community understands it).

    Again, my main point was not about survival of the current Modern Orthodox idea/community in whatever form it’ll evolve into, but about the non-Modern Orthodox perceiving it as a threat.

    Lastly, I think Tzvee, whose comment I replied to and to whom it is addressed, would agree with me that if Modern Orthodoxy will be defined by R’ Herschel Schechter and people who look and think like him then Lakewood will have nothing to fear and Modern Orthodoxy (as understood by Tzvee and probably by R’ Elya Mayer Bloch) will be effectively dead even if people in Lakewood will still call YU Modern Orthodox.

  10. Avi Shafran says:

    Dear All,

    I hesitate to post again (and will, bim’chilas kovod kulchem, make this my last posting on this chain) for fear of overstaying my welcome. But I did want to respond to Menachem Petrushka, who addressed me directly, and thought I’d respond to some of the other recent postings too.

    Reb Menachem: I’m not sure what you would have the MGH or the Agudah to say at this point about the recent outrage in Monsey. The facts are pretty well known and the local rabbonim are certainly, to put it mildly, on the issue. As to exploring the ramifications, that, I think, will indeed be on the agenda at the upcoming Agudah convention, when Gedolim, knowledgeable kashrus professionals and baalei batim will have the opportunity to discuss the issue. But since the Agudah is not involved, and never has been involved, in hashgachos, I think that its reticence at this point is understandable. In any event, I don’t think that l’affaire poultry should prevent me from writing about other topics of Jewish interest.

    Reb Elchonon (that’s “L.” to those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of knowing and interacting with him) Oberstein is certainly right about the need to engage our fellow Jews filially. I have written about that chiyuv many times myself. But I would defend my recent article (and its predecessor) on the grounds that there are some Conservative Jews who are where they are not because it is comfortable or they don’t know any Orthodox Jews, but because they believe the movement’s leadership’s claims about being faithful (indeed the group most faithful) to the Jewish past. It was that group (and to ourselves, in its final paragraphs) at whom my essay was aimed.

    Tzvee has yet to define the difference in attitude toward halacha between the Reconstructionist and Reform movements. I contend there is none, although I am open to any citations he might provide. And if there aren’t any, then there was no mischaracterization (much less an “outright” one) in my piece. As to his less than fond memory of his wedding, I don’t think we need to open a debate about it, especially since it doesn’t seem to be on record (not that I impugn Tzvee’s powers of recall, but it was, I imagine, a busy time for him), the context is not supplied, and the definition of “Modern Orthodox” a slippery one. As to the previous “same error” he refers to, I have no idea what he is referring to.

    I appreciate Ori Pomerantz’s posting, and respect him for his tenor and tone, even if I (equally respectfully) disagree with the effective lowering of expectations for heterodox Jews. I fully accept and love every Jew, no matter where they are on the scale of observance, but do believe that we would be making a mistake to try to help others “preserve Judaism without following halacha.” Certainly, observance can (and should) be counseled in stages, but I don’t think we should consider full observance (to the degree any of us are fully observant!) an impractical goal for every Jew.

    I thank all the other posters for their worthy comments, and, again, wish everyone well.

    AS

  11. Joel Rich says:

    Aryeh,
    Redefinition makes any position simple to defend. If I say that anyone who is shomer torah and mitzvot is not MO or anyone who would sell treif can’t be frum, it makes an easy sell that everyone else is in trouble and I am not.

    I agree with your comments on “lackadaisical Orthodoxy”, we should all work on that issue within our own settings rather than defining which other brands we don’t fear.

    BTW giving respect to Rabbis of other stripes (or solids:-) seems to be appropriate whether we agree with their hashkafa or not. It would also be an interesting statistical study to see the inflow and outflow of all groups and the longer term prognosis and the reaction of that group to its children who do so (but I don’t expect anyone to agree to this – why substitute facts for anecdotal impressions especially when the facts may be painful)
    KT

  12. Aryeh says:

    “and turn to the real threat, to wit…What we have to fear is Modern Orthodoxy.’”

