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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Hilchot Melachim’

The Book And The Sword

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The forthcoming debate over an updated Tal Law – the parameters for service by haredim in the Israel Defense Forces – is liable to become heated and nasty. Mutual accusations will be hurled, with one group asserting that mandatory military service is part of an ill-disguised war against Torah and the other side seeking an equal sharing of the defense burdens that fall on most other Israelis.

The debate will feature arguments that are both somewhat compelling and somewhat misleading: that Torah study is the defining mitzvah in Jewish life, comparable to no other; that the IDF has a manpower surplus, not shortage; that it is unfair that some young men risk their lives for the safety of the Jewish people, while others sit in the comfortable confines of the bet midrash – and are supported (through government funds) by the families of those who are serving; that military service is often a prerequisite to entering the Israeli workforce and will resolve many of the financial struggles that beset Israel’s haredim; or that haredi opt-outs from the military are a small percentage of the total number of Israeli youth not serving in the military, a number buttressed in recent years by thousands of secular Israelis (often from the Tel Aviv suburbs) who receive medical and/or psychological deferments from physicians all-too-willing to sign them.

The proponents, both secular and religious, will struggle to distinguish between Israeli haredim, whose service is compulsory, and Israeli Arabs who, as Israeli citizens, should also be required to defend their country but whose widespread service in the IDF would be problematic, to say the least.

Undoubtedly, the dispute will become embroiled in coalition politics with the most sordid kind of horse-trading. Although the current government no longer needs the votes of the religious parties to survive, future governments surely will. The Torah itself will be unnecessarily dragged through the mud. While certainly Torah protects those who study and uphold it, it does not exempt the sick from seeking medical assistance, the hungry from eating food or the destitute from finding gainful employment. The Torah still demands that we live in reality – after all, the Torah is the book of the Source of ultimate reality – and therefore not make national defense the only realm in which mystical considerations dominate our decision-making.

Nonetheless, understood properly, this controversy affords a wonderful opportunity to redefine the terms of the debate in a way that can revolutionize Jewish life and restore the crown of glory as of old.

There have been many dramatic transformations that have occurred in the Jewish world since the re-establishment of the state of Israel. Obviously, the highlight is the regained Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel for the first time in nineteen centuries. But something else changed in the Jewish psyche – if not in the Jewish people itself: the renaissance of the scholar-warrior, what Rav Eliezer Shenvald, distinguished rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Meir-Harel in Modiin and IDF colonel, called tzva’iyut and yeshivatiyut – the fusion of the military and the yeshiva.

In the exile, we grew accustomed – even grew to think it natural and proper – that, in the language of the Talmud (Masechet Avodah Zarah 17b), “either the book (safra) or the sword (saifa),” but never both, and certainly not together.

Not only is that wrong, it is detrimental to the Jewish people.

It was never like that. The giants of our nation all went to battle – Avraham, Yaakov and his sons, Moshe, and, most famously, David. None of this was considered out of character or a concession to the times, but rather a natural part of serving Hashem. It is the righteous who are supposed to lead the Jewish people into battle.

Many justify prioritization of Torah study over military service by referencing Rabbi Elazar’s statement in Masechet Nedarim 32a that Avraham was punished because “he conscripted the Torah scholars” who lived with him when he went to battle against the four kings to rescue his nephew Lot. Of course, this statement is not cited as normative halacha by the Rambam or Shulchan Aruch, as we generally avoid deriving normative halacha from aggadic statements, and there are other interpretations of that Gemara (Shitah Mekubetzet understands Avraham’s mistake as not rewarding them for their service).

Women, Modern Orthodoxy And Communal Leadership

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

The latest round in the broader canvas of debates about the approach of Modern Orthodoxy to the role of women in communal life has focused on the issue of learned Orthodox women receiving some form of rabbinic ordination and serving as rabbis or clergy.

This has been coupled with teasing out the appropriate parameters of women serving as spiritual leaders in synagogues, in some way equivalent to male rabbis (without that actual title being used). Those in favor of pushing the frontiers forward on substance and titles have made it clear they accept the limitations of the restrictions of normative halacha, such as a woman not being able to lead the congregation in chazarat hashatz or serving as a witness for a kiddushin at a marriage ceremony.

The most substantive halachic argument generally put forward against women receiving some form of rabbinic ordination and serving as spiritual leaders in synagogues is the import of the Rambam’s famous ruling on serarah. In Hilchot Melachim 1:5, he maintains that not only are women excluded from serving as king in a halachic state, but all positions of serarah – communal authority – are barred to women.

Many commentators have noted that it is difficult to find an explicit source in our standard texts of midreshei halacha and Talmud for this far reaching position. (Such a view is found in one version of the Sifrei discovered in the Cairo Geniza.)

Indeed, as many halachic scholars of the past and present (e.g., Rav Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, YD II: 44) have noted, the Rambam’s position seems to be rejected by a good number of rishonim and is not cited as normative halacha in subsequent halachic codes such as the Shulchan Aruch.

Even if one is careful to work within the Rambam’s parameters, it is still critical to clarify what exactly is included under the rubric of serarah. Should it be understood broadly to refer to almost any communal position of authority or status, whether it involves an appointment by fiat or an elected position, as well as whether or not it involves coercive power?

Many rabbinic scholars have taken that expansive point of view. They therefore would feel that almost any position of communal authority should be barred to women. In this paradigm a woman serving as president of a shul or as a rabbi of a synagogue (or a principal of a girls school with authority to hire and fire male faculty) would raise halachic problems.

Other rabbinic scholars, however, have taken a much more limited reading of the Rambam and maintain that the definition of communal serarah (and thus the subsequent restriction) should be limited to those communal positions of authority that truly mimic the kingship model. In this paradigm, only positions that are imposed on the populace with some absolute powers would fall under the Rambam’s categories of serarah. Therefore, a rabbi of a synagogue hired by election and fired at the will of the congregation and board would clearly not fall into the category of some inappropriate position of authority, even according to the Rambam.

Other authorities of note have pointed to the concept of kaballah – communal acceptance – as obviating the restriction of the Rambam. This view of kabbalah as trumping the restriction of serarah is a position that is adopted by a number of contemporary rabbinic scholars.

Many significant Modern Orthodox poskim (though not all) have taken the lenient position over the last century on issues such as women’s suffrage and election to serve in high office or as president of a shul or a member of a religious council. Indeed, to my knowledge, a number of women have served as presidents of Orthodox synagogues.

Mori verabi Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in a conversation with former students currently serving in the rabbinate and Jewish education, recently discussed this halachic issue. He noted that it is clear the dati-leumi/Modern Orthodox community and its rabbinic elite have clearly come down in favor of a more narrow reading of the Rambam’s restriction.

He pointed to the fact that for the past two decades religious women have run for Knesset as candidates of dati-leumi religious parties across the board and some have served as members of parliament. In addition, a few have served as ministers in coalition governments with the approval (despite an occasional rumble here and there) of the rabbinic leadership of those parties. These have included scholars such as R. Avraham Shapira zt”l, R. Mordechai Eliyahu, Rav Yaakov Ariel and others.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/women-modern-orthodoxy-and-communal-leadership/2010/03/24/

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