Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Changing the Siddur

There is a raging controversy regarding "Open Orthodoxy" and especially its changes to the role of women in Judaism. I must confess that I am really, really not "up" on it. It hasn't reached Israel, and it doesn't actually interest me that much.

Personally, I am fairly conservative, with a small "c," from a halachic standpoint. I believe that in order for Orthodoxy to survive, it must follow the approach of Rav Glasner and Rav Herzog, whereby we accept the authority of Chazal regardless of whether we agree with their reasoning. I believe that, in the face of contemporary challenges to the halachic lifestyle and ideology, a certain amount of stubborn rigidity is required (which is one reason why I don't wear techeles, despite being convinced that it is the Murex trunculus). I see God as undeniably and necessarily unequal in His distribution of opportunities. I see it as being perfectly reasonable, as well as strongly supported by modern science, to state that the differences between men and women extend beyond their physical differences. And I am way too suspicious of the transient nature of contemporary morality to demand that Judaism conform to it.

With that introduction, let me draw your attention to a source that recently crossed my path, and to an observation.

First, the source. Embarrassed apologies if I am late to the party with this one, but the idea that only a modern feminist Reformer would be dissatisfied with the berachah of shelo asani ishah appears to be neatly refuted by this Italian woman's siddur from 1471, which changes the berachah of she-asani kirtzono to she-asisani ishah ve-lo ish:


Though I must frankly admit to being personally very glad that Hashem did not make me a woman!

Second, an observation: It is ironic that, of those who protest the loudest about how any change to the siddur is unthinkable, they are often from communities in which a certain tefillah that was recited by many of their ancestors for generations has been utterly exorcised: Hanosein teshuah le-melachim. Apparently it's okay to change the siddur if you believe that you are doing so for a really, really good reason (which, in the particular case of Hanosein teshuah le-melachim, entirely escapes me).

(On another note, I will be visiting London of a lecture tour for the last weekend of November, speaking at Golders Green synagogue and other places to be announced.)

45 comments:

  1. Might you care to elaborate on the reason you don't wear Tekhelet? To the best of my knowledge, Chazal were not against wearing Tekhelet, if they had it, and if you are convinced that the Murex is the true tekhelet, why not wear it? I did not understand your reason.

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  2. The Open Orthodox/Morethodox issue is more problematic because one of its proponents not only posted an essay full of poor reasoning and illogical conclusions but declared that saying the traditional bracha was a Chilul HaShem. Another proponent posted on their blog that Rav Soloveitchik, z"l, agreed with their position although when you read the content of the letter he based it on, it was actually a condemnation of it!
    Both extremes in Orthodoxy seem to have abandoned fealty to an honest and logical system of halachic decision making. On the right we have folks who only use those sources that will agree with their predetermined "It's assur" position and dismiss disagreeing sources as kefirah or irrelevant.
    On the left we have folks who will cherry pick any posek, no matter how obscure, who gives some remote support if any to the predeetermined "It's muttar" position and then announce "And we hold like him!"

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  3. Ironically, Across the street from you there was a minyan davening the "new/old" Nusach Eretz Yisorel :)

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  4. Many of the people criticizing the criticism of the bracha in question use a siddur that was composed in the 18th century!

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  5. You could make a similar point while being sensitive--

    "Though I must frankly admit to being personally very glad that Hashem did not make me a woman!"

    As an Orthodox women I find a lack of sensitivity such as this one of the frustrating things about the 'inequality' of opportunity you mention.

    -MB

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  6. Rabbi,

    You might want to consider reading a book called "How Civilizations Die" by the famous (and orthodox Jewish) commentator David P. Goldman (a.k.a. "Spengler").

    In it, he discusses how civilizations that abandon Judeo-Christian faith are pretty often quite doomed (that includes Islamic civilizations. The choice for islam is tribalism with islam or modernity without. They can',t have both). Judeo-Christian civilization can survive only so long as it does not lose faith in its religion.

