Girls Just Wanna Be Frum — Terrible, We Know

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According to the New York Jewish Week, the Modern Orthodox community “may believe that it has made more progress in terms of gender equality than it actually has.” What’s the problem? “Even the most enlightened [emphasis added] of Israeli yeshivot for American young women,” “examples of ‘women’s progress’ in that they are devoted to rigorous Talmud study, as well as other Judaic subjects,” has a student body less than interested in Talmud, and even less interested in feminism — indeed, “any practices construed as feminist are considered dangerous.”

This impassioned critique emerges, like any number of other, similar essays and speeches decrying the rightward shift in Modern Orthodox youth, from someone on the left fringe of Modern Orthodoxy — in this case, Emily Shapiro Katz. “A graduate of Stern College, Shapiro Katz studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Talmud program and later taught at Midreshet Moriah, Machon Gold and several other learning programs for visiting American young women.” After marriage, she “returned to the U.S. and is now on the faculty of an adult education program of a large Reform temple in San Francisco.”

Now, of course, any number of Orthodox educators participate in non-Orthodox educational programs in order to provide a traditional influence — but Shapiro Katz has this to say about her new post: “I’m a pluralist educator now and I feel liberated.” This alone is sufficient reason for anyone dedicated to the preservation of traditional Torah viewpoints to celebrate what she decries. Pluralism, as interpreted in the modern Jewish lexicon, means acceptance of views antithetical to Torah as “equally legitimate.”

The fact that she is “posul” (unacceptable as an Orthodox educator) not because she wears pants, but because her views run contrary to a traditional Torah-based outlook, escapes both Shapiro Katz and the reporter — neither, admittedly, coming as a great surprise. A single dissenting view is relegated to paragraphs 18-20 of the 24-paragraph article. Her obvious bias renders her not only posul as an educator, but posul as a witness to what is actually going on in the Modern Orthodox women’s seminaries.

What is most alarming about Shapiro Katz’s speech is that it was delivered at the JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) conference in New York. Were none of the very Orthodox Feminists in attendance aware of, or concerned by, the fact that the speech on “The Year In Israel: Expanding Horizons or Narrowing Scope” was delivered by a woman who preferred to “widen” her scope to include views antithetical to Torah? One cannot but worry that her speech says more about the Torah bonafides of JOFA than it does about the actual nature of a year spent in seminary in Israel.

Several years ago, my friend Rabbi Chaim Frazer observed that the “Women’s Tefilah [Prayer] Groups” in his town were frequented by middle-aged women, especially those who had gravitated to observance later in life — and not by their daughters. A feminist view of Orthodoxy is not, in general, a multi-generational phenomenon.

Some of what Shapiro Katz describes is assuredly true — young women today are more interested in learning how to be more observant than learning Talmud. This is not, however, due to some anti-intellectual trend — there is quite enough to study in the realm of Torah, but outside the Gemara, to challenge the greatest of human minds for a lifetime. Rather, young women today are more likely to celebrate their roles in the service of G-d, than to subscribe to the misguided feminist view that whatever is incumbent upon men is by definition superior — and worthy of a young woman’s jealousy.

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59 Responses

  1. Yaakov Menken says:

    The quote from Rabbi Broyde, in context, says quite the opposite of what Noam implies — further proving that unless explained further, “pluralism” means across Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. The pluralism that Orthodoxy recognizes is pointed out specifically vs. the standard form, which Orthodoxy does not:

    * Orthodoxy cannot with integrity allow itself to come across, either to the non-Orthodox community or to its own community, as a choice among equals.

    * The same is true for an educational institution that teaches its students Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform perspectives of Torah and halacha with no notion of what is correct and what is not. It is the ultimate perversion of Orthodoxy to require that it validate perspectives that violate its fundamental tenets.

    * (This stands in sharp contrast with the diversity that one sees within Orthodoxy and its institutions. The Orthodox community recognizes pluralism within the confines of halacha and one certainly encounters, for example, Orthodox synagogues with Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and chassidic minyanim all in one place. So too, one finds Orthodox educational institutions of many different flavors sharing teachers, rebbeim and staff.)

