Painting the Bull’s-Eye Around the Arrow

In more than 2,000 years of published halakhic analysis, it is not surprising that our greatest Poskim imbued with the deepest access to the Torah’s loftiest meanings have published deep thoughts and rulings that sometimes conflict with those of other Poskim. Every student of Gemara has learned of the “Eilu v’Eilu” disputes between Rava and Abaye, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, and other famous disputants. The Raavad’s dissents in the Yad. The variant Ashkenazic practices brought by the Rama as notes on the M’chaber’s Code. Differences among the greatest parshanim, as exemplified by the many opinions brought down in the classic Ramban on the reason HKB”H chastised Moshe and Aharon at Mei Merivah. The traditions of different viewpoints carried through the Ages and into more contemporary times comes home with particular clarity in teshuvot penned by The Chakham HaRav Ovadiah Yosef in Y’chaveh Da’at, evidencing the volume of contradicting opinions throughout the centuries, each substantively grounded in the deepest devotion to the word of the Torah and faithful to the process of Mesorah.

In that halakhic process by which psak adheres with fealty to Mesorah, there is a presumption – it goes without saying – that in delving through the Codes and the shu”tim, we plumb with trepidation and awe when we search for room to permit something. We do not merely dispense with laws or practices to satisfy a passing fad. We wrestle; we struggle. Even when a rav finds a heter for someone with a critical need, sometimes relying on a less mainstream opinion, the Mesorah of psak finds him doing so quietly. He advises the individual that, in light of a particular issue or need, perhaps do this with a shinui. Perhaps try this, avoid that. “And remember: do not go around telling others that ‘Rav XYZ said I can do this and that.’ Rather, this ruling is unique to this situation, at this moment, and neither you nor anyone else may rely on it next time unless you come back to me again.” Only the greatest of Poskim have the halakhically broad shoulders on which to bear the burden of publishing teshuvot to hundreds or thousands of questions, knowing those answers will be read by others in different contexts. Even then, it was known that Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik zt”l came from a family tradition that discouraged writing. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l did not want Igrot Moshe translated into vernacular. The process of Psak is very sensitive, ever exposed to potential misuse and arrogation.

Surprisingly to many, Conservative Judaism in its early years a century ago was not particularly deviant from halakha. Many of its founders aimed at saving Torah practice in America from the radical extremes of “Reform.” They were concerned that Torah foundations at the turn of the last century lacked strong American-grounded bases. They wanted to resist, even to stop reform, and to save religious commitment and Torah traditions for the public-school children of the East European immigrants of 1881-1914 who spoke only Yiddish, and they defined themselves as the opposite of the Radical left. They were holding the right: Conservative Judaism. They did not permit driving on Shabbat. They universally believed that Jews had been enslaved in Egypt and had assembled at Sinai, were quite committed to kashrut (reflected, ironically, by the great debates of the 1950s over the few areas where they diverged from the Orthodox, such as the swordfish and sturgeon scales debates). They officially adhered to most halakhic practices. Indeed, bona fide Orthodox rabbinical leaders like Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes, who helped found the Orthodox Union – he even was an early President of the O.U. – also helped establish the JTS. Conservative Judaism was literally conservative about its Judaism.

In time, Conservative Judaism lost it all because, although they – as we – truly could find a minority opinion, an honest da’as yachid, for so many areas of deviation from the halakhic norm established by our Poskim, they abandoned Mesorah in the search for the da’as yachid. With American Jews coming home from World War II and buying homes in Levittown under the G.I. Bill in droves, Conservative Judaism decided to permit suburbans to drive on Shabbat to temple. Having shot their arrow, they then undertook to paint a bull’s-eye around it, cutting-and-pasting any opinions they could find. It was not a sincere search for halakhic truth but a Jewish scavenger hunt for clues, a game. Decades later, retiring JTS Chancellor Gerson Cohen rued the day that Conservative Judaism took that fateful plunge off the halakhic cliff. Where the fight over swordfish was driven by interpretation and understanding of Torah she-b’al-peh, as well as fealty to the greater authority of Chazal, the Saturday driving ruling was driven by a determination that, no matter what the halakhic literature revealed, those Conservative rabbis were going to come out permitting driving on Shabbat. And so the bull’-eye painting process continued: an Assyriologist was invited to sit with Conservative rabbis and to find that women count in a minyan. From there, Torah aliyot, women chazans, women rabbis, gay rabbis. Along the way, they found a Mordechai to quote. A Gemara here. Always a Prozbul reference. By now, after half a century of painting bull’s-eyes, their temples often are so indistinguishable from Reform that, in these economically harsh times, many merge comfortably. And every time a Jewish Republican describes his politics, he has to say “I am a conservative Jew – that’s with a small ‘c’.” Because Conservative Judaism, having abandoned an halakhic mooring, now is Very Liberal Judaism. In time, that Conservatism has found sources to stop praying for korbanot – archaic, barbaric.

