Ordination of Insubordination

“We’re going to blink and there’ll be 100 Orthodox women rabbis in America that have been given ordination”. –R. Adam Mintz, professor of Talmud, Yeshivat Maharat

Within the week, three Orthodox-identified rabbinical ordination programs for women granted semicha (ordination) to their graduating classes. (Please see here and here.) While the mainstream organs of Orthodoxy do not recognize or approve of the ordination of women (here are RCA statements about the matter), the reasons for not accepting the legitimacy of semicha for women remain a mystery to some.

Various articles have been published about the topic (please see here for R. Hershel Schachter’s article); I would like to take one approach and provide some elaboration.

Halachic analysis of contemporary rabbinical ordination of women was first put forth by R. Saul Lieberman (please see here for R. Gil Student’s important presentation thereof), who in 1979 expressed his opposition to such on the part of Jewish Theological Seminary.

Although R. Lieberman’s tenure at JTS was the subject of controversy and was certainly not viewed favorably by Orthodox leadership, R. Lieberman was Orthodox and was very well-versed in our topic; his ruling on it is thus quite pivotal and … Read More >>


Who’s In Charge?

Some of us can remember when taking a plane was a pleasant experience, even exhilarating. Those days, of course, are long gone.

It used to be – if “good old days” syndrome hasn’t played with my memory – that only well-dressed and genteel folks flew, and that airport and airline personnel were uniformly polite and helpful. These days, air travel is a largely unpleasant affair. Airports are crowded; cabins, even more so. Seats are too close together, and fellow passengers, as a result, occasionally surly. Professional staffs can be less than congenial. Flight delays are frequent. And then there are the “security measures.”

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, was established, and eventually made part of the DHS, or Department of Homeland Security, also created at that time.

Among the TSA’s 60,000 employees are the people who make passengers take off their shoes (good thing the “shoe bomber” hadn’t swallowed the explosives instead), pass through metal detectors and, in some cases, “pat down” shoeless passengers. They’re the folks who confiscate your water bottles.

And who, it turns out, according to a secret DHS “Red Team” report, managed to miss a good number of … Read More >>

47 Homicides and Counting

Why are so many young black men being murdered in Baltimore, after Freddie Gray? It’s what happens when police know they might be arrested for doing their job. … Read More >>

Bias Ne’eman

By now, with a couple of decades of monitoring media on behalf of Agudath Israel behind me, I really shouldn’t be surprised by examples of journalistic bias. But there are times when I can still be impressed.

As I was by a recent news item from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the service used by Jewish media across the country and around the world. Its opening paragraphs read as follows:

This is how you launch a Hasidic shtetl in 21st-century America.

Step 1. Find a place within reasonable distance of Brooklyn where the land is cheap and underdeveloped.

Step 2. Buy as much property as you can in your target area – if possible, without tipping off locals that you plan to turn it into a Hasidic enclave.

Ensuing “steps,” according to the article, include building “densely clustered homes” and a religious “infrastructure.” And, finally: “Market to the Hasidic community and turn on the lights.”

The writer was referring to a Jewish developer’s purchase of land and construction of homes in the Sullivan County town of Bloomingburg. The article goes on to itemize some of the purchases – a “house with blue shutters,” a “hardware store,” a “pizza shop,” … Read More >>

Rabbinic Dignity – A Contemporary Lesson

After reading about the latest rabbinic “issue”, we do not know what to say. While the rabbi involved has the right to explain himself, and we cannot assume wrongdoing beyond anything which would be admitted or proven, we are left with a feeling of great disquietude and confusion.

Detractors of the rabbi point out the halachic prohibitions of a rav attending a bathhouse in the presence of his students, and defenders of the rabbi point to the absence of proof of actual wrongdoing or criminal activity. Both sides may be correct, yet they may also be missing an important point – a point that can only be appreciated by taking a step back.

If an individual retains a highly respected position, and on occasion stakes out unpopular positions, he can be the world’s greatest tzaddik and mentch, but he will nonetheless be subject to vilification. And the reverse is true as well: If an individual has criminal proclivities, especially in the realm of physical relationships, then no matter what type of formal safeguards and parameters are established, it will not help.

Yet we speak here not about any of this, but rather about a more general issue – that … Read More >>

Ramapo School Board Bashing Spills Onto NYT Op-Ed Page

The latest in a long-running series of attacks on the largely Orthodox East Ramapo school board came in the form of an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times.

The opinion piece was written by New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, a public school advocacy group. And, like its predecessors, it presented a host of highly charged and equally highly misleading assertions.

The first two claims are demonstrably false, and the third one is misleading to the point of slander.

The facts:

* State funding to all New York school districts, including East Ramapo, is based on a statutory formula involving property values, income levels and public school student numbers. Education funds are provided accordingly; wealthier districts, fairly, receive less government funding than poorer ones.