    The article, entitled “Orthodoxy and Practical Pluralism In American Judaism,” then moves from core ideology to practical applications — and, lo and behold, the “pluralism” whose practical application is discussed is precisely in accordance with the standard definition:

    * Reality plays a strong role in these determinations. Therefore, I do think that Orthodox students can pray in the Orthodox minyan at Hillel even though that same institution hosts Reform and Conservative services precisely because the students in such a minyan do not perceive Hillel as compelling the Orthodox students to validate the Conservative service.

    Indeed, enough said, since this was proven 5 iterations ago.

  2. Noam Stadlan says:

    “The Orthodox community recognizes pluralism within the confines of halacha and one certainly encounters, for example, Orthodox synagogues with Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and chassidic minyanim all in one place. So too, one finds Orthodox educational institutions of many different flavors sharing teachers, rebbeim and staff.)”

    – Rabbi Michael Broyde

    http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/20273/Orthodoxy_and_Practical_Pluralism_In_American_Judaism.html

    I also offered other alternatives of what was meant(comment 32).

    I dont know Ms. Shapiro Katz. I have never met her. Until this article I had never heard of her. The shul she goes to seems to do things that I wouldn’t agree with. I dont know for sure what she meant. But I have to speak up when words are taken out of context and twisted into meanings that don’t neccessarily fit. It seems that someone dedicated to Torah, whose seal is Truth, would want to make sure that what they write is really and actually the Truth, and not just their own interpretation of it.

    I will refrain from posting any more comments on this topic.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Noam — to be blunt, no. Not for those of us comfortable with the meaning of “is” without asking a lawyer. The definitions of both words are well established in Jewish communal life; Google “Jewish pluralism” and you will have 954,000 entries to peruse. If you find even one in the first 50 that does *not* mean pluralism across the various modern forms of “Judaism” (when used in an intra-Jewish context) you might have an argument.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding these attempts at redefinition:

    “Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
    Chico Marx (in Duck Soup)

  5. Noam Stadlan says:

    I would certainly agree that the discussion has gotten silly. However, from my point of view, the pretzel twisting was done in the initial post. Despite the post and 54 comments, there has not been any evidence produced to support R. Menken’s initial interpretation of the words “pluralism” and “liberated”. Wouldn’t it have been easier to contact the person and find out what she meant before jumping to conclusions?

  6. Yaakov Menken says:

    This discussion is getting more than a bit silly. I hope we all agree that there is nothing wrong with teaching Torah to Reform Jews (Torah.org does it on a daily basis), and of course there are many reasons one might feel “liberated” and, perhaps, a few different ways to define “pluralism.”

    But when one leaves Modern Orthodox seminaries to take up a position with a Reform Temple, and says regarding this transition that “I’m a pluralist educator now and I feel liberated,” some pretty amazing hoops must be leaped through to avoid the obvious: she finds it “liberating” to be associated with teaching “pluralist” material that Modern Orthodox seminaries would not teach.

    Pluralist, in a Jewish setting, means a variety of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and other takes on Torah. That’s what it means. Torah, anti-Torah, and everything in between. It is also the only thing she *could* have meant, because contrary to what Noam implied earlier in comment 32, the seminaries where she taught certainly explore the “eilu v’eilu” within Orthodoxy (and are not known for having “those on the right… trying to stifle”). And call that “eilu v’eilu” what you wish, no one calls it “pluralism” in a Reform educational system.

    As EH said, “Emily finds herself unable and unwilling to say that she is Orthodox.” In other words, Shapiro Katz is not the internal critic of the Modern Orthodox seminary system that the article presents her as being, but rather someone out on the left fringe (or, apparently, perhaps even beyond it) with her own biases.

    Somehow that seems awfully reminiscent of the point made in my blog entry, and this entire debate about what pretzel-twists we might explore in order to take the word “pluralist” out of its simple meaning… is rendered moot.

  7. Noam Stadlan says:

    ” However, her own comments reveal that she is pluralist, liberated and that she considers herself beyond the boundaries of MO.”

