Please note: The video is not from this year in terms of the specific days the rabbi mentions, but the rest of the content is obviously relevant.
Posts Tagged ‘halacha’
Talia Weisberg is a self described feminist. And yet this young woman from a Modern Orthodox background – having attended a Modern Orthodox coed elementary school – made an odd choice in deciding to attend an ostensibly non feminist Beis Yaakov high school. How, one may ask, does this make any sense at all? No one could ever attend a Beis Yaakov and expect to hear anything about the equality of the sexes.
If feminism is mentioned at all, it is usually to condemn it as an anti Torah ideal. But after 4 years of Beis Yaakov, Talia still calls herself a feminist. Not only does she not condemn Beis Yaakov for being against her ideals, she actually thanks her Beis Yaakov experience in in the Torch – a blog sponsored by JOFA ( Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) that explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. (It is republished in My Jewish Learning.)
How is this possible? Well I think the answer is quite simple really. Feminism is not monolithic. It means different things to different people. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I believe that feminism can be generally broken down into two different categories. One is highly compatible with Orthodox Judaism and the other is quite frankly anathema to it.
If one sees feminism as each sex treating each other with equal dignity, it falls in to the former category of compatibility. If one sees feminism as treating men and women equally in the workplace – as in equal pay for equal work… and an equal chance for career advancement, that too is compatible with Orthodoxy. If one is gender blind to academic achievement, it is compatible. If one sees it as a married couple sharing household duties, sharing child rearing responsibilties equitably, and making important family decisions togther, it is compatible.
However when feminism moves into the realm of Halacha, Hashkafa, and Mesorah, it becomse dicey.And can and often does make it incompatible with Orthodoxy. For example the Egalitarian Minyan (the ten man quorum required for public prayer) requires men and women to be treated equally in the synagogue. That is a feminist ideal that is completely incompatible with Halacha.
Men and women are equally valued by God. But God requires different things of us. Even the most strident Orthodox Jewish feminists would agree that an Egalitarian Minyan (so commonly found in the Conservative Movement) is not Halachicly permissible. You cannot join such a Minyan and call yourself Orthodox. In order for a man to pray at the higher spiritual level of a Minayn in a Shul, women may not be present. An ardent feminist whose values of equality trump everything else including religion would reject this Halacha and insist on mixing the sexes in Shul. But an Orthodox feminist would never dream of it.
The problem lies in the grey area of things which are mandated to men and not to women. Although not mandated to women they are permissible – and in many cases even laudable for women to observe. For example taking the Daled Minim on Sukkos (commonly referred to as Lulav and Esrog). It is a universally practiced Mitzvah by women even though only men are mandated to do so.
At the same time there are such areas that are traditionally and almost universally not practiced by women, but have been increasingly adopted by the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy. Like Partnership Minyanim where a woman may lead certain portions of the service that are not technically considered prayer – like Kabbolas Shabbos. Or ordaining women to serve as rabbis (without giving them the title of rabbi) in Shuls in Halachicly permissible ways- staying behind the Mechiza during prayer.
An opinion recorded in the Talmud states that prayers correspond to the daily sacrifices offered in the Temple that are mentioned in this week’s portion (Berachot 26b, Numbers 28:4). It’s been argued that this opinion may be the conceptual base for our standardized prayer. Since sacrifices had detailed structure, our prayers also have a set text.
Why should this be? If prayer is an expression of the heart, why is there a uniform text we follow?
Rambam writes that after the destruction of the First Temple and the consequent exile of Jews to Babylonia and Persia, Jews found it difficult to pray spontaneously. Living among people who did not speak Hebrew, a new generation of Jews arose who no longer had the ability to use Hebrew as a means of articulating their inner feelings to the Almighty. Responding to this, Ezra and the Great Assembly introduced precisely formulated prayer (Rambam, Code, Laws of Prayer 1:1).
Here Rambam is arguing that standardization of prayer allows all Jews regardless of background and ability to express themselves and to be equal in the fraternity of prayer since the well-spoken and the least educated recite the same prayers.
