web analytics
October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Tefillin Controversy Latest Sign of Emerging Orthodox Schism

WOW member rejoicing in her phylacteries, although she's got the locations of both "battim" wrong...

WOW member rejoicing in her phylacteries, although she's got the locations of both "battim" wrong...
Photo Credit: Sarah Schuman/FLASH90

The announcement that SAR, a Modern Orthodox high school in New York, is allowing girls to lay tefillin, is helping expose an increasingly sharp fault line within Orthodoxy.

For decades, it has been difficult to sort out the precise dividing lines between the varieties of Orthodoxy – ultra, haredi, centrist, modern, liberal. Each category bled into others, and the movement has been broad enough to encompass everyone from black-hat-wearing rabbis with long beards to young women in jeans and T-shirts. What united them was a stated commitment to halacha, Jewish law traditionally defined, and, of course, self-definition as Orthodox.

In recent years, however, a visible divide has been emerging over a single issue: the role of women.

The decision by SAR high school, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, is just the latest development on this front. Before it came the decision by Rabbi Avi Weiss, an Orthodox rabbi in Riverdale, to ordain women clergy. Before that came the Orthodox minyans that decided allowing women to lead certain parts of worship did not violate the letter of the law.

It’s difficult to say when it all began. Was the original Bais Yaakov school for girls, opened in Poland in 1917, the first breach, breaking the traditional ban on giving girls a formalized Torah education? That school, which would be considered ultra-Orthodox by today’s standards, was then seen as groundbreaking. Only the imprimatur of the Chofetz Chaim helped stem the controversy that greeted its establishment.

In America, a key milestone came in the latter half of the 20th century when Orthodox schools began offering girls the same Jewish education offered to boys. When some Orthodox schools began allowing girls to study Talmud, under the authority of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of the Maimonides School near Boston, it opened the door to a new way of thinking about the role of Orthodox women.

If an Orthodox girl could study Talmud in high school, why couldn’t she in college? By the early 1980s, Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy, was offering elective Talmud classes at its Stern College for Women, though it wasn’t until 2009 that Stern opened a master’s program in biblical and Talmudic interpretation to women.

In 1984, the Drisha Institute, a New York institution under Orthodox leadership, opened the first-ever full-time women’s kollel study program.

The glass ceiling of female Orthodox spiritual leaders began to shatter too. In 1992, Drisha began offering a three-year program “paralleling rabbinic ordination” to certify women scholars. A few years later, Nishmat, an institution in Jerusalem established in 1990 “to open the gates of higher Torah learning to women,” inaugurated a program to certify women as yoatzot halacha – consultants on Jewish law. The consultants mainly ministered to women on laws pertaining to sex, Shabbat and kashrut.

In 2009, Rabbi Weiss pushed the envelope even further by ordaining Sara Hurwitz, later conferring on her the title of “rabba,” a feminized version of rabbi. The move was immediately condemned, not just by haredim but by leaders of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.

“The ordination of women as rabbis represents a serious and inappropriate breach with our sacred tradition and is beyond the pale of Orthodox Judaism,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, a Teaneck rabbi who was vice president of the RCA at the time.

For a long time, it had been unusual for one sector of American Orthodoxy to condemn another, despite differences in practice and even ideology. Many families span the various kinds of Orthodoxy, and it’s not unusual to find haredi Jews worshipping in Modern Orthodox shuls and vice versa.

But as liberal Orthodox Jews support new roles for women, particularly in the synagogue, it’s looking increasingly like Orthodoxy is undergoing a schism.

The more traditionalist elements of the Orthodox community view the reforms as beyond the pale, a threat to the integrity of their halachic community. This is why Weiss and the yeshivas he has established, including the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, have faced so much Orthodox opposition – from the RCA, which does not recognize Chovevei ordination, to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which recently questioned Weiss’s Orthodox credentials.

While the more public battles have been over women’s ordination, laying tefillin or reading from the Torah, there are many other women-related issues both large and small with which Orthodoxy is grappling.

It’s not just about clergy but also women serving as synagogue presidents, making the blessing over bread or wine on Shabbat, or dancing with Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah.

Will the changes considered controversial today gradually gain mainstream acceptance too, or are they fated to remain a fringe Orthodox phenomenon? In a movement with no central governing authority or membership structure, it’s hard to say.

Clearly, the haredi Orthodox will stand against change. The question is which way the Modern Orthodox and the institutions associated with them – the RCA, Y.U., the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel, to name a few – will swing.