* East Ramapo’s demographics — approximately 24,000 students in nonpublic schools, only about one-third that number in public schools — and relatively high property values, result in a skewed picture of the public school population’s wealth, resulting in state funding that treats East Ramapo as if it were one of the wealthiest school districts in the state, when it … Read More >>

Normal=Wonderful

It’s pretty much impossible to imagine the feelings of Funchu Tamang, a 101-year-old man who was pulled alive from under the rubble of his home a full week after the recent devastating earthquake that ravaged Nepal. But what went through his mind as light met his eyes for the first time in days and he realized that he was being rescued is ideally what should go through our own heads every morning, when we are pulled from the depths of sleep into a new day of life.

That’s what Modeh Ani is for, of course. That short statement of gratitude uttered by every observant Jew upon waking up is meant to focus our thoughts on the fact that, just as some earthquake victims are not rescued, so do some sleepers never awake. And on Chazal’s description of sleep as a taste of death. In a way, no matter how many times we may have arisen, we greet every morning as beneficiaries of techiyas hameisim.

And there are other resurrections, too, that we experience but don’t always fully appreciate. For several weeks this winter, I was homebound and in considerable discomfort with a, baruch Hashem, non-life-threatening but debilitating illness. As … Read More >>

A Different Approach to Internet Safety For Teens

 

I found the approach towards internet safety for teens that the Kiryat Arba/Hebron Ulpana High School for Girls champions refreshing and even inspiring. It is very different from what our haredi schools do in the US, which take fewer chances and concentrate power in the hands of the school and authority figures. The Kiryat Arba approach puts far more trust in the student. It would be wonderful to learn which approach has greater success. (Because the populations are so different, finding out would not necessarily mean that the “better” approach should be exported to the other locale.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The US approach teaches students the need for fences and boundaries, and that sometimes they need to be placed in the hands of others. The Kiryat Arba approach teaches young people to make responsible decisions, and builds their confidence.

Which ever way readers favor, the list of safety rules (beyond the primary stipulation – use of an effective filter – which they do not even count on their list of ten “dibros” of safe surfing is a delight to read. It includes such ideas as keeping sifrei kodesh near the keyboard, as a … Read More >>

The President’s Address at a DC Synagogue

by President Barack Obama

[Editor’s note: Several readers pointed out that the version that was first displayed had been tampered with – something that we were certainly unaware of. The version below is taken from the White House website, and should be accurate (unless the Elders of Zion hacked it without telling us.]

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you. Well, good morning, everybody!

AUDIENCE: Good morning!

THE PRESIDENT: A slightly early Shabbat Shalom. (Laughter.) I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction. And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here. Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go? There he is. (Applause.) And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here. (Applause.) I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work. There he is. (Applause) But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one … Read More >>

Ism Schism

Liberal-minded American Jews rightly regard Pamela Geller, who organized the Garland, Texas cartoon-of Islam’s-founder contest earlier this month, as an irresponsible provocateur. What’s odd is that many of those very same liberal-minded American Jews enthusiastically champion (and generously support) another irresponsible provocateur.

That would be the “Women of the Wall” – the attention-addicted feminist group bent on holding vocal women’s services at the Kosel Maaravi that offend the sensibilities of the traditional Orthodox women and men who most frequent the site and have regularly prayed there in traditional fashion for decades.

It might seem at first thought that Ms. Geller’s stunts are in a category of their own. After all, by snubbing her nose at the Muslim world, she courts violence of the sort that extremists within that world so readily and joyfully embrace. In fact, her Texas event attracted not only a small crowd but two angry and armed Islamists who sought to spill blood but who were, baruch Hashem, killed before they could wreak the havoc of their dreams.

But Ms. Geller isn’t misguided only because of the violent reactions she invites. She is misguided because, put simply and starkly, it’s wrong to provoke people. There … Read More >>

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein & the Haredim

“I am very partial to Rav Lichtenstein’s approach,” said the Lelov hassid to me at the funeral of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z”l a month ago. “Rav Lichtenstein deals with abstractions, in addition to focusing on the text,” he further elucidated. There were quite a few hassidim (to judge by their sartorial taste) at the funeral. In addition, someone whose garb bespoke a haredi Litvishe affiliation responded, when I asked what his connection was with Rav Lichtenstein, “What we appreciate in his shiurim is that rather than trying to be ‘sparkling’ with fireworks, there is yashrus, a straightforward approach that speaks to us.”

They were not the only haredim among the ten thousand, mostly national religious and modern Orthodox, who attended the levaya of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”l. Rav Lichtenstein is one of those rabbis who are esteemed by people from many different sectors of Jewry.

Some on the liberal end of the Orthodox spectrum attribute to him a harsh rejection of the haredi world. For example, David Weinberg claimed, in his Jerusalem Post tribute the day of the funeral, that Rav Lichtenstein “taught that full involvement in Israeli society and a passion for social justice are key religious … Read More >>

Anybody Out There?

A mere week after NASA scientists announced their certainty of finding life on other planets within the next 20 years, a team of other scientists announced that, after searching 100,000 galaxies, they have found no signs of at least intelligent extraterrestrial life.

The researchers used information from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer orbiting observatory (WISE) to look for energy radiating away as heat. “The idea behind our research is that if an entire galaxy had been colonized by an advanced… civilization, the energy produced… would be detectable in mid-infrared wavelengths,” explained Jason T. Wright, a Penn State University professor who initiated the survey. “These galaxies are billions of years old,” he continued, “which should have been plenty of time for them to have been filled with alien civilizations.”

This search is nothing new. Over the 1960s and 1970s, there was SETI, or the “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence”; META, the “Megachannel Extra-Terrestrial Assay”; and META II. In 1972 and 1973, plaques depicting information about Earth were launched aboard the Pioneer and Voyager probes. In 1974, the “Arecibo message,” which carried coded information about chemistry and terrestrial life, was beamed into space. And in the 1990s, the “Billion-channel ExtraTerrestrial Assay” … Read More >>

Because I Chose To Be

On a recent trip to the United States, I was invited for a leil Shabbos meal by the son of a good friend of mine. (You know that you are getting old when it does not seem strange to be invited for a meal by friend’s children.)

The evening’s conversation was wide-ranging, though much centered on why this particular young man felt as soon as he landed at Kennedy Airport at 18 that he would never return to live in his native Israel.

As I was putting on my overcoat to leave, he related that he had once asked his father how it was that he seemed so comfortable with all his children despite their great differences from one another – some are in full-time learning, others in business or klal work; some live in Israel; others in America. His father answered him succinctly: “Because I chose to be.”

That struck me as another example of the great wisdom I have heard from my friend over the past quarter century. As parents, the temptation to live vicariously through our children is constant. If we have had successes in life, we want them to be successful in the same way. … Read More >>

Return Jewish Education to its Rightful Prestige

By Leslie Ginsparg Klein

At Maalot Baltimore, the numbers of students studying to be teachers are down, way down. Twenty years ago, the education courses were full. Today, psychology is full, health sciences are overflowing, but education courses get barely a handful of students. As the years go on, we offer progressively less education courses. There simply is no demand.

And it is not just at Maalot. The Avi Chai foundation (http://avichai.org/) found that very few college graduates, male or female, have been entering the field of education and this is contributing to a general dearth of qualified teachers for day schools. On top of that, the field of teaching has a high turnover rate. Teachers leave the field for more lucrative and less draining opportunities.

We, as a community, are losing talented teachers. Some never go into education. Others burn out quickly, feeling unappreciated. Our schools are forced to hire teachers with no training or experience, just to have a warm body in the room. We are losing talent to business, law, occupational therapy and high-tech. The Yeshivish schools are losing out on talent to the generally better paying Modern Orthodox institutions, and all schools are … Read More >>

In Brief:

Some Thoughts on the Post-Stabbings Ortho-Bashing

-- 3:48 pm

The Forward has published a column I wrote in response to two earlier ones in that periodical that blamed Orthodox Jews and teachings for the terrible crime in Yerushalayim last week.

It can be read here.

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Lion Hunting and Torah Teachings

-- 10:59 pm

Although we are now occupied with far weightier issues than a recent illegal lion hunt – issues such as the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and acts of killing and assault by deranged/incredibly misguided zealots, along with counter-accusations, which are prominently addressed in these webpages – I posted this brief article in Times of Israel, in an attempt to elucidate and glean some basic Torah lessons from the cruel lion hunt by a Minnesota dentist.

 

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Agudath Israel Statement on Jonathan Pollard Parole

-- 10:10 am

With much joy and gratitude to Hashem, Agudath Israel of America warmly welcomes the announcement that Jonathan Pollard will be released on parole November 21, 2015.

Agudath Israel has advocated over the course of decades for Mr. Pollard’s release, both on legal and humanitarian grounds. His freedom is long overdue.

We understand that Mr. Pollard wishes to move to Israel and establish residence there. We respectfully call upon President Obama to take whatever executive actions may be necessary to allow for this to happen.

May Yehonasan ben Malka’s health improve, and may he live and thrive for many productive years to come.

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A Worthy, Timely Truth

-- 10:30 am

It’s intriguing – to be truthful, depressing – that as we prepare to focus on our galus and its causes we in the Orthodox world are witnessing acrimony born of true chinom, nothingness.

