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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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Modern Orthodoxy Must Confront Edah

An article in the Edah group's online journal about women being called to the Torah should be a wakeup call to leaders of Modern Orthodoxy. When Edah was founded several years ago, it unilaterally claimed a place in Modern Orthodoxy. However, Modern Orthodoxy is at a crossroads and it is now time that the Edah message be seen for what it is.

According to the author, it is permissible to call a woman to the Torah at a private service or a congregation where it would not cause communal discord. The author continues that Torah reading and the recitation of the attendant blessings were mistakenly placed off limits to women as the result of several historical and sociological factors. He goes on to say that the ban imposed by the Talmud and subsequent commentators and observed in Orthodoxy since merely reflect the societal norms of centuries ago.

Of course, this mode of analysis sets the alarms ringing. But the reason Edah carried the piece in its journal is even more troublesome. The Forward's interview with Edah's director, Rabbi Saul Berman, regarding the appearance of the article is very revealing. In it, Rabbi Berman said he disagreed with the article's conclusion, but also added:

“I think it is true that there has been a substantial lack of reasoned discourse in the Orthodox community on issues of enormous importance…. Emotions get heated very rapidly and people sort of respond in extreme ways that tend to foreclose reasoned discussion and debate…. In areas where halacha allows for discretionary judgment, then the discretionary judgment has to be made by the community and the rabbis.

So for Rabbi Berman and Edah, a centuries old halachic requirement is really only discretionary and something current thinkers may legitimately decide should be continued or abandoned. We disagree and cannot understand how this notion can be passed off as consistent with Orthodox thought.

The Forward news story was entitled, “Modern Orthodox Journal Publishes Article In Support of Women's Role On The Bimah.” While the Forward's take on religion certainly is not definitive, it underscores a real problem.

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