Volume 58 Number 57 
      Produced: Sun, 08 Aug 2010 16:22:37 EDT

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

"Egalitarian Orthodox" (Partnership) Minyanim (2)
    [Stuart Pilichowski  Mordechai Horowitz]
Ad hominem attacks 
    [Meir Shinnar]
Conservative Judaism and "Biblical criticism" 
    [Frank Silbermann]
Empiricism and Rationalism 
    [Mark Steiner]
    [Meir Shinnar]
Magical Influences on Halacha 
    [Russell J Hendel]
Sermons in the vernacular 
    [Meir Shinnar]


From: Stuart Pilichowski <stupillow@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 12:01 PM
Subject: "Egalitarian Orthodox" (Partnership) Minyanim

As a layman looking at what's been going on in modern Orthodox society the last 40 years or so these are my thoughts / reflections:

The community has a way of weeding out the wheat from the chaff.

Communal observance of Yom HaShoah was once widely prohibited because it fell in Nisan. Today it is quite widely observed.

Bat Mitzvah celebrations were few and far between. Today it's the norm and many congregations allow the bat mitzvah woman to give a drasha from the bima - albeit after davening / for now at least.

Some of the mi shebayrach tfillot in my siddur now includes the Matriarchs in addition to the Patriarchs. (I'm still getting used to reciting it that way.) 

I believe these are examples of the community / rabbi moving towards what seems right - sometimes through pressure (gentle or even constant prodding and nudging) though the traditions may prove otherwise and even though a renowned posek may not have given his formal approval.

This too will be the way of the modern Orthodox world in many synagogue traditions that were once unheard of. 

Stuart Pilichowski
Mevaseret Zion

From: Mordechai Horowitz <mordechai@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 12:01 PM
Subject: "Egalitarian Orthodox" (Partnership) Minyanim

Orren Tilevitz wrote (MJ 58#55):

> I would very much like to be able to duchen, but as a levite I may not do so.
> I find it emotionally upsetting and unfulfilling to have kohanim who don't know
> as much as I do, and who can't sing as well as I do, duchen while I just stand
> there. It's even more demeaning for me to have to wash their hands. It seems
> to me that society has changed enough that this sort of class distinction is
> unwarranted. When I did some research, I came across a tosafot in Shabbat 118b
> that suggests that a non-kohen can indeed duchen, and the only problem is the
> blessing. I'd willingly forego the blessing as long as I can do that Spock
> thing with my hands. But when I went to my rabbi, he laughed at me. Can
> someone help?

The reality is there is legitimate tension on this issue.  After all, 
women (Ashkenazi at least) are allowed to say blessings over mitzvot 
such as lulav that they are exempted from, being they are time-bound 

Women often eat in the sukka, come to shul to daven on Shabbos in shul, 
women's learning options have massively increased over that last 200 
years (I'd love to see Rebbetzin Henkin invite Streissand to learn at a 
real womens yeshiva)

So if we were talking about serious observant women I'd have a different 
feeling which is why I personally have much more respect for the women 
at Yeshiva Maharat http://yeshivatmaharat.org/than I am at WOW/


From: Meir Shinnar <chidekel@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Ad hominem attacks

Mordechai Horowitz wrote (MJ 58#56):
> Who considers Rabbi Daniel Sperber a posek?  He's a college professor 
> not a Rosh Yeshiva. 

The issue of ad hominem attacks has been raised before.  One might like to get
one's facts straight.  Rabbi Professor Sperber, in addition to being a college
professor (of Talmud), after yeshiva background, has been a rav of a shul in the
Old City for many years, and been a posek for a significant community for a long
time.  (~ 10 years ago, at Brovenders, my daughter had pskaim from Rav Sperber
cited (which had nothing to do with women's isues..). It may not be Mordechai's
community, and he is welcome to follow his leader - but this drivel and personal
attacks is something that I must protest.  

BTW, the notion that one has to be a posek to pasken is a modern notion - one
paskens if one has the learning - one becomes gradually accepted as a posek by
being accepted, but that was never the requirement for someone to pasken...

Meir Shinnar


From: Frank Silbermann <frank_silbermann@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Conservative Judaism and "Biblical criticism"

Martin Stern wrote (MJ 58#55):

> Thus I consider that acceptance, whether tacit or explicit, of the results
> of Higher Criticism is the essential point at issue between the Conservative
> movement and Orthodoxy or, as I would rather call it, Torah Judaism,
> whatever the actual practices of individual adherents of either might be. In
> view of this discussion, it would appear that what Frank was told is absolutely
> correct. 

Therefore, if congregations such as Shir Chadash are not associated with rabbis
who express belief in the Higher Criticism, we need not view them as synogogues
which have "gone Conservative."

