A Modern Orthodox Rabbi Reacts to Kabbalas Shabbos at HIR

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By Dov Fischer

NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.

First, a review of the “Key Players” associated with American Modern Orthodox (MO) Judaism: Most MO pulpit rabbonim typically have hailed from Yeshiva University (YU) in New York and its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). MO synagogues typically affiliate with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UO) or the National Council of Young Israel (sometimes both), and the rabbis tend to be members of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Ten years ago, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who taught for many years at YU’s Stern College for Women and who is Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), founded Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) to provide an Orthodox seminary to the Left of RIETS. Rabbis in YCT tend to associate in their own rabbinical body, the grandly named International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), because the RCA does not admit most of them to membership. A few of RCA’s 900-plus members also join IRF and teach or work at YCT.

In the past year, there has unfolded within American Modern Orthodox Judaism the first major evidences of a pending theological schism, as a small but media-savvy minority of rabbinic activists from the YCT/ IRF camp have begun pushing the MO envelope farther to the Left than mainstream Modern Orthodoxy ever contemplated. At the center of the impending schism is Rabbi Avi Weiss. He is charismatic and dynamic, rabbi of a shul with a large membership where he can introduce any innovation he desires, and he has a rabbinical seminary and rabbinical association in place to give his agenda the aura of a legitimate “movement.” Although Young Israel synagogues do not readily accept YCT graduates as congregational rabbis and the 900-member RCA does not regard YCT ordination as carrying the legitimacy of a RIETS Semikha, Rabbi Weiss has decided that he no longer needs communal approbation to venture on his own because he has the minions.

During the past several months, Rabbi Weiss and his protégées have pushed the Modern Orthodox envelope hard three times: (i) they have granted “semikha” to Sara Hurvitz, whom they boast as the “first woman rabbi ordained” under an Orthodox rubric, and who now serves at Rabbi Weiss’s congregation; (ii) they have circulated a position paper on relaxing attitudes towards homosexuality that goes beyond anything to which the overwhelming majority of RCA rabbis can lend their names; and (iii) they have brought a woman prayer leader forward to lead a Kabbalat Shabbat service attended jointly by men and women. For most Modern Orthodox rabbis, these “innovations” are beyond the pale of tradition and possibly beyond the definition of Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Union comfortably has accommodated its standards to include Rabbi Weiss’s shul.

The RCA long has prided itself as comprising a “Great Tent” under whose cover all Modern Orthodox rabbis can associate in fellowship. As testament to its effort, it has more than 900 members, comprising perhaps the largest rabbinical body in the world. However, Rabbi Weiss, his followers in the IRF, and his students in YCT now are pushing public policy and practice to a point where it is appearing that the RCA no longer can easily paper over its colleagues’ differences. At its last national convention, in late April, the RCA publicly did find common ground between its normative mainstream and its “Avi Weiss Wing” pertaining to “women’s ordination.” Without addressing “What to do about Rabbi Sarah,” the RCA convention plenum passed a document that, while reaffirming Modern Orthodoxy’s historic regard for the active participation and leadership of women, nevertheless stated unequivocally that Orthodoxy will not ordain women rabbis. The resolution passed the plenum without any recorded opposition. As a result, many RCA leaders thought they had averted a rift. But the “Big Tent” would soon come under siege once again – and again – first, by IRF members posting on the IRF website assurances to their fellowship that the Day of the Woman Orthodox Rabbi yet will arrive; then, by YCT rabbis circulating a remarkably troubling position paper on homosexuality with the goal of inducing other Orthodox rabbis to sign on alongside YCT founders, staff, administrators, and alumni ; and thereafter by HIR staging the Sabbath Eve service led by a woman.

An era seems to have dawned when there no longer can be effective compromise within Modern Orthodoxy on all things because the YCT / IRF community now has made clear its intention to push one “innovation,” then their next “advance,” and then yet another. And another. It is a rapid-paced “reform” program aimed at pushing American Orthodox Judaism to adopt positions that somewhat parallel the theological innovations that have emanated during the decade from Methodist and Episcopalian churches, transitioning over to impact Reconstructionist Judaism, then Reform Judaism, then Conservative Judaism – and now the Judaism associated with rabbis within IRF and ordained by YCT.

Resistance, however, is stirring within mainstream Modern Orthodoxy. I am among those mainstream Modern Orthodox who do not like being forced to alter my rabbinical agenda and my Jewish community priorities to fit those of a small group active on Orthodoxy’s far-Left. If authoritative Torah leaders (Gedolei Yisrael) tell me that I need to re-prioritize my agenda, then I humbly re-prioritize. By contrast, it now appears that Centrist Orthodoxy is being led against its will into a maze and along a trajectory that stems, sadly, from a predictable and alien pathway: Each of these innovations historically began with the Methodist/ Episcopalian churches: women as prayer leaders, women as pastors, gay pastors, gay unions. In short time, Reform Judaism then adopted the church decisions, reasonably and truthfully explaining that the Protestant innovations also spoke to the agenda of modern Progressive Judaism. Then, between four to seven years later, Conservative Judaism (in actuality, a theologically liberal movement that carries an anachronistic misnomer pertinent to certain conservative dynamics of a century ago but no longer relevant) repeatedly has followed and adopted each Reform Judaism change. As a result, Conservative Judaism has come to lose its identity as “Masorti – Traditional” and instead seems like Reform Judaism in slow-motion replay. And now, to the degree practicable, the YCT / IRF community is trying to import these same social revolutions into American Orthodox Judaism.

Thus, for example, many of my colleagues believe that a far more urgent social-sensitivity priority facing American Orthodoxy today is the organized Orthodox Jewish community’s failure to come up with compassionate remedies for the plight of Jewish Singles and divorced people, particularly single women over 35 and 40, and men similarly affected. The status of homosexual people in congregational life is not, under any objective and detached analysis, as urgent a priority in the mainstream Orthodox community. Orthodoxy long has recognized the deep feelings of hurt and pain within the comparatively minuscule Gay community, stemming from the Torah’s historic position stated explicitly in Leviticus 18 forbidding the male homosexual act. Orthodox rabbis across the spectrum of Orthodoxy long have been sensitive and accessible to Gay individuals seeking confidential counseling and pastoral fellowship. Not is “gay-bashing” not tolerated in the Orthodox community, but it does not exist.

Nevertheless, to refocus the Orthodox agenda to deem homosexuality as a community priority is absurd because those socially impacted are so fewer in number than are orphans, widows, unmarried women, the unemployed, the physically handicapped. Rabbis of the Centrist Orthodox mainstream observe that the Torah commands us explicitly and pointedly to maintain a heightened sensitivity to the orphan, the widow, and the stranger/ ger. If we are looking to extrapolate from this a social agenda for Orthodoxy, let it be to address those in our midst who have been suffering in larger number. (We can point to the Chinuch’s understanding of the widow and orphan as those most vulnerable because they do not have the same level of “networked” support as do other people.) We do not need to have our priorities redirected by a rush to prove to others and ourselves that we can be as progressive as others.

It seems that there now has emerged from the IRF / YCT / Avi Weiss Left a formal, institutionalized agenda of heightened rabbinic activism. Some may deem this a wonderful development. But yesterday’s Modern Orthodox cohesion and community traditions, something around which Modern Orthodoxy proudly has crafted one single rabbinical organization that has welcomed a magnificent tent of 900-plus rabbis, is in jeopardy. Mainstream Modern Orthodox Rabbis have their own respectively defined agendas and priorities, built around their individual communities’ needs and their own respective years of community leadership, Torah learning and judgment. The vast majority of Centrist Orthodox rabbis in America resent efforts from their extreme Left to lead them around by the nose, trying to compel the Centrist Orthodox rabbinate to change their agendas’ priorities to conform to those of a radical school.

For example, my rabbinic priorities include working to address the loneliness of unmarried women over 35 and fellows in a similar boat, advocating the right of Jews to reside anywhere a Jew wishes to live in Judea and Samaria, the forgotten and abandoned Jews of Gush Katif, the building freeze on new Jewish construction in East Jerusalem and the need for such a freeze never to be tolerated, the need for ongoing outreach to unaffiliated Jews, the need for heightened congregational inreach to get more people within shul memberships to Torah classes and to serious Torah learning, and the extraordinary and unprecedented challenge we face in the Age of Technology to protect our teenagers in an era where they are surrounded everywhere by the hyper-sexed media and the culture of “Jersey Shore” and the ability to get their hands on the worst garbage that television offers – even when the family has no TV in the house – by downloading from hulu.com onto their laptops and streaming other schmutz through their iPhones and iPads. Against that backdrop of profoundly challenging and demanding Jewish communal and rabbinic priorities, we do not want to be forced by a small Jewish rabbinical group and school to drop or divert the focus of our agendas to address theirs. Even as I note, again, that “their” agenda is not really theirs but that of the American theological New Age, innovated by Episcopalians and Methodists and then imported and grafted onto Judaism and the Torah. Such issues, quite objectively, are not the Torah community’s compelling issues right now, right here.

I only wish there were a way for some of my YCT / IRF rabbinic friends to see and understand that, even as they think they are helping hold “egalitarians” within Orthodoxy, they more realistically are creating chaos among the vast majority of mainstream Centrist Orthodox Jews who neither demand nor yearn for such innovations – but, once introduced to them, decide that they are “cool.” Thus, by pursuing an “Open Orthodoxy” and an “Inclusive Orthodoxy” aimed at a small group whose activist demands stem from secular values and not from authentic Jewish teachings, the amalgamated IRF/ YCT group unknowingly are perpetrating severe damage to the Centrist Orthodox fabric – and in fact to the Torah Nation by dispensing lock-stock-and-barrel with Mesorah. For the IRF / YCT, if the Torah does not command something in explicit black-and-white text, then the latest ideas filtering in from the Methodist and Episcopalian churches are worth importing, particularly once adopted by Reform and then by Conservative.

When such innovations are foisted onto a satisfied Modern Orthodox community, which neither asks for them, needs them, or risks alienation from Torah without them, the tragedy becomes apparent as mainstream Orthodox young people turn to their normative Orthodox rabbis with requests for . . . “THAT.” Although they had not been pressing to unload 3,000 years of Mesorah, they hear about and see these “latest things,” and they come and ask for something cool, something fresh, something different – namely, “THAT.” My colleagues and I hear it all too often: “Rabbi, can I have THAT? Can we do THAT?”

So, if they see a wedding with a quasi-double-ring exchange — a foreign innovation aimed at copying the Christian wedding ring exchange, albeit with a romantic Judaic recital like “Ani L’dodi v’Dodi Li” — they now want “what my friend just did — THAT.” Or: “Rabbi, can the groom walk around me seven times? I heard someone did THAT, and it sounded so romantic. Can we do THAT, too?” Or: “Can I have a woman recite each brakhah under the chupah after the guy? One of my friends told me she was at an Orthodox wedding where the rabbi allowed them to do THAT, and THAT sounds so cool!”

And now – “Rabbi, can we have a Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday night where a woman leads the men in public prayer? That sounds so cool! Can we have THAT?”

