Who Hast Not Made Me a Liberal Rabbi . . .

by Rabbi Dov Fischer

Recently, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, one of six national officers of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and rabbi of a West Coast Orthodox Union congregation, published a deeply disturbing internet article on the “Morethodoxy” website. The article explained why he no longer recites a brakhah formulated by Chazal that dates back to Gemara times. “[E]ach morning,” Kanefsky wrote, “we actually reinforce the inherited prejudice that holds that women possess less innate dignity than men.” Indeed, explaining his rejection of the brakhah “shelo asani ishah,” he also attacked certain great Poskim of the past and further lambasted large swaths of the contemporary Orthodox world whom he accused of forcing women to pray in cages. In Rabbi Kanefsky’s formulation: “[O]ften she must content herself with davening in a cage in shul.” He also accused Jewish courts of widespread corruption: “Women are still extorted routinely during divorce proceedings, as rabbinical courts urge them to forfeit various rights in exchange for her husband’s deigning to give the ‘get’ that she needs.” Therefore, he “cannot take God’s name in the context of this blessing anymore. . . .” He even wrote that the prayer recited by Orthodox Jews for 2,000 years and even published on page 18 of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) Siddur – he is an RCA member – is a “Desecration of [G-d’s] Name.”

Under blistering criticism, the national IRF leader took down his article 72 hours later and replaced it with a parallel piece that was rewritten to sound more genteel. But its views continue to be molded by exactly the same viewpoint and modus driven by the more Gentile. It is the Morethodoxy / IRF / Chovevei Torah (YCT) approach that, like Conservative Judaism a century earlier, begins the discussion with the Orthodox premise as a starting point for locating and then carefully hand-picking alternating halakhic opinions from among 2000 years of published Torah analysis to create a variant salad of Torah practice that deviates repeatedly from the universal norm. As Conservative Judaism, which never quotes The Mordechai, built a deviationist approach to minyan on the foundation of an isolated Mordechai commentary, so does the Morethodoxy universe first shoot its arrows, then paint its bull’s-eyes around them. In time, a minority opinion can be molded for everything, much as racist American legislators could build a contemporary deviationist American legal framework by citing rejected or minority Supreme Court opinions to justify incarcerating Japanese Americans, enslaving African Americans, and breaking signed and sworn pledges made to Native Americans.

“Morethodoxy” is self-described by many of the “Liberal Brethren” who populate the left-most boundary of the Sabbath-observant as their “safe place.” It is a tunnel on the web where mostly IRF members from YCT, but also including a few from the left wing of the RCA, can try propagating their views without being subjected to scrutiny and critique by those committed to a Mesorah-driven frumkeit.

Whether it be Rabbi Avi Weiss ordaining “women rabbis” backed by a formal “halakhic Responsum,” or whether it be Rabbi Kanefsky urging Israel to accept Arab demands to negotiate the possible division of Jerusalem, these moments are not mere cases of halakhic static but rather open the door to grave convolutions for communicating authentic Torah and the values of Mesorah to the general Jewish public. We all lose when a rabbi of a West Coast Orthodox Union congregation publishes that he no longer will recite a brakhah that appears everywhere including the RCA Siddur – published by the very rabbinical body of which he is a member.

The brakhah “shelo asani ishah” stems from the Gemara teaching in Menachot 43b that a Jew should endeavor to recite 100 brakhot every day. The Gemara there tells us that R. Meir would recite that brakhah everyday, and the Tosefta Brakhot 6:23 attributes the same brakhah to R. Yehuda. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch comments beautifully on the matter at Vayikra 23:43.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Kanefsky wrote that he cannot recite the prayer “shelo asani ishah,” arguing that it goes against his conscience to validate a Judaism where a woman “can be a secular judge but not a dayan. A brain surgeon, but not a posek.” He elaborated: “Simply for lack of male reproductive organs, otherwise qualified women are still barred from the rabbinate. . . .” Ironically, the Rabbinical Council of America, the rabbinic body to which Rabbi Kanefsky belongs alongside his often contradicting national role in the extreme-left IRF, overwhelmingly adopted a policy resolution at their April 2010 national convention – passed in an open plenum, after extended and passionate discussion, without a single dissenting vote – upholding the halakhic principles at the core of the Mesorah on the issue: “[W]e cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.”