    It seems to me that Steve Brizel is also a pluralist, as he lives in a pluralistic society here in the United States. He is also liberated, and in fact will be celebrating the anniversary of his liberation next month with a week long event, complete with special foods, dinners, and prayers. He also considers himself outside the bounds of traditional(Chareidi) Judaism. By the way, he doesn’t hold by absolutely every psak of RYBS(see specifically the Rav on teaching Talmud to women, and the educational system at the Rav’s school in Boston).

    Isn’t it great how one can take things out of context for the sake of one’s point of view, even if it really is totally misconstruing the truth?

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    If you want to see more about the true nature and essence of JOFA, one need only see a four page paid advertisment in this week’s Jewish Week. When one reads this advertisement ( even without checking to see who signed) , one would think that Gdolei Torah throughout the ages never informally or via a Bes Din or written ShuT ever lifted a finger for an agunah. In fact,as both R Chaim Jachter indicates in his book “Gray Matter” ( vol.2) and the author of an article in Mishpacha stress, the evidence is completely to the contrary.

    Moreover, the ad is consistent with the position taken by JOFA on this issue-the RCA PNA is treated as a non-entity and suddenly all of JOFA’s supporters become talmidim muvhakim of R Elyashiv, as if they had all followed R Eyashiv’s Piskei Halacha on a wide variety of issues, as opposed to the Gdolim in their own backyard. When one goes to the JOFA website, one sees nothing at the site either praising the RCA PNA, urging its use or commending the fact that its use has reduced the amount of agunos and litigation. One can offer numerous reasons for this, but IMO JOFA’s founders and supporters would rather not accept a valid solution that was written by a Gadol in their own backyard and endorsed by other Gdolim simply because of their lack of approval for other aspects of JOFA’s anti-halachic agenda. IMO, those who cry out “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof” and deny the existence of “any meaningful effort to remedy the plight of agunot” should realize that the Talmud tells us that while “emes yesh lo raglayim, sheker ain lo raglayim.”

  9. Ahron says:

    >“The number of people who disassociate from Orthodoxy because of this crowd are too many to count. (And the numbers keep rising).”

    Today’s fashionable fundamentalism in the feeling-its-oats right wing of Orthodoxy is something I indeed find repugnant. But let me tell you that the far Left of Orthodoxy (of which Ms. Shapiro seems an able representative) is only slightly less unattractive (to me) and not doing a great job of keeping people engaged with Torah either (a far more important criterion than the label of “Orthodox” BTW).

    EH may reject the “tzitzis checking” and “witch hunts” on the right–as well an intelligent person should. But the push for ideological conformity is also depressingly powerful in the Orthodox far left, whose avant garde often seems to pulse to the beat of chic academia and the 1960s.

    The excessive fixation on ‘power issues’ and “gender” “equality” (some terms that beg for definition), and the sickening infiltration of cold and dessicated academic attitudes and moods into far Left MO bode very poorly for the long term sustainability of that camp–and when I say “sustainability” I mean in terms of a project even worth sustaining.

    The disgust for views (almost any views!) even slightly farther rightist/conservative on the far Left seems basically to mirror the disdain for farther left/open views from sectors of the Orthodox right–again suggesting that that particular battle is less about who’s more generically “open-minded” than it is about core attitudes and philosophical orientation. Which is fine, but we need to be clear at all times about what the issues really are. (And of course there’s everybody else who’s not at one of the extremes).

    As for Ms. Shapiro Katz, when she says she’s “liberated” does she mean from the politicized suppression of uncomfortable parts of Torah on the right? (which as I know happens often enough) Or does she mean “liberated” from the frameworks of Halacha, Midrash and Chazal that are key in the life and learning of the Jewish people? I don’t know, but for her own clarity she should.

    I suppose all of this, including some of our silliest politicized schisms in the name of “Torah” (of which the “girls learning Gemara” split is one), as well as the dessication of Torah that has occurred on the right (and motivates many to head leftward), is part of the tumult of galus.