We all are always attracted to new things. We trade in five-year-old cars that still have 5-10 perfect years left in them because we like new and “the latest.” We like new things, things that are different, chic. Just consider the trend towards locating weddings in hard-to-find suburbs, at venues off-the-beaten-track, selected because they are “cool,” different, not the “same-old same-old” where “everyone” gets married. We may not need it, and maybe we do not want it, and maybe nothing in us ever suggested the notion. But we see someone else do it, and now we have to do it, too. So we go to a bar mitzvah, and someone screens a 20-minute video montage of the 13-year-old’s life, as though this child – G-d bless him – is Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln or the Gaon HaRav Eliahu of Vilna zt”l, and soon enough every Bar Mitzvah Family is doing Ken Burns Videos on the Life and Times of their 12-year-old. And we, who have made a veritable American proverb of “Please – if you cherish our friendship – don’t make me sit and look at the pictures of your trip to Europe,” all are compelled to sit politely for those eternal 20 minutes, watching a predictably unremarkable first dozen years of life unfold before our eyes, from womb and umbilical cord to diaper and pacifier to falling in the mud and swinging in a playground, to sitting on a horse eating in a high chair – and then we dutifully rise and applaud this youngster as though he or she were being honored at a community’s centennial banquet for building a yeshiva or single-handedly dedicating a Holocaust Museum. Because, currently, it is the “latest thing.” It is THAT.

So now, even as they have begun releasing to the media a letter they have drafted on the issue of Homosexuality, for which they have the signatures primarily of the YCT / IRF world, remarkable primarily for the minuscule response from among RCA’s 900-plus rabbis, they promptly unveil their next innovation: a woman leading Kabbalat Shabbat. And then there will be another innovation. And then another breakthrough. It creates a media tumult, even as – from coast to coast – we now have yet another whim that simply is not being demanded anywhere within 98-99% of the Orthodox mainstream . . . but that very neatly fits in the progression from Methodist/Episcopalian Christianity to Reform Judaism to Conservative Judaism to the rabbis of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and the wistfully named International Rabbinic Fellowship.

It seems time for those in the Orthodox Center’s vast mainstream to begin asking ourselves whether we really are happy with what is starting to unfold? Woman rabbis. Position Papers compelling us to sign that we promise to admit into yeshivot children who live in the custodial home of two same-gender openly Gay parents and urging that we give communal honors to Gay people who openly proclaim in our shuls their sexual orientations and preferences. Women leading the davening in shul at Kabbalat Shabbat. Is THAT what we really want?

And are we ready for the next THAT?

Rabbi Dov Fischer is an adjunct professor of law in Los Angeles, serves as the Rav of Young Israel of Orange County, and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

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39 Responses

  1. tzippi says:

    Ms. Luntz, you raise some interesting points.
    It happens that nearly all of the shuls – some half dozen plus – within a 12 minute walk don’t have a demand for such tot minyanim. Remembering those years myself, I have to admit I would have enjoyed having such an option yet do you really think that offering unmarried women the chance to cavort with little kids for two hours is the most meaningful thing we can offer? Is it possible that women need more than the camaraderie of minyan and might find their emotional/spiritual/other needs being met as much if not more in other arenas of gathering or service?

    How about enlisting them to help in the myriad communal organizations that desperately need (wo)manpower? Thinking outside the box, maybe some women with time and energy can offer give or get services for young families with no time or energy. If there are women following this thread in this demographic, what do you all think?

    Oh, and two words: Dena Blaustein, a”h.

  2. Chana Luntz says:

    Just to comment on a totally different aspect of this piece, the author writes:

    “Thus, for example, many of my colleagues believe that a far more urgent social-sensitivity priority facing American Orthodoxy today is the organized Orthodox Jewish community’s failure to come up with compassionate remedies for the plight of Jewish Singles and divorced people, particularly single women over 35 and 40, and men similarly affected.” and

    and

    “For example, my rabbinic priorities include working to address the loneliness of unmarried women over 35 and fellows in a similar boat”

    But it seems to me that at least part of the aspects objected to (women in key roles in a synagogue) and these concerns are linked. What is very clear to me is that, traditionally and today, the shul has played a if not the key role in aleviating the loneliness of unmarried men within the community. I see it very particularly in the case of my husband’s elderly uncle. He never married, and for him, going to minyan is what has, now, for many many years, got him out of bed in the morning. Now admittedly my husband’s uncle is doubly blessed. First he is a kohen, and secondly he is a Sephardi kohen. As Sephardim do birchas kohanim every morning, that has made his presence an important and valuable part of the daily davening (especially in shuls not overly endowed with kohanim), not to mention the obligatory aliyah when the Torah is read. And the need of the community has provided much of the impertus and sense of personal value as he has grown older. But even without the special kibuddim due to kohanim (and now, at 86, he is not really able to make it to shul on a regular basis for Shachris), going for mincha/ma’ariv is what gets him out of the house, day in, day out. And indeed we, as next of kin, rely upon the shul to phone us if he does not show up, as that is the best indication that all is not well.

    My husband’s elderly uncle is hardly alone. In every shul I can think of there are those who never married, kohen or not, for whom the dedication to the functioning of the shul and the need for sheer numbers gives daily value to their existence. The shul is a built in support mechanism, and I struggle to believe that this is accidental.

    On the other hand, unmarried women fall through the cracks. And as their numbers grow, so the numbers that fall through the cracks also grows. “working to address the loneliness of unmarried women over 35” sounds a highly noble goal, but how exactly are such noble aspirations to be translated into reality when on the other hand the message that is also being pushed is that shuls are no substitutes for the homes that such women do not have. And while working on shidduchim may indeed also be noble, for the older single, continuing to dangle hope is a poor substitute for value in the present. My sense therefore is that the push for greater involvement of women in the synagogues and the existance of increasing numbers of older single women are in fact linked. Married women, particularly married women with (small) children, in the majority of cases do not have the energy to agitate, and having time to daven, in shul, unaccompanied, without constant demands, is such a luxury that little more is sought. And by the time the children are grown, most women are glad of the quiet that then descends (at least for a little while until the babysitting of grandchildren renews the cycle).