Rabbi Kanefsky’s article stated the unconscionable. Rabbinical courts are nothing like what he describes. And it is despicable to portray the female prayer experience as being tantamount to praying from a cage. I have been at Rabbi Kanefsky’s Orthodox Union synagogue. The women in that shul are not in cages. Similarly, the women in my Orthodox Young Israel shul have elegant seating equal to that of the men on the other side of the mechitzah. I have never seen a shul where women were assigned to a cage-like area. Thus, even if someone indeed can point to outlier experiences at some shuls that bear seating architecture repugnant to Rabbi Kanefsky, there are ample alternative synagogues for women to attend. That is how the Torah community thrives. People daven where they are comfortable. It is despicable for a national rabbinical officer to publish that women are made to pray in cages. Yet Rabbi Kanefsky wrote “This is no way to run a religion. . . . I cannot take God’s name in the context of this blessing anymore.” And what shall be said of a statement that accuses Orthodox Judaism of desecrating the Name, G-d forbid, by virtue of our reciting that brakhah?

All my life, I have been proscribed from ascending the shul bimah, spreading my hands in the mystical fashion, and pronouncing the Kohen blessing to my congregants. I am the most Torah-schooled and learned in the shul, but I was not born to a Kohen father. I was born a Yisrael. Yet I have never been jealous of Kohanim. I have never felt alienated from my faith or second-class. My Creator has His rules, and I devote my life to locating my place joyously within those rules. So I studied to be a rav. I taught yeshiva high school for a while, have been rav of a few shuls. I learn and teach Torah. I found my niche.

All sincerely frum Jews know how to find our respective niches with joy and without jealousy of others born to other stations. We are not all the same. I cannot get pregnant. The child of a non-Jew who seeks to enter the embrace of Klal Yisrael also begins from a different place. If he is a male Moabite, he cannot get in altogether, no matter what. If a female Moabite, who knows – she might be the progenitor of the Moshiach. A born non-Jew may never be a king of Israel, but neither may anyone outside the tribe of Yehudah. And the Maccabees, those wonderful Chashmona’im who were so blessed to be born Kohanim and to save us from the Greek pollution of the Beit HaMikdash, suffered the most severe tragedy when they endeavored to leave their Kohen portion for that of the royalty assigned to those born within the House of Yehudah.

Women have an honored role in Torah Judaism, as do men. Yisrael tribes have an honored role, as do the Levi groups of Kohanim and Levi’im. One group is not better, just different. Women have a monthly menstrual cycle that men do not have, and women get pregnant, carry babies into the world, and then nourish them. All the sociology courses in New Age Gender Studies cannot change that. When men stretch into becoming “egalitarian,” “sharing” the male mitzvot with their wives, halakhic chaos unfolds. A newborn enters the world, and suddenly the liberal husband stops coming to shul on Shabbat morning, deviating from his explicit halakhic obligation to be there, liberally alternating with his wife who is not commanded to be there at all. In the non-Torah movements, we have the seen the advent of women rabbis precipitate a thoroughly predictable drop in male temple attendance, leading the reform movement to hold special “men only services” at their annual conventions in order to attract male participation at the convocations. And that is no way to run a religion.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, rav of Young Israel of Orange County, is an adjunct law professor, a member of the national executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and author of Jews for Nothing: On Cults, Assimilation, and Intermarriage (Feldheim).

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39 comments to Who Hast Not Made Me a Liberal Rabbi . . .

  • Rivky

    Not disagreeing with many of your sentiments, but have you really never seen shuls where women are assigned a cave-like ezras nashim? That’s pretty surprising to me. I see it all the time. Very often, even in more modern shuls, when a second (or third) minyan is set up, the ezras nashim is tiny and boxed-in, and women can barely hear, let alone see.

  • aron feldman

    While this “Rabbi” feels that “shelo asani ishah” constitutes a CH,does he feel the same way about those who engage in verbal acrobatics to permit acts that are described as “Tovevah”?

  • Baruch Gitlin

    I don’t necessarly agree with Rav Kanefsky, but I think he raises issues that are worthy of thought and discussion. Much of the halacha was codified in a time when the role of women in society was much different than it is today. Today, we live in a world in which women are often lawyers, doctors, CEOs of companies, large and small, etc. We ought to be able to look at issues involving women’s role in Judaism in light of the radical changes that have affected women’s role in general, without instantly casting people like Rav Kanefsky outside of the “fold,” so to speak. If Judaism can accomdodate a situation in which full time learning is the norm and working for a living is considered b’dieved, despite the numerous statements in halacha to the contrary, perhaps Judaism can contemplate a revised role for women in the 21st century as well.

