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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Morethodoxy or Lessodoxy?

Zev Farber, one of the participants in the "Morethodoxy" blog, a branch of the Open-Orthodox/JOFA/Partnership-Minyan/YCT/Maharat/Post-Orthodox growth on the far left edge of the Orthodox community, has posted an article in which he takes issue, not with those who refuse to allow women to participate in shul, but with those who permit women to participate in shul, only not as the norm.  He feels that the default should be equal participation, limited only, if absolutely necessary, by whatever halakhic restrictions he hasn't found a way around.  Yet.

One of the things, possibly the main thing, which separates Orthodox Judaism from the various heterodox movements is that we never, ever, raise any -ism above the Torah.  That means that if Zionism conflicts with the Torah (which is rarely does, in my opinion), we go with the Torah.  If feminism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah.  If capitalism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah.  If socialism conflicts with the Torah.

More than this.  We don't start from an -ism as our baseline and interpret the Torah through it.  We don't force the Torah into this -ism or that -ism.

Zev Farber asks, "Why is it that the synagogue automatically assumes that the baseline should be no participation and that women need to put themselves out there?"  And the answer is simple.  Because there is a difference in obligation.  And the Torah makes distinctions.  And Orthodox Jews don't blur those, certainly not because of an -ism.

If Zev Farber doesn't daven with a minyan, he's remiss.  If I don't daven with a minyan, I'm not.  It's that simple.

Judaism isn't egalitarian.  Egalitarianism is just another foreign -ism that American culture is so in love with that many ostensibly Orthodox Jews find themselves committed to it ideologically.  And so long as they leave it outside of Judaism, that's fine.  Once they bring it into Judaism, it's not fine at all.

I belong to a Women's Tefillah Group.  Why?  I grew up Conservative.  I have a personal connection to doing things that are outside of the Torah norm.  I make no apologies for it.  I think Women's Tefillah Groups are good for BTs and giyorot.  They rarely continue into the next generation, because girls who grow up frum don't feel the need for them.  Unless their mothers go out of their way to tell them how "oppressed" they are otherwise.

The idea of women's participation in shul came about for a very simple reason.  In the heterodox movements, Judaism is all about shul.  Judaism is one thing that exists in the framework of their lives.  In shul.  At life cycle events.  To an Orthodox Jew, life is something that happens in the context of the Torah.  Not the other way around.  It's a matter of what's the ikkar and what's the tafel.  And because Judaism is the tafel in the heterodox movements (as well as in the minds of many left-wing modern Orthodox Jews), shul is the focus of Judaism.  So being less participatory there stings.  Whereas to real Orthodox Jews, who recognize that Judaism isn't just our religion, but rather our life, shul isn't at all the center of Judaism for us.

Zev Farber's entire thesis fails before he even gets started.  Because his complaint isn't even with the details.  I belong to a Young Israel, so my Women's Tefillah Group can't meet there (it's in the YI bylaws).  That's a detail.  But for Zev Farber, that's not something to struggle with -- he wants to revamp Judaism entirely, so that the default is that we all participate equally in shul.

Some Jews grow up Orthodox.  Or become Orthodox.  And some of these Orthodox Jews move away from Judaism, opting for something that suits them more, philosophically.  Conservative.  Reform.  Reconstructionist.  Renewal.  Humanist.  Some of those who move away philosophically also move away in practice.  Alice Shalvi, the noted feminist, resisted this for years.  Philosophically, she had left Orthodox Judaism behind her.  But she felt an emotional tie to it.  She didn't want to acknowledge the move that she'd already made inside.  Eventually, she "came out" as Conservative, but it was sort of like Ellen Degeneris coming out as gay.  It was only a surprise to those who weren't paying attention.

I hope that Zev Farber and other members of this blog will learn from Alice Shalvi.  I hope they will stop trying to drag Judaism off the derekh, and if they feel so strongly opposed to it philosophically, just go.


Blogger Elana said...

This is a ridiculous blog, full of conjecture about who does or does not go to women's tefillah, full of pure speculation about women's motives, even a disingenuous invocation of Professor Alice Shalvi, as if the writer actually knows what Prof. Shalvi would have to say about Rabbi Farber's piece. I suspect that given a choice between Rabbi Farber's passionate, incisive and insightful feminist analysis and this dribble, we know who she would choose to side with.

People seeking to delegitimize feminist thought and feminists themselves by analyzing people's "motives" only end up delegitimizing themselves.

4:58 AM  
Blogger ksil said...

"we never, ever, raise any -ism above the Torah."

and people wonder why this type of orthodox judaism is not only a minority, but becoming irrelevant and obsolete.

the leaders of old were able to keep judaism fresh and interesting and with the times, in order for it to survive. if not, it just becomes another old ancient irellevant religion and dies. and it will, with this attitude.

i'm so glad you are happy living a life with laws that were written by men (stop calling it Torah please) that essentially excludes women completely, becasue that is what the world was like 1,000 years ago!

get it yet?

8:16 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

King David knew what he was talking about when he said ksil doesn't understand.

The Hellenists thought we were becoming irrelevant and obsolete. They're gone now. And it is Torah. Deal with it. We aren't Karaites, even if you are.

9:42 AM  
Blogger ksil said...

read some history.

what we practice today in no way resembels what it was like a few hundred years ago, and then nothing what it was like a few hundred years before that.

this religion evolves.

like the maa'sah about moshe rabbeinu seeing r' akiva and not understanding what was going on.

if rabbi akiva came back today, he would have no idea what we were doing.

things change, as a modern orthodox person, i am surprised you dont acknowledge that.

but you can call me names if it makes you fell better, i can handle it

9:46 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

You're so funny. You object to changes that have happened in Judaism over the years, and then you say, "The religion evolves." Of course it does. Within the bounds of halakha. You just want it to change the way you want.

And hey, I didn't call you ksil. You called yourself ksil. If the shoe fits, wear it.

9:48 AM  
Blogger ksil said...

i wear it proudly, obviously

i think you misunderstand, so i will restate.

i do not object to changes that have happened, in fact i think they were necessary in order for the religion to remain relevant and not obsolete. this religion evloves, and it should.

i also believe that halacha changes - you say we can only "evolve" within current stated halacha - i hold that halacha itself has changed over the years and should continue to do so - if our leaders can see beyond themselves and look to the survival and growth of judaism - they will do it.

i also believe that there are differences within halacha. lighting a match on saturday will always be assur - but women more involved in the shabbat services? that will not, and should not remain assur, just like bais yaakov education did not remain assur, just like women working outside the home did not remain assur, (many examples here)

the modern orthidix jewish woman in no way resembles the women of the past. we encourage it and ackknowledge it - and should continue to promote it - without asking anyone to light a match on saturday.

i am enjpying this discussion

10:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

The problem is, you hold incorrectly. Do you have a background in math or science? Because there are a whole bunch of ways (probably) to explain this, but the way that I find easiest is like this:

P = f(C,H)

Where P is psak -- halakha l'maaseh, or the practical ruling in a given case;

Where C is the current case and current conditions, which is a variable (obviously);

Where H is the halakhic system, which is a constant.

God gave us the Torah, written and oral, at Sinai. This Torah included the system by means of which it is to be used. That system is what it is. Using a different system to (mis)interpret the Torah doesn't work. A classic example is the Conservative movement. They didn't jettison halakhic works. Instead, they interpreted them and used them with a different system of thought. German dialectic philosophy. Once they did that, they were doing this:

P(1) = f(C,G)

Where G is German dialectic philosphy. As a result, P(1) isn't P. It's some other thing. An invalid other thing.

So when you say that halakha changes, that's an imprecise statement. It's not defined. If you mean that halakha l'maaseh changes, you're obviously correct. If you mean that the method by which halakha is arrived at changed, you're wrong.

Now... you may look at the fact that once we had a Sanhedrin with its network of batei din, and now we don't. And you might see that as a change in the halakhic process. But that's a mistake. The halakhic process always accounted for a situation in which the Sanhedrin was absent (a temporary situation, even if it's lasted 17 centuries).

The thing is, using western egalitarian values in place of the halakhic system gives you this:

P(2) = f(C,E)

Where E is egalitarianism. And P(2) is no better than P(1). It's a lot of things, but what it isn't, is P.

Look, I don't object to women taking a greater role in permissible ways. Beis Yaakov was a classic example of that. Like I said in my post, I attend a Women's Tefillah Group. I also learn Daf Yomi. Clearly, I'm not a member of the barefoot and pregnant school of thought.

But here's something you may not have considered. C, up above? It means not only the current case that we're dealing with, but it means current conditions. You think that because there's a greater demand for women's participation in unprecedented areas in Judaism that it creates a need to change. But I say that because there's a greater demand for that in the current circumstances, it creates a need to resist change.

It sucks. No doubt. If the Conservative and Reform (and other heterodox) movements didn't exist, there's a lot we could do that we can't now. They call themselves "Judaism". And they're disastrous. The Reform movement lost so many people that they had to redefine a huge segment of non-Jews as "Jews" in order to make up the shortfall. In science, we call that fudging, btw. And the Conservative movement is moving towards that as well (patrilineal descent is already accepted de facto in many parts of the Conservative world.

The halakha isn't determined by picking up a book, reading it, and deciding how you feel it should be applied. Judaism isn't something we take risks with, ksil. We break it, and it's done. We feel the weight of 33 centuries of responsibility very keenly, and we aren't going to change fundamental aspects of Judaism in order to fit in better with a cultural phenomenon that's not even really a century old. Not even in the best of times. But with these counterfeit "Judaisms" around, we simply can't do certain things, lest we empower them and erode real Judaism.

The "growth" you're talking about isn't really growth. Or if it is, it's growth of something other than Judaism.

10:40 AM  
Blogger ksil said...

interesting how 2 people, both orthodox (me and you) can observe the two camps of judaism (rabbinic orthodox observant and everyone else) within the context of history and come to the exact opposite conclusions.

you feel the nonobservant are "counterfeit" and "disasters" and I feel the orthodox are ovdei avodah zarah and missing the boat and point of this religion completely.

funny how that works.

"The halakha isn't determined by picking up a book, reading it, and deciding how you feel it should be applied"

this is a straw man argument. no one claims this. you say this is what others do who dont agree with your approach to jewish law, and that is a shame.

in the modern day of the jewish book and a mishna berura in every household, the mesorah and dynamic method in which jewish law was adpted and applied has been completely lost. and that is a shame. (to your point above, the "H" in the formula, which you state above is NOT a constant and there are many examples of that being the case and applied when wanted/needed or necessary

11:00 AM  
Blogger Esser Agaroth said...


This is a well thought out and constructed piece which provides a good explanation to those who do no know or who do not want to know what halakha is.


2:40 PM  

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