    And besides which, as most mothers of small children will know, every Orthodox shul I know is desperate to have them lead a service should they have the ability and desire (or even desire without ability). Of course the service I am referring to is that for the 2 to 4 year olds, and the order of service includes (at least in my shul) such gems as “Ding-a-ling-a-ling here comes the Torah” sung as accompaniment to two toddlers grasping each end of a stuffed toy sefer torah and jumping up and down.

    Thus I am not actually sure that, at root, the push to greater involve women within the shul is not in fact a direct outcome of the plight of women singles which is identified as such a great priority. And, to be honest, because of the evidence, in the case of men, that synagogue involvement works to ameliorate the loneliness due to prolonged singlehood, I can understand that as a logical tack to take when faced with similar problems vis a vis women. On the other hand, I am not aware of anything else that rises above the platitude into the area of the practical. This, it seems to me, if far more likely a root cause that what episcopalian women may or may not be doing.

  3. ben aharon says:

    YA writes: “I’m not sure I understand. Principle 7 addresses the issue of whether gays should be told to either keep their orientation to themselves ….”. By allowing the matter of disclosure to be completely in the hands of the individual and yet requiring – according to Principle 8 – the community to be accepting of ANY choice that might be made, we are effectively precluded from publicly disavowing the acceptability of a homosexual orientation for fear of offending a self-disclosed gay individual. This is untenable in halacha.

  4. ben aharon says:

    kj: I have read the entire Statement multiple times so as to absorb its full import. It openly declares that the matter of hirhurei aveirah – a major issue relevant to the matter of sinning – is not addressed because it is “a halachic category that goes beyond mere feelings and applies to all forms of sexuality and requires precise halachic definition”. Now that alone is a caveat that brings the entire matter of homosexual “inclination” as distinguished from homosexual “action” into question. If hirhurim are considered behavior, than Tshuvah is applicable there as well.

    [YA – I see another huge problem with the formulation. If it is a halachic issue that “requires precise halachic definition,” then why not get that definition before coming up with a position paper on Orthodox response to gays? The approach smacks of a cavalier attitude towards halacha, in which it is viewed as a problem to be overcome in pursuing some other agenda. Rather than try to determine the proper response as understood by Torah leaders, you strike off in a particular direction, and then do a Google search to find a daas yachid that will sanction it. Check some of the current discussion on the left regarding women davening kabbolas Shabbos at HIR, especially when the issue of kol ishah comes up.]

    Principle 7 states that the question of being open about one’s homosexual orientation is a private issue and no position should be taken requiring someone to either come forward or keep their inclination hidden, “as is right for him and his community”. Certainly there are levels of disclosure. For someone to declare that s/he is gay – whether acting on the desire or not – and simultaneously be distressed to be told that Torah does not accept such a declaration, is confounding. The person who drives to shul on Shabbos may very well hear from someone that his actions are not correct and it would be preferable for him to stay home, as many poskim have so determined. In any case, he would not be given all due status and consideration as a member who is Shomer Shabbat. According to Principle 7 one would not be permitted to admonish or in any way diminsh the status of an openly declared individual despite the unequivocal impermissibility of such a position. How can that be? Doesn’t “adherence to halacha” entail acknowledging that one is called upon to challenge any yetzer that is in conflict with Torah?

    [YA – I’m not sure I understand. Principle 7 addresses the issue of whether gays should be told to either keep their orientation to themselves, and not share it with others in the tzibbur, or whether they should have to label themselves. Each has its advocates, and can be appropriate under different circumstances: the former because issues of ishus are always kept soto voce for tzniyus reasons, and all the more so if they deal with practices that are issurim chamurim; the latter so that they should not be a takalah for others. Principle 7 says that it is wrong to force the gay Jew into following either course if he is uncomfortable. It is one of the chief reasons that many did not sign on, since they recognized that there are ample circumstances that would compel the rav of a shul to ask for one approach or the other, and not leave it up to the volition of the gay member.]

  5. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Ira’s point about the Torah education tuition crisis is well-taken. When he says that it is more important that the issues of Jews in Eretz Yisrael, a light lit up immediately. If you have a bunch of lemons, make lemonade. If all those Jews facing the tuition crisis would make aliya, it would go a long way toward solving both problems. You would not have to pay those tuitions, and the Jewish state and society in Eretz Yisrael would become more Torah-oriented. The educational options for Jewish families in EY would get better as well.

  6. Michael says:

    The fear-mongering about YCT has to stop, and this article falsely claims that the statement of principles was a matter of YCT agenda, when it was nothing of the sort. The author clearly doesn’t have his facts straight, and the fact that he would publish this article without checking his facts more carefully indicates that he is not to be taken seriously on this matter. It’s not an article from a Modern Orthodox rabbi; it’s a blog post, and it’s unserious.

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    To get back to the main topic, I spoke to two people over the weekend, one who lives in Riverdale told me that no one in Riverdale is surprised and that Avi Weiss is not controversial there as they all know him and this is the way he is, always testing the edge and welcoming the notoriety. He revels in it.The people in Riverdale know he is really a big baal chesed and they know him already.
    The second is a young rabbi who is active in the RCA. He feels that a scism is coming and that Avi Weiss is looking for issues to make the headlines, he not only doesn’t care what the rest of the rabbinate thinks, he wants to find the edge and go beyond it. He loves the publicity. He also has only kind words to save about him as a human being. However, he feels that Avi Weiss is splitting off from normative orthodoxy and going over the deep end. However, he says that a lot of the innovations are not new ,just that the publicicty is new.

  8. kj says:

    “ben aharon” says : Nor can I accept a “Statement of Principles” which specifically disavows the permissibility to admonish one who sins when the Torah calls for me to do so when it may result in Tshuva. The reason this Statement does, in fact, represent another “breach in the wall” is because the emphasis on sensitivity to those challenged by their sexual impulses is not an evolutionary outgrowth of Torah ethics but rather a political imperative to be current with the zeitgeist of the general culture.

    If you read the statement, it specifically distinguishes between those with an “inclination” and those who are actually acting on those impulses. It is not about admonishing sinners because the people in question may not actually be sinning.
    In section 8 it states Accordingly, Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community.
    followed by We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members
    who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner.
    Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with
    regard to membership for open violators of halakha.
    Those standards should be applied fairly and objectively.

    Its very similar to deciding how to deal with people who drive to shul on shabbat for example. There are clearly people out there, who whether through nature or nurture, have a yezer to do something asur and nevertheless try to adhere to halacha.

  9. Mark says:

    Charlie Hall,

    “I can personally testify that I have heard lots of anti-Gay bigotry in the Orthodox world. And there is a rabbi in Brooklyn who thought that his anti-Gay crusade was so important that he worked in the Presidential campaign of Patrick Buchanan harasha. That is insanity!”

    What was the nature of the bigotry, might I ask? Did you hear people express disgust at the behavior of gays who sought inclusion by marching in the gay parade? Did you hear people express outrage at the obvious attempts to force their agenda on the Torah-observant community? Did you hear people express an unwillingness to countenance their behavior or legitimize it?

    If that’s what you witnessed, that’s not bigotry but adherence to Torah values even though they fly in the face of modern sensibilities.

  10. Jose says:

    Charlie Hall wrote:

    I would like to correct something in the essay that might be misleading. The essay implies that “the Sabbath Eve service” was “led by a woman”. I attended the Kabbalat Shabbat service at HIR that night in the main beit knesset and it was led by a man. (It was a very beautiful, inspiring service.) The service in that Rabbi Fischer questions was in the small room used for weekday minyans.”

    The service was actively promoted by promoted by HIR and Avi Weiss, that it was not in the main sanctuary does not mitigate the departure from halacha one iota. It can legitimately be argued that it is even worse, because it was done this way to acclimate the membership to the change, to stem the push back that may have occured if this was done in the main sanctuary. It starts in the 2nd floor beit midrash and once people are used to the idea, it will become the standard.

    Also:

    Rabbi Fischer wrote,
    ‘Not is “gay-bashing” not tolerated in the Orthodox community, but it does not exist. ‘

    I can personally testify that I have heard lots of anti-Gay bigotry in the Orthodox world. And there is a rabbi in Brooklyn who thought that his anti-Gay crusade was so important that he worked in the Presidential campaign of Patrick Buchanan harasha. That is insanity!”

    I believe that R’ Fischer was talking about putting people down gay people from the pulpit because of their Same Sex Attraction (SSA). I have not experienced such, perhaps it occurs more often in circles you frequent. However, for a Rabbi to say that Acting on these attractions in ways that are against halacha is worng, and that a person who acts in such a manner is sinning is appropriate. Would you take issue with a rov preaching to his congregants to be honest in the dealings even if they feel a draw for illicit funds?
    Is it gay bashing by the Torah when it defines male homosexual relations as an abomination (very strong language)?

    The Rabbi was protesting the glorification of abomination. Which is very much the goal of the laws that the gay activist groups are pushing and the organizers of the marches. To call homosexual relations horrible and point out how glorifying it brings society down as a whole is not gay- bashing, it is standing up for the Torah rights. This Rabbi feels that the impact is so great that it is worthwhile to join up with a candidate who has other flaws. You can hardly call that insanity any more than you can call support of Obama and his policies insanity. But that does not make it gay bashing. And all the marches and propsed laws are not for people who suffer from SSA, they do not benefit them. It is for those who engage in the acts that are prohibited.

    I also have to ask how did the word gay become capitalized when you write about it? That is not how the words male or female are treated or man and woman, it shows how the glorification of their lifestyle has impacted and is infiltrating society.

  11. tzippi says:

    Rabbi Menken, your analogy to an intermarried couple seems, to me, quite valid. But there’s one difference: both Lisa and her (I assume Jewish?) partner have a connection to Jewish prayer. Should they just go to different shuls?

  12. Yaakov Menken says:

    Lisa complains that there are people “jumping to ignorant conclusions,” but hasn’t demonstrated any — on the contrary, all the conclusions reached were well-informed, where Lisa would have preferred they stay ignorant (unaware of her relationship).

    I’ve asked the question in comments to my own article as well, but why is Lisa’s relationship different than an intermarried couple? If she wants to come alone and pray she can do so, but if she wants to come with her partner there’s an obvious problem.

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    I can personally testify that I have heard lots of anti-Gay bigotry in the Orthodox world. And there is a rabbi in Brooklyn who thought that his anti-Gay crusade was so important that he worked in the Presidential campaign of Patrick Buchanan harasha. That is insanity!

    This thread seems to have verred onto gay issues. The rabbi you mention is a self proclaimed leader without a following. Unfortnately, too many people in our frum community identify with the extreme right wing . I am puzzled by it but see it as a sign of their alienation and lack of identification with basic Jewish values. They identify with the oppressor as if they were really going to be accepted. It is like the kid who got arrested for being a Nazi and vandalizing a synagoue and we find out he was a foster kid in a Jewish home. In my opinion, Jews who think th ey can be right wing, anti immigrant, anti everyone punks are delusional.

  14. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Lisa,

    I don’t know what you want from the poor shul. You live in a lesbian relationship with a child that has two mothers. That is a radical departure from the standard family unit that is acceptable in orthodox society. Its not about technical halacha. Your lifestyle is beyond the pale. Sorry. You can either find a more liberal denomination or attempt to live in orthodox society as a single or attempt to live a normal standard lifestyle. Those are your legitimate choices. I do not see why you think its legitimate to try and force your way into orthodox society.

