Thursday, September 18, 2014

Who Doesn't Adopt "Modern" Values?

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein, whom I greatly respect for many reasons quite aside from his being my shadchan, posted an article on Cross-Currents entitled Modern Orthodoxy Can Do Better. Amongst the points that he raised in the article was that if values are taken from contemporary non-Jewish society, then how are they timeless, Jewish values? "Why these values? How many other values in human civilization have come and gone?"

I think that he raises an excellent point - just look at the advertisement pictured here, which reflects the values of fifty years ago. On the other hand, a good friend of mine called Joseph submitted a lengthy and very interesting comment. Unfortunately it got lost in cyberspace, and nobody is looking at that post anymore, so I decided to present it as a guest post:
...As to the key point Rabbi Adlerstein raises, perhaps a little more self-awareness is in order. Were both he and Dr Brody planted in fifth century Mehoza, I'm not convinced he would find the adjustment to the then-prevalent value system much easier than his modern orthodox companion.

More to the point, it is important to note that many of the areas in which modern orthodoxy differs from charedism are in the realm of implementation rather than values. I remember a talmid of Rav Ruderman telling me that one of the reasons his rebbe sanctioned college study was his conviction that the professions were more likely to guarantee an "umanus kala unekiya" than the world of business. While this per se is obviously not a sign of modern orthodoxy, the idea that current circumstances warrant a change in traditional curricula (and not due to a commitment to modern values) is rejected by much of the charedi world.

And even in many of those areas where modern orthodoxy does differ ideologically from its charedi counterpart, that is often because the former emphasizes values that, while not in vogue in recent centuries in eastern Europe, have a strong precedent in the rishonim (e.g. contributing to yishuv ha'olam as an ideal, "rationalism" broadly defined at the expense of mysticism etc.).

Moving on to areas in which the values embraced by modern orthodoxy really are "modern" in terms of pedigree, it is worth reiterating that the difference is usually one of degree rather than kind. As much as they may protest otherwise, I would submit that few contemporary charedim would be able to stomach the punishments that the gedolei harishonim imposed on sinners of various sorts in medieval Spain or even slavery, which few great authorities disapproved of a mere two centuries ago. Even Rav Kook sought to forbid female suffrage, yet I imagine that many charedi women would be most aggrieved at anyone attempting to deny them that right nowadays. And when a charedi is embarrassed by the primitivism displayed by a contemporary gadol who believes that jews and non-jews have a different number of teeth, he's being distinctly "modern" too.

Thus the question is not whether we adopt "modern" values, but how. And it is here that the best of modern orthodox thought (and I include Rav Kook in that category) can help us. Firstly, the insight that the moral development of society is one that is at least inflected with sparks of the divine provides the basis of the claim that, in certain circumstances, we should be positively oriented towards such progress. The Charedi author Devorah Heshelis' book "The moon's lost light" (which bears haskamos from rabbis far to the right of Rabbi Adlerstein) provides one possible hashkafic model along these lines.

One only has to read Steven Pinker's "The better angels of our nature" to realize that many of the moral horrors that enlightenment values have stamped out are equally horrible by R. Adlerstein's lights as they are by Dr. Brody's.

To take an example with particular contemporary salience, I can’t imagine even the staunchest apologists defending the following teshuva (108), on what we would regard from the Chavos Yair, in which he permits a pauper to send his daughter to be molested by an “arel” for financial gain: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=857&st=&pgnum=129&hilite= Do we have a greater appreciation of Torah values than one of the greatest poskim of three centuries ago? Of course not; we have simply (for want of a better word) become “modernised”, and Baruch Hashem for that.

And let it not be thought that integrating values garnered from the outside world is a modern orthodox invention. The dedication to philosophical endeavor displayed by so many medieval authorities was entirely absent from Chazal's milieu. The proto-democratic political philosophy espoused by the Abarbanel owes more to his contemporaries than it does to the medrashim. And, less salubriously, the Ralbag's disdain for women is entirely in consonance with the views of the society he operated in.

So how should we decide when society's "values" should be ours? I see no easy answer to this question but it is certainly true that we should seek to ensure that the moral impulses underpinning our worldview have the sanction of Torah authorities. That does not mean that in retrospect every value subscribed to by those authorities will be upheld by those inspired by them: there should be no shame in admitting that Rav Kook's attitudes on women's suffrage have been surpassed. And neither does it mean that we simply adhere to (or even revere) the moral outlook of the "greatest" talmidei chachamim of our day. I will never be the equal of R. Aharon Teitelbaum in learning, but I will not hesitate to utterly condemn his views on sexual abuse, and my attitude would be no different were he the only gadol batorah alive, no matter how much more semblance his approach bears to many early responsa on the issue than mine does. I have equally little truck with a socioeconomic model that forces thousands of families into poverty, and my critique was no less strident before I learned that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shares my view.

