I heartily applaud your April 7 editorial – “Warm and Fuzzy ‘Halacha'” – that called attention to the growing phenomenon of Jews, including some so-called Modern Orthodox Jews, seeking to change halacha to suit their own politically correct inclinations.
I was not really surprised to learn that the Conservative movement is poised to legitimize homosexuality in order to “get with the times” on “equal rights” issues. I suppose it matters little to them that our Torah is unequivocal on this point. After all, the Torah was written a long, long time ago, and things and people are different today. The Ribbono Shel Olam really doesn’t understand human nature after all – He needs a bunch of Jewish Theological Seminary grads to set Him straight.
The matter of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah’s astonishing and unprecedented invitation to cardinals of the Catholic Church to learn Torah with its students is something more ominous, since YCT was organized – and still bills itself – as an Orthodox center of Torah learning. Is this stirring and heartwarming gesture to brotherhood really the halachic way? Can one legitimately decide to unilaterally cast off the teachings of our greatest sages? Are any of our hallowed traditions safe in Rabbi Avi Weiss’s world?
I have mixed feelings about your editorial in which you decry a “warm and fuzzy” approach to halacha. Why is it that every time people come up with ways to improve the lives of Jews, they get attacked? Don’t you think it logical that cultivating ties with powerful leaders of the Catholic Church will make for better relations with the Church and therefore benefit the Jewish people as a whole?
On the other hand, I, like you, have a problem with changing the rules regarding homosexuals, which the Conservative movement seems about to do. Rabbi Weiss’s project, however, is very different in my view, and you shouldn’t have lumped it together with the gay issue.
A View From The Inside
The Conservative movement’s decision to relax procedural requirements for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to issue a takanah, a major revision of Jewish law, was not strictly motivated by a desire to change the status quo regarding the status of gays and lesbians. I was personally closely involved in the effort to change these procedural requirements.
There are 25 voting members, all rabbis, of the CJLS. Longstanding policy was that any teshuvah that received 6 votes in support – less than 25% – was a valid position of the committee. As a pluralistic movement, Conservative Judaism is comfortable with having a plurality of opinions that contradict one another. We have a teshuvah that says it is OK to drive to shul on Shabbos; we also have a teshuvah that says it is not permissible to drive to shul or anywhere else on Shabbos unless it’s a case of pikuach nefesh. Each individual rabbi chooses which view to follow.
Some time ago, the Law Committee instituted a requirement that a teshuvah that was a takanah – that was rabbinic legislation, in effect, overturning something in the Torah – would require a majority of the committee’s approval, not just 6 votes. The Rabbinical Assembly’s Executive Council imposed on the Law Committee a procedure that said a takanah should be approved by 80% of the committee – 20 votes. Meaning there could be no “minority opinion” against a takanah.
Many people in the movement – including many rabbis who oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians – felt that the 80% rule was inappropriate and unprecedented. The disputes between Hillel and Shammai were settled by a majority. Hillel did not need an 80% vote to institute the prozbul.
Many of us feel that, no matter how difficult the issue, if a majority was good enough for chazal, a majority should be good enough for us. The collected wisdom at the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention affirmed that a simple majority is sufficient to approve a takanah, and that is the procedure now in place.
It is not clear, in fact, whether this change in procedure will have any impact at all on the outcome of the upcoming discussions of the Law Committee on the gay/lesbian issue. It is quite possible that any teshuvah labeled a takanah on that subject would not have the requisite 13 votes.
Re “He Who Destroys a Single Jewish Life”, front-page essay, March 31:
The Jewish community owes a huge yasher koach to Dr. Marvin Schick for the work he had done on behalf of Klal Yisrael over the past forty years. Many of our mosdos today reap the benefits of his efforts.
As the founder and director of the only independent yeshiva dedicated to helping boys who need a little more attention, I must tell you that we have to be very careful with the term “at risk.” I believe it is being dangerously overused. True, it goes a long way in fund-raising, but otherwise it’s counterproductive.
We have been and continue to be very successful with our bochurim. Our children are proud to be regular guys in a regular cheder. We never loosely use the term “at risk.” It only means we have to struggle more to meet our obligations. It’s worth the cost. Our students are the happiest bunch of kids you’ll find.
Yes, there are many yeshiva boys who are “at risk” – but only because our current chinuch system has failed them. It is only of late that yeshivas and national Jewish organizations are addressing the reality that not all youngsters are created equal. They are finally teaching “chinuch lana’ar al pi darko.”
So let us do all we can for these precious children, but without the alarming words “at risk.”
Although Dr. Schick is correct when writing about tuition problems in our community, I feel he unfairly attacked the Lakewood community in his most recent article.
Dr. Schick wrote: “I am appalled by the announcement by Lakewood yeshivas and Beth Jacobs that all children in homes that are Internet-accessible and have not received the requisite approvals from local rabbis will be expelled.”
Dr. Schick apparently fails to understand the dangers inherent in the permissiveness and unbridled decadence which characterizes many domains of the media – especially the Internet. (The problem is not the technology, which could be used for good things, but the evil ways in which that technology is used.)
People are, to say the least, justifiably concerned. Responsible educators have a duty, therefore, to remove such evil from their schools and communities. Educators who attempt to monitor the Internet and media to protect their children should be commended. Although I am not a member of the Lakewood community, I do respect the rabbis and educators who have the good sense to promote high standards of virtue.
The Lakewood Internet policy – and I say this as one of Marvin Schick’s biggest fans – can be viewed another way. As I understand it, this was a decision of the Lakewood community pertaining to its membership and while there are universal applications of the policy, it is meant for that community alone. The Internet policy is consistent with the Lakewood hashkafa; it remains to be seen whether, as Dr. Schick predicts, there will continue to be problems within the community when it comes to observing the policy.
Judaism is not a one-size-fits-all religion. Chassidim, yeshivaleit, Modern Orthodox, haredim, etc., all have their chumras, and what frum Jews choose to do in their own circles is their own business. People should be guided by their rabbonim and not feel that every psak or chumrah adopted by one group applies to everybody else.
I am an attorney and also in business, and I use the Internet for work on a constant basis. I studied at a Lakewood branch yeshiva, and members of my family learn at BMG Kollel. Based on my living in both the yeshiva and the secular worlds, I take strong issue with Dr. Schick’s interpretation of the Lakewood Internet prohibition. This is not an exclusionary issue, but rather a matter of protecting the heart and soul of the community.
Any Lakewood parent who chooses to have Internet service knowingly violates community standards that are nearly unanimously accepted by the community and its leaders. Such parents must accept the responsibility of putting their children at risk if they are expelled. If you choose to live in Lakewood, then respect the standards there. And certainly outsiders must respect that community’s decisions in chinuch, yiras shomayim and avodas Hashem.
The sheer size and depth of the Torah and avodah that emanates from Lakewood sustains Jews across the world, whether or not they agree with all of the yeshiva’s positions. We must not tamper with Klal Yisrael’s precious asset.
I encourage The Jewish Press and Dr. Schick to continue addressing complex issues in Jewish life.
There are very few educators and writers in the Orthodox community who tell it like is – who make their case “without fear or favor.” Marvin Schick is one of those few, and I tip my hat (a yeshivish fedora purchased in Boro Park) to him and to The Jewish Press for not shrinking from telling the truth about the important issues of our time.
I’m certain that Dr. Schick’s criticism of the Lakewood Internet ban will raise hackles in some circles, but anyone who fails to recognize the revolutionary nature of the Internet is in for a rude awakening.
The Internet is, quite simply, the most important development we’ve yet seen in the spread of human knowledge. Forget about radio and television – never has there been a medium that links the world so completely and makes such a previously unimaginable array of learning – both Jewish and secular – available at the click of a mouse. The yeshiva world shuts it out at its own peril.