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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4 years 1 month ago

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???

noam stadlan
4 years 1 month ago

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.

4 years 1 month ago

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.

Tal Benschar
4 years 1 month ago

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.

4 years 1 month ago

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.