There is, perhaps, one factor that may play an outsize role in determining this: leadership. If the change agents within Orthodoxy become educators, role models and leaders of the next generation of Modern Orthodox Jews, successfully pass on their commitment to both halacha and egalitarianism, and continue to live a life committed to Jewish law, they could transform the face of Modern Orthodoxy.

But if they fail, then those who have been arguing all along that these changes have no place in Orthodoxy will see vindication in that failure.

About the Author: Uriel Heilman is managing editor of JTA. An award-winning journalist, he has worked in a variety of positions for publications in the United States and in Israel, including as New York bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

9 Responses to “Tefillin Controversy Latest Sign of Emerging Orthodox Schism”

  1. Eduardo Mazo says:

    not that, look your heart of soul there is the answer in it.

  2. Splitting hairs on a bald head??

  3. Charlie Hall says:

    "Was the original Bais Yaakov school for girls, opened in Poland in 1917, the first breach, breaking the traditional ban on giving girls a formalized Torah education? "

    No. Girls were getting a formalized Torah education under the auspices of Rabbi A. J. Rice in Baltimore, and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch in Germany, decades before Sarah Schenirer was born.

  4. There are soo many problems in the world, oy to give one minute of attention to a group of people wanting to make themselves physically uncomfortable and do that extra Work to deepen their ties to G-d and their spiritual practice seems so very sad to me anyway.

  5. There are soo many problems in the world, oy to give one minute of attention to a group of people wanting to make themselves physically uncomfortable and do that extra Work to deepen their ties to G-d and their spiritual practice seems so very sad to me anyway.

  6. RAMMBAM DAUGHTERS DID PUT ON TEFILLIN I THINK WOMAN CAN DO IT NOTHING WRONG WITH IT

  7. Anonymous says:

    Please note; the tefillin straps on the head must be 'on the head' not the hair covering. Yet another obstacle for woman to argue away by making stuff up.

  8. Bill Wingard says:

    Orthodoxy has been dead since the loss of the Ark. Consider that no burnt offering has been made since the Ark was lost. Also consider that the blue
    dye recipe has been lost since that time as well.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Car Smashed in A-Tur 2
4 Women Survive Near Lynch on Mount of Olives
Latest Indepth Stories
MK Moshe-Feiglin

Soldiers at various hospitals complained that they experienced hostility from Arab hospital staff.

Keeping-Jerusalem

“We have succeeded in raising an ideological generation that loves death like our enemies love life”

There is not even a hint of recognition that Hamas deliberately fires rockets at civilian targets in Israel while storing arms and rocket launchers among its own civilians in Gaza.

No one with any sanity would dream of rationalizing or justifying the depredations perpetrated on the Arab world by ISIS.

With $2 billion on hand the Islamic State is an extremely well-funded terrorist group that may pose a major international crisis for the U.S. and the world. Learn about their rise to power and the toll they’ve taken thus far.

In the recent Gaza war and its aftermath, we saw a totally illogical reaction from the world.

A., a teacher: “I do not know a single Gazan who is pro-Hamas at the moment, except for those on its payroll.”

Is the global community clear in its response to these extremist groups?

Like our fabled character, Don Quixote, President Obama has constantly spawned his own reality.

Boroujerdi was informed that “the pressures and tortures will increase until he has been destroyed.”

Fatah: Hamas stole relief aid for Gaza and distributed it amongst its followers in mosques.

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

More Articles from Uriel Heilman
Heilman-100314-Obama

How do some of the other issues Obama discussed in his 2013 U.N. General Assembly speech look through today’s lens?

Gazan terrorist with a rocket.

How is it that the journalists aren’t able to get any images of Palestinians fighting the Israelis?

Despite some limited success, after every conflagration Hamas has managed to re-arm and improve its rocket capacity, as evident in the rocket range on display in this round of fighting.

Over the years, the ADL has been criticized for overstating what qualifies as anti-Semitism, with critics suggesting that some of the statements used to measure bias actually are more indicative of admiration for Jews than anti-Jewish hostility.

“Last year we took the $10,000 from him,” Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, told JTA. “We’re not going to take it anymore.”

“More than the Jews have kept the Shabbos (Sabbath), the Shabbos has kept the Jews.”

The battle over partnership minyans is just the latest scuffle in the war over women’s roles in the Orthodox community.

Last week, a man who tried to build a pipe bomb for use in New York, Jose Pimentel, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on terrorism charges under laws Halberstam helped draft.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tefillin-controversy-latest-sign-of-emerging-orthodox-schism/2014/01/30/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: