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.