This is the Way of the new challenge to Mesorah emanating from “Morethodoxy,” the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), and the Chovevei Torah seminary (YCT). As new demands from them emerge to ordain women rabbis, to conduct mutual ring exchanges at weddings, and so much else, they tell us that they have sources for all. We have seen this before in Conservatism, and we had a rare honest glimpse at the parallel Morethodoxy process in the recent affair when one of their number, for a brief moment, brought us into his thinking. Something upset him greatly. He had written about a lady, “rebbe” to a newly marrying couple, who was capable of reading the Ketubah under the chupah. But the right wing does not go for that, and he had much to say. He no longer would recite the brakhah “shelo asani isha.” In quite fulminating tones, he described the brakhah as a Chilul Hashem, wrote of the “cages” where all Orthodox women supposedly are incarcerated at prayer, alleged that batei din universally are corrupt against women in divorce situations, attacked several Torah giants of the past.

He came under withering criticism, soon posting a follow-up article, apologizing to the public for his prior tone, indeed withdrawing his prior article completely. And then he came forward with a new article – this time, a kinder and gentler tone, and with a few sources of questionable merit cut-and-pasted together. Having publicly first shot his arrow at a tree, he now had been advised by allies to get the paint brush and paint some bull’s-eyes around his shots.

It is all so random and invites countless new opportunities to paint – a few examples for starters:

Gay Jews feel uncomfortable during the layning at Yom Kippur Mincha. Should we change it?

For non-Jews: Because non-Jews enter the shul at bar mitzvas, or as relatives visiting gerei tzedek, should we delete (i) “shelo asani goy” (ii) “asher bachar banu mi-hol ha-amim” and (iii) “ki vanu vacharta v’otanu kidashta mi-kol ha-amim”?

For women: Should we modify the matbe’a tefillah for the Amidah (as have Conservative and Reform): “. . .Elokeinu vEilokei Avoteinu v’Imeinu, Elokei Avraham v’Sarah, Elokei Yitzchak v’Rivka, vEilokei Yaakov v’ Rachel v’Leah.”

For women: In the Musaf Kedusha, should we alternate: “Hu Elokeinu, Hee Imeinu. Hu Malkeinu, Hee Moshi-einu”?

For women: Should we stop being so demonstrative about kissing our tzitzit at Sh’ma, and our tefillin at Sh’ma and at “Potei’ach et yadekha” because such actions manifest overt insensitivity that we have the mitzvah and they don’t?

Should we not recite the brakhah “pokei’ach ivrim” if someone in the shul has a blind relative? Should we delete “zokef k’fufim” if someone without an erect back walks in?

Should we delete the second paragraph of U-n’taneh Tokef out of sensitivity to those who have lost relatives in the past year?

For the animal-rights activists: Should we stop praying at Musaf for restoration of korbanot and stop reading Maftir on Yom Tov from the sections in Pinchas?

In a shul where most everyone is shomer mitzvot, should we take out “hashiveinu Avinu [Imeinu] . . . v’hachzireinu b’teshuvah shleima l’fanekha”?

When a local judge walks in, should we stop praying for “hashivah shofteinu k’varishonah”?

Should we just re-censor Aleinu and delete most of the first half?

Do we have the same power to create brakhot as did Chazal? If I am hankering for pizza, may I say a brakhah with Shem u-Malkhut: “borei minei okhel k’mo pizza”? At Baskin-Robbins: “she-natan li chaim b’dor shel g’lidah”? At a deli: “she-natan li basar”?
Chazal had authority to establish mitzvot and invoke G-d’s name as though it had been He Who commanded (e.g., hadlakat ner Chanukah, k’ri’at megillat Purim). May we? It all is so random and endless. “I shot an arrow in the air, and where it landed I know not where.” Solomon Schechter could not have imagined where his arrow ultimately would land. And so it begins again.

