Volume 17 Number 26
                       Produced: Thu Dec 15  1:14:49 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Halacha vs. Public Responsibility
         [Eric Jaron Stieglitz]
Jacob & Rachel
         [Roni Averick]
Mesorah, Science and The Flood cont'd
         [Moshe Shamah]
Women Rabbis
         [David Charlap]


From: Eric Jaron Stieglitz <ephraim@...>
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 15:05:36 -0500
Subject: Halacha vs. Public Responsibility

  I was having an interesting lunch conversation today that started with
the question of what would happen should a Jew become President of the
USA. How would this person be required to act in a case where the Torah
explicitly gives a solution to a problem? As we were talking, the issue
expanded to the possibility of a Jew holding any public office or a Jew
holding the position of a judge.
  We generally seemed to agree that the higher the public position, the
more that the person would have to be careful in regards to Pikuakh Nefesh;
there might be more cases where such a person would be required to violate
Shabbat for the safety of the community/country. We tended to disagree on
how closely a Jewish person would be required to follow halacha in terms
of his secular legal decisions, many of which may involve life and death.
  One person mentioned that in the case of abortion, the Shevah Mitzvot
B'nei Noach seem to suggest that non-Jews have a greater prohibition against
abortion than Jews do. This appears to mean that a Jewish person in office
would not be allowed to sign a bill permitting abortion.
  Another problem would be towards people on death row -- would a Jewish
office holder be required to pardon them? Would he be permitted to
pardon them? There seemed to be differing opinions on the subject if the
person is Jewish or not Jewish.
  One of the people in the conversation suggested that because our system
is secular and not religious, that we should not allow Halacha to influence
legal decisions in any way. He pointed out that by the Shevah Mitzvot B'nei
Noach, non-Jews are required to set up a legal system.
  I am somewhat curious if anybody can point out any further references on
the subject, or if anybody knows for sure what the answer to the above
questions would be.

Eric Jaron Stieglitz    <ephraim@...>
Home: (212) 853-6771            Assistant Systems Manager at the
Work: (212) 854-6020            Center for Telecommunications Research
Fax : (212) 854-2497 (preferred)     (212) 316-9068 (secondary fax)


From: <rya@...> (Roni Averick)
Date: 14 Dec 1994  16:42 EST
Subject: Jacob & Rachel

Hope it's OK to submit one more posting on the Jacob & Rachel vs. Jacob
& Leah topic:

Some sources were posted about Jacob & Leah's offspring to indicate that
Jacob & Leah's marriage was very successful/productive/meaningful, and
to show that the more "romantic" marriage of Jacob & Rachel produced
less meaningful results.

Just thought I'd throw in a source that seems to state precisely the
opposite point of view, as is typical of the abundant sources for many
issues discussed in this forum.  (NOTE: The word "generations" or
"toldot" in Hebrew can be loosely understood as "the story of Jacob's
life & children").

Genesis, 37:2 (beginning of Parshat Vayeshev):

    "These are the generations of Jacob; Joseph, being seventeen years
     old, was feeding the flock with his brethren..."

Rashi's commentary:

    "...The aggadah interprets this passage thus: The biblical text
     ascribes the generations of Jacob to Joseph for many reasons.  One
     is that the entire being of Jacob worked for Lavan only for

Siftei Chachamim commentary on Rashi (I am sure my translation is less
than perfect; any corrections are welcome):

    "...all of the generations of Jacob are in the name of Joseph for it
    was because of Jacob's love for Rachel, so that a son should be born
    from Rachel, that Jacob worked for the first seven years, and then
    Lavan deceived him and gave him Leah who bore him sons [here the
    commentary goes on to say how more sons were born through Bilhah and
    Zilpah.]  And then after that Rachel bore Joseph, and immediately
    after Joseph was born Jacob told Lavan that he wanted to return to
    the land of his fathers.  *** And if so, we find that all of his
    generations were only for the purpose of [or because of?] Joseph who
    was born from Rachel *** "

Mizrachi commentary on Rashi:

    "... when he saw that Joseph was born, Jacob immediately wanted to
    return to the land of his fathers because his intentions were now
    fulfilled, for all of his generations were only for Joseph.  And
    because Joseph was the reason for everything, Jacob's generations
    are in the name of Joseph.

    ... when the first son was born from Rachel, Jacob's intentions were
    fulfilled.  And thus it says in Breishit Rabbah: 'These are the
    generations of Jacob; Joseph' means that these generations occurred
    only because of the merit of Joseph and for Joseph.  Jacob lived by
    Lavan only for Rachel.  All of these generations had to wait until
    Joseph was born..."



From: <MSHAMAH@...> (Moshe Shamah)
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 09:53:22 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Mesorah, Science and The Flood cont'd

Yosef Bechhofer directed five questions toward me in MJ16#98.  This
is in response to the first.

>1.  Rabbi Shama quotes the same Rambam I did.  In the final
>analysis, the Rambam feels that while certain beliefs would not be
>denied by Plato's views, Aristotle's views would, ipso facto they
>must be rejected.  It is true, the Rambam entertains the
>theoretical possibility of reinterpretation under certain
>circumstances, but never gives any guidelines, as in his opinion,
>this never has happened.  Who says here [the Flood] it has?  You
>don't know what guidelines the Rambam used, and who gave you the
>right to make them up?

I'm sorry to repeat this, but the Rambam must be defined more carefully
to derive the full and proper meaning of the passage.  The doctrine
because of which he "entertains the theoretical possibility of
reinterpretation" was Eternity of the World, notwithstanding that it
goes against Tradition.  When and if compelling scientific
demonstrations oppose non-critical issues of Tradition he makes it clear
we go with the demonstrations.  An example of a non-critical issue of
Tradition is, in his opinion, Creation, as denial of it does not
undermine the foundations of the Torah.  It happens to be the
demonstration against Creation was not compelling, so we go with
Tradition.  Although he often speaks of the importance of Tradition, he
does not imbue it with the same degree of accuracy and authenticity as
do the Kuzari, Ramban et al.  We cannot say this is not a guideline of
sorts.  As interpretation of the Flood as a prophetic allegory would not
deny critical beliefs as the Rambam defines them - a literal Flood
undoubtedly being a lesser value in Judaism than Creation - the Rambam
might very well so interpret it in the light of compelling scientific

Nevertheless, the questions of guidelines and who has the right to
define them are indeed important.  But, even aside from the
considerations of the previous paragraph, it is just not correct to say
the Rambam "never gives any guidelines [for reinterpretation], as in his
opinion, this never has happened".  In the case of Eternity it has not
happened, but the Rambam never implied that it never has happened that
there were or are times when it may be necessary to reinterpret our
tradition in the light of scientific evidence.  For one of many relevant
statements he made on this general topic, we may read his letter on
Astrology written to the Community of Marseilles when he was about sixty
years of age.  In it he addresses the contradiction between his
anti-astrology views arising from scientific and philosophic research
and many explicit statements of Talmudic sages expressing belief in
astrology.  (Many of these statements, it should be noted, interpret
Biblical verses and themes according to astrologic beliefs.)  Following
an attack on astrology, he states

     I know you may find statements of individuals among the sages
     of truth, our rabbis, peace be upon them, in the Talmud,
     Mishnah and Midrashim, from whose words it appears that at the
     moment of formation of a person the stars caused thus and
     thus.  Do not let this disturb you.  For it is not proper to
     abandon practical halakha to pursue questions and answers, and
     similarly it is not proper to abandon rational views whose
     proofs have been demonstrated, letting go of them, to hang
     upon opinions of an individual from among the [Talmudic]
     sages, peace be among them.  For possibly something was hidden
     to him at that moment, or perhaps his words comprise a hint at
     something, or perhaps he only said them for the particular
     time or for some specific incident that occurred.  Do you not
     see that many Torah verses are not to be taken literally, and
     being that it was rationally demonstrated that it is
     impossible for them to be taken literally, the Targum
     translated them in a rationally acceptable manner?  A man
     should never cast his rationality in back of him, for our eyes
     are in front of us, not in the back.  I have thus related my
     heart to you with my words.

Here the Rambam gives some guidelines and expects - or more correctly
persuades - his readers to abide by them.  The rational proofs against
astrology - especially in his days - were nowhere near the order of
magnitude of the rational difficulties with a literal interpretation of
the Flood today.  Serious scholars contested the science of medieval
anti-astrology proofs; no serious scholar contests the science of the
anti-literal Flood interpretation.  Serious scholars may perhaps
disagree based on faith but not on science.  The Rambam and his school
of traditional Jewish thought insist on a harmony of Torah, logic,
science and faith.

When Yosef Bechhofer asks "who gave you the right" to decide when
reinterpretation is acceptable, my natural tendency is to agree with him
- who am I, and why contest what is being taught in many great yeshivot?
But too much is at stake - it is not just the truth and glory of Torah
although that should be motivation enough.  Traditional Judaism has lost
the allegiance of enormous numbers of our intellectuals and is regularly
losing more partly because we haven't honestly and courageously
interpreted Torah in harmony with compelling scientific discoveries.  It
was just such an encounter with a potential defector from Judaism that
prompted Marc Shapiro to begin this MJ thread.  Many of us have
experienced such encounters.  Additionally, the resulting defensiveness
and lack of intellectual integrity that have set in in some traditional
circles have enormous insidious ramifications in a number of areas and
are partly to blame for many of the ills that plague Orthodox Jewry
today.  This is not the time and place to explicitly discuss these

For several centuries the gedolim, particularly in Eastern Europe, had
to combat the threat of wholesale defection from traditional Judaism by
insulating yeshiva and community from general academic culture.  This
included discouraging, sometimes prohibiting, exposure to an important
and vital part of our tradition.  This policy was necessary then and
there as a horaat sha`ah (temporary measure) but has now become
counterproductive.  Although it may be difficult today to tread in the
path of the Rambam and other harmonizing luminaries of old, it appears
we have no choice but to recognize their relevance and should welcome
the movement in their direction.  We should mobilize our brightest and
best to lead the way.  To the question "who gave you the right" I must
answer it is a sacred responsibility of our tradition.


From: <david@...> (David Charlap)
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 94 17:53:47 EST
Subject: Women Rabbis

<sam@...> (Sam Fink) writes:
>Now that the Conservative movement has been ordaining women rabbis
>and  cantors for the past ten years, I have continually heard from my
>conservative friends "Well, the Torah doesn't say you can't have a
>woman rabbi."  I'm sure that it must, and can certainly argue this
>point in a roundabout way.  But--what is the best answer, and what
>are the sources?--Sam

As Avi stated in his addendum to your post, this really depends on how
you define "Rabbi".  I'll make a first attempt at an answer, although
I suspect I'll be missing a lot of information.

originally, rabbis were people who received smicha - the real thing as
passed from rabbi to talmid from Moshe Rabeinu.  There may be some
real issues regarding women receiving this.  But since nobody today
has smicha, this aspect of the question is purely theoretical and I
won't get into it.

Today, the title "rabbi" is very similar to a degree issued to a
person by a professional society.  A rabbi can have one or more
titles, including Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin.  These different levels
indicate how much his rabbis think he can be trusted to paskin

But I think this is also not the point of your question.

Rabbis from the Conservative and Reform rabbinates are not trusted by
any orthodox Jew to paskin halacha.  In those circles, the primary job
of a rabbi is to be a community/synagogue spiritual leader.  His job
is to be at services every week, teach classes, and give advice to
people who ask.  This person may be asked questions on Halacha, but he
will rarely state that his answer is binding.  In other words, he
doesn't usually paskin halacha for anyone.

In that role, I don't see any reason why a woman would be excluded.
True, there might be a problem of her davening on the bimah, but in a
place with mixed seating, that may not cause any additional problems.

Now, if she wants to lead the service, that can cause problems.
Factors such as Kol Ishah (hearing a woman's singing voice) and the
fact that she isn't obligated to the same extent that the men are come
into play here.  But in most places, the rabbi doesn't usually lead
the service anyway.

Even the issue of giving halachic advice may not be much of a problem
if she is learned and knows her stuff.  Many of our sages turned to
their wives for halachic advice, especially regarding "women's
subjects" like nidda and kashrut.

Anyway, I'll try and summarize:
- It's a purely theoretical question to discuss women having smicha
  from Moshe Rabbeinu.  I think any answer would simply get people
  upset, and there's no point since it doesn't apply today anyway.

- Regarding women paskening halacha, I don't think it's acceptible.  I
  don't have a source, but I would think it would have happened by now
  if it was OK.  While there were many learned women in history, I
  think their role was always in the form of advising their husbands,
  who paskined the halacha.

- Regarding women as community leaders, I see no problem.  Mostly
  because this role doesn't require a rabbi in the first place, and
  many male Conservative and Reform rabbis wouldn't be considered
  rabbis by Orthodox rabbis anyway.

I'm sure I've made some mistakes here, so feel free to correct me.


End of Volume 17 Issue 26