    I don’t think anyone fears Modern Orthodoxy anymore. (Some background. I attended a YU institution for part of my Jewish education and live in what’s considered a “centrist” Modern Orthodox community.) Its right wing is (R’ Herschel Schecter and other right wing YU roshei yeshiva) is not really “Modern Orthodox” and its left wing (YCT) isn’t going to to pull any bachurim out of Lakewood or any baale batim out of Flatbush. As for its centrist part, I’m not sure that it even exists (did it ever exist?). Wide swaths of MO adherents give tremendous respect to haredi gedolim such as R’ Elyashiv and others (witness the visit of R’ Aharon Feldman, R’ Aharon Schecter and R’ Matisyahu Solomon to Teaneck) and its children are being “flipped out” into bona fide haredim and haredim-lite. All this I have seen in my Bergen County, NJ, community over the past 15 years.
    As I wasn’t alive in the 1950’s and 1960’s I can only make educated guesses why Modern Orthodoxy inspired fear in the 1950’s, but it doesn’t inspire such fear now.

    What we have to worry about and fear is “lackadaisical Orthodoxy” which knows no geographical/communal bounds and whose adherents cannot be clearly identified in the crowd. That’s the real and eternal challenge that we should be working on.

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Tzvee,

    Rabbi Bloch was referring to what “we”, meaning the portion of Jews to whom his remarks were addressed to during the 1950’s(or 70’s), needed to fear at that time. Conservative Jews *themselves*, however, always need to fear, or be concerned with whether their *own* theology is Halachic. This was the point of the post, as well as the need for “…other Jews, welcoming them warmly into our shuls and into our lives”.

    As an aside, I am aware of a Conservative synagogue in New York, that because of neighborhood demographics and dwindling membership, decided to take the big leap and become Orthodox. They were given assistance both by Rabbonim and other local community members and, as a congregation, were welcomed warmly into the community.

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Disclaimer: I am a Heterodox Jew, and I write from that perspective.

    I think L. Oberstein has the right attitude here. There is a significant Jewish population that does not want to observe Halacha. This is a fact, not a value judgement. One can like or dislike facts, or even ignore them – they don’t change. Another fact is that without Mashiach, no body is going to impose Halacha on those Jews.

    Evastonjew is right that for Heterodox Jews the challenge is to find a way to have the cake on Yom Kippur and eat it too – how to preserve Judaism without following Halacha. For those who are not ready to sign on to the complete 613 plan (or even the seventy something Mitzvot that are still available), doing a bit might be better than nothing.

    For Orthodox Jews, the challenge is to suggest such easy Mitzvot as will eventually lead to full observance, if not in this generation than the next. I think that torah.org is doing a good job in that regard.

  15. tzvee says:

    indeed i can term it an error and you are compounding it. in fact you have been corrected earlier in the year for the same error. fein citing kaplan – presented out of context here – is no defense for an outright mischaracterization.

    look, you and ras should follow the advice of your compatriots and leave CJ alone and turn to the real threat, to wit:

    Chaim Dov Keller said, “Seventeen years ago, my sainted Rebbe, Reb Elya Meir Bloch z.t.l. (of blessed memory), Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, made a remark which I vividly remember since the occasion was my own wedding: `We no longer have to fear Conservatism — that is no longer the danger. Everyone knows that it is avoda zara [idolatry]. What we have to fear is Modern Orthodoxy.’”

    Source:
    “Modern Orthodoxy: An Analysis and a Response,” in Bulka, p. 253 reprinted from the Jewish Observer 6, no. 8, June, 1970, pp. 3-14.

  16. L.Oberstein says:

    Conservative Jews are our relatives, not only in a symbolic way, but in actual fact. Most American Jews were either conservative or “traditional”. The yeshiva and chasidic worlds are relative late comers to the scene.The prediction that orthodoxy would die out is largely fulfilled among the broad masses. Fortunately the “frum” part of orthodoxy is rapidly growing in number and wealth. However, it would be a shame if we just wrote off the vast majority of American Jews. These people come from the same blood line as we do ,the only difference is they were never exposed properly to living Torah Judaism. They don’t know any better. I would not engage them polemically, but filially and many would want to oberve more. Tragically, we have cut ourselves off from much of Jewry because we still think we are in an ideological battle for survival. Wake up, we won already.

