Yet More Morethodoxy?

By Avrohom Gordimer

Last week, Cross-Currents featured an essay by guest contributor Rav Dov Fischer about the recent Morethodoxy articles which called for deletion of the morning berachah “She-lo asani ishah”.

Morethodoxy has continued on this route, posting yet another article on the topic:

The final paragraph of this latest Morethodoxy article, which is the article’s punch line, raises great concern:

Even if we adults feel comfortable with the matbe’a of “shelo asani isha”, clearly, our children perceive an undercurrent of male superiority in this bracha. Whether we choose “she’asani yisrael” or some other solution (I have been saying “she’asani isha” for years, because I am truly grateful for being female and because there is liturgical precedent for it), we must recognize that the negative messaging is getting through. Even if our girls and boys absorb negative gender stereotypes from our surrounding culture, I would not want them to perceive them from within our holy tradition.

The article, without invoking any halachic reasoning (other than an unfounded claim of liturgical precedent for reciting “she-asani ishah”), preaches abrogation of the current text in Birkhos Ha-Shachar in favor of a different text, for the current text creates “negative messaging” and “negative gender stereotypes”.

The author of this article seems to place herself above Chazal in terms of deciding the appropriateness of the messages that our liturgy sends to the youth. This greatly troubles me, and I am confident that many others within Orthodoxy, from all stripes, share this troubled feeling.

Again, the author of the article invokes no specific halachic justification for her campaign to emend Birkhos Ha-Shachar; the negative messaging and negative stereotypes which this liturgy allegedly engenders apparently suffice to do away with it and come up with a nusach that Chazal and later halachic authorities did not recognize or accept. This seems quite dangerous.

When pressed with, “You mean that we can just do away with Halacha because we are not comfortable with it?”, the author will likely resort to the novel and quite unbelievable argument offered in the earlier Morethodoxy article for this innovation: the halachic trick to intentionally exempt oneself from the “she-lo asani” berachos by reciting “she-asani Yisrael” as the second morning berachah (which the Bach, Taz, Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah and all poskim explain as an invalid approach) – and she will say that, of course, this is what she meant all along and would never change Halacha solely because she does not feel comfortable with it. However, even if the author really did have in mind the dubious utilization of the above halachic “trick”, the principle here is that of changing Halacha when it does not comport with our modern Western social values, and the way to get around the Halacha or to change it without outright voiding it is a mere technicality; conformity with Western social values determines Halacha, so long as we can rig it on a technical level. (This reminds me of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s (of RIETS) homiletic explanation of “Kavata ittim l’Torah?” – “Did you make the times comport with the Torah, or did you make the Torah comport with the times?”)

But why return to this general issue, after Rav Fischer already gave it a lengthy treatment?

The first answer is because Morethodoxy is pushing the issue quite aggressively. This is the third Morethodoxy article in a week about this topic (the first Morethodoxy article was issued in two versions, with the second version, written in a gentler tone and including the above halachic artifice, replacing the retracted first version), and there appears for some reason to be a campaign to push this issue to the max and give it major public airing. (See here and here , also posted in the last two weeks, where other Open Orthodox leaders add various levels of support to the Morethodoxy articles. This equals five (minus one retracted) articles in the past two weeks on this agenda topic of Open Orthodoxy.)

However, more fundamentally, is the realization that these Morethodoxy articles and the momentum to modify our liturgy in order to match contemporary Western social values is not a campaign of one or two individuals. Morethodoxy is the internet mouthpiece of the greatest spokespeople of Open Orthodoxy.
Morethodoxy’s roster and its writers consist almost exclusively of members of the advisory board and leadership of YCT/Yeshivat Maharat, as well as of the officers and committee members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), co-founded by YCT and Yeshivat Maharat dean Rabbi Avi Weiss and populated by YCT-affiliated rabbis. This collection of the leaders of Open Orthodoxy, all aligned with the same institutions and organization (YCT/Yeshivat Maharat and IRF), is what Morethodoxy is all about.

Thus, when we read of these radical halachic and hashkafic changes, we must realize that they are part of a campaign by a movement and much of the leadership of its affiliate institutions and organization; it is not the work of one person; it is not being done in a vacuum; and it is being aggressively promoted and lobbied.

Will we be silent, or look the other way, when a movement within our ranks, which has its own yeshivot and rabbinical organization, appears to push the agenda further and further, with great publicity and no official or public challenge?

As American Orthodoxy moves forward, let us think about these critical issues, and if or how to respond. Let us think of what Rav Soloveitchik zt”l would say, recalling his mighty condemnation of attempts to modify synagogue worship and liturgy and his strident opposition to approaches which contravened Chazal. Let us ask our halachic leadership about the innovations being campaigned for; let us ask ourselves what we should say and do, how this all will impact on Orthodoxy for future generations, and how it relates to Orthodoxy’s mission to further and to preserve our Mesorah.

Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in the above article are his own and do not represent either of these entities.

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22 comments to Yet More Morethodoxy?

  • mb

    I mean this with all seriousness, but what do you care what Morethodoxy proposes?
    Feeling insecure about your own Orthodoxy, are you.?
    Then build a better mousetrap.
    BTW, Chief Rabbi Adler authorised several amendments to the liturgy.

  • Yosh

    I think it would be helpful to post an explanation of why we say “shelo asani isha” than to invoke the Chazal without explaining it much. Every generation has questions about different parts of Torah, and those questions change with time (is anyone in the klal rushing out of yeshiva to join the Bund or Communist Party at the moment? they were a couple of generations ago), and this is one of our generation’s questions.

    I’ve never gotten a particularly enlightening answer frankly. I’ve heard from a number of Rabbanim (including a one quite big Rav) that pshat in the Zohar is that women start out on a higher spiritual level than men – and that that answer isn’t apologetics, it’s actually pshat. Plus it’s a very well known fact that Jewish women have carried the men spiritually more than the other way around. So how does all that square with “shelo asani isha?”

    I’ve heard the explanation that we say it because, as men, we have more mitzvot we can do than women, which I get, but I’m sure there’s more answer out there to be had. Anyone out there have a fuller explanation?

  • dr. bill

    If one takes some of the arguments about the spiritual level of women seriously, then the bracha “she’asani isha” seems to be preferable to the beracha mentioned by R. Yosef ben Moshe, a student of R. Yisroel Isserlein at the beginning of Leket Yosher. IIRC, he noted the beracha “shelo assaini behamah” was made by some distinguished orthodox women.

  • Eli

    Yosh-Take a look in Rabbi Mieselman’s “Jewish Woman in Jewish Law” for a lengthy and cogent explanation of the bracha

  • Zvi Lampel

    Yosh, this is not only Rashi’s explanation (Menachos 43b), but is part and
    parcel of the very source for making this blessing. The Yerushalmi on
    Brachos 9:2 (63b) reads:

    תני: רבי יהודה אומר: שלשה דברים צריך אדם לומר בכל יום: ברוך שלא עשאני גוי ברוך שלא עשאני בור ברוך שלא עשאני אשה
    ברוך שלא עשאני גוי, שאין הגוים כלום כל הגוים כאין נגדו
    ברוך שלא עשאני בור, שאין בור ירא חטא
    ברוך שלא עשאני אשה, שאין האשה מצווה על המצוות

    “A braissa teaches: Rebbi Yehudah said, ‘Each day one needs to say
    … “Blessed is the One Who has not made me a woman,” because a woman is
    not commanded to perform [all] the mitzvos
    .”

    The very authority who originally proposed the recitation of this
    blessing gave this as his reason for it. This is historical fact, not apologetics.

  • ARW

    Morethodoxy strikes again! Although Hyim Shafner did not publish his latest article on same-sex marriage on the Morethodoxy website (yet) it is none-the-less from one of their contributors. The article can be found on the Stltoday website and a link can be found on the Torah Musings (Hirhurim) website. It is possible he did not want to directly contribute more fuel to Yosef Kanefsky’s fire. Again this article attempts to appeal to Western values via a politically correct and emotional appeal. Not a shred of Halacha.

  • Shua Cohen

    “I’m not insensitive to how difficult it can be for women, and believe me, after seeing what they go through with having babies… [I'm] just thanking G-d I’m a man and don’t have to go through that…I ain’t having no baby. End of story.” — [quote from "If Men Could Have Babies," by Charles Booth in The Franklin News-Post, Rocky Mount, Virginia, 02/26/10]

    It’s almost certain that this non-Jew from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia never heard of the bracha “shelo asani isha.” But, in this newspaper column about witnessing the birth of his first-born son he clearly came to appreciate the bracha’s sentiment all on his own.

  • Robert Lebovits

    mb writes:”..but what do you care what Morethodoxy proposes?”
    If the constituents of Morethodoxy clearly identified themselves as non-traditional and non-Orthodox Judaism there indeed would be little need to “call them out”. In fact, they claim their positions are fully compatible with Orthodoxy and perhaps even more enlightened than generations past. The very notion that contemporary culture has revealed higher and more spiritually-elevated truths than considered by Chazal thousands of years ago is antithetical to Yiddishkeit. Since the source of all knowledge is Torah mi Sinai, the further we are from that source the poorer our understanding of the truth becomes. In contrast, non-Jewish Western thought posits the belief that modern man continues to develop such that new ideas are always better than the old ones they replace. IMO this is a philosophical conflict that has no possible compromise – one position must dominate the other. Morethodoxy chooses the latter. The mainstream Torah world chooses the former (see “The Torah im Derech Eretz of S.R. Hirsch” by Dr. Mordechai Breuer as an example).