  • Shonnie

    Instead of dismissing the criticisms, why not face them?
    Yes, women are often given horrible accommodations in Orthodox shuls. And the response, oh, well, if you don’t like it, don’t go, doesn’t really help when you are a guest of your cousins at a simcha, visiting your inlaws for Shabbes, or live in place where the shul is the only one you can get to given the very hot or cold weather. Rather than saying you have never seen prayer in a cage, why not call on Orthodox shuls to improve? And while we’re at it, the balcony-design inherited from Europe or where-ever hundreds of years ago is appalling in an age where Orthodox Jews should have maybe just a tiny bit of sensitivity towards women in wheelchairs (and elderly women, pregnant women,women who wheel babies sleeping babies to shul….)- we don’t like being forced to climb steps. Every shul with a balcony should have a section downstairs too.
    Women treated fairly in rabbinical courts? Have you done any study to know that all the anecdotal evidence is false? Women complain they are treated unfairly when they divorce. What proof do you have that they are lying? Why not try to see if any policy statements/sensitivity training indicates that rabbinical courts ARE paying attention to the complaints?
    I also don’t like everything the man supposedly said, or his tone, but quite honestly, your piece doesn’t rank very well in truthfulness and sensitivity either.

  • mb

    Whilst I pretty much agree with most of what R.Fischer says( although I have seen many”caged” women’s sections) I must caution him and others of his ilk who are centrist/modern Orthodox Rabbis. If you continue to demonise the left, and cut them off, then you will become the left, and you too will be cut off, paraphrasing Avot 2:7.

  • Benjamin E.

    “When men stretch into becoming “egalitarian,” “sharing” the male mitzvot with their wives, halakhic chaos unfolds.”

    Is this really true? I feel like Orthodoxy provides evidence that egalitarianism per se isn’t the root cause of halakhic chaos. After all, on Purim, both men and women are obligated to hear the megillah – and yet we don’t see the phenomenon of men staying home and sending their wives. Same with hearing the shofar. Even if these two are rarer than Shabbos davening, it is a real example that shows that the fact that a mitzvah involving shul attendance is shared between men and women does not *inherently* mean that chaos will ensue or men will quit being involved – and if it does, like in the examples you gave from the more liberal movements, maybe that’s not a built in part of the fact that it’s egalitarian. Perhaps it has to do with other values being inculcated (or not inculcated) in those same contexts.

  • Kevin Gold

    I did not understand this post at all. I read Rabbi Kanefsky’s post and I opened up my gemera in Menachot 43b and I saw the bracha sheasani yishael in the gemera. I then looked at the mishnah Berurah משנה ברורה סימן מו (טו) שלא עשני וכו’ – ויזהר שלא יברך שעשני ישראל כמו שיש באיזה סדורים ע”י שיבוש הדפוס כי י”א שבזה לא יוכל לברך שוב שלא עשני עבד ולא עשני אשה: and it looked to me that Rabbi Kanefsky is correct. One who says the bracha “sheasani yisrael” no longer can say any of the three brachot (isha, goy, eved). Rabbi Kanefsky does proprose something radical — that something that is a bedeeved be used by us lechatchela because of his sense of sheat hadechak. But it is not very radical — he is not the inventer of shat hadechak kemo bedeeved. None of the words you quote from his article are on the morethodoxy web site that I saw. And the truth is that — all polemics aside — shelo asani isha is offensive to women, just like goyim were for many years offended by shelo ansi goy. That does not mean that we should make any change — but this is not a change in the litergy that is without precident — old sidurim were printed just like this, as the mishnah berusha notes. .

  • dr. bill

    You write: “whether it be Rabbi Kanefsky urging Israel to accept Arab demands to negotiate the possible division of Jerusalem, these moments are not mere cases of halakhic static..”

    The relevance of dividing Jerusalem to this topic appears tenuous. I remember rather clearly a tshuvah drasha by the Rav ztl given in the late 60′s at the 92nd street Y where the Rav said that an Israeli government is empowered even to return the kosel maaravi if in its judgement that enhanced the security of the Jewish people. You might argue that such a judgement is naive; but it is not an unheard of halakhic stance.

    But since you brought up Jerusalem and women’s issues, I suggest you listen to Rabbi JJ Shachter’s opening shiur today (towards the end of the first shiur) (YU TORAH) on the churban, the Rav’s insight into R. Yochanon ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shachter’s astute comments on its relevance to areas like women’s issues. IMHO it applies in full measure to Rabbi Kanefsky’s missive; however, your criticism might also be tempered.

  • lacosta

    what about the more halachically dubious selfsame rabbi closing tisha bav with a joint service with non -orthodox clergy and their cngregants…no doubt music and kol isha issues come into play, let alone counting women to a minyan…. if rabbi kanefsky is more comfortable with non orthodox , could we ever envision an OU with the b—’s to declare him such?
    reb micha b , while you’re right that cutting off the left makes the center the new left –well to the haredi right , they will always be defective and out of the pale anyway. bobov or ner yisrael need not fear being a ‘left end’ at risk… have you NO lines you care to draw? are you comfy leaving ordainers of women in the ranks? or don’t you follow the antics of YCT grads….

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    Very cogent thoughts and comments, all. It is an honor to write for Cross-Currents readers. For Baruch Gitlin, I point to the RCA resolution on Women’s Communal Roles in Orthodox Jewish Life. Please see: [ http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105554 ] That resolution, for which I voted — there were no dissenting votes cast — agrees with Baruch Gitlin’s main thesis. As we work to maximize the potent role of women in building the Torah community, there is no need to declare Batei Din universally corrupt, nor to trash Chazal as we expand opportunities.

    To Shonnie (and also Rivky): I lost a pulpit in April 1990 — literally was fired from my salaried shul-rabbinical post — because I advocated for the mechitzah to be side-by-side while a gruff minority demanded a front-back mechitzah (though not a cage). At the time, that was a last straw that sent me off to UCLA Law School and a new career in which I immersed for the next ten years until returning to rabbonus a decade ago. My wife is a degreed-and professionally-certified professional, also my former wife, as all the ladies in my family. I previously have written and spoken on the issue of maximizing the elgance of women’s sections in shul. My wife and I founded a Mikvah in Irvine, California — again a brutally tough battle that played a major role in costing me another rabbinical position, even though we won — and we insisted that it be elegant. I have written previously on the subjects you discuss, but this article had a different topical focus. I am on your side.
    mb — Touche.

    Benjamin E. — Sadly, I know wherefrom I write, with names and babies’ names I could cite. It’s been thirty years in the rabbinate. Purim is different — the couple brings the baby or pays a sitter. Rosh Hashanah is different — socioligcally, both male and female perceive the imperative of shofar, so show up. Ah, but Shabbat morning in the Modern Orthodox world? A horse of a different color.

    Kevin Gold — You write “None of the words you quote from his article are on the morethodoxy web site that I saw.” That is because he and Morethodoxy now have pulled the article down. Guess why? And the Mishnah B’rurah that you cite only reinforces my point.

  • Daniel Wohlgelernter

    Shkoyach , Rav Fischer for your thoughtful, articulate and passionate defense of Torah and the halachic process. Kol Hakavod !

  • Chaim

    R. Fischer,

    “In the non-Torah movements, we have the seen the advent of women rabbis precipitate a thoroughly predictable drop in male temple attendance, leading the reform movement to hold special “men only services” at their annual conventions in order to attract male participation at the convocations.”

    It is interesting that you bring proof from non-Torah movements. Why is the drop predictable? Perhaps you are saying that men are not honored in the Reform movement? Is this because if everything is equal, then there is no honor (i.e. if everyone has it/does it, then there is no experience of honor indicated by special treatment). Surely men don’t come to shul only for honor? If Reform is different from Orthodox, then why mention it in your article?

    Maybe we should should suggest to the Reform movement that they exempt men from participating in certain rituals or roles so that they can be honored.

  • Steve Brizel

    Dr. Bill-We all know what RYBS said at the Teshuvah drasha that you mentioned, but IMO, it is far from clear that RYBS, who stoutly defended Israel’s actions during the Six Day War, would have agreed that the modus operandi that resulted in Oslo and beyond satified his description of a peace agreement that was vetted and approved by the Israeli military and defense establishments, as opposed to a fait accompli. As someone who did not hear R D JJ Schachter’s comments, what was the sum and substance of his comments on Jerusalem and women’s issues?