Sometimes right is just right and wrong is just wrong, and as Rav Kook taught us, it's not always the elite talmidei chachamim who are best at figuring this out. Yet none of this negates the need to ascertain that the foundations of our worldview are in concert with Hashem's will. When it comes to condemning the aforementioned socioeconomic model (and its inevitable consequence - massive welfare dependency), we need not go further than Chazal. But when it comes to "new" issues, such as women's suffrage, we are guided by the fact that gedolim from Rav Uziel onwards confirm our moral and spiritual intuitions. We are no better served by denying the complex interplay of factors that go into our moral decisions, regardless of the community we choose to associate with.
Food for thought. See too my post Ever Changing Morality.

103 comments:

  1. Haredism, I believe, is not judaism, it is not about Torah. it is about rejection of modernity.
    R Adlerstein's article is just another example of this. (and there is no shortage of evidence)

    In the rejection it is necessary to create a false god - 'timeless pure untainted torah values'
    never was such a thing
    never will be

    the whole train of thought is invalid.

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  2. I have to take issue with much of what Joseph writes here. As someone who grew up in charedi circles, I can say that many charedim are not shocked by any moral stance that appears in traditional literature. The Chavos Yair teshuva you mention does not shock me, and I think it's only our lack of appreciation of dire poverty that makes this teshuva shocking. I'm not a charedi apologist, but I would defend the teshuva. I'm sorry that I've just proven Joseph wrong (since Joseph declared that no one would ever defend the teshuva). I don't necessarily agree with it but I understand it in human terms and am not shocked.

    Concerning voting: In KAJ and in the Crown Heights Lubavitch community (if I'm not mistaken), women cannot vote. Yekkes are not bakwards or uneducated. Nor are many Lubavitchers. Yet, there is no significant movement in Crown Heights or in KAJ for women to vote. In other words, Joseph is once again wrong when he writes that charedi women would be "aggrieved" to be told they can't vote.

    In general, we moderns are very smug about our values, thinking that earlier generations were backwards. I'm not convinced. Rabbi Slifkin's post a while back about public lashing is an example of rethinking how "backwards" older values really were.

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    1. Re: The Chavos Yair - Ask yourself whether he would've permitted that same man, due to his extreme poverty, to steal food. The answer is almost certainly 'No'. Otherwise, anything would've been permitted due to Pikuach Nefesh. However, he permitted the use of his daughter for that terrible act. So he clearly viewed stealing a loaf of bread as much worse than prostituting his daughter. What else do you need to know?

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    2. "Rabbi Slifkin's post a while back about public lashing is an example of rethinking how "backwards" older values really were."

      What post was that?

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    3. I'm not a charedi apologist, but I would defend the teshuva. I'm sorry that I've just proven Joseph wrong (since Joseph declared that no one would ever defend the teshuva). I don't necessarily agree with it but I understand it in human terms and am not shocked.

      Baruch, you haven't really provided a counter-example here. We all understand that the Chavos Yair was not "evil" and we can defend his Teshuva by understanding that he lived in a different time and place. Joseph writes similarly in the post.

      But when you say "I don't necessarily agree", I would conjecture that is coming mostly from your value system and not from your analysis of his halachic sources or his halachic reasoning.

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    4. reading a psak like chavos yair's, i always try to keep in mind something i heard: it isn't our job to judge these rabbis but to understand how they made their decision.

      i would add that before anyone gets up too high on their horse, keep in mind that in another 200 years people (including dati jews) will probably look upon us in the way we look up the people who lived 200 years ago.

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  3. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzSeptember 18, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Did your friend Joseph give Rav Aharon Teitlebaum a "farher" in learning?
    So how does he know that he will never be his equal inlearning.
    Just because someone inherited the "family business" and the support as a leader of half of his father's chassidim doesn;t necessarily mean he knows how to learn.
    On the other hand "knowing how to learn" may not necessarily be important for that role (something else that yeshivos - of all types - really haven't firgured out yet)

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    1. Knowing how to learn isn't at all necessary for the role of mystical holy-man aristocrat. But the claim that he is great talmid chacham is, because in the popular view, holy = tzaddik = talmud chacham = leader.

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  4. "I can’t imagine even the staunchest apologists defending the following teshuva (108), on what we would regard from the Chavos Yair, in which he permits a pauper to send his daughter to be molested by an “arel” for financial gain"
    Read the teshuva. The issue is financial *survival*, not financial gain, and Havot Yair is clear that that's the least desirable of all the formally permissible alternatives. The teshuva needs to be considered in light of how miserable life was (not just for Jews) in the 17th century compared to how life is in most of the modern developed world.

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  5. To the commenters who picked up on my terminology when describing the Chavos Yair’s teshuva:

    I actually changed this in a later version of the comment which I did not pass on to R. Slifkin – nevertheless, my point stands. The Chavos Yair makes clear that there is no element of pikuach nefesh here (he writes that there would be no shailah if that were the case), so the alternative was relying on charity, not starvation.