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). He blogs at www.rabbidov.com

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24 comments to Painting the Bull’s-Eye Around the Arrow

  • dr. bill

    one has the right to criticize and strongly disagree. OTOH, assumptions about the motive of others, weak analogies, less than serious hypotheticals, etc. etc. contribute little to a serious debate.

    and for some irrelevancies, i recently finally heard two orthodox rabbis who read a ketubah as well as a famous women professor. As the woman read a few years back, i turned to an orthodox graduate of the yeshiva in Lakewood, with whom i was sitting, and asked if anyone will think she read the same text; he laughed and we discussed how to pronounce a word. at another wedding, i asked this same rav where a leader of the agudah was an eid kiddushin together with one of the leaders of YCT, if anyone would consider them married. i was joking, but i am now beginning to wonder.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    It’s so unfortunate, given a second chance to right his wrongs of the previous article, that Rabbi Fischer seems incapable of letting go his acrimony and nastiness. In two lengthy attempts, Rabbi Fischer has yet to provide us with a rational, intellectual response to the issue at hand. In addition to Rabbi Kanefsky, we also have Rabbi Asher Lopian and Rabbi Zev Farber weighing in on the subject with well thought out and sourced pieces on the subject of the bracha of Shelo Assani Isha. We’re still waiting for something of that caliber to appear here on Cross Currents.

    Maybe Rabbi Fischer doesn’t realize it, but there are growing numbers of young people who’s, to use the term of Rav Kook, natural morality are causing them to question much of what we take for granted. Attacking those who attempt to come up with alternatives, maybe misguided maybe not, and shrilly warning, chicken little style, of the dawn of a new “Conservative Judaism” may play well to the already converted Cross Currents crowd, but it only serves to push the true audience of this discussion further away. The old rationales ring quite hollow to this generation. They are smart, sophisticated and have access to unlimited information. If we insist on using the old playbook Rabbi Fischer’s scare tactics will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Shonnie

    Here you go again. Don’t mix legitimate criticisms of the man with silly ones. He is 100% RIGHT to point out that women’s sections in MANY shuls are not nice, and you look foolish when you say he was foolish to complain about women praying in cages. Many women’s sections are HORRID! Why don’t you say, “While the man had some legitimate criticisms, such as complaining that some shuls have terrible women’s sections, and we in the Orthodox community should work to change this, he had other criticisms which were nonsensical…”

  • ARW

    Kudos to Rabbi Fischer for another excellent article. People need to realize what the YCT/IRF grouping stands for and the potential threat they are in leading certain segments of the frum community away from the Yiddishkeit of our Mesorah and towards an emotionally driven Yiddishkeit which is appealing to them but not actually Halachic. Ultimately the goal of the YCT/IRF crowd is controlled assimalation. They want to appear modern and western and not be embarrased by Torah values which may not be compatible with western values. They want to hold onto a certain level of technical observance, but they are not interested in recalibrating their moral compass. This is a slippery slope which I believe they have already fallen down, just as the Conservative movement did.

    Menachem Lipkin,
    If growing numbers of young people are questioning what we take for granted, by which I assume you mean certain elements of Halacha and Hashkafa which are imcompatible with western values then the problem is the lifesteyle and education of the community in which they live, not the Torah.

  • David F.

    “less than serious hypotheticals”

    I’ve actually seen/heard/read four of his hypotheticals. Some of these suggestions were advanced by Orthodox Jews on Hirhurim and others by Conservative Jews who’ve written to me inquiring about the possibilities.

    Menachem may not realize it but sad it would be to lose some of the audience, if that’s the price we’ll have to pay to ensure fealty to our Mesorah, it may well be the better of the two options. I hope it never comes to that, but if the left-wing of MO insists on making changes to long-standing practices [and that’s what Rabbi Fischer has been discussing,] there may not be another good option. The subject at hand is not a Chumrah imposed by Lakewood talmidim – it’s a brachah established by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah and very few Orthodox Jews are interested in seeing that change even if it offends your “natural morality.”

    Kudos to Rabbi Fischer for refusing to treat this issue seriously when it is abundantly clear to the vast majority of Orthodox Jews that it’s not worth our time considering such changes to our Mesorah.

  • daniel

    Beautiful article. R’ Fischer eloquently explains what most orthodox jews believe.

  • Toronto Yid

    I just came across a recent fascinating responsum from the Mesorati (Conservative)movement in Israel to someone asking whether they can drive to shul in Israel because the wife is uncomfortable in an Orthodox shul and there is no local Mesorati shul for them to attend. See here .

    It refers to the original responsum that permitted it in the U.S. and forbids it now in Israel. Note that in doing so, they make mention of the rationale for the US decision, and at first say that the circumstances are different in Israel today so the US decision doesn’t apply. But then they go on to strongly state why driving on Shabbat is contrary to biblical and rabbinic law.

    How the times have changed! Perhaps another element of this is that Masorati is trying to be recognized in Israel and they realize that allowing driving on Shabbat would put them beyond the pale.

  • Bob Miller

    Menachem Lipkin,

    Do you personally believe that “Shelo Assani Isha” was once a valid reason for men to praise HaShem, but no longer is? Or are you just upset that some modern positions about this are dismissed here by Rabbi Fisher without a properly supported, ad-hominem-free argument.

  • Eli

    Menachem- instead of avoiding R. Fisher’s point by dismissing it as a scare tactic, maybe step back and give it some objective consideration? The truth is that while I concede your point that he avoids directly responding to the sincere issues raised, your dismissal is no better. There is plenty of historical similarity between the “Moerthodox”movement and the beginning of the Conservative movement, and without pointing that out there would be many many people who disagree with Conservativism who would fall for the more traditional trappings of Morethedoxy, while in reality its a slippery slope from where they stand today to Conservative. I think that while you’re right that these issues are real and very troublesome to some people’s innate sense of morality, that doesn’t negate the validity or even the need to point out the flaws with alternative “options” that are unacceptable from a Torah viewpoint.

  • S.

    Rabbi Fischer, you’ve stated your opinion, but how should I evaluate it? How do we know how to distinguish between legitimate, farseeing criticism and hysterical, even vicious rhetoric?

    Presumably you’ll agree that it was wrong, so wrong, to call R. Ezriel Hildesheimer a rasha, as he was called in Hungary (See Teshuvos Beis Hillel by R. Hillel Lichtenstein #13, which is so vituperative that it is literally *missing* from the version on hebrewbooks.org)? How do I know that you’re not doing that?

  • L. Oberstein

    There is an ocean of difference between the Conservative Movement and the Open Orthodoxy of Riverdale and elsewhere.There has never been a critical mass of observant Conservative Jews, the rabbis may have once cared what the halachic rational for driving on Shabbos was but that never bothered the vast majority who were riding before the permission was granted. Conservative Judaism was late in establishing Day Schools and producing a laity that was literate and observant, and didn’t have much success,even afterwards. Many of those who started as committed Conservative Jews moved over to orthodoxy because they craved a community of observers.
    On the other hand,in Riverdale, I have seen highly educated people, both secularly and Jewishly, who constitute an observant community. I have seen how in Washington, one such rabbi has resussitated a dead shul and filled it with observant,committed people, many of whomn are also highly educated.
    I am not commenting on the religious arguments, only on the fact that Open Orthodoxy has a far better chance for long term viability. We are seeing a move to polar extremes in orthodoxy and it is the middle that is losing out. I don’t know what we can do about it.

  • Charlie Hall

    “Indeed, bona fide Orthodox rabbinical leaders like Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes, who helped found the Orthodox Union – he even was an early President of the O.U. – also helped establish the JTS.”

    JTS was solidly Orthodox in its early years. Its very first graduate became the Chief Rabbi of the UK. I’m aware of a solidly Orthodox synagogue hiring a JTS grad as its rabbi as late as the 1960s. (I don’t think that would happen today.)

    And while we are at it, we should note that from other parts of the Orthodox world we are finding significant halachic innovations of dubious validity. There is nothing in the Shulchan Aruch that would allow the en masse pasuling of conversions, and there is no time in our history since the Samaritans where that has happened. No rishon I have found has required literal belief in the universe having had the exact chronology of the Seder Olam Rabbah — indeed Ramban categorically said that there was NO requirement to believe the literal truth of any particular midrash — but today there are prominent rabbis who are declaring the belief in an ancient universe to be beyond the pale of Judaism.

    And while Jews have always tried to obey the laws of the countries in which we have lived to the best of our ability, we now have community leaders convicted of, or defending, money launderers, drug smugglers, bank fraudsters, and someone who sells national security information for money as without sin.

    I look forward to Cross Currents essays setting the record straight on these issues.

  • barryg

    Kissing tzitzit et al are interesting minhagim, but, IIRC, not exactly a halachic requirement.
    I seem to also recall that some who wear their tzitzit “out”, tuck them in when at a kvurah so as not to “offend” those buried there (because they can no longer perform that mitzvah).

    Like the challot we cover to avoid ‘embarrassing’ them as we prioritize kiddush, the meitim are beyond the point at which they can be embarrased. Such actions are designed to elevate the actor, not the inanimate (or no longer animate) object of our supposed concern.

    Perhaps then, where others find the kissing of tzitzit et al in shul offensive, there is room to at least consider minimizing such “in-your-face” type of behavior.