  17. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Daer Rabbi Shafran

    The Union for Traditional Judaism – a conservative splinter group that broke away from the Conservative Movement has a “kashrus” site which is having a field day with the Monsey chicken scandal.

    As of yet, there has not been a “peep” about the above issue from the MGH and the Agudah. I believe it would be a far better use of one’s time exploring the ramifications of the kashrus issue than (non)gloating over where or where not the C movement is moving to.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    I don’t see what R Shafran said that caused such a ruckus. After all, none less than Marshall Sklare predicted that CJ would founder upon the pretense that its members adhered to halacha in any meaningful way. IOW, CJ would split with some of its traditionalists finding their way back to Orthodoxy, its liberal wing becoming a “traditional branch” of RJ and its “silent majority” wondering what had happened to the movement altogether. This trend has been happening at least since the late 60s and early 70s when some USY members and Ramah campers were becoming fully Orthodox and others who believed in an egalitarian driven CJ. R Shafran neither was triumphalistic nor sounding as if a prophecy of doom had been fulfilled. Rather, his point was that a sociological development that had been in the offing for some time had reached a certain logical point.

  19. Yaakov Menken says:

    Tzvee, the philosophical differences between Reform and Reconstructionism rarely (if ever) impact on their approach to Halacha. In the specific matter of the quote about having a “voice but not a veto,” both Mordechai Kaplan (Reconstructionist) and Leonard Fein (Reform) said it. It is of course likely that Fein had heard the quote before, whether or not he remembered the original source — but in any event considered it an apt description of his own movement’s attitude towards Halacha and tradition. Given Fein’s own claim to the phrase, you cannot term Rabbi Shafran’s use of it here an error.

  20. tzvee says:

    “there is no difference whatsoever between the Reform and Reconstructionist approaches to halacha”

    This reminds me of a story from my trip to China 15 years ago. I found it interesting that all Western Religions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam were considered to be virtually identical to many scholars in Universities there.

    They were so far away culturally and geographically, that it made it unnecessary for them to distinguish. But we do know otherwise.

    So too here.

  21. Avi Shafran says:

    You are right again, Mycroft: we don’t seem to be in disagreement at all. The only point I would make (and I don’t know that you intended otherwise) is that when we face situations that require a psak halacha and, because of the absence of a clear source, Jewish conceptual ideas need to play a critical role in the decision, those ideas should be applied by someone of stature. Someone, that is, who has the experience, personal tzidkus and Torah-knowledge about precedents to be able to properly apply the concepts to the situation at hand.

    I don’t know if your avoidance of the term “daas Torah” was intended to imply otherwise, but I assume not, since that is precisely why someone “with a living Rebbe” would ask him to make the judgment. And those of us whose Rebbe Muvhak is no longer alive (how I miss not being able to just call Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l to receive his shikulim!), unless we feel we have reached posek status ourselves, need to find others whose judgments we can seek.

    Which leads me to Joel Rich’s kind and much appreciated recent comment. I respect the choice of rebbe or posek of any Jew who is sincerely motivated by a determination to discern Hashem’s will (although, again, I do not think that the decisors of the Conservative movement share that motivation). That I may look toward certain talmidei chachomim for my guidance in no way delegitimates others’ choices of others.

    “Daas Torah” in the larger sense of a consensus of Gedolim on communal or political issues is a somewhat different issue. But rest assured that, at least as regards the spectrum of talmidei chachomim, I am a devout “pluralist.”

    May you both, and all of Cross-Currents’ contributors, have, along with those dear to you, a ksiva vachasima tova.

    AS

  22. joel rich says:

    I would like to thank R’ Shafran for reasoned responses to reasoned comments – this type of respectful 2 way conversation should be the standard for this (and other) blogs. While I imagine we differ on some specifics (I would guess we would define differently the scope of the daas Torah R’ Shafran mentions), our own knowledge of Torah is only sharpened but considering the views of others.

    KT

  23. mycroft says:

    I thank Rabbi Shafran for taking the time to comment on my response-of course among other responses.

    Rabbi Shafran wrote:
    “Two important points, though: Those concerns themselves (as well as daas Torah – a special Torah-honed sensitivity) are part and parcel of the halachic process (and limited in their applications to specific situations). And, secondly, when there is no way to free the agunah or permit the stew, well, then, there is no way.”