  • Steve Brizel

    R Fischer aptly summed up the clearly problematic nature of R Wanefsky’s initial piece,and especially his stereotypical depicture of Orthodox women, both Charedi and MO, most of whom are not in the least interested in the power and gender issues raised by R Wanefsky

  • ARW

    Excellent article. I compliment Rabbi Fischer for taking such a strong stand in defending the primacy of the Halachic process from those who attempt to chip away at it. I think that many people are getting caught up in the details of the issues that are being raised by the extreme left and are not seeing the underlying attack on the Mesorah and Halachic process. The most disturbing part of Rabbi Kanefsky’s article to me is his feeling of being trapped in an evil world of cages and mysoginist values. There is no attempt to understand the world of the Torah as one of beauty and timeless values, rather it is just dismissed as outdated and inferior to current Western Values.

  • contarian

    Rabbi Dov Fischer writes

    The child of a non-Jew who seeks to enter the embrace of Klal Yisrael also begins from a different place. If he is a male Moabite, he cannot get in altogether, no matter what.

    I disagree about male Moabites. Like the word “Never”, “altogether” and “no matter what” are too strong.

    There is nothing preventing a male Moabite fromm converting to Judaism and becoming a Get Tzedek. Yes! his marriage prospects would be severely limited by Jewish Law, That being said, if he marries a convert who is neither Egyptian nor Edomite, his daughter could marry anyone in the Jewish fold save for a Kohen.

  • Bob Miller

    Maybe the alleged rabbi meant amorphodoxy. It takes on the shape that most appeals to one’s current desires, and changes again when the desires do.

  • Benshaul

    I read the original of the article by Yosef Kanefsky,(i cannot bring myself to call him Rabbi) and more than the outcome of his “psak” was the vitriol towards gedolei rishonim and chachamim. i was blown away that someone who calls himself orthodox could write this way about rishonim. His language and attitude of Chazal and rabbonim is simply beyond the pale -and the fact that he removed it doesn’t change a thing about him.
    It does seem that someone should post a link to the original -if we can, so we everyone can see how he denigrates chazal.
    As an aside -the way in which he disgraced Rav Kook Zt”l -should be an issue that would rally the datei-lemui community that so looks up to him, and i am surprised not to see that.

  • S.

    I must add my voice to the chorus who would like to point out that contrary to Rabbi Fischer’s apparent experience, I have seen many many mechitzos that are little better than cages. It’s one thing to maintain the separation of sexes, even to not construct the shul so that both man and women have exact side-by-side sections in the shul. It’s quite another to claim that the ezras nashim is always just fine. That is patently not the case. I’ve seen ezras nashims made from trellis which made the women dizzy to look at it, ezras nashims which don’t allow any view or the ability to hear, the banishment of men who talk to sit near the mechitzah which means that while most of the men don’t hear them, all the women do, women given less comfortable chairs, and on and on. Anyone who denies that this occurs at all either is looking the other way or not being as forthcoming as they could be. The fact that these facts don’t even register as a problem is itself problematic.

  • dr. bill

    Steve Brizel, I would not deign to judge how the Rav ztl would react to Oslo. i know (much better than most) how he reacted to other events, but that is not the point. My point is that he was strongly opposed to those who felt that absent a political judgement, there is a definitive halakhic position. His view was more nuanced and he believed that the judgement of the state is of tantamount importance. he clearly stated that given a particular political assessment/judgement, returning even the kosel maaravi would be permissible.

    Rabbi Schacter made a point about the stridency and self-assured nature of some who address difficult issues. As the Rav explained even R. Yochanon ben zakai did not feel so self-assured about some of his most critical decisions. He noted that in the modern day, women’s issues among others require a bit more restraint and less strident debate.

  • Flood

    Why is it that Rabbi Fischer, an executive member of the RCA, writes an articulate article regarding some blog written by someone who runs an OU certified Shul. Yet, Rabbi Fischer remained absolutely silent when the RCA’s official magazine (”Tradition”)published an article stating that the Torah’s description of the Mabul is inaccurate?

  • David F.

    I’ve been in more shuls than I can possibly count being that I’ve lived in the USA and Israel and in multiple states and I don’t ever recall seeing an Ezras Nashim that resembles a cage. Admittedly most of the shuls I’ve visited have been of a Charedi bent and perhaps things are different in Modern Orthodox shuls, but given their professed concern for the dignity of women and the greater role women play on those shuls, I can’t imagine it’s any worse there. Perhaps it is, but if so, I’d hope that this distinction would be made clear by those who lodge such complaints. I’d be very interested to hear from “S” and others examples of shuls that feature cage-like mechitzos instead of generalities.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >It is interesting that you bring proof from non-Torah movements. Why is the drop predictable?