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    Thank you for your comments, Mr. Lipkin. I respectfully offer you an analogy: President Obama’s healthcare legislation. Someone — call him Reuven — defends it by writing that it serves a need to insure those who are not covered by a health plan. A second person — Shimon — then writes a Constitutional analysis, arguing that the legislation transcends the proper boundaries of the Commerce Clause, and that Washington has no right to impose an individual mandate on people to purchase a product they choose not to buy. Reuven then writes back: “But you are not discussing the need that uninsured people have for coverage. Read the following blogspot that contains many well-researched arguments that people need coverage.” And Shimon writes back: “Fine, but I want to discuss the Commerce Clause and the constitutionality of the individual mandate.”

    On a second level, as someone who lost sleep for nearly two months when I was nine- or ten-years-old, and furthermore would not walk into any basement anywhere for a year, after I watched the wax-statute episode of the Twilight Zone (“The New Exhibit,” starring Martin Balsam), I know from scare tactics. And no, Senator, these are not scare tactics.

    If you feel empowered by employing epithets to comment on the analysis that I choose to undertake, calling my words “acrimony,” “nastiness,” “shrill,” “chicken little,” and “scare tactics,” you are entitled. Enjoy yourself. Others would say the same about the authors of several articles on Morethodoxy, arguing that it is they whose “acrimony,” “nastiness,” “shrill attacks against Chazal,” etc., have failed to influence.

    Where we all can agree is that Rod Serling used scare tactics well.

  • Tal Benschar

    My first reaction when I read the original Kanovsky piece was, how trite, another “rabbi” realizes that the Torah does not match the latest P.C. notions of what is good and what is not. The second piece is no better, its more of the same pablum: halakhah has always “evoloved,” and after all Hillel instituted prozbol, so why can’t I institute the desired change du jour. We have heard this already again and again.

    The correct halakhic term for what Kanovsky wrote is makchish magideihah shel Torah. The idea that a 21st century pulpit rabbi is morally superior to everyone from the author of the Tosefta down to Rav Kook, and that reciting a beracha which Chazal instituted is a “Chillul Hashem” it utterly repugnant to anyone with an ounce of yiras shomayim. The issue is not that particular beracha, it’s the entire approach of ‘we know better than Chazal about what is yashar ve tov.’

    The correct approach to such an outrage is af atah hakheh es shinav.

    Maybe Rabbi Fischer doesn’t realize it, but there are growing numbers of young people who’s, to use the term of Rav Kook, natural morality are causing them to question much of what we take for granted.

    WADR, what is at play here is not “natural morality,” but simply the latest intellectual fads. The notion that Rav Kook would have approved of the approach taken in Kanovsky’s posts is risible. The attempt to reconfigure the Masorah to the editorial page of the NY Times is doomed to failure. Part and parcel of adhering to the Masorah is the scorn of those who feel they know better than God. Avraham Avinu was also scorned when he preached monotheism.

  • Noam stadlan

    The comparisons that rabbi Fischer makes are not justified. The first issue here is: does someone accept the commandments as binding? The Conservative ranks and file do not, and even 60 years ago the views of Reform and Conservative rabbis were indistinguishable on this and related faith topics(see the survey published I think in commentary magazine in the 60’s). So the analogy immediately does not hold. The actual point of disagreement is not regarding commandedness, but what exactly are the commandments, and more specifically, what to do when science, society and our ideas of morality have changed from the time of the Talmud. We now violate shabbat to care for an 8 month old fetus when the talmud instructs us not to. When you find a person buried under a building with no pulse or respiration, but dig him out anyway on shabbat and do CPR you are similarly directly violating the Gemara in yoma(and Rashi and many rishonim and acharonim). Social situations have also changed. I doubt you follow the Rambam regarding your wife leaving the house twice a month at most. The Torah is eternal. When halachic rules are applied to different circumstances, the results sometimes wind up being different. The claim that our practice doesn’t change is patently false. The other claim is that we don’t consciously change practice. This means that the only changes accepted are non intentional which includes mistakes(saying zeicher/zecher), incorporating local non-Jewish practices(upshirin), and personal chumrot which are then perhaps mindlessly copied by more and more people and wind up codified as an immutable minhag. I am not sure this is what the Tannaim and Geonim and Rishonim had in mind and it certainly seems to contradict the idea that we are Am Chacham V’navon. There are a number of discussions as to how to address the perceived conflict between Halacha and our sense of morality. See rav Eliezer Berkovitz and also te article in Tradition by rav Eugene Korn entitled Tzelem Elokim and the dialectic of jewish morality

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Rabbi Fischer, I would have to say that “scare tactics” is in the eye of the beholder. (The name of another great TZ episode. :) I remember that episode of TZ you mentioned from around the same age and it didn’t bother me all that much. To many in the CC crowd, hauling out the the “C” word is akin to seeing the Wicked Witch attack Dorothy for the first time. Be that as it may, your concern is not invalid, on broader issues of focusing on trees vs. forests and slippery slopes, your words are well taken. I just think it doesn’t have to be part of this specific discussion.

    David F. is too willing to jettison folks who don’t tow, what he perceives as, the Mesoraitic line. Not everyone is willing write these people off without a fight. Great Poskim have adapted our practices to the needs of the times. I’m not saying the answer is to automatically make changes every time someone has an issue, but let’s at least be sensitive to their concerns.

    Tal Benschar misread me, I did not say or imply that Rav Kook would have approved of Rabbi Kanefsky’s approach. However, I firmly believe that he would have respected the source of people’s angst regarding this issue and possibly even acknowledged that it comes from a higher sense of morality.

    I think it’s so interesting that people consider the concern over the impression of this Bracha to be a function of modern “PC” thinking. If so, then I guess all of those various explanations by Chazal to soften the effect of the Bracha also reflected a NY Times way of thinking.

    Rabbi Fischer is right. I used words and phrases in the same way I believed that he was doing. (I use my real name to help prevent me from flying off the handle, can you imagine how bad I’d be if I were anonymous!) Since we both care enough to put our real name out there, we bear even greater responsibility not to be offensive.

    My “wish list” of what I would like to see from Rabbi Fischer, or anyone dealing with others who raise hot button issues is for them to…

    – Acknowledge the sincerity and good intentions of the person raising the issue and trying to find solutions. It would be amazing if, before writing such a critique, the critic would give a call to the author and discuss the issue. Once there was some type of rapport I find it hard to believe that the discussion would not be greatly elevated. (The same could be said for commentors, but I’m not sure the writers on blogs would appreciate so many phone calls.)

    – Acknowledge that the issue being addressed may have some validity, even if you don’t agree with a particular way to handle it. Frankly, I too have always had an issue with a blessing that, in its plain meaning, appears to denigrate others. I’ve bought into the explanations, but one has to acknowledge that to 20th and 21st century ears, it just doesn’t sound right. That’s not being PC, or if it is, then the Chofetz Chaim was also catering to PC whims in supporting the first Beis Yaakov. It’s really an acknowledgment that man changes, dare I say, evolves socially.

    – Address the issue directly. The people who are proposing and/or defending this change have brought forward some intriguing source material and ideas. Counter those arguments with better arguments.

    – If someone apologizes for and rescinds something he wrote or said then take it off the table. Don’t use it as a bludgeon to continually beat him up.

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    I thank Tal Benschar for highlighting someone else’s sentence worth a further observation: “Maybe Rabbi Fischer doesn’t realize it, but there are growing numbers of young people who’s, to use the term of Rav Kook, natural morality are causing them to question much of what we take for granted.”

    There is a fellow who made some noise a year ago, writing for “The Daily Beast” or another publication of that persuasion, arguing that Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Likud, those living in Judea and Samaria — all are driving young people away from Zionism and from caring about Israel. Many articles followed.

    Meanwhile, in my Young Israel shul (as in most every shul I know), two young people (just done with college) made Aliyah this past year and a third now is in Tzava, while three others (high school grads, pre-college) are off for a year of Torah study. Apparently, they did not read the article that said they do not care about Israel anymore. Likewise, the yeshivas are filled with young people learning Orthodox mesorah, as are the kollels.

    There have always been young people pulling towards “enlightenment”/ wissenschaft des Judentums / brave new worlds, great new causes. Young Jews are passionate and are reared to think creatively, outside the box. But the m’tzi’ut all around is that young people are deeply engaged in Orthodoxy — at least as much as 10, 20, 30 years ago –like when I attended Columbia University as an undergrad. Actually tons more. They do not shirk away from honesty and truth. They can handle it. I am reminded of the comment attributed (as such comments usually are) to Yogi Berra: “No one goes to baseball games anymore because the stadiums are so crowded.”

  • Benjamin E.

    Just to set the record, if you go and read the infamous driving teshuva inside, it’s pretty clear that what they were really doing is being melamed zchut on people who are *already* basically non-observant but go to shul – and they do so by driving. They basically say explicitly that the teshuva does not apply to anyone who does not fall into this category and the clear lechatchila position is that it is assur to drive to shul.

    Now, I won’t deny that lots of people just skipped to the end and said, “Hey, we can drive! Hooray!”, but the intention was explicitly to deal with the question of how to judge minimally connected people who want to come to shul on Shabbos and do so by driving (the teshuva is in the context of a general article on how to revitalize Shabbos observance among Conservative Jews).

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    For Mr. Lipkin’s follow up: We both know from “Twilight Zone” so we enjoy common language. I infer that, in this exchange, there will be no more talk of “shrill” or “nasty” or “scare tactics.” I also enjoy an aspect of common language with Rabbi Kanefsky. He and I have spent time together — like an hour or two — at the Coffee Bean near the Office Depot on the Pico strip. He is a wonderful guy, but we do not agree on several things. Previously, we exchanged on Jerusalem:
    http://www.rabbidov.com/Israel%20&%20Mideast%20Commentaries/israelandmideast.htm
    See also: http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/we_have_the_right_to_an_indivisible_jerusalem_20071102/

    He is sincere. He is driven by the issue and has been for many years. I prefer discussing the concepts, not a person. But this clarifies Mr. Lipkin’s concern. Previously, Rabbi Kanefsky has published that Orthodoxy slanders women as having subversive motives for performing such “male mitzvot” as taking a lulav. He and I respectfully do not agree.

    I have published in other venues on other occasions at length on other aspects of the issue. Realistically, Mr. Lipkin, most magazines and newspapers have practical limits on how many words may be published and how many issues may be included in a submission. Editors know their readers. In brief, I point to the comments of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch on Vayikra 23:43 (towards the end) as my starting point for where I come out on the subject that you would like me to address more fully. But, as with my Debating-Obamacare analogy, this was not the article for me to elaborate on Menachot 43b, the Tosefta Brakhot 6:23, Rambam’s Hilkhot Tefilah Prakim 6 and 7, opinions attributed to the GR”A, debates over inaccurate manuscripts related thereto, etc.

    BTW — The article is not off the table. Conservative Judaism now is using it to lambaste Orthodox Judaism and effectively to validate their institutional k’firah:
    http://wlcjbaolam.blogspot.com/2011/08/op-ed-adieu-to-for-thou-hast-not-made.html

    Regarding Noam Stadlan’s insightful comments: New circumstances do indeed confront us with defining boundaries and parameters of halakhic practice. If that were not so, Rav Moshe would not have written Igrot. His greatness, like that of all great contemporary Poskim, stemmed from a unique capability to apply the eternal Torah to fluid life breakthroughs. Yibadlo l’chaim, the shu”tim of HaChakham HaRav Ovadia Yosef are fascinating and brilliant — and just-plain fun to read the sh’eilot he is answering. Who imagined way-back-then such a thing as a “reform” judaism that would send thousands of married Jewish women into second marriages without Gittin? The mamzerim caused by the rabbis of reform Judaism threatened to fill stadiums (back to the Yogi metaphor) — until Rav Moshe bore an extraordinary burden on his shoulders. So, yes, Orthodoxy is flexible, responsive to modernity, and a living, breathing, evolving theological organism. But that does not mean that we have the authority to declare brakhot of 2000 years a Chilul Hashem and to puiblish to the world essentially “Hey, I don’t know about you, but I am not praying this anymore. And I am a rabbi — so there!” To give one brief side example: I cannot support Obama. See, e.g.: http://www.rabbidov.com/obamareasons.htm But I recite publicly every Shabbat — with a full, complete, and sincere heart — a public prayer for his well-being and that G-d should protect him and all his advisors. Dating back at least to Yirmiyah 29:7, we pray for the welfare of the Government. I am not changing Jewish law or the siddur for the exigencies of the moment.

    If women are in shul at the start of birkhot ha-shachar — a rarity, because the only people who come on time to most Orthodox shuls are the non-Jews invited to the Bar Mitzvah who see the time on the invitation and figure they mean it when they say it starts at 9:00 a.m. — and if it is a such an issue in that shul, then the rav can say: “Let’s recite our respective brakhot at this line in softer voices because half of us are saying ‘this’ and half saying ‘that’ so let’s not confuse each other.” Selah.

  • David F.

    “David F. is too willing to jettison folks who don’t tow, what he perceives as, the Mesoraitic line.”

    G-d Forbid! I’d shed tears over each and every one of them and my active support for kiruv organizations and weekly involvement with Partners in Torah are proof enough of that fact. I would never jettison a single one. My point was that they may just be doing it to themselves by trying to tamper with the Mesorah and seeking our approval. We’re not going to approve of it and if it means as you insinuated that this may just turn them off to Orthodox Judaism, that’s a terrible choice to make, but they’ll have been the ones to make it, not I.