    I am not sure we disagree on anything-but we may and would appreciate his response.We believe that Halacha represents Gods will for what our behavior should be. It is axiomatic that when Halacha has a clear cut answer-there is no room for daas Torah,darchei noam etc.. Thus, for example no matter how tough it may seem to anyones sensibilities- A Cohen-can’t marry a divorcee-end of story. Assuming of course issues such as the women really was previously married etc. Thus what the Shulchan Aruch says-at least for non Yeminite Jews-they might follow the Rambam-is the end of story.
    The issue comes in gap fillers-when the halacha is silent. Then, one must follow by using the halacha as a guide the hashkafa of halacha-but not only Halacha-midrashim, hashkafa of Chazal, stories from Tanach, behavior of those who are most steeped in Torah etc are all guides to how we should try and do “razon hasem” will of God. Probably, one who is lucky enough to have a living Rebbe would probably ask him what to do-but no matter what our goal is to follow razon hashem in all issues. It is just easier to determine when there is a halacha psuka-a firm halachik decision on point.
    Note I have avoided the use of term “daas Torah”

  24. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “The German Jewish Ortho community was badly split between the Hirschian separatists and the rest. The rest was numerically larger.”

    My point was that the Charedie community accepted the Hirchians as a Shevet B’Yisrael(true, today’s Hirschian’s might not be exactly the same as the TIDE of RSRH’s kehillah). You are right about the split in German Orthodoxy(see below), which I think might be a predecessor for some differences today. However, note the positive side, that there are certain aspects in which MO(and certainly Centrists) and Charedim can come together on. One might say a similar thing for the Chardal community in E’Y.

    Regarding the relationship with RSRH and R’ DZ Hoffman and the Rabbiner Seminary, it is true that there were very serious differences. But as noted in Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman’s biography(Artscroll), RSRH did not go public with his criticism, as he felt that Orthodoxy could not avoid a public split at that time. I have seen a few sources as well that Rav Aharon Kotler Zt’l strongly attempted to avoid a public split within Orthodoxy (see Jewish Action Review of Community, Covenant, and Commitment by R Meiselman’s(Fall, 2005), and recent Yated Neeman article by R.Amos Bunim).

    In any event, one can learn from the examples of RAK and RSRH. There are indeed positive examples of intra-Orthodox cooperation going on today as well.

  25. Avi Shafran says:

    I would like to publicly thank Rabbi Menken for posting my recent essay as a guest column on Cross-Currents. I am always intrigued, and often edified, by the thoughts that are posted in response – and I thank the respondents for sharing their ideas.

    Although I am not always able to offer my own reactions to responses, I did want to share my reaction to the first few on this piece, those that have appeared thus far.

    Joel Rich and Mycroft are both correct and perceptive to note that authentic halachic process sometimes seeks paths to certain results – not only in the case of agunos or cases where darchei noam are pertinent but even in more prosaic situations where things like hefsed merubah are factored in. Two important points, though: Those concerns themselves (as well as daas Torah – a special Torah-honed sensitivity) are part and parcel of the halachic process (and limited in their applications to specific situations). And, secondly, when there is no way to free the agunah or permit the stew, well, then, there is no way. The Conservative process – as evident in, say, the famous “driving on Shabbat” responsum – can invent novel concepts (in that case, a need to get to shul – a “need” created, moreover, by constituents’ unwillingness to live in Jewish communities) to “permit” what (even in the eyes of knowledgeable Conservative decisors) was and is simply impermissible. The newest demonstration of that approach was the impetus for my writing the piece.

    So while there is certainly truth in the contention that “who determines the halacha” is central to the Orthodox/Conservative divide, there is, I think, an inherent conceptual difference of approach to Jewish law in each system as well.

