Volume 27 Number 09
                      Produced: Tue Oct  7  8:24:03 1997

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Administrivia: Orientation of List
         [Avi Feldblum]
         [Eli Clark]
Orthodoxy, non-Orthodoxy and claims of heresy
         [Robert Kaiser]


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Tue, 7 Oct 1997 08:19:59 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Administrivia: Orientation of List

Hello All,

The question of whether this is an "Orthodox" list has been brought to
the forefront recently, and I think that I need to address the issue. I
will admit that I would prefer not to have to address the issue, but
that is no longer an option I have.

To go back for a few moments into the distant past of the mailing list,
to before the list existed, there was a newgroup on Usenet known as nrj
or net.religion.jewish (the name of soc.culture.jewish before the Great
Renaming). One "feature" of the newsgroup was the periodic OCR wars (no,
not Optical Character Recognition, but Orthodox, Conservative,
Reform). There came a period where those of us on the newsgroup felt
that everytime we would discuss something that was halakhic in nature,
the immediate response was that Halakha (at least as we understood it)
was no longer valid/binding/needed to be followed etc, and the
discussion would end up on the validity of Halakha, rather than whatever
the topic was. That, along with the tendency for some people to respond
to any reasoned arguement with a personal flame against the original
poster, led David Chechick to start up the mailing list. The purpose, to
paraphrase an article by one of our own, was to have a "place of our
own". This part of the history I'm pretty sure of. David left on Aliya a
few months after stating the list, and I took over as moderator. I, from
the beginning, felt very strongly that the second part of the paraphrase
of the above mentioned article (which had not yet been published, but in
retrospect I clearly resonate with it) is that the list should also be a
"place with a view".

What this means to me, is that the mailing list should be a place that
those Jews who are committed to Torah and Mitzvot, to the validity and
binding nature of Halacha, to an acceptance of the Responsa (Shealot
U'Teshuvot) methodology of Halachic development, would find a
comfortable place to express their views and discuss topics of
interest. HOWEVER, it should also not be too comfortable, it should be a
place where we are willing to listen to the opinions of others whose
path in Torah and Halacha is not exactly the same as ours. It is not
limited to Aguda or Mizrachi, to Yeshivish, Chasidish or
Centrist. Rather it allows all people to express their views, hopefully
with respect for all other Jews, in a way that the rest of the list can
listen and then respond.

I dislike labels, so I was not willing to describe the list as being an
"Orthodox" list. The closest I was willing to go in several postings
some years ago was to say that it adhered to Responsa Judaism, but I
don't think that label is likely to take off. The facts on the ground,
as it were, is that the great majority of the list would self-identify
as "Orthodox" of some form or another. However, I know a number of
people, both on the list and off, who self-identify as "Conservative"
and are Shomer Mitzvot, accept the validity of Halacha etc. This is even
more so true of those who identify with what was the Union for
Traditional Conservative Judaism, which is now Union of Traditional
Judaism, as well as a more traditional group within JTS.

It is my opinion, that to the extent that we can veer away from the
political divisions between groups, there is no reason to alienate
people from a discussion of Jewish topics within a Halakhic
framework. One difficulty that often arises happens when people, often
with the ability to cite halakhic sources for their opinions, state such
opinions as if they are the only valid opinions on a given topic. A
related difficulty is when certain authorities that people bring are not
accepted by the majority of the Halakhic decisors of the time.

To a large extent I have taken as part of my role as moderator to
determine what are the bounds of the authorities that I will accept as
valid for discussion in the group. I try to be fairly inclusive in this
manner, but they will generally be those that will be defined (or
self-identified) as "Orthodox". In the case where I know that the source
is other than "Orthodox", I will more carefully examine the material to
see if, as best as I am able to determine, the opinions cited fall
within the rubric of what I think is Halakhic Judaism. This does not
mean that only opinions that I agree with get posted to the list. I
would venture to say that there is far more of what would be called
"right-wing" Orthodoxy that gets posted to the list that I strongly
disgree with, than "non-Orthodox" opinions that either get posted to the
list or get rejected by me. I do admit freely, that "right-wing"
Orthodoxy positions that I disagree with will get posted, while if
someone were to submit, for example, that today it is permitted to drive
on Shabbat or that Mikvah is no longer required and cites a Rabbi as the
source for that, it would not get accepted.