  15. Charlie Hall says:

    Rabbi Fischer wrote,

    ‘Not is “gay-bashing” not tolerated in the Orthodox community, but it does not exist. ‘

    I can personally testify that I have heard lots of anti-Gay bigotry in the Orthodox world. And there is a rabbi in Brooklyn who thought that his anti-Gay crusade was so important that he worked in the Presidential campaign of Patrick Buchanan harasha. That is insanity!

  16. Mark says:

    I cannot express my appreciation enough for Rabbi Fischer’s heartfelt words and frank style of writing. Halevai all of us would be so honest and forthright in our views instead of hiding behind pc talk in fear of condemnation. This article required courage and I salute him for demonstrating this sort of courage in the face of the inevitable condemnations that will fly from “left” field.

  17. m says:

    Why you call the increasing inclusion of women in things once reserved for men a “Methodist/Episcopalian agenda” when it is really a much wider social trend? Do you think the motives of Orthodox feminists have more to do with whether Methodist women can now become preachers than whether orthodox jewosh women can now become partners in law firms, sociology professors, or psychoterapists?

  18. snagville says:

    I don’t want to un-necessarily cloud the issue but I’m not sure that the Torah assurs what Lisa & her partner are doing (Kind of let’s you know what Hashem thinks of what they are doing- a whole lot of nothing)

  19. ben aharon says:

    I may or may not be a “‘phobe”, but my adherence to Halacha which unequivocally rejects same sex intimate relationships does not per se make me one. Nor can I accept a “Statement of Principles” which specifically disavows the permissibility to admonish one who sins when the Torah calls for me to do so when it may result in Tshuva. The reason this Statement does, in fact, represent another “breach in the wall” is because the emphasis on sensitivity to those challenged by their sexual impulses is not an evolutionary outgrowth of Torah ethics but rather a political imperative to be current with the zeitgeist of the general culture. That is not how authentic Judaism endures. Our Gedolim consider the impact of changes such as Rabbi Weiss promotes not by years or even decades but by centuries and millenia. Without the support of broadly-recognized Torah authorities, the innovations being advanced are certain to create havoc.

  20. Tal Benschar says:

    “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Mishlei 26:11.

    So now I am a “knee-jerk ‘phobe.” How nice. I love empty buzzwords — like racist, mysoginist and homophobe. Reminds me of an old legal adage (I am a lawyer): when you have the facts on your side, argue the facts; when you have the law on your side, argue the law; when neither are on your side, pound the table and make a lot of noise.

    Lisa made it plain what she does (lives as a “couple” with a person of the same sex) and what she wants (to be accepted as a member of an Orthodox synagogue and have her daughter accepted into an Orthodox school). No need for “jumping to ignorant conclusions.” It’s right there in black and white. Whether she considers herself a “radical,” what she is seeking is considered by Orthodox society to be highly radical.

  21. Yosef Fajtlowicz says:

    Why would you possibly think that not tolerating a building freeze in the West Bank, which is exactly what we had to do to not deliberately provoke our most important ally, is more of a ‘priority’ than dealing with the very real pain of homosexuals in the frum community? What exactly is the ‘right’ of every Jew to live wherever he wants in the West Bank? In Ramallah? In between a Palestinian’s house and his olive trees? Presumably it does not strike you as overly presumptuous to assume that fair minded people may think that this ‘priority’ should come somewhere after dealing in a proactive way with the suffering of Orthodox homosexuals.

  22. Lisa says:

    Tal, I’m not revealing any agenda at all. We went to that shul, didn’t sit near each other, and when people asked, we said we were roommates. But my partner had the agala with our daughter in it, and another woman saw me smiling at my daughter the way a mother smiles at her child. And got confused. And asked, “So… who is the mother?” I wasn’t prepared for the question, so after stammering a little, I said, “We share.”

    Wow, I’m such a radical!!! I might as well have worn a “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” tank-top to shul. Or gotten a buzzcut and rode in on a motorcycle.

    There was a listing of frum women in the neighborhood called N’shei. I’d gone to the drugstore and seen a thing saying that new neighbors should call to get listed. So I called. The woman who answered the phone was really, really nice. She took all of my information, chatted with me for a while… and then I messed up. I asked whether I could give her my roommate’s information as well.

    The loud clang was her mind slamming shut. The drop in temperature started with silence and moved into her voice. People like you, Tal, are always telling us to keep things to ourselves, but it doesn’t work. People make assumptions, just like you do.

    You don’t know me. I’ve been over on the horrible “Orthoprax Rabbi” [sic] blog arguing with them about Avi Weiss’s continued attacks on normal Torah Judaism. And then I come over here and have some knee-jerk ‘phobe telling me how I’m pursuing a radical gay agenda just because I don’t want people jumping to ignorant conclusions.

  23. L. Oberstein says:

    As a former pulpit rabbi, I understand your frustration but this is nothing new.In a former time, rabbis with high standards were faced with other orthodox rabbis who allowed or didn’t prevent mixed dances at the shul, microphones, open parking lots on Shabbos, low mechitzos or separate seating without any divider,etc. Rabbis were faced with other orthodox rabbis who would convert anyone with no standards or requiements and rabbis whose kashrus supervision was non-existent or lacking in standards. Your baalebatim do want to copy what others do and Avi Weiss is just an example of what is current. The orthodox had late Friday night services because the other syangogues in town did, they let the Men’s Club do things that were not in the spirit of halacha to keep them involved in the shul. The list of compromises is endless. If you feel pressured to give in , you can’t lay it all at the door of a few rabbis who allow things you feel are forbidden. You will have to win over your baalebatim with better arguments than we are not going to copy the Methodists.

  24. Bob Miller says:

    To know what’s not MO, some effort has to be made to define what is MO and to explain why.