    Speaking from a sociological perspective – much of what men “get” from shul attendance is a sort of men’s club solidarity. It is pretty widely accepted even in the modern egalitatian world that both genders benefit from same-gender social groups. For many men, shul was the place where they would get this sort of same-gender social contact. In the gentile world, many men get the same thing out of lodge groups or free-mason societies and such. Lodges which went egalitarian similarly saw a drop in attendance.

    Now, I fully agree that this reality should not be the primary reason men go to shul. However, it may still be an intrinsic sociological benefit of the Jewish religious community model. Personally, I think this sociological reality is the single most powerful argument for non-egalitarian shuls that also has a chance of striking a chord with the liberal wing of the community. It of course does not address other highly difficult religious laws such as women being invalid as witnesses and judges, etc. But recognizing the social benefits of gender-seperated services is a non-mysoginistic argument against extreme egalitarianism.

  • S.

    >I’d be very interested to hear from “S” and others examples of shuls that feature cage-like mechitzos instead of generalities.

    Don’t get so hung up on the word “cage.” We are not Karaites of Rabbi Kanefsky or Rabbi Fischer’s posts (I’m not sure who used the term “cage”). The point, as I understand it, is ezras nashims which are basically unpleasant.

  • Bob Miller

    Charedi Leumi,

    Ask a radical feminist if men-only groups have as much validity as women-only groups. Ask a black radical if white-only groups have as much validity as black-only groups. What you may hear is that the “oppressed” should band together but their “oppressors” should not.

  • YM

    Kevin Gold: My take of the Mishna Breua you quoted is that in the past, some siddurs printed Sheasani Yisroel because of censorship and/or self censorship; I don’t see that is was ever a minority opinion that this is what a person should actually say.

  • Michael

    For all the men here who think that women’s sections are just fine or are obtuse enough to focus on the actual seats, then I suggests you try davening in the women’s section in your shul. Have you ever tried davening in a balcony? How about the little box in the back reserved for handicapped women in shuls with balconies? (You can easily try this out during a weekday Shacharit when there are usually no women there.) I have, it’s like the difference between having field level seats at first base and sitting in the upper deck.

    Now you may answer that women are not part of the service and therefore only need to be spectators. That’s a different discussion, but please don’t have the audacity to tell a woman who feels “out of it” by sitting in these sections that it’s just fine.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >Ask a radical feminist if men-only groups have as much validity as women-only groups. Ask a black radical if white-only groups have as much validity as black-only groups. What you may hear is that the “oppressed” should band together but their “oppressors” should not.

    I don’t think that the majority of the left wing orthodox are radical feminists. They are fairly moderate feminists otherwise they would not choose to be a part of an orthodox congregation. That being the case, most moderate feminists understand that there is some value to same-gender social groups as long as it does not put them at some economic/political disadvantage. There are many many secular (and these include members who consider themselves feminists) women’s groups out there – from women’s book clubs to women-only gyms which are increasingly popular. These people can be reasoned with and can appreciate the need for men’s groups as well. I am not arguing that this is a be-all-end-all answer but I think it is an important angle that needs to be considered and argued.

  • Danny Rubin

    With all due respect I would like to suggest that certain practices are far more threatening than yet another uniformed “rabbi”’s lame attempt to challenge halacha. Consider the following:

    • We have given women no role in Simchas Torah or Purim
    • Women can become subject matter experts in any area then, walk into any institution and command the attention and respect of any and every “C-Level” executive, yet when it comes to certain mosdos they apparently have nothing to offer the various executive and rabbinic committees who inappropriately hide behind the aura of “daas torah”
    • Is the support of the intellectual and spiritual development of wives discussed as often as it should be both before and after marriage?

    These issues come at a time when we are asking women to shoulder an immense financial burden which traditionally fell within the responsibility of a husband.

    Does this state of affairs have the potential to turn women off to the point where we need another Sara Schneirer style revolution to rescue them?

    I hope we never have to find out.