To end a overly long posting, that still does not fully explore the
issue, the official status of the list is "Halakhic". I am not (at least
yet) willing to compromise what I believe to have been a very positive
experience for the last several years of a list that has as wide a
participation - to give as all "a room with a view" - as practical while
maintaining the relative comfort of "a room of our own".

I recognize that this is an emotional topic for some/many and I know
that some people have dropped out of the list over the last several days
due to this issue. I welcome your continued discussion on this topic,
but I caution that it must be done within a context of respect. 

Avi Feldblum


From: Eli Clark <clarke@...>
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 1997 11:17:00 -0400
Subject: RE: Consevative/Reform

In  Vol. 27 #03,  Daniel Eidensohn <yadmoshe@...>

>The opposition to the Conservative and Reform movements stems
>from the fact that these movements have been declared as heresy by our

Dr. Eidensohn also cites two secondary sources regarding R. Moshe
Feinstein's position that such movements are heretical.  He then

>disputing the rulings of our gedolim is obviously wrong. There is no
>basis for respecting the Conservative Movement- in the name of Pluralism
>or good manners - when it has the halachic status of heresy. While in
>general there must be reasoned and respectful discussion, there can not
>be any tolerance of heresy.

Obviously, I view the halakhic decisions of R. Moshe z.t.l. as
authoritative statements of one of the greatest posekim (decisors) of
the 20th century.  However, I believe it is misleading to quote one
gadol and present that as the view of "Gedolim."

It is also misleading to quote a ruling dealing with one situation and
apply it to another.  Alana Suskin had written that Conservative Jews
should not be derided, because they honestly believe that what they are
doing is correct.  Her concern, if I understand her correctly, is not
with ideology, but the respect due another Jew.  Dr. Eidensohn has
summoned the authority of R. Moshe, who addressed the question of the
propriety of praying or teaching in Conservative institutions.  In my
humble opinion, these are different questions.

I say this only because there is documented evidence of other gedolim
who did relate to Conservative and Reform Jews with respect, though they
vehemently disagreed with non-Orthodox ideology.  The Seridei Esh (R.
Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg) is a prominent example.  In fact, the Seridei
Esh ruled (contrary to the opinion of R. Moshe) that a marriage
performed by certain non-Orthodox rabbis would require a get (halakhic
divorce).  This is also the opinion of other gedolim.  Even R. Shimshon
Raphael Hirsch, one of the most vocal and articulate opponents of
Reform, maintained cordial relations with prominent Reform Jews,
including a former student of his, Abraham Geiger.

In short, it seems to me that (1) Rav Moshe z.t.l.'s pesak (ruling) is
not the last word on the issue; and (2) basic courtesy is consistent
with uncompromising ideological opposition.

Courteously yours,


From: <KAISER@...> (Robert Kaiser)
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 1997 11:37:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Orthodoxy, non-Orthodoxy and claims of heresy

Daniel Eidensohn <yadmoshe@...> writes:
>  Roth, a major Conservative scholar [The Halakhic Process
> pg 71] notes with dismay that Reb Moshe ruled that the Conservative
> Movement is heresy and consequently prohibits praying in a Conservative
> synagogue or accepting a teaching position in a Conservative school,
> etc.. Roth states [page 73] "Note, however, that the primary grounds for
> the possible prohibition is that Conservative Jews are heretics. That
> fact is stated [by Reb Moshe] as undisputed and as though it possessed
> legal, not merely theological, significance. No note is made [by Reb
> Moshe] of the possibility that such a characterization of Conservative
> Jews is, at best, a Macchloket, and conceivably a matter of opinion."  I
> will provide additional citations on request.

> As Alana has noted this is an Orthodox list and therefore
> disputing the rulings of our gedolim is obviously wrong. 

	First of all, the administrivia posts clearly state that this is
a list dedicated to Torah Judaism and halakha - It never says that only
Orthodox opinions are acceptable; It only states that advocating non-
halakhic opinions are not acceptable.  Indeed, considering the very wide
range of differences of certain beliefs held within various factions of
the Orthodox community, it is impossible for someone to clearly and
unambiguously state what is, and what is not, Orthodox.  What some
Orthodox Jews hold to be normative, others hold to be forbidden, or even

	Surely you noted that in this same post someone asks about the
custom of tying a red ribbon around the wrist of a newborn, which is
used by some Jews to ward off evil sprits or the 'evil eye'.  Is such a
person an Orthodox Jew?  Clearly, this is avodah zarah, one of the most
blatant forms of idolatry, and this practice is decried by many Orthodox
rabbis.  And yet many other Orthodox Jews believe that this is pefectly
acceptable!  Believeing that all Orthodox Jews are non-heretics, while
all non-Orthodoxs are heretics is sheer nonsense.  The poster would do
well to consider how other Orthodox Jews might judge his own personal
beliefs and practices before he puts himself in the position of publicly
judging so many millions of other Jews to be heretics.

	As for the statement that "disputing the rulings of our gedolim
is obviously wrong", where to begin?  This makes no sense.  There
_never_ has been a clear set of "rulings of our gedolim".  This kind of
thinking borders on historical revisionism.  The fact is that gedolim
make many different rulings on many different subjects, and in practice
often disagree greatly with each other.  By definition, it is impossible
to agree with all or even most gedolim; One _has_ to make a choice as
what decision is valid, and by definition this then rejects the other

	This is not heresy, nor is it disrespectful.

> There is no basis for respecting the Conservative Movement- in the name 
> of Pluralism or good manners - when it has the halachic status of heresy. 

	You miss the entire point of Joel Roth's essay: There is no
basis for insisting that one must believe that all non-Orthodox Jews are
heretics.  This was simply the opinion of one man, and it is wrong to
claim that every Orthodox Jew _must_ abandon all their critical thinking
and knowledge and accept that particular ruling as if it were part of
the Torah.

	We must be aware that Reform and Conservative Judaism existed
for over 100 years before a gadol made this particular ruling.  What are
we to make of this fact?  Was every Orthodox gadol from 1850 to 1950
incompetent, and unable to understand the issues?  Clearly, the fact is
that for many reasons, Orthodox rabbis did _not_ want to brand all
non-Orthodox Jews as heretics.  So one is prompted to ask: Does not the
halakha follow the majority?  If so, one must recognize that the
majority of Orthodox rabbis who have dealt with non-Orthodox Jews have
simply not made such a ruling.

> While in general there must be reasoned and respectful discussion, 
> there can not be any tolerance of heresy.

	As a non-Orthodox Jew, I find this kind of pious statement most
intriguing.  Is Daniel not aware that many non-Orthodox Jews consider
certain elements of Orthodox to be heresy?  Is he sure that his own
beliefs will stand up to a theological inquisition by his own peers?

	You will never find a Conservative Jew praying to a dead rebbe,
which is a clear violation of the fifth principle of faith.  You will
never find a Conservative Jew tying a red string around someone's wrist
to ward off demons, which is a violation of both the prohibition against
avodah zarah as well as the declaration of faith, the Sh'ma.  You never
find a Conservative Jew claiming that God spoke to Moses like a man,
which Maimonides himself wrote was a gross anthropomorphism that was
utterly unacceptable in any way, shape or form.  In fact, one of my
friends (a right-wing Orthodox Jew) just showed me an essay of his in
which he claimed that the Orthodox community can be criticised far more
for idolatry than Reform Jews.  Claiming that this issue is so black and
white is, to my eyes, a gross oversimplification.

	Simply put, this simplistic beleif that all non-Orthodox Jews
are heretics has no basis in traditional halakha, and is mere opinion.
I would urge people to spend more time doing some deep reading on these
issues, instead of merely making partisan statements that serve to
further separate Klal Yisrael.

Robert Kaiser


End of Volume 27 Issue 9