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    Meanwhile, for those like Mr. Miller and Mr. Lipkin, who would like to read “a rational, intellectual response to the issue at hand . . . [with] intriguing source material and ideas, [c]ounter[ing] those arguments with better arguments,” I invite you to read further at: http://www.rabbidov.com/morningblessings.htm

    (I would post it here, but it is a full-length 15-page, single-spaced treatment.)

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Rabbi Fischer,

    Thank you for linking to your piece on the negative Brachot. It was interesting and informative.

    While I understand the “meta-issue” you and other writers here are trying to deal with, it would have been, IMO, much better to start off with something like this rather than the way this “exploded” on the scene. (And continues to do so with R. Shafran’s latest piece where he would define who is and who is not an orthodox Jew.) And I’ve got news for you all, the issue would have been barely a blip on the radar were in not for Cross Currents. I had never heard of “morethodoxy” nor had many of the people on my e-mail “list” before your post here.

    That aside, there are some quibbles with your piece. For example, our liturgy is far from “universal”. This statement is simply not accurate:

    A Jew anywhere in the world can enter a proper shul, and she will find that the Hebrew language is the uniform language of prayer, the prayers are identical to home, and that she fits in.

    I grew up in Deal, NJ, and, even after many years of occasionally Davening in Syrian Shuls, their Tefillot were like Greek to me. Kadish, Kedusha, Shemona Esrei, etc. are all quite different. And this goes for many other Nusachot as well.

    But the most fascinating point is in your last paragraph. After spilling a considerable number of pixels explaining and defending these Brachot and how they do and should stand up to “contemporary cultural overlays and theological apologia” you state:

    Nevertheless, if women are present in the synagogue as services begin, a sensitive rav can introduce a practice that the prayer leader recite the brakhah “Who did not make me a woman” in an undertone, with the official explanation: “At this one brief line in the morning prayers, we digress with men reciting one sentence and women reciting another different sentence, thanking G-d for having made them proudly in accordance with His will. In order to avoid confusing each other with different sentences, let’s just all recite our respective one line blessings quietly.”

    Not only have you completely validated Rabbi Kanefsky position, but you have also completely undermined everything you worked so hard to establish to that point. What you’re saying here, plain and simple, is that the Bracha, as written, is embarrassing. Now of course, the assumption is that this is only embarrassing in front of those who have not been presented with the ideas in your piece. Maybe. But there are still plenty of “stubborn” people who can and do see much of what you wrote as apologetics and do not truly address the issue.

    The fact that even though R. Meir’s wife was “ahead of her time” and yet he still penned this Bracha may only prove that the idea that such a Bracha would be seen as an affront 2000 years later simply was inconceivable to him. (As a Kal V’Chomer Rabbi Slifkin recently posted some ads from the 1950’s on his blog which are incredible in how subservient they portrayed women!)

    Again, I’m not saying that Rabbi Kanekfsky’s approach is correct or valid, but the issue he’s addressing is very real and even you have validated that. Maybe your “silent” is more traditional, but let’s face it, that will not work for everyone.

  • Rabbi Dov Fischer

    Thank you, Mr. Lipkin. My final paragraph in my extensive 18-page analysis at
    http://www.rabbidov.com/morningblessings.htm , reads as follows:

    “A Postscript: A Practical Suggestion For the Congregational Rabbi Whose Congregants Have Not Read This and Who Therefore May Take Umbrage Because They Do Not Understand the Brakhot’s Context . . .

    “In most shuls, unfortunately, the only people who arrive at services on time are the non-Jews invited to that Shabbat’s Bar Mitzvah, who mistakenly assume that services begin at the time printed on the invitation. Shul often is empty in the woman’s side of the aisle when the first morning brakhot are being recited. Nevertheless, if women are present in the synagogue as services begin, and if there is concern that one or more may take umbrage because she has not read explanations like this analysis and therefore does not know the contextual backgrounds and meanings of these brakhot, a sensitive rav can introduce a practice that the prayer leader recite the brakhah “Who did not make me a woman” in an undertone. The rav can explain: “At this one brief line in the morning prayers, we digress with men reciting one sentence and women reciting another different sentence, thanking G-d for having made them proudly in accordance with His will. In order to avoid cacophony and confusing each other with different utterances, let’s just all recite our respective one-line blessings quietly for the next line.”

    Res ipsa loquitur.