Rambam may also be putting forth the idea that with the appearance of standardized prayer, Jews dispersed all over the world were united through a structured formula of praying.
Finally, Rambam echoes the Gemara, which states that Ezra designed the prayer service to correspond to the standard sacrificial service offered in the Temple. In following this view, Rambam may be suggesting that after the destruction of the First Temple the rabbis sought to promote religious procedures that would link Jews living after the First Temple era with those who’d lived during the time of the Temple. Elements of the Temple service were therefore repeated in some form in order to bind Jews to their glorious past.
The halacha indicates that structure should inspire spontaneity in prayer, but Rambam’s analysis reveals the importance of standardization. Through the set text all Jews are democratized. No matter our station in life, we all say the same words. And through standardization of text Jews scattered throughout the world are reminded to feel a sense of deep unity with their brothers and sisters everywhere and with their people throughout history.
Prayer helps bring about a horizontal and vertical unification of our people, a unification so desperately needed today.
People often ask me what I consider extreme Charedism. The answer is not really that simple. I’m tempted to use Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s response to a similar question about pornography: I know it when I see it.
The reason I find it difficult to define is because extremism is sometimes defined by context. In one environment a certain activity might be considered normal while in another it would be considered extreme. So when I use the term extremist or extremism, it has to be taken in the context of the post.
But as the retort by Potter Stewart indicates, there are times when extreme behavior is such in any context.
One of the things I constantly advocate here is normalcy. I am a firm believer in leading one’s life in ways that are considered normal by two measures. One is Halacha. And the other is by societal standards. Obviously Halacha comes first. But often Halacha has broad interpretation. And it is sometimes interpreted by societal standards. One Halacha that is a prime example of this is Tznius. Or more precisely modesty in dress.
I believe that modern psychology accepts the notion that there are generally (there are always exceptions) differences in how men and women are sexually aroused. Without getting into long detail, men are aroused by the visual. Women… not so much. Halacha recognizes this. So men are commanded not to gaze at women for purposes of enjoyment. Women are asked to dress in ways that will not initiate thoughts of arousal in men. That is what the laws of Tznius are based upon. One can see expressions of this not only in Judaism, but in the 3 major faiths. The most extreme example of this is Islam. The more religious sects ask their women to wear face covering Burkas that are basically tents that cover the entire body.
Where does Judaism come in on this? Well that’s where local custom comes in. There are basic laws that require certain parts of the body to be covered up called Erva (nakedness). The rest depends on the culture in which one lives. For practical purposes, then, Iran or Saudia Arabia might require a Jewish woman that lives there to wear a Burka in accordance with the modesty customs of those countries. In the United States, I think it is safe to say that the modesty standards do not go beyond the minimum standards of Erva.
I should add that there is a requirement for a married woman to cover her hair because ‘Erva’. But the Erva in the case of hair is a horse of an entirely different color. The reasons for which are beyond the scope of this post. But the accepted Halacha is that the uncovered hair of a married woman is considered Erva. And most if not all of it must be covered.
So how should Jewish women in this country dress in order to fulfill the laws of Tznius? One would think that no matter what faction of Judaism one is from, the customs should be the same. But that is far from the case. If one travels to Williamsburg, one will see one style of dress for Orthodox women. And if one travels to Teaneck, one will see another. But I think it is safe to say that in the vast majority of cases there is a lot of overlap. Most Orthodox women in America dress by covering just below the neck line, covering their arms at least 3/4s of their length and wear skirts that cover the knees . And most cover their hair. Those are the basics. There are of course variations of this theme
In the hours before dawn on Wednesday, Israel Police awakened and arrested an eight-month pregnant woman in Yitzhar on suspicion of incitement to violence against security forces.
The woman, age 22, had allegedly advocated throwing rocks at Jews “even if the rock causes the death of a soldier” during discussions in an online Yitzhar residents’ email forum called “Yitzharniks.”
A second, 17-year-old resident also commented there is “no halachic problem in killing a soldier during a nighttime eviction” since according to halacha (Jewish law) one may kill anyone breaking and entering, thus posing a possible threat to life.
The conversation containing the incriminating comments was apparently forwarded to police and IDF Central Command by one of the participants, according to a report published by the Hebrew daily Yediot Acharanot.
The newspaper also interviewed the young woman’s mother, who commented, “The young generation is tired of walking around crouched and afraid. My daughter told me in conversation that just like Arab women walk around freely in Israel, there’s no reason that a Jewish women shouldn’t be able to as well… My daughter isn’t stupid. She’ll take responsibility for what she wrote even if she’s wrong.”
The opinion is not unanimous, however, despite a violent incident last month in which residents expressed anger at the demolition of buildings near the outskirts of the Jewish community, located in Samaria (Shomron).
“We have denounced this kind of talk in the past and will do so in future as well,” Yitzhar community spokesperson Ezri Tuvi told media in a statement. “This involves a minor and a woman whose emotions caused their tongues to slip and who already retracted their words.
“On the other hand, we demand the media fully denounce all talk of violence and incitement to hatred and physical harm against the settler public.”
Leftist Yesh Atid chairman and Finance Minister Yair Lapid responded that “Words easily turn into deeds. Some of Yitzhar’s residents have already proven that they have no limits or red lines. A threat to harm IDF soldiers is an action against the state’s sovereignty and against a hallowed basic value of the State of Israel.”
In medicine, there has been a dramatic shift from the paternalistic model – the doctor knows best – to presenting all options and information to patients and encouraging them to make the decisions. In my (limited) experience, I have found that patients generally do not want this responsibility. I recently observed a patient, two weeks out from minor elbow surgery, asking her physician whether she could drive yet. When he responded, “I don’t know, can you? Do you feel you can drive safely with your arm’s current range of movement?” a look of befuddlement and discomfort crossed her face. She repeated the question.
Humans are created with two competing urges. Part of us yearns to be free, to make our own decisions and choose our own fate. Another part of us desires to be cared for, to have our decisions made for us – and to absolve ourselves of accountability for the outcomes of our actions. After all, if the responsibility for making decisions lies elsewhere, then blame for the results of those decisions also lies outside ourselves. This strikes at the very foundation of a sechar v’onesh belief system. It breaks the essential link between actions and consequences and leads to a culture where one’s choices and the resulting outcomes in no way instruct one’s future behavior.
Halacha acts to control these urges. On the one hand we are provided a framework of rules and boundaries within which to exercise our free will. On the other hand the Torah emphasizes, in no uncertain terms, self-determinism and personal accountability.
Judaism recognizes the seductive appeal of having all decisions made for you – the Oracle of Delphi model, if you will. This is the allure of slavery. It is why a Jewish slave who extends his servitude beyond six years, voluntarily relinquishing his free will, has his ear pierced as a form of dissuasion and reprimand. Rav Yisroel Salanter explains that performing this unpleasant task also functions as a punishment for the owner. His guilt lies in not serving adequately as a role model. He clearly did not demonstrate the proper behavior of a Jew, which is to seek, not shirk, a life of responsibility, difficult decisions, personal choice and growth.
The Torah also admonishes us an astonishing four times against turning toward Ov and Yidoni, a method of predicting the future that incurs the death penalty. This too shelters the individual from determining his own fate.
Given the lengths to which the Torah goes to warn us against the dangers of this choice of lifestyle, it should be no surprise that the temptation is still prevalent in modern society. Most blatantly, this is evidenced by the continued popularity of fortune-tellers and psychics. At a more subtle level, “the expert” has stepped in to satisfy this desire. We increasingly turn to career experts, marriage experts, education experts, and life coaches to tell us what to do. Many parents feel the need to consult experts on everything from how to put their children to sleep to how best to discipline them. Perhaps this suggests that what we seek is not so much the advice itself but more the absolution from having to make judgments of import.
In some sectors of the Jewish community we too have succumbed to the tantalizing pull of abdication of free will. Without even delving into the fads of mekubalim and segulos, suffice it to say we have created a culture wherein rebbeim are consulted on all of life’s major decisions and a fair number of minor ones.
I am not referring to halachic or hashkafic queries, but rather questions that lie well outside these realms: whom to date, what job to take, what schools to attend. These are questions that until relatively recently each individual or family felt capable of answering without outside help. Upon encountering the birth of this tendency, the Ba’al HaTanya (1745-1812) expressed alarm: “Where, in all the books of the scholars of Israel, whether the earlier or later ones, have you ever seen such a custom instituted, to ask about a secular question, such as what to do in some mundane matter…”
A couple nights ago, my friend Larry Yudelson posted a link to a Jewish school paper in LA reporting on a Jewish school in the Bronx, where, back in December, the principal permitted two girls to put on tefillin during the girls-only morning prayer. We ran it as a news brief (with the appropriate hat tip to Larry) and didn’t think much more about it. But then the competition, Forward and Times of Israel, avid Jewish Press readers that they are, picked up our lead (no hat tips, though) and regurgitated the student paper’s original report and then some.
So, first of all a big Yishar Koach to the writers and editors of the Boiling Point, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in LA. First, for catching and reporting the story, and second for not going crazy about it, such as depicting these two girls’ teffilin thing as a victory for womankind over male rabbinic repression, which is what the grownup papers inevitably did. To date, they’ve called the story Orthodox girls fight for the right to don tefillin (TOI), and the somewhat less combative Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin (Forwrd), that the Forward quickly followed with the heroic war poem My Fight To Lay Tefillin At an Orthodox School by strapped combatant Eliana Fishman.
JewishPress.com will be covering more of this story in the next few days, God willing. But meanwhile, I believe we should extract the entire issue from the area of controversy, where it just doesn’t belong.
Women have been a challenge to rabbinic Judaism since Rivka called her kid Yaakov over to pull a fast one on her husband, Yitzhak. And feminine rage has been with us for about the same length of time.
The Talmudic sage Ulla (latter part of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th centuries) once stayed at the house of R. Nahman in Babylon. They had a meal and Ulla said grace, and handed the cup of benediction to R. Nahman. R. Nahman said to him: Please send the cup of benediction to Yaltha (his wife).
So Ulla said to him: Thus said R. Johanan: The fruit of a woman’s body is blessed only from the fruit of a man’s body, since it says, “He will also bless the fruit of your body” (Deut. 7:13). It does not say the fruit of her body, but the fruit of your body.
From this we understand that Ms. Yalta, who normally received the kiddush cup from her husband, on this particular occasion did not. And so she got up in a rage and went to the wine cellar and broke four hundred jars of wine.
At which point R. Nahman said to Ulla: Let the Master send her another cup. He sent it to her with a humorous message: All that wine that you spilled can be counted as a benediction. She returned an answer: Gossip comes from peddlers and vermin comes from rags. Which means she was in no mood for humorous remarks from traveling rabbis. (TB Brachot 51b).
In my opinion, after a little over 100 years of suffragists and feminists, it’s high time rabbinic Judaism came to terms with its women, before we lose any more wine barrels. And, indeed, we’ve done a lot in that direction, especially in shuls associated with the National Religious movement in Israel and the Modern Orthodox shuls in the rest of the world.
The problem is that it’s impossible to unload two millennia of rabbinic scholarship and halachic decisions in 100 years. No matter how hard we try, there are always going to be competing and adversarial streams that undermine the ideally smooth process of integrating our women into the Orthodox milieu.
It would have been much easier if religious women all decided to become deeply versed with Jewish law, and started pushing for a more equal, or at least a more prestigious role in the life of their religious communities. Then we would have seen a similar, ever increasing process of women’s integration as we’ve seen in the professions since about WW2.