    I’m sorry that Evanstonjew thinks that all I aimed to do was “score points.” I don’t suppose he’ll believe me any more for repeating myself, but for the record: My aim was precisely what I wrote, namely to… well, just read Yehoshua Friedman’s post; he says it well. The only thing I would add is that the final paragraphs of my essay were most important ones too. I was writing not only for Conservative Jews who care but for our own, Orthodox, community as well. No, not in the sense of “talking to the choir” but rather to encourage all of us to more wholeheartedly reach out to Jews who are less observant than we may be (if you watched Rabbi Yaakov Salomon’s inspired “Inspired,” you know we need the chizuk).

    As to whether our goal should be to help the Conservative movement “create a meaningful notion of tradition without… fealty to halacha,” I must say I don’t think it should be. I don’t believe such a self-contradictory animal could possibly live very long; it is missing its internal organs. Our goal should be doing all we can to bring every Jew back to his or her roots.

    Tzvee’s definition of “basic facts” is an odd one, and he misreads my line about how halacha is decided. My intention was to describe how halacha has been decided from the time of the rishonim until our own – and Torah she’bichsav “mediated by the Talmud” is precisely how the Rif, Rosh and Rambam decided halachos, just as we do through the media of their decisions, the Shulchan Aruch’s, the Rema’s and more recent poskim’s.

    As to whether my words will “attract a Conservative Jew to Orthodoxy, I can only note that I received much mail in the wake of my Moment pieces (the original one, and a response to two Conservative rabbis’ reaction to it) from precisely such Jews, grateful that someone had confirmed their feelings and declaring their intention to explore Orthodoxy. I think most of us know more than a few once-Conservative Jews who are now Orthodox. Their journeys were the results of a process of realization. My hope is that some currently Conservative readers will see my essay through open minds, not jaundiced eyes, and thereby make the journey sooner rather than later.

    Regarding citations, I ask Tzvee to note that mine was a short op-ed piece, not a scholarly, footnoted journal article – and I point him to the above-mentioned Moment pieces, which do contain much in the way of citations and attributions.

    As to the slogan, “halacha has a vote but not a veto,” its origin is indeed in Reconstructionism but it just as well describes the (much larger, which is why I chose it in the sentence) Reform movement’s approach. In fact, while there are conceptual differences between the two “R’s, there is no difference whatsoever between the Reform and Reconstructionist approaches to halacha. Both consider it of interest and neither considers it binding in any way – in other words, it has (at best) a vote but not a veto.

    Again, my thanks to all.

  26. mycroft says:

    just as was in the case with RSRH’s community.

    The German Jewish Ortho community was badly split between the Hirschian separatists and the rest. The rest was numerically larger.

  27. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Joel Rich may have a point-according to Rabbi Shafran do MO Rabbanim have the right to make their own judgements and not follow the Moetzei Gdolei Hatorah-assuming they are not their personal Rabbeim?”

    Mycroft,

    Rabbi Shafran’s points were obviously directed as an ideological critique of the Conservative movement, and are something that all Orthodox Jews can agree on. He was not trying to prove that Charedie-Orthodox Poskim’s rulings, or the Daas Torah of members of the Moetzes are superior or more authoritative than rulings issued by Rabbonim of any other group.

    I think that Centrists/MO, should concentrate on doing what’s correct, and not be concerned whether and to what extent the RW officially grants recognition. One can not force a group to “officialy” recognize anyone else, however, if one acts al pi halacha l’shem shomayim, then that is all that matters. I think that there might be increasing acceptance,friendship, and cooperation between the two communities over time(as there already partially is), just as was in the case with RSRH’s community.

  28. joel rich says:

    Yehoshua,
    So please help me refine my understanding of your position. please reread my comment and articulate how you differentiate between “halacha can be stretched and manipulated, though not without some limitations, based on human motivations” and “rather than agendaless learning of Torah and submitting to the Divine Will. ” In particular please discuss Agunah issues and explain other than who makes the call, how would you differentiate between the approaches of different Rabbis?
    KT

  29. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Rabbi Shafran is, IMHO, making two points, one directly and one implied. One is directed toward the Jews in the Conservative movement who feel some connection to halacha. To them he says that if they want halacha in any shape or form, it is to be found only in Orthodoxy. This is legitimate. It is not preaching to the choir. It is telling a certain slice of the public where they would be more satisfied spiritually. The second, implied point, is directed at what is called the left wing of modern orthodoxy. These people are those who believe that if there is a rabbinic will, there is a halachic way. Their position is that halacha can be stretched and manipulated, though not without some limitations, based on human motivations rather than agendaless learning of Torah and submitting to the Divine Will. To these people he is saying that to consider themselves Orthodox they must refine their position. This is much less of an open and shut case and must be discussed on a deeper level, although I believe he (representing Gedolei HaTorah of all generations) is right. This is where the really interesting frontier of ideas is. The other question will eventually evaporate with the aging Conservative movement.

  30. mycroft says:

    “In the end the real disagreement is who has the right to determine normative halacha

    Joel Rich may have a point-according to Rabbi Shafran do MO Rabbanim have the right to make their own judgements and not follow the Moetzei Gdolei Hatorah-assuming they are not their personal Rabbeim?

    “Halacha, I wrote, has always been decided (as it still is by Orthodoxy) through the objective examination of verses, mediated through the Talmud, with determination only to discern the Torah’s intention.”

    So what is Daas Torah” What is I believe the Chazon Ish’s formulation of the 5th book of Shulchan Aruch all about.
    Of course, I would rather trust the judgement of the Chazon Ish, R M. Feinstein etc than that of a Conservative Rabbi even a traditional one or even a member of the UTJ-which I am not sure where they are. But clearly, certainly for advocates of Daas Torah-a decision is not merely based on objective examination of verses-everything is combined.

    “dracheha darchei noam(her ways are the ways of pleasantness)”?

    Which has been written about I believe by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and other followers of RYBS.

  31. tzvee says:

    I agree with Evanstonjew. This tone won’t attract a Conservative Jew to Orthodoxy.

    And Shafran’s essay is wrong on basic facts. His description of Halacha as being decided “through the objective examination of verses, mediated through the Talmud, with determination only to discern the Torah’s intention” is misleading and oversimpliefied. He neglects to mention rishonim, achronim and the shulchan aruch.

    His assertion that CJ is “manipulating the sources” give no source and cites no facts. It doesn’t explain how CJ actually conducts is halachic affairs, which is in fact a formal systematic process.

    Also Shafran errs on another statement. The slogan “vote but not a veto” belongs to the Reconstructionist Movement, not to the Reform.

    As Casey Stengel said many times, “You could look it up.”

  32. Evanstonjew says:

    The issue for the Conservative mvmt. going forward is how they can create a meaningful notion of tradition without even a semblance of fealty to halacha. It can be done but they have to raise the standards. Avi Shafran is certainly correct as far as he goes, but so what? The important fight is to keep the new center anchored in some form of yiddishkeit. The movement as a whole is not going to become Orthodox. All Shafran is doing is scoring points. There is nothing in what he offers that is BOTH practical and constructive.He is really talking to the choir of Orthodox Jews.

  33. Joel Rich says:

    Halacha, I wrote, has always been decided (as it still is by Orthodoxy) through the objective examination of verses, mediated through the Talmud, with determination only to discern the Torah’s intention. By contrast, the Conservative process has often involved first deciding a desired result, and then manipulating the sources to yield that outcome.

    Perhaps you might expand on this a bit. How would you classify Rabbis examining halacha to determine if there were any way to not declare a woman an agunah? Or determining the normative position on an issue by invoking “dracheha darchei noam(her ways are the ways of pleasantness)”?

    Surely there are redlines which halacha can not cross (e.g. IIRC R’YBS describing convert who helps a Jewish boy find his way back to yiddishkeit and they decide to marry and then he finds out shortly before the wedding that he is a cohain) yet within the realm of possibly acceptable practice (obviously a line defined differently by C and iiuc basically now obliterated) does not orthodoxy also at times look to yield a particular outcome (perhaps we would define this as the Torah’s intent but C would’ve argued the same thing)

    In the end the real disagreement is who has the right to determine normative halacha.
    kT

  1. September 13, 2006

    […] Avi Shafran was remiss in his op-ed A Prophecy Sadly Fulfilled, which appeared in the Jerusalem Post this week and attracted 104 talkbacks so far. He was right on the money when, 5 years ago, he wrote in an article in Moment Magazine about the lack of fealty to halakha in the Conservative movement. He now writes: […]