    I wonder how easy it will be to arrive at a consensus on that definition and that explanation.

  25. m says:

    This effort to score rhetorical points by refering to a “Methodist/Episcopalian agenda” rings pretty hollow.
    Women leading jewish prayer follows about as directly from female protestant clergy as it does from women becoming partners in law firms. By placing the blame on liberal protestants you don’t have to blame (or even mention) “feminism” or “women’s liberation,” but those are the trends that underlie all the developments you are talking about; you can’t just dismiss it with “copying the protestants.”

  26. m says:

    Re: Gay bashing and “Canards, epithets, snide comments are outside the pale.”

    I think this is empirically false. I suspect that most gay (or suspected-to-be-gay) men are not taunted to their face. However, they are (1) mocked behind their backs and (2) subjected to “general” statements and jokes about gay people at the shabbos table and from some pulpits.

  27. Charlie Hall says:

    I would like to correct something in the essay that might be misleading. The essay implies that “the Sabbath Eve service” was “led by a woman”. I attended the Kabbalat Shabbat service at HIR that night in the main beit knesset and it was led by a man. (It was a very beautiful, inspiring service.) The service in that Rabbi Fischer questions was in the small room used for weekday minyans.

  28. Tal S. Benschar says:

    Lisa inadvertently reveals the gay agenda: anything short of complete acceptance and affirmation of the gay lifestyle is “gay-bashing.” This is where the “Statement of Principles” will ultimately lead.

    Sorry, those who adhere to Torah will never accept as normal or socially acceptable open adherence to what is roundly condemned in the Torah. I can sympathize with an individual who is struggling with his or her yetzer ha ra and doing his or her best to conform to God’s Will. I cannot accept someone who openly flouts Torah law and demands of the community that it be accepted as the same as conforming to the Torah.

    (Although R. Fischer can speak for himself, I think the term “gay-bashing” connotes name-calling and other grauitous acts of onaas devarim and not merely physical violence.)

  29. David S says:

    People of honest disposition can argue whether the actions that Rabbi Weiss has taken are right for the time. Certainly this article makes a partial case for that. Where it goes wrong is in defining the left as the only side having an agenda that is pulling the rope in a kind of one sided tug of war. Frankly, the right has been pulling and pulling for the longest time, with only a minor peep out of the left. The left now has the ability and will to pull back. This is a good development because the constant shift in the direction of the Haredi world destroys the vision of the Rav for a Modern Orthodox movement. Modernity is not just about accepting certain scientific facts, it is about being open to other ideas because they have legitimate claims on truth. Modern Orthodoxy cannot just be a Haredi lite movement. It needs its own mission and that mission has always been full engagement in the world with fealty to Torah. What that means is the MO must be open to the idea of change and not adopt the idea that customs that were good enough for papa are good enough for me. Yes, its a harder game to play to allow for some degree of self determination amongst the laity but it is a vision worthy of fighting for. MO stands for creating Jews who can fully engage with the world and keep the Mitzvot without any contradiction between the two. Full engagement with the world means taking its moral and ethical trends into account (and frequently finding that those trends have Jewish roots after all).

  30. Moshe says:

    I strongly object to you placing the Statement of Principles with Avi Weiss recent actions. The statement of principles was signed by many people, including my self, who have nothing to do with YCT, Avi Weiss or his agenda and reject Avi Weiss’s recent actions.
    It is an error to state those rabbis who did not sign the statement did so because they rejected it in whole or in large part. I know for a fact that many who chose not to sign, among them leading talmidei chachamim, did so because either 1)they disagreed with some small detail, but still supported the overwhelming majority of the statement. 2)they have a policy of not signing public statements 3)they feared that their careers would be jeopardized by signing.

    It should be clear that unlike Avi Weiss actions, this statement does not advocate any halakhic innovations or changes to the synagogue service or to the structure of the community.

    It unequivocally condemns all homosexual activity, and with equal vigor comes out against same sex marriage or any actions that will lead to further social acceptance of this institution. This is not a radical statement, even if others have other understandings of homosexuality which lead to different positions.

  31. Michael Feldstein says:

    “During the past several months, Rabbi Weiss and his protégées have pushed the Modern Orthodox envelope hard three times: (i) they have granted “semikha” to Sara Hurvitz, whom they boast as the “first woman rabbi ordained” under an Orthodox rubric, and who now serves at Rabbi Weiss’s congregation; (ii) they have circulated a position paper on relaxing attitudes towards homosexuality that goes beyond anything to which the overwhelming majority of RCA rabbis can lend their names; and (iii) they have brought a woman prayer leader forward to lead a Kabbalat Shabbat service attended jointly by men and women.”

    ——————————————————————————————————-

    I think it’s unfair to lump the position paper/statement of principles on homosexuality with the Rabbah issue and the Kabbalat Shabbat issue. There are many, many rabbis who signed that statement (including the person next in line to become the RCA President) who do not support the other two issues–and to mention the three of them together falsely suggests that if you support one you support the others.

  32. Dov says:

    One question left unanswered is which Gedolei Yisrael will come up with acceptable responses to community needs.

    On the one hand, it took the Chofetz Chayim to approve of Bais Yaakov.

    BUT on the other hand, there existed a gadol (the Chofetz Chayim) who was willing to start Bais Yaakov.

    Presumably before Bais Yaakov started there were a lot of smaller attempts to help the situation that women were in, which were rejected, until Bais Yaakov came along and got the Chofetz Chayim’s agreement and promotion.

    We’re seeing the rejected approaches now. We’re surviving rejecting bad approaches so far. When will we see a Gadol who can come up with a proper response to the needs? When will we see the modern equivalent of Bais Yaakov to answer the needs that are currently expressing themselves in unacceptable approaches?