    Why? Because only the faithful (given the economic conditions of modernity) have enough children to maintain society. The irreligious do not.

    Regarding the specifics of rationalist versus mystical faith, Spengler says nothing. But that faith better be there.

    I'm sure there's a Darwinian argument in there (ironic, given how eager Darwinists are to advance the maladaptive trait of atheism).

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  7. > believe that in order for Orthodoxy to survive, it must… accept the authority of Chazal regardless of whether we agree with their reasoning.

    You’re probably right. The question then is, why is preserving Orthodoxy an end in itself? Why shouldn’t the end to aim for be for halacha to accurately reflect reality? Orthodoxy as a movement is recent. Why should its preservation take precedence over a rationalist approach to halacha? An approach that, as you’ve demonstrated many times, is far older.

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  8. "Hanosein teshuah le-malachim"

    To angels? Or la-melachim - to kings?

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  9. "Embarrassed apologies if I am late to the party with this one"

    Being late is okay. But not to mention (at least in passing) prof. R. Daniel Sperbers book (On Changes in Jewish Liturgy, 2010) and some of the reactions to it is a bit harder to excuse...

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  10. It was on dovbear and on the main line years and years ago

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  11. "which is one reason why I don't wear techeles, despite being convinced that it is the Murex trunculus"

    I don't get it. Who said that if you find ticheles you shouldn't wear it?

    "I see it as being perfectly reasonable, as well as strongly supported by modern science, to state that the differences between men and women extend beyond their physical differences."

    The argument is that 1) To treat people differently based on these differences is immoral (And one could defend slavery based on your logic. Never mind, I guess you would defend slavery too; it's halachic after all.) 2) Your differences ought to logically lead to the different treatment. One could perhaps more easily claim that men should not be allowed to be rabbis, since women are naturally more empathetic and better communicators. Of course, your given reasons are only post-hoc sevaros, and not to be over analyzed.

    "And I am way too suspicious of the transient nature of contemporary morality to demand that Judaism conform to it."

    Yay! Go bash some Amaleki baby skulls in, skeptic.

    "the idea that only a modern feminist Reformer would be dissatisfied with the berachah of shelo asani ishah appears to be neatly refuted by this Italian woman's siddur from 1471, which changes the berachah of she-asani kirtzono to she-asisani ishah ve-lo ish:"

    Now my dikduk leaves much to be desired, but the big surprise in your quote seems to be that they made God female, not that they celebrated their own femininity. Anyway, who claimed that only modern people might have this problem?

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  12. I admire your attempt to walk the fine line between reason and sincere religious observance. I really do. In that spirit...

    Do you support the old Catholic custom of calling down God's curse on "the perfidious Jew"?

    It's traditional. It was originally put in place by the Catholic equivalent of chazal.

    John XXIII changed that, horrible innovator that he was.

    In the spirit of full disclosure I ignore commandments by eminent Jewish figures like Moses ben Maimon. He authoritatively held Gentiles would reliably rape Jewish women, children and farm animals given half a chance. I board my dog at a facility run by goyim even though authoritative poskim have held he would be unnaturally assaulted. I even allow my wife to work in an office where there are few if any Jews to protect her from inevitable indecent assault by shaygetzim.

    The logic is wrong.
    The facts are wrong.
    The opinion is wrong.
    Treating it as if it were true is dishonest.

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  13. mention (at least in passing) prof. R. Daniel Sperbers book

    The current issue of Hakira features one such reaction by Aryeh A. Frimer. This one is a freebie:

    http://hakirah.org/Vol%2012%20FrimerA.pdf

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  14. Apparently, Rav Steinman Shlita proposed an abbreviated text for hetarat nedarim and was duly blasted by the zealots. See:


    http://lifeinisrael.blogspot.com/2011/10/pashkevil-against-reform-rav-shteinman.html

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  15. Speaking of changes to the siddur...one such phenomenon nowadays, but in a spirit of creating (and reviving)an Eretz Yisraeli minhag,Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo has resurrected the ancient nusach tefilla of Eretz Yisrael. This is quite reasonable and logical in light of the fact that such a high percentage of Jews now live in Eretz Yisrael and the old Ashkenazi-Sefardi bifurcation should no longer be relevant. And interestingly this move is neither "progressive" nor "reactionary" in spirit, but does bring back a nusach tefillah going back to the time of Hazal.

    Like the Gra, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim takes the middle ground between those who unreasonably oppose innovation and those who engage in "cherrypicking" leniencies and change based on acceptance of contemporary mores.

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  16. Just wondering, which rationalist rishon does this have anything to do with?

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  17. Moshe & Avi: RNS gave 2 reason why he is Halachically conservative. 1. He believes we must follow Chazal regardless of their reasoning. 2. He believes "that, in the face of contemporary challenges to the halachic lifestyle and ideology, a certain amount of stubborn rigidity is required". It is the second reason RNS was talking about when he said "which is one reason why I don't wear techeles, despite being convinced that it is the Murex trunculus".

    Speaking of changes to the Siddur... The Biala siddur has changed the traditional nussach of the 13 Ani Maamin's.

    There's a sefer called ברכות שנשתקעו by R. Zvi  Gruner (Mosad Harav Kook, Jerusalem, 2003), that documents many brachos that are mentioned in Chazal and in other rabbinic sources but were, for some reason or another, entirely dropped and forgotten. For example, in Eretz Yisrael they used to make the following bracha after taking off their Tefilin: בא"י אקב"ו לשמור חוקיו. (See JT Brachos 4:3; By Nida 51b; R. Eliezer b. Yoel (ראבי"ה) i, 168).

    Regarding Ha-Nosein Teshuah le-melachim, it's not mentioned in chazal and in most of the Rishonim. Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Fogelman wrote that this tefila is probably not older than 500 years or so.

    Nudnik: Maybe we can tie this in somehow with what the Rashba writes (Responsa, i, 9) בכל דבר שיש קבלה ביד הזקנים והזקנות מעמינו, לא נסתר קבלתם, or with the Chasam sofer who says חדש אסור מן התורה...

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  18. In your books and this blog, you’ve decided to bravely be part of an important fight – to show that observant Jews don’t have to accept anachronistic and simplistic explanations about the age of the universe, for example, in order to call themselves Orthodox. You’ve written that you feel this fight is worthy at least in part because there are those seekers who simply cannot be satisfied with simplistic answers and will turn away from religion if their questions are not dealt with seriously. Very admirable. Many Orthodox women feel even more strongly about the anachronistic attitude Chazal, in many cases, hold about gender. This is not only a matter of theory – are women “equal to” men -- but has ramifications in life: in the aguna issue, for example. Even leaving that touchy topic out of this, why is it not equally admirable for people to look to alternate strands of our tradition that can respond to women’s concerns?

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  19. There is no denying that the siddur has changed over time. The difference is that slow change that no one points out is fine. It's when people stand up and say "And we want to change the following because it's irrelevant/archaic/sexist etc" that negative attention shuts the conversation down.
    If the Morethodox wanted to print their own siddur quietly without fanfare in which the beracha was changed, it wouldn't have made that much of a fuss. But demanding the change and calling the traditional bracha a chilul HaShem destroyed the project.

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  20. Avi: עשה is translated as "He made" (third person). Therefore, עשני is "He made me" (third person, 'me' being feminine). עשית is "You made" (second person). Therefore עשיתני is "You made me" (second person, 'you' being both feminine and masculine, 'me' being feminine).

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  21. When my wife and I visited NY a couple of years ago, we took a tour of the rare book room at JTS an actually got to see the Italian suddur that contains this curious bracha.
    Also, G*3, I think you ask a great question, "Orthodoxy as a movement is recent. Why should its preservation take precedence over a rationalist approach to halacha?" This sentiment really resonates with me, especially since orthodoxy is really an ideological position that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with ones commitment to Torah and Halacha.

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  22. Looking forward to hearing you in London-finally!! Please post the details of your visit on this blog when you know them.

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  23. "civilizations that abandon Judeo-Christian faith"

    Never heard of Judeo-Christian faith. Is this some syncretism that I missed along the way?

    "that includes Islamic civilizations. The choice for islam is tribalism with islam or modernity without"

    A thousand years ago, we would have written similar things about Christianity and contrasted it to modern enlightened Islam.


    "Because only the faithful (given the economic conditions of modernity) have enough children to maintain society. The irreligious do not."

    I've seen this canard repeatedly stated by people who haven't looked at actual demographic data. Eastern Europe is a disproving counterexample. Poland, for example, is one of the most devoutly religious societies in the world. Its fertility rate is 1.4. 2.1 is replacement assuming no immigration or emigration -- and Poland has been experiencing huge emigration. Allegedly irreligious Western Europe has a much higher fertility; France has a rate of 2.0 and with immigration will preserve its population.

    "Why should its preservation take precedence over a rationalist approach to halacha?"

    Some of us would argue that the rationalist approach IS orthodoxy.

    "Who said that if you find ticheles you shouldn't wear it?"

    Rov Soloveitchik, to name one. (Interestingly, some of his most prominent students do wear techelit.)

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  24. "Though I must frankly admit to being personally very glad that Hashem did not make me a woman!"

    You 'personally', please... Any balanced person feels comfortable in their skin weather male or female.

    The blessing reflects historical attitudes that I wouldn't worry about. If anything, she asani ki rezonyno is a positive affirmation of G-d's creation and is not problematic to a contemporary Western person. I wouldn't feel comfortable putting down women every day with she lo asani isha. The men may want to change their blessing one day but there is no need to change the women's. Maybe the blessing should be abandoned altogether that nobody should get hurt? Anyway, I'm happy with she asani ki rezono!

    'I see God as undeniably and necessarily unequal in His distribution of opportunities.'

    Please... It the people not G-d that are the source of inequality and injustice. G-d is perfect! Rambam explains it in multiple places.

    Todd, you are a really nice guy but why do you keep attacking Rambam on this subject? First of all it is a Gemorah. Secondly, are you saying it's historically inaccurate?

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  25. "He believes "that, in the face of contemporary challenges to the halachic lifestyle and ideology, a certain amount of stubborn rigidity is required". It is the second reason RNS was talking about when he said "which is one reason why I don't wear techeles, despite being convinced that it is the Murex trunculus"."

    Fantastic. Perhaps he shouldn't have picked up the arba minim on succos. After all, very often they could not be obtained in Europe. Perhaps he ought to have thought first before moving to Israel, for so long people were unable. Perhaps he ought to stop using a hechsher on his food, people just read the ingredients for so many years. perhaps his wife should stop covering her hair, his female European ancestors well may not have.

    To rely on codified halachah when the reality is otherwise is one level of denial but to continue not wearing ticheles simply because one's ancestors happen to not have had it available is a whole different level. Maybe a bekeshe is in order?

    "עשית is "You made" (second person). Therefore עשיתני is "You made me" (second person, 'you' being both feminine and masculine, 'me' being feminine)."

    Thank you, and please excuse my drivel.

    "Rov Soloveitchik, to name one. (Interestingly, some of his most prominent students do wear techelit.)"

    It's not so interesting when you think about the claim. The idea that nothing can be identified without a mesorah is bizarre (but so very Brisker!).

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  26. "Why should its preservation take precedence over a rationalist approach to halacha?"

    "Some of us would argue that the rationalist approach IS orthodoxy."

    Not enough of us, unfortunately.

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  27. Excellent post! What you are getting at, as I see it, is that in confronting modernity, there has to be a distinction made between hashkafa and belief, on one hand, and halacha l'ma'aseh, on the other. Halacha can be viewed as a legal system. Any legal system must incorporate a large degree of stability - all the more so, when that legal system is divinely ordained. Thus, even when dealing with rabbinacal interpretations and decrees, precedent should not be disregarded except for really strong reasons. What these reasons may be subject to debate, but in the context of "rationalist Judaism," it makes perfect sense not to change existing halachic decisions on the basis of scientific progress - based on the same rational principles as stare decises in secular law - respecting precedent for the sake of stability.

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  28. Garnel – what is your shul’s primary siddur? And what is their practice in regard to saying “she’hem mishtachavim la’hevel va’rik, u’mitpali’lim el el lo yoshia” in Aleinu?

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  29. Aryeh Frimer's recent article has already been mentioned. I'll quote footnote 75, which deals with this exact siddur:

    "R. Sperber’s cites (Liturgy pp. 41–43) a private siddur, written by the 15th century scribe, polemicist and geographer Rabbi Abraham Farisol for an Italian patroness. This work uses the variant: she-asatani isha ve-lo ish. This is undoubtedly a curious piece of liturgical history, totally absent from the well-documented Italian rite. I wonder, however, why R. Sperber finds this fact of any halakhic import? We know nothing of R. Farisols’s halakhic credentials or his halakhic underpinnings. Indeed, neither he nor his position is cited anywhere in halakhic literature. The same comments are true for George Jochnowitz’s Judeo-Provencal prayer book (Roth Manuscript 32) with a similar formulation; see George Jochnowitz, “...Who Made me a Woman,” Commentary, April 1981; pp. 63-64; George Jochnowitz, “Women’s Blessings,” Commentary, October 1981, Reader Letters."

    That one medieval siddur had such a formulation doesn't imply that it has any legitimacy. It was never a standard formulation, and historical deviations from accepted practice do not justify contemporary ones.

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  30. The thing that I think people often overlook is the explanation for shelo asani isha (that we thank G-d for this because we obligated in more mitzvot, just as free people and Jews have to do more mitzvot than slaves and non-Jews) is not some contemporary justification. It is recorded in the tosefta, which predates the final codification of these blessings in the Talmud! So I don't think it's accurate to blithely claim, as many do, that shelo asani isha is necessarily evidence of sexism or holding women in low esteem.

    Many Ashkenazic communities deleted a sentence in Aleinu which offended Christians, and many do not say it even to this day. I guess one could argue that, even though the Christians effectively censored the siddur through force, and the situation today is different, it is wise to remove shelo asani isha because (as with the Aleinu example) it creates widespread misunderstanding and resentment. However, like R' Slifkin I do not think it is necessary to remove it.

    Rather than just saying "Hey, it's an unequal religion and I'm sure glad to be a man," I think there is a better response, less likely to cause any chillul Hashem and more likely to attract secular Jews (most of which, at least in the U.S., are far left-wing) to Orthodox Judaism. This is to say, "We are doing everything we can within the framework of halachah to allow women to participate in Jewish life to the fullest extent they desire. Today, many women learn Torah, teach Torah, and hold leadership positions in Jewish organizations and even some Orthodox shuls."

    It is also worth noting that there may be something in the nature of men and women that requires a division of labor to ensure the religion continues. Liberal streams of Judaism (and for that matter other religions) have witnessed a huge exodus of men from services and observance more generally. It seems that men "need" some kind of special required service (I'm speaking of the public prayers in shul) that only they can do, and if they don't have that, if women can do it too, men will just say, fine, let them do it! This goes along with the observation, frequently made in Orthodox texts, that women are more "naturally spiritual" than men, who left to their own druthers (without requirements) often want nothing to do with daily prayers, etc.

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  31. Yishai, you may very well be right with your understanding of the Tosefta, but please be aware that the Talmud (at least according to Rashi) understands it differently. See TB Minachos 43b-44a, Rashi s.v. Hainu isha and s.v. zil tefei.

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  32. How about both men and women say "she-asani ki-retsono." After all, "zachar u'neqevah bara otam," implying that both male and female halves are made according to the divine will, no more and no less. The current men's blessing truly smacks of "nyah nyah poo poo," no matter the justificatory spin the Artscroll commentary tries to put on it.

    "Egalitarian" need not only be a "bad" or "Conservative" word.

    Sincerely,
    Michael Singer

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  33. > …more likely to attract secular Jews (most of which, at least in the U.S., are far left-wing) to Orthodox Judaism. This is to say, "We are doing everything we can within the framework of halachah to allow women to participate in Jewish life to the fullest extent they desire.

    To which the secular Jew will respond: It’s great that you’re trying to be more egalitarian, but halacha undeniably favors men and imposes restrictions on how women can participate in the public sphere. Why try to squeeze modern egalitarian values into a framework clearly not built for them, and which severly limits the extent to which they can be expressed, when by ignoring halacha we can ACTUALLY have women “participate in Jewish life to the fullest extent they desire.”

    > women are more "naturally spiritual" than men, who left to their own druthers (without requirements) often want nothing to do with daily prayers, etc.

    Without requirements, most men also want nothing to do with daily prayers, or sitting in a freezing succah – and I’m sure there are a large number of teenage boys who would just as soon never look at a gemara again.

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  34. Every mature adult seeing the blessings of the morning for the first time, has to wonder.
    Is this "sexist"?

    "Who made me according to his will", is by far more on a higher level, then "Who did not make me a woman".
    It is, in it's rationalist sense what it seems to be. Driven by a pure "sexist" motivation.
    So clear a child can see it.
    To be honest with ourselves, who are we kidding here with anything less?

    We can see this very clearly when we look into the topic of women not being called up for Aliyahs.

    When we look at the origin of this practice, we uncover it's true motive.

    Firstly I must mention, way back when we read the Torah in the times of the Gemara, everyone called up for an Aliyah was required to read the Torah portion affiliated with their Aliyah.

    The best place to see the following Baraisa would be in the artscroll Gemara, Tractate Megillah 23A (2) with note #20.

    It was taught in a Baraisa, all jews count towards the seven prescribed readers (that are called up for an Aliyah), even a minor and even a WOMAN.

    But the sages said a woman should not read from the Torah for the congregation, out of considerration for the dignity of the congregation (it's men).

    Ritva (note #20) explains if a woman is called up, it gives the impression that none of the men are capable of reading the Torah (and will embarrass and hurt their foolish pride).

    In other words, instead of following the Baraisa the sages were compelled to deal with the ego of the insecure men.

    So the questions remains.
    Have we not grown enough in the last 2000 years? -and-
    Do we not have any self-esteem as men without uncomplimenting our better half?
    More important, how do we look in the eyes of the nations?
    o

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  35. There is necessarily a tension between stability and change in legal systems. Rationally, one needs both a stable system yet one that retains sufficient flexibility to address new circumstances and attitudes. Traditional Jewish law is, however, based on ancient and medieval or early modern texts that are not easily overruled. The usual ploy for those seeking change is to reinterpret the authoritative texts. Occasionally, those texts are simply disregarded.

    One such example in the context of the 'shelo asani isha' issue is the associated text of 'shelo asani boor' that is to be found in both the Bavli and Tosefta. One Amora, R' Acha bar Yaakov, objected to his son saying it, and that objection has held sway over the subsequent generations. Tosafot claim that it is no longer relevant since they believe that boorishness is an uncommon phenomenon. Well, servitude is even more uncommon. Should we also stop saying 'shelo asani aved'? What about the Talmudic instruction to make 100 blessings a day? Well, one could eat a greater variety of foods without bread so that more berachot are made.

    I'm not really advocating elimination of the 'shelo asani aved' beracha since it offends no one in modern societies that feature no servitude (aside from the unfortunate girls and women trapped in sexual slavery). Nor am I advocating 'official' repeal of the 'shelo asani isha' beracha since that would engender more friction and controversy than the psychological benefit of being more gender neutral. Perhaps modern women feel differently. If so, then they should make their voices heard in congregations. However, I, personally - and also others have simply stopped saying it (unless one davens for the amud in a congregation where it is recited).

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  36. G*3: "Without requirements, most men also want nothing to do with daily prayers"

    You misread Yishai. He was also talking about men.

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  37. "Why try to squeeze modern egalitarian values into a framework clearly not built for them, and which severly limits the extent to which they can be expressed, when by ignoring halacha we can ACTUALLY have women “participate in Jewish life to the fullest extent they desire.”

    A good question. I would answer it in this way. In principle, I have nothing against gender egalitarianism -- a lack of any difference in religious roles between (or any division of labor among) men and women. If the sole difference between Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism were gender egalitarianism, then I would choose the gender egalitarian option.

    Why? Not because I embrace a modern ideology that somehow supercedes the Torah. The main principle of the Torah (according to R' Hillel and Akiva) is the golden rule. Stated negatively (as in Hillel's formulation), the golden rule in effect requires us to eliminate all unnecessary suffering. If, because women are not allowed (or given time to) to study Torah or pray, they cannot fulfill their potential to be good Jews. This is because, without Torah study, one cannot really obey the mitzvot, and without time to oneself to pray (in formal services or in hitbodedut), meditate or become involved in Jewish organizations, one cannot achieve the refinement of character, feeling of closeness to and joy in serving Hashem, or bitachon or whatever one's hashkafa considers to be important life goals. If women cannot fulfill mitzvot and do other things they consider to be necessary to be a good Jew and spiritually-fulfilled Jew, this causes unnecessary suffering, and so we should be concerned about this regardless of our opinion toward feminism or egalitarianism in general.

    However, gender egalitarianism is not the only difference between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. Arguably, the most important mitzvah is to marry a Jew (assuming one will then go on to have Jewish children), because if Jews intermarry, their kids will either be non-Jewish or likely to assimilate. For the Jewish people and Torah to continue in the world, this mitzvah of marrying a Jew must be observed. Yet Conservative Judaism has failed to convince its youth that this is even a mitzvah! One survey found most Conservative youth thought there was nothing wrong with intermarriage. In practice, intermarriage is high, and mitzvah observance (and even knowledge of what the mitzvahs are) is rather low, aside from a few small pockets of right-wing Conservatives or Conservadox. Even though I (and presumably, most left-wing Jews) would prefer the most egalitarian branch of Judaism possible, the fact is that only Orthodoxy is capable of generating enough enthusiasm and devotion to convince the next generation to follow the one foundational mitzvah necessary for Jewish continuity (along with all the other mitzvot, which are important too). So joining Orthodoxy, while trying to include women as much as possible given the halachic process, is ultimately the best choice even for a feminist left-wing Jew.

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  38. > You misread Yishai. He was also talking about men.

    Oops.


    Yishai, you presented the likelihood of attracting secular Jews to Orthodoxy as a consideration. My point was that to someone who places little if any value in halacha (and perhaps little value as well in marrying a Jew) it seems silly to trumpet as an accomplishment allowing women to participate in public life “within the framework of halachah” when by ignoring halacha you get better results.

    > Arguably, the most important mitzvah is to marry a Jew

    Is this a mitzvah at all? Halacha doesn’t recognize marriages between Jews and non-Jews, and a sexual relationship with someone you’re not married with is an aveirah, but are we actually commanded to marry a Jew (or to not have a long term relationship with a non-Jew) the same way we’re commanded to keep Shabbos or not eat treif?

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  39. G*3: I see your point. I was addressing not secular Jews who want nothing to do with religion, but Jews with liberal or left-wing sympathies but who have some religious sensibilities and some understanding of the importance of halachah in Judaism. Which would include most Conservative Jews and probably many others.

    It may not technically be a mitzvah to marry a Jew, but since it's a mitzvah not to commit sexual sins (and, for men, a mitzvah to procreate), then in effect there is a mitzvah that, if one is going to have a sexual relationship with somebody, to do that by marrying a Jew.

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  40. Yishai, while I am certainly a supporter of encouraging women in greater particpation in torah and mitzvot - including communal participation, I don't favor radical changes in communal practices. There is a natural difference in the roles of men and women that can't be undone without a revolution in the life of married people and society. Women will continue to be the primary nurturers of small children. That vital role takes much time, and other activities will tend to suffer as a result. However, at different stages of their roles in life, girls and women will have more opportunities to engage in torah study and other time consuming mitzvot, and should be encouraged to do so. There is certainly no objection, even in extreme Hareidi circles, to women davening. In fact, it is generally recognized that girls and women are preeminent in heart-felt prayer. Torah study for girls and women has been encouraged in most Orthodox circles for nearly a century now. In modern Orthodox circles, gemara study is also generally approved. In which case, I fail to see your argument, then, about the attraction of heterodox Jewish denominations practicing greater gender equality on a communal level.

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  41. Carol, I'm using it as a dramatic and intentionally in-your-face example of how gemara can be demonstrably wrong on non-scientific matters.

    The gemara is inaccurate on this. Always has been. Always will be. No further discussion is possible by sane people.

    Rambam's commentary on the gemara, which he goes into in some detail, is written by a man praised as the most rational thinker in Jewish intellectual history. When he's arguing from a false premise, which he is, all that his reason gets him is further in the wrong.

    Accepting his conclusions as valid requires that one be dishonest.

    Accepting his further instructions based on what one knows to be untrue compounds error.

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  42. Y Aharon: I appreciate what you are saying. But you suggest that because Orthodox Jewish women are already very involved in Jewish practice, women are not going to be attracted to heterodox dominations that have instituted egalitarian reforms. I don't think this is true: many heterodox or unaffiliated Jewish women would never consider Orthodoxy precisely because they see it as sexist (because women are unable to become rabbis, lain, etc.), and think its women are oppressed. So in my original comment, I was saying that, rather than just saying, "Hey, this is an unequal religion, that's the way it is," we should be very careful to rebut people's assumption of Orthodox sexism, by highlighting the fact that women are very involved, and that many are committed to doing everything (halachically) possible to facilitate this.

    I'm not advocating radical changes in communal practices, only a sensitivity to the possibility that in some communities or households, Orthodox women are dissatisfied with their religious lives, and a commitment to addressing these issues when women communicate them (see, for example, the article on "spiritual abuse" in Violence Against Women 15: 1294 (2009)). Even if raising small children takes much time, their husbands (and day care!) can (and do) help them have time to engage in Torah study, davening, hitbodedut, volunteering, etc. Think of the thousands of Chabad rebbetzins who are full-time outreach workers at the same time they are raising a large family -- it is certainly possible to combine childrearing and extensive Jewish involvement.

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  43. You know what, Todd? Go read "responsa from the holocaust" by I believe his name was rabbi Oshry and then tell me that rambam (and the gemara) weren't right about lithuanians and germans. That was only 70 years ago! An amount of time that is truly nothing on the grand scale.

    Some people can be so blind, but they cannot expect all of us to go along with them because their selfrighteous indignation at the Talmud is so compelling. It really isn't.

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  44. "I believe that, in the face of contemporary challenges to the halachic lifestyle and ideology, a certain amount of stubborn rigidity is required (which is one reason why I don't wear techeles, despite being convinced that it is the Murex trunculus)."
    If you believe it's the techeles and you don't wear it Lechoira your oiver on 'Lo Tigra'

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  45. More on this topic here:

    http://torahmusings.com/2011/10/each-river-and-its-channel-halakhic-attitudes-toward-liturgy/

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