(Though I don't personally have a deep enough understanding of Halacha to
determine whether what they have done goes beyond the pale, and have no personal
emotional reaction against women leading services, one of the features of
Orthodox Judaism that I respect and admire is its willingness defy modern
Political Correctness.)

Frank Silbermann           Memphis, Tennessee


From: Mark Steiner <marksa@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Empiricism and Rationalism

My remarks (MJ.58 #49) were a protest against those, in Jewish studies
particularly, and on this list, who misuse words like "rationalist" -- and now,
even "empiricist"--robbing them of their meaning, and reducing them to vague
words of praise, without cognitive content.

Although perhaps this is not the place for a lecture on trends in
philosophy, briefly:

Empiricism is the view that all our concepts and our certainties are, or
ought to be, grounded in sense data.  Typically, Empiricism places great
stock in the imagination -- David Hume is the paradigm case here, as he says
that scientific inference is based on the imagination.  

Rationalism is the view that at least some of our concepts and our knowledge is
grounded in reason, not the senses.  Many rationalists believed in innate ideas.  

We see that Empiricism and Rationalism are incompatible, when these words are
given their proper meaning.

It is easy to see that Maimonides was an arch-realist, and an
anti-empiricist.  His concept of God deliberately avoids any empirical
concepts, and in fact any concepts at all. An Empiricist would find this
incomprehensible.  In his Introduction to Avot (the so-called Eight
Chapters) he states specifically that the fact that we can imagine something
is no proof that it is even possible -- an anti-Empiricist doctrine.  His
attack on astrology is partly based on the "empirical" nature of the
"science."  Meaning, that astrology is never given a deductive foundation
from first principles (archai as in Aristotle) but is based only on
induction or empirical evidence.  Empirical evidence is never enough to
establish a science (says Maimonides).

Thus, any Maimonidean is committed to anti-Empiricism (rationalism).


From: Meir Shinnar <chidekel@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Innovations

>> Orrin Tilevitz wrote (MJ 58#55):
> I don't disagree on either of these. But I think that purpose must be more 
> than "I don't like the status quo", particular when the innovation is 
> something that conventional reasoning would is affirmatively NOT done. 
> Kabbalat shabbat, additional prayers and a sermon are neither of these things.
This actually suggests a major problem in this debate.

What is apparent to most of us is that the changes in women's status and public
role have been revolutionary.   The question is how to formulate halachic
solutions that will lead to some correspondence between women's outside life and
her halachic/Jewish life - something that was not previously a problem.  This is
something that is realized by anyone with any historical, halachic, or spiritual
sensitivity - and in the last generations, when the changes started (but were
nowhere near as radical in the outside world as now), this notion - that halacha
had to respond to the social reality - was realized by the rabbanim, with some
solutions (think women's learning, bat mitzvahs, just to start as something that
have become quite the norm.)  The question is how far those changes can or
should go.

What the proper response is may be argued  - the above is not a blanket
permission to change everything.  Possible responses range from that the danger
to the system is too great to allow major change, or that radical change is
required - or that somewhere in the middle. However, a response that this is
just " I don't like the status quo" or that it is as if I wanted to become a
cohen is one that does not realize the seriousness of the issue.  

The issue is not the personal preferences of a few malcontents, but how does
halacha respond to such major challenges. The fact that the women that one is
close to may not express these sentiments - either because they don't feel them
or because they have been trained to think that they are inappropriate - does
not change the fact that this is a major challenge.  Again, there are many
different possible responses to the challenge - but ignoring and denying it, or
cheapening it as just personal aggrandizement, is not a valid response - not
valid as a factual assesssment  and not valid halachically, and one with
potential disasterous consequences for the torah community.

What this does mean, however, that those who think that the appropriate response
is some change rather than circling the wagons, will therefore support halachic
innovations that are justifiable - because the need is quite clear.  Whether the
means exist for those innovations, and whether they are justiiable, is a
different issue for each innovation - but the need is clear.

Meir Shinnar


From: Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 12:01 PM
Subject: Magical Influences on Halacha

David Zohary has made several rash statements about magical influences in
halacha. The purpose of this posting is to answer briefly each of them.

First things first. There is no excuse to malign or slander a leading generation
sage (Gadol Hador) such the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick. 

David incorrectly asserts that the Rav was applying rationalism into Judaism. If
David had actually read the Rav's book, Halachic Man he would see the exact
opposite. In that book the Rav distinguishes 3 types of people: 

a) scientific/rational man, 

b) religious man, 

c) halachic man. 

Halachic man differs from rational man in that he acknowledges a transcendental
spiritual world. 

Halachic man differs from religious man in several ways: 

Religious man gets his "highs" from meditations and attempts to ascend to
heavenly emotions (similar to David's meditation on the letters of the Divine
name). Halachic man seeks to bring heaven to earth. 

Halachic man gets his highs from the halachic process, from the objective,
sometimes-numerical approach, of halachic reality. Halacha, the Rav explains,
attempts to objectify and externalize our inner religious emotions. The Rav
criticizes religious man - true he gets high but there is nothing controlling
his/her emotions. One moment he will be high and the next low. By contrast
halachic man has homeostasis and while experiencing deep emotions is not subject
to sudden fluxes. For example in my formulating this posting I had a high since
I synthesized the sources David cites with other sources to arrive at a more
correct description. At any rate I would recommend David leave his letter
meditation for a day or two and read this beautiful work.

Next: David made some comments about Tumah/Taharah (ritual impurity/purity) and
the transcendent world. Here is the Jewish view as I understand it: 

(1) Unlike science Judaism believes in a spiritual world. 

(2) God and angels occupy this spiritual world. The Spiritual world communicates
to man through dreams (I have a separate posting on the importance of dreams).
Unlike science we see all dreams as coming from a higher sphere if they are
properly interpreted. 

(3) God however does NOT manifest himself through the symbolic interpretation of
the real world. This is superstition which is Biblically prohibited. A black cat
in a dream may have meaning for my next day's actions; a black cat crossing my
path in the real world or a key in a baked challah has no symbolic meaning.

(4) Besides God and angels there are no other forces in the spiritual world.
So-called demons and evil spirits don't really exist. HOWEVER SINCE THEY ARE

(5) Satan is not a demon. He is a fully ranked angel who serves God like other
angels. This idea is due to Rav Hirsch (Gen 4, esp. Gen 4:6). Rav Hirsch cites
the Midrash when Satan seduces and man acquiesces, Satan ascends and complains
that he is being listened to. Rav Hirsch explains that Satan's job is to provide
man with spiritual challenges so that man can overcome them and earn the
spiritual world.

In the remainder of this posting let me explain demons and evil spirits. My
position is that they should all be interpreted symbolically as referring to
psychological emotions. I give 3 examples.

(A) Tumah/Taharah. Rav Hirsch explains Tumah as "a feeling of depression and
lack of free will arising from a (false) awareness of man's totally physical
nature. The Taharah (purification) ceremonies have as their goal to remove this
feeling of depression. So if I see a dead body I think that perhaps man is
totally physical and whatever he works on is destroyed by death. If I experience
normal sexual excretions (menstruation, seminal emissions) I think that my body
acts sexually without my consent and free will and therefore there is no point
in exercising control in other areas." So while Tumah/Taharah is important it
deals with one sense of freedom.

(B) Washing hands in the morning: The official reason for this (as given in the
code of Jewish law) is "because hands are groping." So suppose my hands during
the night have touched my body's private parts. I wash my hands to symbolically
assert the difference between my private parts and my public life. This is the
some reason people wear a belt (gartel) when praying - to distinguish the lower
and upper half of the body. The washing doesn't banish "spirits" but rather
symbolically affirms my values and encourages me to keep my private life and
feelings private.

(C) Evil eye: I in fact wrote an essay on this which can be found at
http://www.Rashiyomi.com/evileye.pdf. I posit that "evil eye" refers to the
emotional anxiety of being in the public communal eye. For example if I and my
brother get consecutive aliyahs the community "eyes us". They may say "Who do
the Hendels think they are taking over the aliyahs." All evil eye prohibitions
try to avoid being in the public eye.

I would conclude by advocating that

(i) David continue washing hands in the morning and avoiding evil eye situations
BUT with the understanding that his actions are encouraging healthy emotions, 

(ii) David should concentrate more time on halachic analysis (as opposed to
halachic citations), 

(iii) David should try and get highs from halachic analysis and dreams rather
than letters of the tetragrammaton.

Russell Jay Hendel; PhD Asa http://www.Rashiyomi.com/


From: Meir Shinnar <chidekel@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 8,2010 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Sermons in the vernacular

Some people here think that sermons in the vernacular are no big deal and no
innovation.  Two data points:

1) In the 1880s in Hungary, a gathering against innovations and reform put in
herem any rav and shul who gave sermons in the vernacular (ie Hungarian or
German - Yiddish was acceptable)

2) In the 1930s-40s, a large Conservative shul in Philadelphia, which back then
had a Chief Rabbi who was Orthodox, went to him and said that they would become
Orthodox - put in a mechitza, no microphone, - but one requirement - they wanted
a rav who gave sermons in English, not Yiddish. He said "das is nicht a rov"
(that is not a rabbi), and the shul remained Conservative.

So  some innovations have become so commonplace that people can't conceive of
the violent oppostion they first encounterd...

Meir Shinnar


End of Volume 58 Issue 57