Volume 58 Number 73 
      Produced: Mon, 16 Aug 2010 05:21:29 EDT

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

"Egalitarian Orthodox" (Partnership) Minyanim 
    [Mordechai Horowitz]
"statement of principles" regarding homosexuality (3)
    [Mordechai Horowitz  Martin Stern  Avraham Walfish]
    [Martin Stern]
    [Bernard Raab]


From: Mordechai Horowitz <mordechai@...>
Date: Wed, Aug 4,2010 at 11:01 PM
Subject: "Egalitarian Orthodox" (Partnership) Minyanim

Leah writes (MJ 58#50):

> So, it is hard to know where a movement will lead.  My feeling is that
> there is such an important impetus to Partnership Minyanim, i.e. women's
> spiritual inclusion, that it is worth trying, with full love of Hashem
> and devotion to Torah Judaism.

But you already answered the question when you said you think its a fools'
errand to follow Orthodox halacha. 

Leah also wrote:

> Others continue to rail against Orthodox women's tefila groups, and those
> continue to attract/educate some of the most Orthodox women around.

No they don't.  I doubt we have one in the entire state of Florida where 
I live associated with an Orthodox shul.  Women at the Wall's leader is 
a Meretz politician associated with the Reform movement. I'd take their claims
to spirituality a bit more serious if they actually wore tefillen and prayed as
a group when there weren't press around. 

Leah continues:

> For me, it is less about my own reading, though I do feel obligated to
> read whenever I can find time to volunteer and learn the portion.  It is
> more about being part of a congregation where all humans are learning
> and teaching each other Torah, and I do feel more of a kinship/understanding
> when someone represents *me* reading the parsha aloud.  A person's
> spiritual/emotional connection to the Torah is very special, and I may not
> be explaining it well.  Suffice it to say, there are many Orthodox women who
> feel this need, as demonstrated by the rise of Women's Tefila groups and the
> huge influx of such women to minyanim like mine.  Sometimes women cry the
> first time they hear another woman have an aliya or read Torah, finally
> feeling that unbroken connection to our tradition.

I haven't read the Torah from the Bimah since my Bar Mitzvah and while it's on 
my list of things I'd like to learn getting my Talmud skills up to par 
is more important.

Don't focus on the public reading which is virtually meaningless and ask
yourself if you understand what's being read.  Are you comfortable learnng
Chumash with Rashi, Ramban? Can you pick up a Mishnah Brurah and look up the
answer to a question you have?  These are so much more important skills for any
Jewish adult to have than leading services. 

When men fight in shul over who gets an aliya or who leads services it 
really isn't that spiritual.  The Jewish world doesn't gain by women 
adopting the worst practices of the men.  

It would be much better if we men adopted more of the womens practices. Tomorrow
night I'll be cooking Shabbos dinner because my wife just can't do it after a
full day of work and then fighting our toddlers to have dinner and go to bed. 

Preparing for Shabbos by cooking is just as much a part of Torah spirituality as
the Mincha and Maariv services I'll be davening in shul (not as the 
leader) beforehand.  

Learning Torah with my 2 1/2 year old twins is just as much a mitzvah as
learning the Rashba in Brachos and certainly more than if I get up and read the
parsha in front of everyone in Shabbos morning.


From: Mordechai Horowitz <mordechai@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 15,2010 at 02:01 PM
Subject: "statement of principles" regarding homosexuality

Russell J Hendel writes (MJ 58#72):

> in Synagogues.

> MY RESPONSE: Membership yes; full no. e.g. We sometimes disallow aliyoth to
> sinners. We disallow cantorship to sinners. Why should homosexuals be exempt.
> RESPECT is not blindness

The principles fully agree with you here. In part of #8 that you did not quote:

> ...We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members
> who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner.
> Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with
> regard to membership for open violators of halakha. Those standards should be
> applied fairly and objectively..... 

The next principal 9 makes it even clearer

> #9. Halakha articulates very exacting criteria and standards of eligibility
> for particular religious offices, such as officially appointed cantor during
> the year or baal tefillah on the High Holidays. Among the most important of
> those criteria is that the entire congregation must be fully comfortable with
> having that person serve as its representative. This legitimately prevents even
> the most admirable individuals, who are otherwise perfectly fit halakhically,
> from serving in those roles. It is the responsibility of the lay and rabbinic
> leadership in each individual community to determine eligibility for those
> offices in line with those principles, the importance of maintaining communal
> harmony, and the unique context of its community culture....

