In our Jan. 31 editorial “Who Speaks for Modern Orthodoxy?” we addressed the announcement by two prominent Modern Orthodox yeshivas that female students can don tefillin if they wish to. We said we saw this as the latest indication of a widening schism among Modern Orthodox Jews led by “[t]he movement’s outliers, apparently intent on defying consensus and going where none have gone before.”
We also stated that “Halachic decisions affecting the community are not properly made by self-appointed agents of a popular movement. That is a function of those with the greatest erudition in the Talmud and halachic sources…”
This week Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the most prominent roshei yeshiva of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, not only issued a stinging rebuke of the practice of women wearing tefillin but also the process by which such decisions are made.
Rabbi Schachter’s responsum is a broadside against the growing practice of many in Modern Orthodox rabbinic or educational positions who arrogate to themselves the right to determine profound and far-reaching halachic decisions without support or even input from the great Torah scholars of the day.
Referring to a decision of the Ramah in the Shulchan Aruch that frowns on the notion of women putting on tefillin, and whether that ruling could be ignored, Rabbi Schachter said:
It is not within the purview of every musmach or local rabbi, even those with good intentions, to offer his private opinion on a question of such magnitude as this, and certainly not take to the media or Internet to publicize it. Such a profound question applies to all of Klal Yisrael that believes in the mesorah and only the greatest among our Torah leaders can properly address it. [Our translation from the Hebrew]
Hopefully Rav Schachter’s responsum will prove to be the first many authoritative responses to the growing leftward lurch in parts of the Modern Orthodox movement.