  • Benshaul

    I am bewildered by all the comments about the “cage” in shuls for the womans section. WADR -y’all are missing the point. The real issue is the attitude and bezayon with which Yosef Kanefsky relates to chazal. I franky am at a loss to understand why there isnt more of a groundswell of protest at that. To be blunt -I almost would expect a “machoa” from the broad mainstream of the orthodox world at his comments. Where is the kovod for Rav Kook ZT”l, are we supposed to remain silent when a man can so denigrate the giants of Jewery!!. If this really what he thinks the gedolei rishonim thought? Not being from the YU stream i can’t quote chapter and verse -but I am positve that The Rav ZY”l has some printed material and certianly told to his students opinions that would place him in the camp who kanevsky would write about as “we unthinkingly mouth the philosophical justification for these demeaning, arbitrary, discriminatory practices” .
    Really now -what would the Rav have said about someone who can say of the Avudraham “I cannot take God’s name in the context of this blessing anymore. I suspect, at this point in history, that it constitutes a Desecration of the Name,”
    This is the crux of the matter -all else is disraction!

    The proof of where this attitude really belongs is in the fact the the link to his original article posted above, is posted by…………what a suprise ….Posted by Women’s League for Conservative Judaism– afra lepumai

  • Charlie Hall

    “And it is despicable to portray the female prayer experience as being tantamount to praying from a cage.”

    It is unfortunate that Rabbi Fischer included this comment. Not only have I attended services where “cage” isn’t a bad metaphor, I often visit minyans where women are not permitted to pray at all! My wife was once forced to pray on the sidewalk outside a large shul because the men refused to leave the women’s section. And yet one of the major arguments against women’s tefillah groups is that it is better for a woman to pray with a minyan! The Orthodox world clearly does not believe that; there are far more men-only services than women-only services today.

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    A few responsive comments to some of the many continually intelligent and insightful comments prompted by the commentary:

    To “Contrarian”: Please check out D’varim 23:4 and Yevamot 76b.

    As to the term “Cage”: When the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism posted the Kanefsky article on their website and in their newsletter, it was gravy for their meat, sauce for their pasta, honey for their tea, cream for their coffee — and whatever metaphor you like. In the world of Conservative Judaism,there is the continuing quiet recognition that theirs is a world of compromising Truth and Authenticity at the core, resulting in their institutional demise. They know what has become of their Shabbat, their kashrut, their “chinukh.” It tugs at them. This article by Rabbi Kanefsky gives them much that the author never intended: validation for driving on Shabbat, for not seeking a “Get” from a proper bet din. That wholesale abandonment of the Torah core never was Rabbi Kanefsky’s intention, but that is what the word “Cage” really is all about. Here we are, on Cross-Currents, discussing reasonably the understandable preference for a ground-level women’s section in lieu of an Ezrat Nashim way upstairs, or understandably seeking ample space for women to pray comfortably, or understandably dealing with insensitive men who clog the women’s section in some places. But our discussion is different from the disastrously false word the author wrote in his article. He said “Cage.” Unlike what I did above — where I made clear that my use of words like “gravy,” “sauce,” “honey,” and “cream” were metaphors — he did not couch “Cage” as metaphor. As inexorably has unfolded, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism saw the word “Cage,” and they understand the word “Cage” without Targum, not as metaphor nor as simile but as “Cage.” A cage is a cage.

    That word — “Cage” — perfectly feeds Conservative Judaism’s narrative about the backwards misogynistic Orthodox and why Conservative Judaism was and is justified in breaking from Shabbat observance according to halakha, batei din for Gittin, etc. That word “Cage” provides the justification for chilul Shabbat, for wiping out wide swaths of mitzvot, and for joining as flock for a new era of JTS rabbis who do not believe that Jews were enslaved or even present in Pharaoh’s Egypt, much as they deny that we stood in our millions at Mt. Sinai. With the word “Cage” and the generalized claim that batei din universally are corrupt against divorcing women, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has its validations and their justitifcations, courtesy of the rabbi of a West Coast Orthodox Union synagogue. Shame on him, and shame on the Orthodox Union for its silence.

  • S.

    Rabbi Fischer, it is we who are at fault for making it possible for people to use the word “Cage,” which could not be done with dignified and inviting ezras nashims. Shame on us for making horrible ezras nashims and creating the fuel for the fire of which you speak. The simply solution is to build nice ezras nashims, thereby approaching the fulfillment of our halachic obligations of honoring our wives (in reality it’s to honor her even more than ourselves, but how about we settle on as much as ourselves?).

    Furthermore, the charge of giving chizuk to Coservatives is antiquated and irrelevent, as if it was 1950 and the Conservative Movement is attracting Orthodox Jews, which it is not.

