Volume 8 Number 66
                       Produced: Thu Aug  5 12:24:47 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Halakhah and Modernity (2)
         [Anthony Fiorino, Jonathan Baker]
Women's and Men's Roles
         [Aliza Berger]


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 93 01:01:11 -0400
Subject: Halakhah and Modernity

Arnold Kuzmack wrote regarding anti-reform efforts:

> It was a political decision, in the sense of a decision based on values,
> rather than law, which can affect the welfare of the entire community. 
> Halakhah would have allowed other choices, but the leaders of what became
> Orthodoxy decided that the appropriate response to modernity was to
> resist it.  The result of that decision was not only a detraction from
> halakhah in the sense of fewer Jews observing it, but arguably much of the
> divisiveness and sinat hinam [baseless hatred] which afflict the Jewish
> world today could have been avoided had the opposite decision been made.

I have two points of contention here.  First, "closing in" is a legitimate
halachic response to modernity.  The chtam sofer is widely recognized as
having saved Hungarian Jewry because of his stringent approach to halachah
in the face of reform.  Second, I am tired for the Orthodox being blamed
for all the divisiveness in am yisrael.  This fundamental flaw pervades the
thinking of many modern Orthodox thinkers (R.Berkovits zt"l, R.Hartman,
R.Greenberg), and it is a chip which weighs heavily on our collective
shoulder but shouldn't.  Eugene Borowitz, perhaps Reform's leading
spokesperson, has written (from memory) "if we were interested in
preserving the unity of klal yisrael, we never would have created Reform in
the first place."  To blame Orthodoxy for the the fragmenting of klal
yisrael is an injustice to history; compromise would have lasted perhaps a
generation before the reform demands would have exceeded even the most
creative approach to halacha.  And to blame Orthodoxy because fewer Jews
had the commitment and yirat shamayim to bother being frum is ludicrous! (I
know this is a gross and stupid oversimplification of complex social
pressures, so, as the prosecutor might say after the defense objects to a
leading question --"withdrawn")  

I think history has repeatedly shown that the extent to which a community
compromises with modernity relates to the extent of assimilation in that
community.  As a centrist, I live smack in the middle of modernity and I am
constantly aware of and worried about "living on the edge" as it were.  (Of
course, I'm not _so_ worried because as a ger, I rejected much of that, and
I know what modernity has to offer, and I'm not impressed.  But that
doesn't explain what the heck are all the rest of you doing here with me!
:-) )

> Halakhah is a divinely ordained human institution established in love and
> wisdom to guide Jews in the conduct of our lives.  Meeting valid human
> needs is therefore its essence.

I would say that the essence of halachah is to guide Jews towards an
encounter with the Divine; this can be done only through adhering to G-d's
will.  Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote "as long as man sees religion as a
means of satisfying his own needs, it is not G-d he serves but himself."

> In cases where halakhic judgments appear to conflict with basic notions of
> justice, which is also a halakhic value, we need to weigh the possible
> halakhic bases for "lenient" and "stringent" solutions.  In most cases,
> there will halakhic arguments on both sides.

I have never denied any of this.  I have never said that halachah is
static and frozen.  All I have said is that it is outside the realm of
traditional halachic decision-making to search through the sources in
order to find a way to legislate a preconceived agenda.  My whole point
all along has been that the normal halachic dialectic has not been applied
to the arguments in favor of certain aspects of women's t'filah.

> Jewish women who are testing the limits do not necessarily maintain
> that "equality means identity of roles and responsibilities" . . . . 
> Rather, they are objecting to being permanently excluded from the core
> public expressions of the community.

My question then is this -- but what if that is simply the way things are? 
What if the halachah has bent as far as it will bend?  What if the essence
of Jewish womanhood means permanent exclusion from certain public roles?

> The other role distinctions cited are not comparable.  The kohen has
> only some minor ceremonial distinctions.  Children grow up, and if male
> can then participate fully.  A male non-Jew can convert if he wants to
> participate in Jewish life.  Only women are permanently excluded.

First, the distinctions between being a kohen and not are not at all
trivial or ceremonial -- the issur of becoming tamei makes a very big
difference in how one conducts one's life (especially in medical school), and
is permanent -- there's no outgrowing it.

But more importantly, this misses the point.  The distinctions between the
_roles_ of adults and minors, Jews and non-Jews, kohanim and yisraelim, men
and women, are permanent.  A yisrael cannot "convert" to kohanut any more
than a woman can "convert" to halachic "malehood."  As R. J. Sacks has
noted (in "Creativity and Innovation in Halakhah"), gerut is the only case in
which a person can change their halachic identity.

Eitan Fiorino

From: <baker@...> (Jonathan Baker)
Date: Sun, 1 Aug 93 14:36:23 -0400
Subject: Halakhah and Modernity

I would like to amplify David Kessler's response to Arnold Kuzmack's
posting regarding the rabbinic response to Reform innovations.

I have been reading an article on "Rabbinc Responses to Nonobservance 
in the Modern Era," by Judith Bleich (in "Jewish Tradition and the Non-
Traditional Jew," ed. J. J. Schachter), which sheds some light on
the Rabbinic response to Reform.  At first, the rabbis tried halachic
argumentation.  The responsa collection "Eleh Divrei HaBerit," from 
1819, contains basically all of the halachic refutations of Reform
innovations; all later responsa have referred to this collection.  Only
later, particularly in the wake of the Reform Rabbinical Conference
of 1844, did some rabbis, notably the Hatam Sofer, start to deny all
possibility of change.  They did so on the basis of experience.  To quote
from Bleich,

     These authorities were entirely candid in enunciating the considera-
tions underlying this policy.  In a discussion of the changes instituted 
in the Chorshulen (choral synagogues) [71], R. Yehudah Aszod conceded that
many of his interlocutors had noble intentions but warned that they erred
nonetheless "as experience has taught" because the new modes of behavior
"that are known as Reform" frequently began with minor matters, only
for the true agenda to be revealed later.  The result was the eradication
of the unique aspects of Jewish worship and the erosion of Jewish law.
Therefore, concluded Rabbi Aszod, "Anyone who changes is at a disadvantage
 . . . and this has been our uniqueness . . . not to change a thing in
any matter of new practice." [72] ... [another similar quote from Maharm
Schick] ... R. Abraham Samuel Benjamin Sofer (known as Ketav Sofer) also 
wrote that instigators of Reform initially introduced relatively inno-
cuous changes: "Not with big things did they begin, but with minor customs 
and enactments."  It is that experience, he asserted, that evoked rabbinic
resistance since the experiences of "these communiteis are always before 
our eyes." [74]

[71] The Chorshulen were Orthodox synagogues that boasted male choirs
with no instrumental accompaniment.  The choir was derided by some as
a modern innovation inconsistent with traditional practice.  Advocates
of the Chorshulen favored adaptations designed to promote decorum and
aesthetically pleasing services.
[72] Teshuvah Yehudah Yaaleh, Yoreh De'ah, no. 39.
[74] Iggerot Soferim, sec. 3, 10.  [note continues with description of 
Ketav Sofer's son explaining that the K"S was not against Reform per se,
as it wouldn't affect the broad masses of Hungarian Jews.  He was, rather,
distressed at those who accepted basic halachik premises, but "were 
permissive with regard to rabbinic enactments and customs of Israel."

(end of quote)

So it was not that the Rabbis, out of the blue, clamped down on any
variation in practice.  It was, rather, a strong reaction where a 
more "reasonable" reaction had been shown to be ineffective.


From: <A_BERGER@...> (Aliza Berger)
Date: Tue, 3 Aug 93 03:14:04 -0400
Subject: Women's and Men's Roles

In response to Eitan Fiorino, and others who have expressed views that
Orthodox women do not have a role in public prayers because our role is
in the home:

>  What is the vision of women's role which chazal express in
>this?  A standard and accepted answer is that in exempting women from
>the time-bound commandments, chazal are providing for (and in part
>defining) the demands of the women's role in Judaism as they see it --
>the role of a woman as a modest one tied first to the home.  

I don't know.  In many Orthodox Jewish homes today, being tied to the home
has more to do with whose work schedule is more flexible that day.  It's
more the decision of the individual couple than a gender-based "role".
A man who is taking care of children doesn't have an obligation in
public prayer.  

What has been mostly discussed on the list is women's desire to have a
more public role in prayer; this new feeling has come about because
women have attained a more public role in all other aspects of our lives
than women had in the past. The other side of the coin is men's 
increasingly home-based, private role, which the halacha allows.

>However, it
>is also clear that chazal felt that women's spiritual needs need not be
>fulfilled through t'filah b'tzibur or devarim she b'kedusha.  For if
>women were dependent upon these for proper fulfillment of their
>spiritual needs, then chazal would not have exempted women from them.

Men aren't dependent on t'filah b'tzibur etc. for their spiritual needs
either, using the same logic that men aren't obligated in public prayer.
It's a nice thing to do, but work and child care often intervene.  Chazal
allow for these eventualities by not making public prayer obligatory for
either gender.  Again, there isn't much of a gender distinction.

>The ontogeny of conflict: The pre-modern woman did not, in general,
>experience conflict over her role in Judaism.  The view of women which
>was prevalent in society in pre-modern times, which was that women were
>of secondary importance and therefore received lesser education,
>opportunity, and freedom, was not inconsistent with a non-public,
>home-based role for women, Jewish or non-Jewish.  

Actually, probably only rich women could afford a non-public role.  Eshet
Hayil describes a woman who has a public role except for prayer and
learning.  (She might even be rich too, and it's she who made the money.)
She brings bread from afar like a merchant ship, etc., (public
in the business world) while her husband sits with the elders (public
in the learning world).  She speaks wisdom, but we can't infer
that it was formal Torah learning.  This is the life of many 
Orthodox women today as well.  Public, except for prayer.  To claim that
women don't belong in a public role in prayer because they don't have
a public role anywhere else is based on the mistaken premise that
women don't have a public role in areas of life other than pray

>    There are
>huge halachic consequences based on the roles of men and women as
>understood by chazal; furthermore, as part of our emunat chachamim, we
>believe, as the Rav zt"l stated, that these roles reflect not the
>socio-political status of women in antiquity, but rather ontological
>differences in the metaphysical human personality.  Thus, although
>sexism, discrimination, and inequality may point to religious roles as
>their source, they are derived from those religious roles only through
>misinterpretation and do not arise inevitably from those roles.  Judaism
>maintains that there are aspects of the religious roles of men and women
>that are distinct and unchangeable, yet those roles are of equal value.

I second Janice Gelb's hesitant suggestion, that these religious
roles may have in fact come about because of societal norms, thus they
are not necessarily what G-d really wants for all time.  The only
religious roles that differentiate men and women, really, are being
counted to public prayer (and the attendant privileges: leading the
congregation and receiving aliyot) and being witnesses.  The creation 
of a whole apologia based on "men and women have different roles,
therefore they have different religious roles", in order to justify
these small differences, is not becoming to the usual logical manner
in which halakhic discussions are conducted.  Since the actual differences
are so small, why invent this idea to justify it?  This
only perpetuates the idea that men and women *ought* to have different 
roles in all spheres of life.  It also leaves Judaism wide open to 
criticisms of inconsistency: how can a religion that assigns men and
women different roles have had individual women that didn't fit that role
and were nonetheless respected figures (Deborah, etc.)  Why not admit
that it's not the religion that assigns men and women the roles.  It
used to be society, but today this is less true.

>We have seen modernity tear at the fabric of religious life.  There was
>a feminist backlash against the woman who stayed at home, who chose to
>raise a family...
>Thus, modernity came to place a value judgment upon the role of women as
>defined by Judaism.

Feminism has not made Jewish women less attached to their families.
It has, however, made it more acceptable for Jewish men to be attached
to their families.

> the more private role of the woman in Judaism may
>provide clues as to the optimal form of her spiritual expression.  Thus,
>the optimal manner of women's spiritual expression may not lie in what
>is ultimately an incomplete imitation of the men's mode of spiritual
>expression -- ie, kriat hatorah, devarim she b'kedusha, t'filah b'tzibur
>-- but rather in private, spontaneous moments of devotion and prayer and
>in an attachment of spiritual value to those aspects of the woman's role
>which are not shared by men.  It seems that the very nature, the form,
>of the public prayer service is to provide a forum for the devarim she

If men's and women's roles aren't so different after all, there's no
reason to assign them different spiritual modes of expression either.  Men
and women sometimes feel private, men and women sometimes want to be public. 
This could depend on the individual, or on how an individual is feeling that
day or year.  Again, falling back on "men and women have different roles,
therefore..." (in this case, "they feel things differently") just leads
to a pack of troubles, such as what to do about a man who prefers to pray
privately and what to do about a woman who prefers to attend shul
regularly.  As the halakha stands, these ARE options, and people don't
need to feel that there is something wrong with them because they don't
fit some role.

>In this context, it seems to me that perhaps the most promising areas
>for women's spiritual expression may be in the use of and/or development
>of private prayer, and in the reinvestment of spiritual content in the
>unique aspects of women's roles.  In this manner, a uniquely feminine
>form of spiritual expression would be pursued which would perhaps be
>better suited for bringing about an encounter with hakadosh baruch hu...
> The techinos are exactly what I have described -- personal,     
>spontaneous prayer, often relating to various aspects of women's lives.

Women wrote techinos, but there's no reason men can't say them too
(except the one for child-bearing).  The techina asking G-d to please
not let the kugel burn (yes, there reallly is one; ovens weren't
always as well-regulated as they are today) can be said by anyone who
is baking a kugel, male or female.  (I don't bring the kugel example 
in order to demean techinot, I just thought people would
find it interesting that there is such a techina.)  For a more serious example, 
the techina for lighting shabbat candles could be said by anyone of either
gender who is performing that home-centered mitsva.


End of Volume 8 Issue 66