    There is no doubt that “begging from door to door” (which is not uncommon nowadays either) would be universally preferred to the course sanctioned by the Chavos Yair by contemporary poskim. Moreover, the whole attitude displayed towards the poor girl’s plight is foreign to most contemporary Charedi sensibilities.

    Baruch – Charedi women vote in national and municipal elections in Israel, and I am sure that “many” (which is what I wrote) of them, not all, would be aggrieved if they were told that they could no longer do so. Women in my kehillah do not vote either, but “religious” matters are governed by different sensibilities – and not without reason.

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    1. Unfortunately this might not be the case. Even as we mull this post over countless chareidi women are being indoctrinated with the belief that the only good Jewish woman is the one who sits at the back of the bus so she doesn't tempt the Torah-true men sitting up front. There have even been articles written in newspapers by Chareidi women extolling the virtue of this invented segregation.
      Do not doubt that the only reason (so far) that "the Gedolim" have not forbidden women to vote in secular elections is because doing so would cut their numbers in half. If they could push through an agreement where 1 Chareidi votes is counted as 2 we would soon be hearing about how women are forbidden to vote "al pi Daas Torah".

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    2. Joseph,

      Please note, I agree with much of what you are saying, and can give you ten Tshuvos that would illustrate your point. HOWEVER - your criticism of the Chavos Yair's Teshuva is misplaced.

      It seems you have misread the teshuva; I suggest you go back and read it again.

      "there is no element of pikuach nefesh here (he writes that there would be no shailah if that were the case), so the alternative was relying on charity, not starvation.";

      That is absolutely incorrect.

      1) The Chavos Yair was actually saying (in the specific part that you misread) the exact opposite. He quoted the townspeople as saying "Even if the alternative was to die of hunger, you would not be allowed to send your daughter back". On this, the Chavos Yair comments "They don't literally mean 'die of hunger' " for if the alternative is to die of hunger, it is permitted.

      He then goes on - indeed assuming that the poor family would literally DIE of hunger otherwise - to state, that the daughter is allowed to go back if there is no other choice, and gives advice on how to minimize the disgustingness of the situation to the extent possible.

      2) You wrote "the alternative was relying on charity, not starvation." Again ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. He actually states EXPLICITLY (see the sixth to last line of the Teshuva) that it would be preferable if the townspeople would donate the minimum necessary for the family to survive.

      3) He also states (see the last several lines of the Teshuva) that if he or his daughter can find any sort of labor - even menial backbreaking work - and survive on the bare minimum, that would be preferable.

      So while your overall points may be good, your attack on this particular Teshuva is misplaced. I would hope and assume that any contemporary Rav would Pasken the same - that if a girl is going to STARVE TO DEATH, try tzedakah, try menial labor, try surviving on the bare minumum, but if there is no choice, if she chooses, the Torah does not forbid her from dealing with an unsavory person as a source of parnassah, even if she knows that person may touch her, feel her up, steal a kiss etc. (And frankly, even if she is risking that he does more - she may be permitted to take that risk as well - V'Ayn Kan M'komo L'Haarich).

      (Perhaps since the Teshuva is addressed to the father and not the daughter, you somehow read into this Teshuva that the girl was being forced by her father to do this. Actually, there is no reason to assume that. Just pretend the Teshuva was written to the girl, who was presumably in just as much in danger of starvation and just as motivated as the father...)

      *** To those who stated that he would never advise STEALING in this situation, that is incorrect. Actually, the Chavos Yair, like any Rav, would permit stealing if the option was starvation.

      **** To those who stated that the author is guilty of anachronistic thinking - you are spot on. It seems the misunderstanding of the Teshuva stems from difficulty in fathoming that yes, the Chavos Yair is literally talking about - bloated stomach, laying on the floor - starvation! To the death! There was once a time of no food stamps, no Masbia, no massive community wealth. As unpleasant as it was to be felt up by the Goy, the daughter was willing (no reason to assume otherwise other than to bash the Chavos Yair for something not there) to keep going, because the alternative was to never be felt up by anyone in her life - she would be D-E-A-D!

      I appeal to you to emulate the "Ba'al Ha"blog" whose hallmark is intellectual honesty, and admit that your attitude towards this Teshuva was misplaced. Great post, other than that, and all your points stand, but please pick a different Teshuva as an example of a horrific-to-our-modern-sensibilities-psak (There are plenty of them...).

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  6. We are no better served by denying the complex interplay of factors that go into our moral decisions, regardless of the community we choose to associate with.
    ----------------------------------
    there's been a lot of research done lately on "moral" decisions (you can see some summaries of classes on this topic on the audioroundup over at torahmusings). Some hold that they are gut decisions which we then rationalize intellectually (of course how the gut decides is an interesting question - it may be reconciled with daat torah in some form)

    the post's approach leaves open the sources of the factors (and how they are integrated).,

    kvct
    joel rich

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    1. let me give one example "ripped from the headlines" - what is the "orthodox" position on corporal punishment?
      KVCT
      Joel Rich

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  7. The example I find most useful in explaining to people how our values have changed from frum people way back when is pointing to how the Netziv in Meishiv Davar 4:35 permits marital rape.

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  8. This is a well-written and thoughtful post, but has one fatal flaw - who says "we" all share modern values? Commenter "Baruch", above, hits it on the head. This post blithely assumes everyone shares contemporary values. There's no evidence, whatsoever, for that.

    Let's take women's issues, which for some reason the post seems obsessed with. In many orthodox shuls - including my own, a sfardish mix of Hungarians, ballebattim, and young avreichim - the women don't vote and don't participate in shul meetings. No one has a problem with it. It's never once been brought up in Board meetings or general membership meetings. So don't just casually assume everyone shares the blog post's enthusiasm for women's suffrage, a brand new concept by historical standards. More likely, in fact, almost certainly, most orthodox Jew's DONT share it, and simply don't discuss it publicly for reasons of prudence and legality.

    How about slavery? Do you really want to go there? Do you really think most orthodox Jews, in their heart of hearts, think slavery was wrong? I'm not talking Simon Legree slavery, I'm talking about enlightened master-servant slavery, the type defended by the antebellum South. Get a random selection of 100 orthodox Jews and find a way (impossible) to guarantee secrecy, and 50% or more will find nothing wrong with slavery. AT A MINIMUM, the vast majority do not believe at all in affirmative action or multiculturalism. I can cite many more such examples.

    Modern orthodoxy has been a great success in many way (as I commented on cross currents.) But this post goes too far.

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    1. "In many orthodox shuls - including my own, a sfardish mix of Hungarians, ballebattim, and young avreichim - the women don't vote and don't participate in shul meetings."

      Rav Kook is talking about voting ion national elections not shul meetings.

      "How about slavery? Do you really want to go there? Do you really think most orthodox Jews, in their heart of hearts, think slavery was wrong? I'm not talking Simon Legree slavery, I'm talking about enlightened master-servant slavery, the type defended by the antebellum South. Get a random selection of 100 orthodox Jews and find a way (impossible) to guarantee secrecy, and 50% or more will find nothing wrong with slavery."

      If DF is correct, Orthodoxy is in a much worse state than many of us could have imagined.

      MO

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    2. "Rav Kook is talking about voting ion national elections not shul meetings."

      Right. But orthodox Jews have no power over national election criteria. They do over their own organizations. And in many orthodox shuls (certainly not all) the women do not vote. So it stands to reason that if they also controlled national elections, the women wouldn't vote their either. Because they DONT, contra the blog post, share the modern values the poster assumes they do.

      [For the record, I'm not necessarily expressing my own opinions on any of these so-called modern values. I think its complicated and not reduceable to a simple blog comment. I also don't think, even among non-Jews, the modern values "everyone" supposedly shares is so widespread. If there's anything we've learned from the Internet, it's that there's no such thing, and probably never was, as supposed "public opinion."]

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    3. "Right. But orthodox Jews have no power over national election criteria. They do over their own organizations. And in many orthodox shuls (certainly not all) the women do not vote. So it stands to reason that if they also controlled national elections, the women wouldn't vote their either. Because they DONT, contra the blog post, share the modern values the poster assumes they do."

      This reasoning is invalid. Orthodox synagogues are private religious associations where men and women aren't equal-- men are counted in a minyan while women are not. So it is not so farfetched to think that women wouldn't vote.

      In the public sphere men are women are legally equal. Most orthodox Jews that I know embrace this, so of course they support women voting as obvious.

      Or are you saying that if Orthodox Jews controlled the public sphere women wouldn't be allowed to vote or would be paid less for their work or wouldn't be allowed to be managers etc..?

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    4. Orthodoxy does not distinguish between public and private. The very reason they don't count for a minyan is the very reason they wouldn't be allowed to vote. The reason they cant be the president of a shul (melech v'lo malkah) is the reason they wouldn't be able to hold elected office. Getting paid less for work is different. No Torah source I can immediately think of would mandate that.

      Bottom line = Leviticus 27:3-4. A man is worth 50, a woman is worth 30. QED. The Torah manifestly does not believe in "equality." If equality is indeed a modern value, then a Jew has to pick which one he accepts. You cannot have both ends of the stick.

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    5. "I bless emancipation when I see that nowadays no ideological principle, not even one born of fanaticism stands in its way and its only opponents are narrow-minded greed and degrading selfishness. I rejoice when I perceive proper regard for justice-- for a human right to be accepted as a man among men and recognition that the earth belongs to God and that His children should be respected by all as brothers." (RSR. Hirsch, 19 Letters).

      Is this a Torah value? Doesn't the notion of political equality contradict the Torah? Is R. Hirsch just blinded by Western notions of morality?

      No. Because Rav Hirsch recognizes that modern values can help us appreciate deeper truths within the Torah and equality is a deeply Jewish idea beginning with the notion that all human beings are created Betzelem Elokim.

      MO

      MO

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    6. Bottom line = Leviticus 27:3-4. A man is worth 50, a woman is worth 30. QED. The Torah manifestly does not believe in "equality."

      Based on this impeccable reasoning, the Torah considers people over the age of 60 to be less significant. Alternatively, this is discussing a person's value as a slave, in which case, physical strength is the only value being measured, not worth as a person. This passage proves nothing about a woman's place in Judaism, other than that the Torah recognizes the physical differences between women and men, (and old and young).

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    7. About women's rights in Judaism: Harold Bloom, a literary critic, wrote "The Book of J", where he asserts that the Bible was written by a woman! His "proofs" are as follows: the Matriarchs on numerous occassions seem to be the ones "calling the shots", and the Patriarchs reticently follow what their wives tell them (Sarah telling Avraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael, Ya'akov returning home only after getting the o.k. from Rachel and Leah). Also, numerous laws, even without the Rabbinic interpretation, seem to protect women (like the יפת תואר, or a אמה עבריה, where the ultimate intent is to marry these women, not just "use" them and dispose of them afterwards). Even though we wouldn't agree with Harold Bloom's thesis, it is illustrative that he sees the Bible as upholding women's rights--much more than the surrounding societies at the time of Mattan Torah.

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    8. You'd need to qualify the statement "Orthodoxy does not distinguish between public and private", as Halacha most certainly does, in many different areas.

      And it is a lot more subtle when it comes to equality as well. Like, for instance, fasting on Yom Kippur.

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    9. I had no idea we assigned rights based on erech. I cannot wait to lord over my elderly neighbors.

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    10. "So don't just casually assume everyone shares the blog post's enthusiasm for women's suffrage, a brand new concept by historical standards"
      Hmmm,I could be wrong, but didn't women have a vote at Sinai? Just guessing.

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    11. WFB - you're stretching. The verses say nothing about it only being in reference to slaves [which, by itself, according to Joseph, would be an immoral barometer by which to measure one's value.]

      Kira - certainly orthodoxy makes distinctions between public and private. But not insofar as what I was addressing.

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    12. The verses are discussing arakhin, or the amount a person has to give if he donates his value as a slave. Read them.

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    13. It says absolutely nothing about slaves. You're projecting.

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    14. No, but it says nothing about being more than a arbitrary monetary measure of an immeasurable charitable donation.

      As pointed out, old people are worth very little under this system, although they are normally worth a lot in the eyes of the Torah.

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  9. this post is an excellent example of some one so enmeshed in his own
    point of view that he can't imagine any one else thinking differently.
    i can't address each error individually, but by way of sampling i would
    like to address a few of the examples given, and then 2 deeper, more
    fundamental points.
    slavery; i have spent all of my 47 years living in charedi communities,
    first in the US, later in israel. i have yet to meet one charedi FFB
    who is disturbed by the torah's concept of slavery, either eved ivry or
    eved canany. even amha ivriya and kidushy ketana which are more
    difficult to accept, don't seem to bother most people. (BTs are
    different, despite having made the heroic decision to accept the tenets
    of judaism, and the dramatic life style changes that are entailed,
    years of secular indoctrination often do not disappear overnight and
    still have considerable emotional input). my experience doesn't mean
    that no one is disturbed by these things or will be troubled when they
    are re instituted under the reign of moshiach, but it certainly is not
    common.
    women voting; in a world in which non charedi women vote, the community
    supports women voting for purely pragmatic reasons. to not do so would
    dilute the communities political strength. that doesn't imply that most
    charedim (men and women alike) don't realize that society overall would
    be healthier if women didn't have the right to vote. i know that my
    daughters accept that they vote only because the community needs them,
    not because it ought to be that way.
    i also must add by voice to baruch in the comment section. i found
    nothing in the cited teshuva by the Chavos Yair even slightly
    disturbing. even many moderns would not be disturbed by it. the female
    white house interns in the days of bill clinton did not leave en mass
    (or at all) despite it being well documented that monica lewinsky was
    only the tip of the iceberg. none of them was facing starvation if they
    resigned, yet they stayed because of whatever benefits they believed a
    white house internship would bring them (i don't mean to imply that we
    learn torah values from white house interns, only that even modern
    people totally unacquainted with the charedi viewpoint are not offended
    by this concept). so why should it surprise us
    that the torah would permit a girl to continue in similar circumstances
    as long as certain lines where not crossed, the jew involved was not a
    willing participant, and there was no other way to feed her family
    (even if the deprivation they faced would not actually have killed
    them).
    the fact that the charedi world sees so many things so differently
    doesn't mean that these issues are beyond being questioned, but how can
    one attempt any kind of dialogue when the author takes it for granted
    that charedim see the world the way that he does?
    to be continued......

    a neighbor in RBSA

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    1. If someone wants me to take the time to read what they have to say, they could at least assert the minimal effort of using the shift key.

      RM

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  10. ....continued

    now to the more fundamental points:
    there is a great misunderstanding expressed again and again on this
    blog regarding what the great charedi thinkers mean when they state
    that charedaism has rejected change throughout the generations. true,
    there were times when the ship of judaism was so in danger of sinking
    because of the winds buffeting it and it's own weakened state, that the
    gedolim prohibited any rocking of the boat, lest it sink altogether
    (the chasam sofer was probably a good example of this), but that is the
    exception, not the rule. in most generations charedaism was about
    stubbornly clinging to the values of our forefathers, not their means.
    the end always remained constant but the means to the end often
    changed. in our own generation we have witnessed the greatest gedolim
    promote dramatic pragmatic adaptations for the sake of maintaining
    charedi values. such issues as kollel for the masses, or wives/mothers
    being encouraged to work outside the home are prominent examples.

    second point; the author assumes that he has some sort of internal
    moral compass that determines right from wrong. if it doesn't feel
    right, it can't be right. now it is true that hashem created man with
    such an internal compass , as the posuk sts "elokim bara es haadum
    yushur", but in order to access that compass a person must free himself
    completely of any self interest or outside influences. that's the type
    of thing chazal were capable of, not us. we have to be honest enough
    and humble enough to realize that we mistake for a compass is actually
    nothing more than a product of our environment. had we grown up in a
    different environment we would believe the exact opposite with equal
    passion. the more media, entertainment, "secular education" etc. that a
    person is exposed to, especially when they are too young to think
    critically, the more those imbibed values become their compass. it is a
    terrible error to mistake that for our god given moral compass, which
    most of us will live our entire lives without ever being able to access.

    there is more to be said, but this is almost as long as the post
    itself, so i'll stop here.

    all the best
    a neighbor in RBSA

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    1. Wow! You and Boruch have expressed yourselves very well. Thank you. I do not think that people who were raised outside the Chareidi world can ever really understand how right you are. All these things do not bother me in the least, its a complete non issue.
      In general I truly believe that things that were understood by society way back when (slavery monarchy capital punishment for "petty" crimed) arevto be given the benefit of the doubt and everything new is automatically suspect.
      YB

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  11. To a neighbor in RBSA:

    That you espouse that all laws of torah and rulings by major poskim that offend our moral sensibility only reflect our lack of moral compass-- that only chazal can understand morality etc..., is the type of reasoning used to justify the most horrific crimes. I'm sorry but if you do not feel outrage at the notion that a man could sell his daughter for sex-- then you have lost touch with your humanity/tzelem elokim.

    The type of reasoning you defend is the very same type of reasoning behind ISIS and Al Qaeda who wish to return the Islamic world to the 7th century when it was founded as is used to justify beheadings, beatings of girls who are not tznius enough etc...

    But of course their practices are reprehensible because Islam is sheker while Torah is emes. Well they say the exact same thing about us.

    MO

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    1. MO- What you are saying is that Chazal and indeed G-d in the Torah are immoral and reprehensible by allowing slavery, killing Amelakean babies, selling one's daughters, etc. That is most definitely not okay to believe as a jew. In fact I would ask the writer joseph the same question: Is G-d's morality transitory? Why is killing Amalekean babies different than what the Nazi's did or what ISIS is doing now? Please explain.

      Thank you

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    2. "MO- What you are saying is that Chazal and indeed G-d in the Torah are immoral and reprehensible by allowing slavery, killing Amelakean babies, selling one's daughters, etc. That is most definitely not okay to believe as a jew. In fact I would ask the writer joseph the same question: Is G-d's morality transitory?"

      No, what I am saying is that the Torah allowed practices like slavery that were prevalent at the time while trying to clean them up by putting all sorts of restrictions on how you can treat slaves. But not having slaves is clearly a moral advance.

      "Why is killing Amalekean babies different than what the Nazi's did or what ISIS is doing now?

      Because its 2014 and already 2000 years ago Chazal made it so that the killing of Amalekites (not to mention Ben Sorrer u Moreh, Ir Nidachat etc...) could never be implemented.

      MO

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    3. > Is G-d's morality transitory?

      How does God derive His morality?

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    4. MO-

      Wow thats a total BS answer and you know it! G-d ordered Jews to kill babies. Chazal NEVER conteract a law of G-d! If it was required then, its required now.... Obviously the Torah does not allow us to accept full modern values....

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    5. G*3, that's a pretty far off topic and rather complex philosophical question. I give my take at "Hashem and Morality", a post on my blog "Aspaqlaria".

      "I would argue that HQBH created the world with a tachlis, a purpose, He placed each of us in it with a tachlis, and what is righteous is righteous because it is in accordance with furthering that tachlis."

      "So yes, HQBH did choose good vs evil without being subject to external constraint, and yet still the choice was not arbitrary. Socrates gave Euthyphro a false dichotomy — there was a third choice. Hashem has a reason, but that reason wasn’t conforming to a preexisting morality."

      "One last issue: Why should I follow the purpose for which I was created? What changes G-d’s motivation into my moral imperative?
      "We can prove the two are identical logically. In order for my moral choice to have any meaning, I must assume my actions have value. Otherwise, what difference does it make which actions I choose to perform? If I believe my actions have value, I am assuming my existence has value, since it makes those actions possible. And thus, presumed in the very quest for morality is the notion that the purpose for which I was created imparts value."

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    6. Chareidi4:

      You obviously have no understanding of Chazal, but are operating with some Protestant fundamentalist view of Judaism.

      MO

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    7. > that's a pretty far off topic and rather complex philosophical question

      Yes, I know. But I was curious what Chareidi4 would say. Most people's answers are far less sophisticated than yours. And my answer to, "... is killing Amalekean babies different than what the Nazi's did or what ISIS is doing now?" would be no. There isn't a difference.

      I think your answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is pretty good, but still comes down on the morality is defined by God's whims side.People intuit morality to be more profound than pragmatic reasons, even God's pragmatic reasons.

      > In order for my moral choice to have any meaning, I must assume my actions have value. Otherwise, what difference does it make which actions I choose to perform?

      Why assume that it does make a difference? I mean, it obviously will make a difference to YOU, and to the other people your actions affect, but in a cosmic sense?

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    8. To clarify: No Chazal don't directly contradict a law of God. But they stipulate so many conditions as to make it inoperable. Vehameyvin Yavin.

      MO

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    9. MO- You have a really wrong view of Chazal. Chazal were looking for the truth of g'ds word, not some way to make it inoperable. That's not even an argument.

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    10. Well, it is an argument. One made about 100 years ago in the Conservative movement. "... and if they did away with laws that didn't match their sensibilities, we of today..." And one increasingly heard in the Left Wing of Modern Orthodoxy. There is a reason why so many in its right wing have started calling R' Weiss's "Open Othodoxy" the "neo-Conservative" of today.

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    11. Micha Berger:

      I see you employing a familiar kind of argument the "Reductio Ad Conservatum." Unfortunately this is no argument at all. The question is: do Poskim interpret laws in accordance with their moral sensibilities and do these sensibilities change? When we look a the historical record the answer is undoubtedly yes.

      If this is a "Conservative" argument, then R. Hayim Soloveitchik is a Conservative Rabbi because much of his research on medieval Martyrdom etc.. shows that this is precisely the case.

      Here's a quote from his article "Religious Law and Change"

      "There are numerous occasions-- indeed in the field of Yeyn Nesach or Hilkhot Avodah Zara entire *areas* of talmudics in which one may say without fear of exaggeration that the Tosafists have overtly fashion the law to better align it with regnant practice and need."

      Last time I checked Hashem seal was not Orthodoxy or Conservativism, but Emes,

      MO


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    12. Anonymous: Actually, I did drop a hint why this line of reasoning will lead to Conservative Judaism. "... and if they did away with laws that didn't match their sensibilities, we of today..."

      Saying that rabbis played games with the law, calling some law both divine and immoral, willing to write a law they disagreed with out of existence, implies license for today that makes the Orthodox halachic process illogical.

      What Tosafos did was realize that Ashkenazi practice often draws from undocumented rulings. If most of your ancestors don't come from Bavel, your practices may not match the Talmud Bavli's, and yet be at least as old and decided by at just as authoritative members of chazal.

      They therefore took halachic norms as a data source.

      I have no idea how that relates to saying the rabbis have the power to judge a law immoral and write it out of existence.

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    13. "Saying that rabbis played games with the law, calling some law both divine and immoral, willing to write a law they disagreed with out of existence, implies license for today that makes the Orthodox halachic process illogical."

      This is straw man-- I never claimed that.

      "What Tosafos did was realize that Ashkenazi practice often draws from undocumented rulings. If most of your ancestors don't come from Bavel, your practices may not match the Talmud Bavli's, and yet be at least as old and decided by at just as authoritative members of chazal."

      Have you ever read Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik on medieval martyrdom? From your comments I must assume you haven't so here's a long quote from "Religious Law and Change" (p.209-210)

      "Jewish Law has very stringent regulations regarding rules of martyrdom... And one knows of no allowance for commiting suicide to avoid forced conversion. Yet from numerous chronicles both Jewish and Christian it is perfectly clear that the Ashkenazic Jewish community did not abide by these regulations...Parents slaiughtered their own children and...even recited a blessing on the murder of themselves and their own children...The magnitude of this halakhic breach is enormous...Thus if the law is to be followed the scholars of these communites would have to rule that all the martrys were...no only not "holy" but were "self-killers" and murderers.Such a conclusion, needless to say was an *emotional impossibility* and one need not be surprised if the Franco-German Jewish community evolved in the course of time a doctrine of the permissibility of voluntary martyrdom and even suicide, They did this by scrounging all the canonized literature for supportive tales and hortatory aggadah all of *dubious halakhic worth.* But my massing them together Ashkenazi scholars produced with a few deft twists a tenable *if not quite persuasive* case for the permissibility of suicide in times of religious persecution"

      You can see the entire article here:

      http://www.ericlevy.com/Revel/RishonimIntro/Soloveitchik%20H-%20Religious%20Law%20and%20Change.pdf

      MO

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    14. What I wrote is, AFAIK, the standard understanding of the origins of minhag Ashkenaz, as per (e.g.) Prof.s Jacob Agus or Yisrael Moshe Ta-Shma. (The latter goes so far as to suggest that this was the primary project of the Tosafists: The talmud Bavli was becoming THE Talmud Bavli, with all the import it holds today, and the Tosafists needed to make sense of both text and practice. To me it seems a stretch given the typical Tosafetic comment; few involve questions based on practice at all, percentage-wize.)

      As for my take on your position, what you did write was "To clarify: No Chazal don't directly contradict a law of God. But they stipulate so many conditions as to make it inoperable. Vehameyvin Yavin." Well, if you don't want me to assume I know what you meant between the lines, it would pay to write it out and not literally beg me to read between the lines.

      To me, "don't directly contradict a law of God. But they stipulate so many conditions as to make it inoperable" does sound like you're saying Chazal were "willing to write a law they disagreed with out of existence". And if you include that in the legal process of how decisions are made today, that way lies the CLJS, not Orthodox pesaq. So I stand by my claim that it's not just name-calling to call such ideas Conservative Judaism, they do logically justify switching to C practice.

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    15. Let me make my meaning a little clearer: Do Chazal or later poskim think that they have a higher sense of morality than the Torah or their rabbinic predecessors? Cf course not! They generally assume that the Torah and their rabbinic predecessors were morally pure. So what do their do if there is an ostensible contradiction between what their moral sense (whether or not they want to use this term) tells them and what the Torah tells them? They reinterpret the Torah or put conditions on its laws so that it conforms with their moral sense.

      In this respect both Conservative Judaism and Orthodox Fundamentalists are wrong. Conservative Judaism is wrong because it assumes that later authorities stand in judgment upon the Torah and earlier rabbinic authorities. Orthodox Fundamentalists are wrong because they are moral skeptics who assume that moral intuition is uninmportant in halakhah.

      MO

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  12. "I'm sorry but if you do not feel outrage at the notion that a man could sell his daughter for sex-- then you have lost touch with your humanity/tzelem elokim."

    Anonymous, you are completely missing the point. His point, and Baruch's, and mine, is that who made you the arbiter of humanity and tzelem elokim? Nobody. YOU may feel that way, but many others do not. Thus, the whole blog post, which is premised on an assumption of shared common values, is thoroughly erroneous.

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    1. I think you may be missing a critical point as well. One can uses sources and logic to argue their way into positions that are simply ridiculous. And one must (but some do not) resort to what is sometimes called a "reality check" to see that they are just wrong and have to be rejected. There is wide room between 21st century style moral relativism and throwing out the exercise of individual thought and common sense.

      RM

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    2. I once heard a Chassidic Rebbe at a Shabbos Tisch go into detail describing how much our values and lifestyle differs from the Torah's ideal world and yet we still yearn for Mashiach. Do we really want to bring animal sacrifices at the Beis Hamikdash? Imagine the shlepping? Anyone who has spent time at a farm knows what kind of smells we are talking about. How about leaving your wife and young kids at home for all 7 days of Yomtov and going to Jerusalem?

      The truth is, we do have some shared "values" or preferences inasmuch that they are part of our lifestyles as westernized people in the 21st Century. However, you are correct in stating that an identical internal moral compass cannot be taken for granted and then used to build a theory.

      Hence, I believe, why the Rambam when describing the different kinds of non-believers writes " whoever says..." meaning expresses publicly. We cannot start trying to define all the different nuances of belief, morality, etc. that one has in his heart. If someone can explain why something is moral or not, then we can discuss. Mere statements of "C'mon, you KNOW it's just not right" are useless.

      What Rav Kook writes about should be taken seriously though, that many times non-religious people have deeply moral and practical insights that even great scholars can miss.

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    3. E the P, I agree with you. And I do think Joseph's original post is well thought out. I just think the author erred in assuming everyone shares his values. It's a common mistake, because people naturally gravitate toward like-minded people, and thus assume that "everyone" has the same set of values. Whereas, the truth is much more complex.

      I, personally, identify with some values in the Torah corpus (to include the Talmud) that people like Joseph obviously find repugnant. Then there are other values or concepts therein that charedim must believe to be the of the highest value, that I find dubious. I don't believe that just because something was done or said by someone in the corpus, that it means it is THE definition of right. By the same token, just because some notion or "value" is currently in vogue in 21st century America, that too doesn't make it right. Who gets to decide? Must there be a formal decision maker? Must we have a bright-line test? Can we each decide for ourself? