Volume 54 Number 38
                    Produced: Tue Mar 20 21:55:10 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Administrivia - Conservative Responsa
         [Avi Feldblum]
Conservative Responsa
         [Sarah Beck]
Conservative Responsa and  Theological Differences
         [Shimon Glick]
In the case of Chilul Hashem
         [Shmuel Himelstein]
Rabbinic Authority (previously conservative responsa) (2)
         [Ben Katz, Alex Heppenheimer]


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 21:49:37 -0400
Subject: Administrivia - Conservative Responsa

I'd like to just make a few comments on this topic in my capacity of
list moderator. This topic is one that can easily slide over the line of
what I view as acceptable for the list. To help clarify what I view as
acceptable vs not acceptable, the objective is not to allow things to
get to the point of a Orthodox vs Conservative flame fest. At the same
time, the question of how to deal with certain situations is one that is
a valid topic of conversation here - as long as it can remain
civil. There is little question that there are a number of halachic
poskim who who view the Conservative movement as complete anti-halachic
apikorsus. There are others within the Orthodox camps who, while
disagreeing with their positions, are more open to discussion.

The original question likely derived from one whose outlook was
basically along the first position described. As such, the question was
how to treat writings on Torah topics from Conservative Rabbis. That
question was answered by a number of people on both sides of the
previous divide.  I'm also comfortable with posts that try to explore
how we can mutually discuss items. What I do not want to get into is a
post that basically says - here are all the things that the Conservative
movement is doing wrong. That is unlikely to be a fruitful discussion,
and not one I want to see on this list.

So as long as I see the discussion being a positive one, I'm willing to
allow it to go on. However, I will carefully review all submissions and
may be more inclined to reject here than on average.

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish moderator


From: Sarah Beck <beckse@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 13:24:49 -0500
Subject: Re: Conservative Responsa

There is a lot of truth to what Yehonatan Chipman says:

"The great masses of Conservative Jews couldn't care less--as their
leaders will readily admit, at least off the record.  They (i.e., the
leadership) more or less see themselves as engaging in the front lines
of the battle against assimilation, and are happy for even minor
successes. And, in my opinion, they -- and even the Reform, for that
matter--are deserving of a kind of respect for it."

And I also agree with Perry Zane's comments. But let me just add a word
from the field. These are not original observations, but they stand to
be repeated, because, WADR, I've found that people from "densely Jewish"
areas have NO IDEA.

I grew up at Temple Beth-El, a large "classical Reform" shul in San
Antonio, TX. Believe me, if a person in San Antonio so much as admits in
public, to other Jews, that he goes to Agudas Achim, the Conservative
shul, he is already sticking out his neck a long, long way in favor of
the old-time religion. My family is large, well-connected, and quite
traditional, for the Reform--we make a real Seder, we go to shul at
night and in the morning on RH and YK, everybody had a bar or bat
mitzvah where they actually learned something, no Christmas trees--in
other words, we are hardly lost to assimilation. And we have exactly ONE
family friend who buys Empire chicken. Of all our dozens of friends and
associates going back to my great-grandparents' arrival from the
Ukraine, by way of Omaha, in 1934. My great-grandmother, as it happens,
was shomer shabbos and covered her hair until she died in 1986--you'd
think we'd have some old friends on the frum side. We have one
person. (His parents died, full of years, in the 1990s.)

[A relevant digression: As for the Jews that only go to shul on the High
Holy Days, take my stepfather. He was sitting in temple one year,
waiting for Avinu Malkeinu, when he heard the rabbi exhort the
congregation to go and do chesed in the neighborhood around Temple. He
thereafter took the Friday morning Meals on Wheels shift, weekly from
about 9am until 1pm, and kept it for more than five years thereafter.
My parents work for a living, sixty, seventy hours a week, running an
antique store and liquidating estates. Does anyone here run a store?
What about your parents or grandparents? How many retailers do you know
who will take off FRIDAY 9am-1pm? Over my mother's repeated objections,
I might add. No, my stepfather isn't shomer shabbos or anything
else. But I know a whole lot of "halachically observant" Jews who aren't
heeding any call to chesed from the pulpit.]

Yes, Reform and Conservative leaders ARE on the front lines of the
battle against assimilation. Is it a "minor success" that our friend
buys Empire chicken? Minor relative to Meal Mart, perhaps. In Flatbush,
that level of religious commitment might manifest itself in, say, a
shiur after work or an ongoing chavruta with a person who's learning
about Judaism. In San Antonio, TX, it takes the SAME AMOUNT of zerizus
simply to buy a different brand and admit that you go to a Conservative

Yes, there are people who become "fully" shomer mitzvot, whatever that
means, while living in the old hometown. There are also people in New
York who work full-time, finish semicha and/or the Talmud Halacha
Program and/or Scholars' Circle while they're at it, and have four or
five guests every shabbat...and not just the fun, entertaining, perky
guests, either.

I do sincerely understand where people are coming from when they talk
about "minor successes." (R. Chipman, this isn't directed at you
personally, you understand.) When folks start ranting to me about Gaza,
I tell them to make aliyah and pick up a gun. If committed Orthodox Jews
of any stripe aren't huge fans of the Reform and Conservative approach
to "Jewish continuity," then there are many, many places like San
Antonio with a mikveh, a small Orthodox minyan, and a tiny K-8 day
school. Move down there, or finance your children's move down there, and
get a regular job. It davka shouldn't be full-time kiruv, because that
would only put people off. Organize a Wednesday night chaburah in your
living room, the kind you'd find ten of in any shul in New York. Give my
family another Empire-buying friend for them to tease, affectionately,
about his crazy kana'us.

One week when I was home, much to my surprise, my stepfather announced
that he wanted to go to services on Fri. night. To our chagrin, it
turned out to be Collegiate Homecoming Shabbat, at which, in lieu of a
sermon, various new freshmen from the congregation talk about their
experiences. It is a lot of fun to hear, actually, but it wasn't what my
stepdad was up for. On the way home, he began to rant. "Collegiate
Homecoming Shabbat! My GOD! It doesn't make me want to leave Judaism!
It makes me want to go to Agudas Achim!"

I pretended I hadn't heard this.

"Don't tell your mother I said that," he added.

Kol tuv,
Sarah Beck


From: Shimon Glick <gshimon@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 05:40:13 GMT
Subject: Conservative Responsa and  Theological Differences

I would refer the readership of Mail Jewish to the famousCommentary
Symposium on the state of Jewish belief in which they asked a wide
spectrum of orthodox , conservative and reform rabbis about their
beliefs. In the introduction the symposium organizers pointed out that
if the affiliations of the responders were covered the responses of the
conservative and reform rabbis were virtually
indistinuishable-particularly with respect to the divine origin of the
Torah. Thus Rav Feinstein's psak had good theological basis.;

Shimon G.


From: Shmuel Himelstein <himels@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 19:13:14 +0200
Subject: In the case of Chilul Hashem

What happened yesterday in the elections of 15 new Dayanim for the
Israeli rabbinical courts would appear to me to be as clear a case of
Chilul Hashem as there can be. In a 9 member committee with only one
woman and with five representatives of the Charedi parties, the outcome
was clear: in what was evidently a "deal" worked out in advance, of 60
odd candidates for these positions, 12 were selected from the Charedi
ranks in what was evidently a "deal" between Shas and the United Torah
Judaism party - and many of the new appointees are related directly or
indirectly to highly placed rabbinic figures in the Charedi world. Of
the 15 selected, only one has any background in law. One candidate, who
has a master's degree in law, was summarily rejected.

For those of you who know how many of the rabbinic courts function, this
was a mortal blow to any chance of ameliorating the situation for
decades.  (Dayanim serve until the age of 70, and some of those
appointed are in the 30s.)

The frustration with the way many rabbinic courts refuse to help women
secure a Get has (finally?) reached the point where some RELIGIOUS
female leaders have called on women not to marry at all in a formal
Halachic ceremony, so as not to have to be subject to the rabbinic
courts should they come to be separated from their mates. This trend has
been clearly for decades in the non-religious world.

The rabbinic court administrators (who, I will agree, have done much to
try to help in many cases) seem to be unable to solve the problems of
many women - some of whom have been waiting for years and years for the
Bet Din to act.

Take the following examples of an utter collapse of the system:

a) a woman who has been waiting for 11 years for a Get, whose husband
swears that she will have to wait until she is beyond child-bearing age.

b) A woman who, after years of being delayed from a Get by her husband,
sued him for the damages caused to her. Rather than support her attempt
to solve the issue, the Bet Din decided to punish HER by suspending any
further action on her case.

c) When a conference was finally called to try to solve the problem, it
was cancelled just days before the event by the intervention of a very
aged rabbi who, in my opinion, seems to have lost all touch with reality
- but that does not stop his followers from following his Diktats

I wonder what the Halachic (and practical) implications would be if
women collectively throughout the country simply boycotted all the
Mikva'ot until such time as the rabbis would finally work out a just
solution to the problem.

If you haven't read the play, Lysistrata, it makes most interesting
reading. Or look up "Lysistrata" in Wikipedia.

Shmuel Himelstein


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 12:11:16 -0600
Subject: Rabbinic Authority (previously conservative responsa)

> >From Barry S. Bank:
> >> .....rabbis have never had the authority to nullify a toraitic
> >> ordinance....
> > If that were true, then we would blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls
> > on Shabbat, bench lulav and etrog on Shabbat Sukkot, and in the galut,
> > we would put on t'fillin on the last day of every chag -- all of which
> > are examples of mitzvot d'oraita (Toraitic ordinances) which were
> > nullified by rabbinic authority.
>Excellent!  The gemara (I forget where) asks the identical question and
>concludes "shani shev ve'al taaseh".  That is, the Rabbis have the
>authority to tell people not to observe a positive commandment but do
>not have the autority to permit them to violate a negative one (e.g.,
>they may not permit driving to shul on Shabbat).  I should have made
>that clear.  There is of course the case of loans during shemita, but
>that is an exception that proves the rule.

         The matter is not so glib.  I believe chametz she-avar alav 
hapesach would be considered a lav deorayta by everyone and yet the rabbis 
did get around it by instituting the selling of chametz to a nonJew prior 
to pesach.  (See my forthcoming letter in Tradition which discusses this in 
more detail and cites the relevant sources.) Also, as has been pointed out 
on this list before, "the exception that proves the rule" means that what 
one would expect to be an exception also follows the rule (test=prove, as 
in proving grounds = testing grounds for an airplane), not that somehow the 
exception that doesn't follow the rule makes the rule more valid.

Ben Z. Katz, M.D.
Children's Memorial Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases
2300 Children's Plaza, Box # 20, Chicago, IL 60614
e-mail: <bkatz@...>

From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 07:05:59 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority (previously conservative responsa)

In MJ 54:34, Orrin Tilevitz wrote:

> ...the Rabbis have the authority to tell people not to observe a
> positive commandment but do not have the autority to permit them to
> violate a negative one (e.g., they may not permit driving to shul on
> Shabbat).  I should have made that clear.  There is of course the case
> of loans during shemita, but that is an exception that proves the
> rule.

It's not even an exception; the Gemara (Gittin 36a) points out that
Shemittah - both its agricultural and its financial aspects - is
nowadays not binding on a Torah level, only Rabbinically. (Rashi there
states that this is because of the suspension of Yovel following the
exile of the ten northern tribes, since Yovel is in effect only when all
twelve tribes live in the Land of Israel, and Shemittah depends on
Yovel. Tosafos there argue that Yovel was kept in later eras too, and
that Shemittah became Rabbinically mandated only after the destruction
of the second Beis HaMikdash.)

In any case, then, the Rabbis have the authority to create a mechanism
(the prozbul) to override their own enactment.

Kol tuv,


End of Volume 54 Issue 38