The sort of sentiments and language that are regularly being employed by opponents of the Iran agreement against anyone who isn’t convinced that it is “evil” or “insane” or “dangerous” is deeply wrong. (Maybe there is corresponding rashness from the deal’s supporters. I just haven’t encountered any.)

What seems lost on some is the fact that the issue isn’t “Israel’s security” against (take your pick:) “America’s needs” or “Obama’s worldview” or “hopeless naiveté.” It is “Israel’s security” against “Israel’s security.”

That is to say, whether Israel’s security, along with that of the rest of the free world, is better served by an imperfect agreement (as all agreements must be) or by no agreement. Reasonable, sane, and not evil people can disagree with that. But they cannot – or, at least, should not – heatedly denounce those who see things differently from themselves just because… they see things differently from themselves. That is chinom.

The Gemara teaches that “just as people’s faces all differ, so do their attitudes.” The Kotzker is said to have commented on that truth with a question: “Can you imagine disdaining someone because his face doesn’t resemble yours?”

Think about that. It contains a worthy, and timely, truth.

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Faigy Mayer, o”h

-- 12:41 pm

A thought on the untimely and tragic death of Faigy Mayer, o”h, is here.

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Wish I Didn’t Have To, But:

-- 11:50 pm

Rabbi Herzl Hefter’s Why I ordained women went nearly viral, having been posted everywhere by the Who’s Who of Open Orthodoxy. Unlike other articles that promote the Open Orthodox agenda, this article startlingly attempted to utilize Kabbalistic and Chassidic ideas as a basis for sweeping halachic reform. The article was received and disseminated by Open Orthodox leadership with great excitement.

I felt a need to speak out, and here is what I posted in response. I really did not want to write yet another article about Open Orthodoxy/Neo-Conservatism, but given the circumstances, and in consultation with those wiser than I, it was decided that something had to be said.

17 Comments

Recent Articles on Two Different Kinds of Evolution

-- 3:25 pm

A piece I wrote in response to a a review of Marc Shapiro’s most recent book (and, to an extent, to the book itself) can be read here.

And one about my personal reluctance to accept speciation is here.

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Widening the Discussion

-- 4:19 pm

Last week, Rabbi Dr. David Berger published a bold and provocative critique about Open Orthodoxy. A brief attempted rebuttal of the article on the part of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld seems to have gained little traction, and appears to have largely backfired, judging by the comments.

This week, Rabbi Harry Maryles likewise posted a serious critique of Open Orthodoxy, which YCT graduate Rabbi Ben Greenberg subsequently attempted to rebut. As this rebuttal attempt was quite elaborate and public (in Times of Israel), and was also posted by the president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, I felt that a response by yours truly would perhaps be of use.

Here is my response, published likewise in Times of Israel.

 

 

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The Peril of Pluralism in Israel

-- 8:54 am

A piece I recently wrote about Minister Azoulay’s imprecise comments, and the larger issue of “religious pluralism” in Israel, is in Haaretz here .

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Supreme Court Vs. Supreme Being

-- 10:58 am

Some thoughts of mine about the recent Supreme Court decision redefining marriage are posted here.

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The Future of Judaism in America: What Would You Say?

-- 2:31 am

Patheos has become the leading portal on the web for thought from the world of religion – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A short while ago, the editors sent a challenge to particular people in their virtual Rolodex:

The early May Pew Research report on religious trends in America has kindled a firestorm of commentary—attacking and defending, challenging and lamenting, gloating and grieving. But is it telling us anything new? In 2010, Patheos conducted a summer-long Future of World Religions conversation in which religion experts, practitioners, leaders, sociologists, and the faithful of many traditions weighed in on the prospects of religious belief.

Now, five years later, Patheos revisits this conversation focusing particularly on the Future of Faith in America. While global religious trends may push the futures of different religious traditions in certain directions, the Pew Report indicates unique trends for the American context with its shifting moral expectations, new definitions of family, and ongoing conflicts regarding personal and religious liberties. Where is faith going in America? What will be the religious landscape in five more years? How will a growing “spiritual but not religious” population or the emerging Atheist movements shape the contours of belief?

Essays will address such issues as politic alliances, emerging theological shifts, denominational growth and decline, family, technology, leadership challenges, interfaith movements, pop culture, cross-religion influences, and economic shifts.

A number people, including me (I am one of their official bloggers) were asked to address these issues from a Jewish perspective. These people represented a variety of positions and outlooks; I represented G-d’s :-)

It might be interesting to gather your thoughts as to how you would respond, and then compare notes with those whose contributions were published, by reading them here.

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Gay Marriage Decision Interview

-- 11:39 pm

I was interviewed by phone on a Jewish cable television program last week about the recent US Supreme Court gay marriage decision. The interview, along with one of a Conservative movement representative, can be heard here.

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