  • Tal Benschar

    but what do you care what Morethodoxy proposes?

    For the same reason the Neviei Yisroel cared about Yervam ben Nevat’s “proposal” to set up a golden calf, that the Perushim cared about the “proposals” of the Tsedukim, and the Geonim cared about the “proposals” of the Karaites. Because all these proposals have the potential to destroy the Torah, and at the least to lead sincere but ignorant Jews astray.

  • dr. bill

    As I read the articles and comments, I was struck by the analogies some made and others found rather implausible. and then i read an analogy between changing a matbeah shel bracha and worshiping a golden calf and realized how futile the debate had become.

  • mb

    Tal Benschar
    August 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    but what do you care what Morethodoxy proposes?

    For the same reason the Neviei Yisroel cared about Yervam ben Nevat’s “proposal” to set up a golden calf, that the Perushim cared about the “proposals” of the Tsedukim, and the Geonim cared about the “proposals” of the Karaites. Because all these proposals have the potential to destroy the Torah, and at the least to lead sincere but ignorant Jews astray.”

    You are taking it a bit too seriously, me thinks. The comparisons you quote are beyond ludicrous.
    The extremes of the left counterbalance the extremes of the right, in this case, women’s status. Perhaps both need to be protested?

  • Big Maybe

    Feeling insecure about your own Orthodoxy, are you?

    Indeed we are, as we should be. One can never be complacently secure in one’s Orthodoxy. The sin waits at the door, waiting to pounce at a moment’s weakness. To allow the Moretho-toxic words to remain unchallenged is to allow it to challenge our beliefs. It is incumbent upon us to ponder what it says, realize why it is wrong, and summon the words that argue our position persuasively.

  • Steve Brizel

    R Gordimer deserves a great Yasher Koach for his detailed expose of the roots of Moreothodoxy and its raison de etre. The question remains-would any committed Torah observant Jew consider the author of any of the articles published on the Moreorthodoxy web site a person who he or she would consult on any Halachic or Hashkafic issue, regardless of the difficulty or complexity? Would anyone seriously view Moreorthodoxy as being a venue for the faithful dissemination of the Torah and Hashkafa of RYBS? If the answer is negative, which IMO is the case,the views propagated therein can safely be considered as R Gordimer pointed out, to be well beyond the pale of what is viewed as the boundaries of MO.

  • mb

    “Big Maybe
    August 23, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Feeling insecure about your own Orthodoxy, are you?

    Indeed we are, as we should be. One can never be complacently secure in one’s Orthodoxy. The sin waits at the door, waiting to pounce at a moment’s weakness. To allow the Moretho-toxic words to remain unchallenged is to allow it to challenge our beliefs. It is incumbent upon us to ponder what it says, realize why it is wrong, and summon the words that argue our position persuasively.”

    Mortho-toxic? Don’t you see the mistake that you and your fellow travellers continue to make?
    Make a case for your own Orthodoxy without negating somebody elses especially with the ugly invectives constantly used.

  • Tal Benschar

    mb and dr. bill: There is a famous story about the Chasam Sofer that he was told about a certain Orthodox shul that decided to do away with saying piyyutim. The CS stated that within ten years, that shul would become a Reform one. And so it did. “How did you know that would happen,” someone asked the CS. He answered that when one tampers with the Masorah for ulterior motives, then there is no logical end to such tampering — all it fair game to the zeitgeist. And so it was. Naturally, these things start out small, but then the whole Torah is fair game.

    One could certainly learn the sugya of that particular beracha, and debate what should be the proper nusach according to the various sources. But what Kanefsky did instead was write that he is morally superior to Chazal and the Rishonim and Acharonim, all of whom represent oppression of women, and that is why he refuses to say that beracha.

    But here is the proof. Only a few weeks later, the very same blog published an article advocating that Orthodox rabbis perform same-sex marriages. The first time around, it took Reform Judaism nearly two centuries to get from here to there; now in the internet age it takes two weeks.

    Given that Avodah Zarah is so rare today in Western society, can one imagine anything that could be proposed today that is more antithetical to the Torah and destructive to Torah society than that?

    We are precisely in the position that the Perushim were in Bayis Sheni. As the Rambam writes, the real motivation of the Tsedukkim was assimilation into Hellenistic society. But they could not say that directly, so they had to conceal their true motivations in pseudo-halakhic arguments and discussion. The problem with the Tseddukim was more fundamental than their disagreement over this or that technical halakha, it was their wholesale rejection of Torah she be al Peh and the Masorah as we know it.

    The same is the case here — what is so utterly antithetical to the Torah is not whether or not the individual recites that beracha, it is the whole methodology. The same methodology which can be used to justify same-sex marriage.

  • mb

    Tal Benschar,

    Chief Rabbi N.M Adler zt’l did away with all the Piyutim. His Synagogue and his office, and hid Beth Din survived quite well, thank you.

  • Tal Benschar

    mb, I cannot make you see the point. Your citation to CR Adler makes clear you don’t understand or don’t want to understand the difference. Context here is everything, and the context of what R. Adler did and what Kanefsky wrote are as different as a cow and a pig.

    Your comment is like saying, “arksa de mesana is nothing more than shoe laces, what’s the big deal.” In some contexts that may be correct, in others, it is yehareig v’al yaavor. See Sanhedrin 74a.

  • mb

    Tal Benschar,

    My info regarding CR Adler was in response to your comment about the CS and removing Piyuttim. You brought a proof and I countered it.I’m not comparing it to what Rabbi Kanefsky wrote. I actually do not care what R.Kanefsky wrote . I’m more concerned about what I write and do and those that are in my sphere of Orthodoxy.

  • Tal Benschar

    let’s try one more time.

    My info regarding CR Adler was in response to your comment about the CS and removing Piyuttim. You brought a proof and I countered it.

    The two are not contradictory. As I have written, the context is everything. R. N. Adler was a gaon and a tsaddik. Any changes he may have made were without a doubt done with both a solid halakhic basis and purely lesheim shomayim. The CS’s point was when one makes changes, however minor, not because of halakhic reasons but to conform to the zeitgeist, then the end result is Reform. That is what is happening today — the proposed change is not made for halakhic reasons or to improve the davening, it is to conform to the zeitgeist.

    I’m not comparing it to what Rabbi Kanefsky wrote. I actually do not care what R.Kanefsky wrote . I’m more concerned about what I write and do and those that are in my sphere of Orthodoxy.

    This goes back to your original comment. My answer remains: when you have a public michshol by one who is choteh umachti es ha rabbim, then one is obligated to protest. Praise to R. Gordimer for doing so.

  • mb

    Tal Benschar,

    I respectfully disagree.
    And to repeat what I have said before in this Forum.
    When the centre cuts off the left, they will become the left and they too will be cut off.
    Paraphrasing Hillel in Avot.
    And I could quote Lenin, but it won’t get passed the CC moderator.

  • noam stadlan

    There are a number of issues here that are being conflated. First one: what to do when percieved modern morality conflicts with what appears to be tenets of Judaism? Please read R. Eugene Korn(published in the RCA journal Tradition) on tzelem Elokim and the dialectic of Jewish morality. Also see R. Elizer Berkovitz Jewish Women in Time and Torah. Both of these respected Orthodox Jews(as if they need to have their tzitzis checked) see that human moral values can and should be taken into account. This is not to claim the superiority of modern morality. It is making the claim that the Torah and our Mesorah recognize that our human perceptions of morality can change and improve. And the results of the application of halacha can change. Note that we no longer have halachic slavery, we ruled out killing bein sorer u’moreh, the sanhendrin was reluctant to impose capital punishment, etc. etc.

    Second issue: Why exactly is the bracha being said? If it is indeed a bracha of hoda’ah, why exactly are we thanking God that he didn’t make me a women? Is it better to be a man in the eyes of Judaism? Is it better to be commanded in more mitzvot? does that mean that God values men more than women? If it is better to be a man, then let us say the bracha with full voice, but we have to stop claiming that God values men and women equally, and we have to re-evaluate the begining of Bereshit as it seems as if there is some implied equality.(equality doesn’t mean that they are the same, equality means they are valued equally by their Creator). If the bracha was a reflection of the social condition of women at the time it was written, then it is an undisputed fact that social conditions are different now, and perhaps the bracha should reflect the current social situation.

    It is quite sad to see the response of this and other authors here at Cross Currents. The authors of the articles being discussed are people who are shomrei Torah and mitzvot. They represent a stream in the Mesorah that has always been present, although some have been trying to drown them out in recent years. One would hope that the response would be halachic, and not immediate comparisons to prior schisms. Not all disucussions of halacha lead to reform or conservative theology. There is a huge difference between someone who accepts the yoke of Heaven, and someone who doesn’t. The discussion here is centered on what exactly the yoke consists of. We should try to keep it centered there.

  • Ellen

    mb: “When the centre cuts off the left, they will become the left and they too will be cut off.”

    Yes that is the irony here isn’t it? That those who affiliate with Centrist, Modern Orthodox, YU or anything else that is in the “middle” sometimes receive slights from the right, yet it is precisely that camp who is best at discerning when someone on the left falls off the deep end.

    Rabbi Gordimer thank you for the critical message – most people who consider themselves in the “middle” are generally quite tolerant, but now is not the time to be tolerant but rather to speak up.

    The focus on this blessing seems such old news to me I just can’t help wondering why these guys are in the dark ages of hashkafic exploration of their own Judaism – like, didn’t we all deal with that one back in junior high???