    As an aside, how is terrible ezras nashim is better than a “cage?” You are being pedantic about semantics. If he had written “terrible ezras nashims” the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism would also have picked up the article. Not charging/ confessing that this is the case would not improve the situation for Orthodox women who frankly are entitled to better.

    Finally, the biggest antidote to charges that Orthdoxy does not treat women well is to treat women well. Where we have a clear case where women are not being treated well, we need to fix it. This is why I (and presumably the others) zeroed in on this one comment in your post. You act like the mechitzah issue is just absurd. But it not absurd at all. It is a real problem, and we are calling you on it. You would have a much better polemic if you would acknowledge it.

  • micha

    lacosta: I am not the “mb” of August 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm.

    I have strong opinions on this subject, involving the differences between judging individual acts and rushing to write off people who are still buying into our classical measures of the observant community. I didn’t chime in because I don’t think a comment chain can really productively discuss a position that sits in the space between two passionately held extremes.

  • Mike S.

    With regard to Rabbi Fischer’s last comment, is it really the use of the word “cage” in an article that gives ammunition to the Conservative movement, or is it the all too common practice of not taking care to make the ezrat nashim an appropriate place for the women to seriously engage in the davening? Or of men being unwilling, as Dr. Hall pointed out, to permit women to use the ezrat nashim at all during the weekday service?

    The practice of not addressing problems within our communities because we are unwilling to acknowledge them for fear of giving outsiders some reason to criticize us for their own purposes prevents us from achieving the best we can in the service of Hashem. The comments of Chasam Sofer and Maharitz Chajes on “anvanuso shel R. Zecharia ben Avkulas” would seem to be applicable.

  • L. Oberstein

    The person who wrote:
    “The most disturbing part of Rabbi Kanefsky’s article to me is his feeling of being trapped in an evil world of cages and mysoginist values. There is no attempt to understand the world of the Torah as one of beauty and timeless values, rather it is just dismissed as outdated and inferior to current Western Values.”
    correctly describes the issue. Reform Judaism is fundamentally in favor of making Judaism conform to contemporary values and norms. It is stated in their platforms. Conservative Judaism also believes that Catholic Israel,the body of the Jewish Community has a deciding voice in how halacha is interpreted. If the people don’t do it, it is obsolete.
    The question facing your readers is whether orthodoxy is monolithic and whether the way it was understood is absolute or time and place related. If the Rambam said teaching Torah to women was forbidden and the Rav taught Talmud to women, then how can one say that the understanding of what is proper cannot change and that we must adapt to what past generations considered normal. Is there no rfoom in orthodoxy for a different way to relate to women than in the past.
    No one seems to like the way this rabbi expressed himself and it could very well show disdain for chazal, I didn’t see the original. Does that mean he isn’t making any valid point at all? This issue is not a minor one, I think it may split orthodoxy in the future.

  • Dr. E

    It was obviously not the initial impetus for the post, (notwithstanding the outrageous “innovation” of the Rabbi in question), my friend Danny Rubin brings up some good points regarding both the role of women and their intellectual stimulation, especially within the more traditional (or Chareidi lite) circles. It’s as if the system has set up allowances or expectations for women to work in professional contexts and bring in that income. But when it comes to their role within the community, the expectations are that they be similar to their peers who do not work in professional contexts. From the time they leave their seminaries, they must to subordinate their intellectual capacities Jewishly and engage exclusively in chessed and child rearing. Attending shul on a regular basis (beyond Tekias Shofar, Parshas Zachor, and Kol Nidre) must be a thing of the past and a few shiurim or lectures a year is the limit. The quality of the programming and seating arrangements in many shuls reinforces this. Their input into the management of community shuls and schools is rebuffed, based on misapplied or outdated applications of constructs like Serara or an implicitly stated “Daatan Kalos” argument. (Although it has been my observation that in the various moshvei leitzim of Kiddush Clubs or table chatter at men’s tables at Simchos—where our schools and shuls are discussed and decisions are made, “Daatam Kalos” appears to be the norm.)

    With these artificially imposed limitations on women, it’s no wonder that (most) men recite “shelo asani isha” each day.

  • davidwag

    lacosta – the tisha b’av program with the non-orthodox congregations consisted of learning and breaking the fast. Davening for R’ Kanefsky’s congregation was with a mechitza as always.