  33. Rav Dov Fischer says:

    Ira, you are right. The financial challenge facing families seeking to educate their children in yeshiva must be raised to a central communal priority. Absolutely.

    Greg, it’s a matter of priorities. Those who are driven by the Methodist/Episcopalian agenda would have the Torah rabbinical community re-prioritize the community agenda to parallel the priorities of the others. Yes, every individual life is a universe. Torah-true rabbis are open and accessible to everyone, including those with gender issues. Every single person. We devote pastoral counseling time — absolutely. But, as Ira poignantly notes, we first need to deal with the urgent Jewish priorities.

    Lisa, you are correct: the term “only” is missing. In my universe, I do not know of any mainstream MO rav or shul that would abide “gay-bashing.” I have been a rav for 30 years. Every individual is regarded with compassion and sensitivity. Canards, epithets, snide comments are outside the pale. The person is treated with respect.

  34. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >We were told that “it had been decided” that we were not to be allowed to be members.

    Why do you expect to be able to join an orthodox congregation when your lifestyle contradicts some of its core values? It seems like you are taunting an entire community to accept your idiosyncrasies. You will never be accepted as a ‘family unit’ in orthodox society. Comparison of homosexuality to other sins is misplaced. It is simply not the issue of a congregation accepting someone who openly violates this or that commandment. This is not a legal issue but an issue of principles. Ever since the emancipation that came with the enlightenment, when the traditional kehilla structure collapsed – the focus of traditional Jewish identity has moved solidly to the family unit. The traditional family, not the kehilla, became the garanteur for the sanctity of Jewish life as well as for Jewish communal life. The traditional family, in orthodox society, is not just a value among values, it is the guardian of all other values. That being the case, there is no technical legal loophole that would allow you to be socially accepted. Your lifestyle crosses a red line that will never go away. If you truly feel that your lifestyle can not change then you must stop looking for acceptance in a society that will never ever accept you as you currently are.

  35. Lisa says:

    “Not is “gay-bashing” not tolerated in the Orthodox community, but it does not exist.”

    I assume you left out the word “only”. But are you serious? Or are you defining gay-bashing as something other than what everyone else in the world understands the term to mean? Children are turned away from day schools solely because they have two parents of the same sex, and that doesn’t qualify, in your opinion?

    When my partner and I tried to join the shul we went to in Israel, we filled out forms separately, because we aren’t stupid enough to have tried to join as a family, even though we are one. We were told that “it had been decided” that we were not to be allowed to be members. But no, that’s not gay-bashing. The first text message I ever received was a death threat. That was in the same frum community in Israel. But maybe you’re right. Maybe it was a wrong number.

    I’m simply appalled at what is either naivete or obfuscation on your part. What *would* you consider gay bashing? Nothing short of baseball bats?

  36. joel rich says:

    1.Nevertheless, to refocus the Orthodox agenda to deem homosexuality as a community priority…………
    2. Mainstream Modern Orthodox Rabbis have their own respectively defined agendas and priorities, built around their individual communities’ needs and their own respective years of community leadership………..
    ======================================================

    Might I suggest that you consider the methodology for setting priorities. Right now MO has a “kol hayashar beinav” approach, why not have the OU, CJF whatever have a grand debate over overall community priorities (not just platitudes)based on a shared vision and then bring that down to the local level where the Rabbis in collaboration with their congregation determine priorities and allocate resources.

    Also, just out of curiosity, is it your opinion that white wedding dresses and use of rings for marriage ceremonies were originally of Jewish origin?

    KT

    KT

  37. Greg says:

    Your insistence that we not deal with the suffering of homosexuals because of a relatively smaller number of people affected is wrong. There’s more than enough time and energy in the community for some to deal with this issue while others deal with other issues. And generally, the idea that the community should overlook the suffering of a group of people due to their relative size is so obviously wrong and un-Jewish that it barely merits consideration. The reason why God cares for the orphans and the widows is because they are not the minority and require looking after; the same logic applies here. There’s also the famous Talmudic dictum, “He who saves a single life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

  38. ira says:

    Rabbi Fischer. I agree with your position, but I think your arguement falls way too short, and actually

    You explain that the YCT/IRF Rabbi’s are not concerning themselves with priorities that are really important to Klal Yisroel, and the MO/National Religious/Zionist/Dati Jews.

    However your priority list completely fails to mention THE most pressing issue religious and MO/National Religious/Zionist/Dati Jews face – The unaffordability of Yeshiva Tuition, and how it is bankrupting everyone. This is a burden that everyone deals with all the time. I understand that Yishuv Eretz Yisroel is important and special, but of your first five items on your priority list, THREE of them were about Jews settling over the Green line. I understand that it may be an important issue, but it might be much more important to you, than almost all other jews both here in the USA and in Israel as well.

    I don’t know how to put it, but as long as Rabbi’s fail to realize and address this priority and other priorities that affects the ENTIRE community, frankly, when a husband and wife both work 12-16 hour days, and are still borrowing money to pay yeshiva tuition, and they know that there is no help in sight, they really aren’t that inspired by speeches about Judea and Samaria and Gush Katif. They work all day and night and sacrifice much to give their children a Torah life and education.

    Just because your priorities aren’t the same as the YCT/IRF Rabbi’s doesn’t mean that they are misplaced on the priority list as well.

    Or maybe when people and entire segments of society find that their priorities aren’t being addressed, something that is “cool” in yahadus, will actually resonate, even though its not high on the priority list.

    Maybe thats why people are indifferent in the community.

  39. Tal Benschar says:

    As I told a friend of mine a few months ago, there is a schism coming within the “Orthodox” (and I use that term sociologically, not theologically) community in America. These latest events indicate that the schism is coming faster than I thought. This is like Germany circa 1830 (vis-a-vis the Reform) or America circa 1950 (vis-a-vis the Conservative).