From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 15,2010 at 05:01 PM
Subject: "statement of principles" regarding homosexuality

Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...> (MJ 58#72) quotes the "statement of
principles" regarding homosexuality :

> #9) While acknowledging the "stringent" criteria for being a cantor the
> document cops out and leaves it to each synagogue to determine whether
> e.g. homosexuals are eligible to be e.g. high holiday cantors.

I was under the impression that the conditions for being a shliach tzibbur
[prayer leader] on the High Holy Days were, if anything, more stringent than
for the rest of the year. One condition, if I am not much mistaken, is that
he be married and have young children, something that most homosexuals will
find difficult to satisfy. Another is that he have an unblemished reputation
even in his youth which, given prevalent attitudes, would exclude openly
practicing homosexuals.

In any case the prime condition for the post of shliach tzibbur at any time
is to be acceptable to all members of the congregation, something an exponent of
"gay pride" might find difficult to attain in our society as it is at present.

Perhaps Russel's precis has overlooked some crucial wording that might have
answered my reservations.

Martin Stern

From: Avraham Walfish <rawalfish@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 15,2010 at 05:01 PM
Subject: "statement of principles" regarding homosexuality

In his summary of and reactions to the statement of principles, Russell
wrote (MJ 58#72):

>> 12) A) Discourage homosexual-female marriages. 
>>     B) Require disclosure of past prior to marriages.
> MY RESPONSE: I agree with B). I was shocked at A). When I say "shocked" I
> mean really shocked. There is a Biblical obligation to marry and reproduce.
> There isa Biblical obligation to repent. Who gave anyone the right to
> discourage it. The document states "Because  such marriages have problems"
> Really? All my heterosexual friends have problems in their marriages! What
> has gotten into everyone. Maybe the homosexual's marriage to a female would
> cure them. Did anyone ask why this woman wants to marry such a person. I
> have known homosexuals > who successfully got married. In fact you do also!
> What would have happened to Talmudic Judaism if Resh Lakish (who according
> to many opinions was homosexual) did not marry Rabbi Jochanan's sister.

Had this paragraph of the statement of principles been presented accurately,
Russell would have a valid point. But what the paragraph actually says is:

> Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most
> circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender,
> as this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty
> and ruined lives...

The key word here is "exclusively" - and of course the "under most
circumstances" is there for a reason. "Homosexuals" can - and do - have
successful marriages when their homosexual attraction is not exclusive, i.e.
when they are bisexual. They do not have successful marriages - indeed how
could they - when they are exclusively attracted to the same sex.
Unfortunately, the impulse of many well-meaning but uninformed spiritual
counselors (and I have heard many rabbis voice this sentiment) is to assume
that a heterosexual marriage will "cure" the homosexual of his temporary
madness, and this not infrequently has the results of "unrequited love,
shame, dishonesty, and ruined lives". There is NO mitzvah to "marry and
reproduce" under such circumstances, and the fact that all people who marry
know that there will be "problems in their marriages", that is in no way
comparable to entering into a marriage that any sensible person can
assess in advance as a disaster waiting to happen.

We'll save discussion of Resh Lakish's purported homosexuality - that in my
opinion is a red herring - for another occasion.

Avie Walfish


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Sun, Aug 15,2010 at 02:01 PM
Subject: Converts

Naomi Graetz <graetz@...> wrote (MJ 58#71):
> And since, unlike today, conversion may have been looked upon more favorably,
> in BT Megillah 14b, the midrash writes that Rahab married Joshua following her
> conversion and among her illustrious descendants was Jeremiah the prophet.

I strongly object to Naomi's first comment. A convert is considered as being
equivalent to a new born baby and any past lifestyle is irrelevant. While,
among ignorant people, there may be some prejudice against them, this is
contrary to the Torah which tells us on many occasions that a convert and a
born Jew are completely equal in its eyes.

Martin Stern


From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
Date: Mon, Aug 16,2010 at 03:01 AM
Subject: Innovations

> David Tzohar wrote (MJ 58#60):

>>> Innovations in halacha because of changes in societal conditions should not
>>> be made unless they are based totally on how the Gemarra and former
>>> generations of poskim related to the societal conditions of their times
>>> ...
> Bernard Raab commented (MJ 58 #63):

>> What I find strangely missing from this entire discussion is any reference to
>> "recent" history, as if feminine empowerment is a modern innovation. When 
>> Sarah Shenirer in early 20th century Poland saw the crisis in Jewish life 
>> developing as a result of Jewish women being admitted to secular schools, 
>> without women being offered any corresponding Jewish education, she was 
>> determined to organize a religious school system for Jewish women. Most of 
>> today's rabonnim would like to claim that she readily received the blessings 
>> of the rabbis of her day, and so was born the Bais Yaakov school system. In 
>> reality, she was roundly rejected by the rabbis of her day as a radical 
>> troublemaker, to say nothing of a woman troublemaker! But thank G-d she 
>> persisted, despite her lowly status, and eventually convinced Rabbi Yisrael 
>> Meir Kagan, the "Chofetz Chaim", to give his approval. <snip>
>> Perhaps some of today's innovators will also be viewed by future 
>> generations as great visionaries who saved traditional Judaism from the fate
>> of irrelevance.

Frank Silbermann (MJ 58#64) responded:
> As for those who initially opposed Miss Shenirer, what were their concerns?
> Did they say anything like, "This sort of thing will eventually lead to women
> wanting to become rabbis and lead services"?
I'd hate to do anything that might vindicate those who opposed educating women.
Frank's question is a good indicator of how much things have changed in the last
100 years. In the early 20th century the well-established and widely accepted
halacha was that it was simply not permitted to teach Torah to women. The idea
that women might wish to become Rabbis was well beyond unthinkable. It seems
clear that Ms. Schenirer knew the halacha, and its practical consequences, very
well, and may not have actually approached any rabbis for their approval, other
than her brother's rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe, who gave his approval, although it
seems without being fully informed of her plans.

It is not clear who approached the Chofetz Chaim or how he heard of the plans
for a girl's cheder, but they might have been encouraged by his writings.
Courageously responding to the "the societal conditions of their times". he

"It seems that this [prohibition of teaching Torah to daughters] is only
for the past, when each person would live in the location of his fathers, and
one received one's father's traditions strongly... But now, due to our numerous
sins, the reception from fathers is very much weakened, and it even happens that
[children] do not live in the same location as fathers at all, particularly
those who study the languages of the [other] nations. [Today], it is certainly a
great mitzvah to teach them the Humash and also Prophets and Writings and the
ethical teachings of the Sages, such as Tractate Avot and the book Menorat
Hama'or, and the like, so that the will come to appreciate the truth of our holy
faith. If not, they may deviate completely from the path of God and violate all
the principles of the religion, God forbid." (Likutei Hilchos Sota-21)

And then in Feb. 1933, a few months before his passing at the age of 95, he gave
his unequivocal haskama: 

"To the honorable heroes, who love and appreciate Torah, who are fearful of the
word of God, in the city of Pristik.When I heard that people who are fearful and
tremble before the word of God have volunteered to establish in their city a
"Beit Ya'akov" school to teach Torah and fear of Heaven, good character and the
proper behavior that is Torah, to the daughters of our brothers, the Children of
Israel, I said regarding their good works, may God strengthen their efforts and
establish their handiwork. For it is a great thing and necessary in these days,
where the stream of heresy, God forbid, is mighty and powerful and the secular
of all kinds are ambushing and hunting our brothers, the People of Israel.
Anybody who has the fear of God in his heart has a mitzvah to send his daughter
to study in this school....(signed) Yisroel Meir HaKohen", 

see: http://www.atid.org/resources/survey/column5a.asp 

This haskama might have been very important in convincing the Agudat Yisroel to
support the development of Bais Yaakov schools, But since the first school
opened in 1918 in Poland, Ms. Scheirer clearly did not rely on it to begin her
work. In fact, being a "nobody" was probably an advantage. As described by Dr.
Yoel Finklemen in the above referenced review article:

"She had an advantage over the Easter European writers whose earlier suggestions
of schools for girls had emerged stillborn. As a lone, female individual,
initially without ties to the rabbinic establishment, she was able to begin more
or less independently, and thereby avoided much of the political opposition that
had plagued the rabbis who had made similar suggestions."

I wonder if in today's fractionated environment, the Chafetz Chaim would have
taken the position he did then, or would be respected for it if he did. With the
right-wing guns so loaded and ready to attack, I think it is unrealistic to
expect any respected posek, if he wants to retain his authority, to espouse any
real change in practical halacha. The truth is, we expect our rabbonim to be
protectors of the status quo. Real change has generally been initiated and
driven by the lay echelon.  (I believe I read in a previous edition of this
forum that this was the understanding of the "Rav" (J.B. Soloveichik), and
shared by my own LOR.) 

As in the case discussed above, we may seek the approval of at least one
respected rabbi, but there is no shame attached to his being a "yachid". Quite
the contrary, we may seize upon that yachid as person of rare insight and
wisdom.Would anyone today advocate closing Beit Yaakov schools, or the
proliferation of batei midrashim for Jewish women? Should we be surprised or
alarmed that some of these women would want to express their interest in and
devotion to Jewish learning by taking on leadership positions in the
community? The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to stuff it back
in, thank G-d.

Shana tova -- Bernie R.


End of Volume 58 Issue 73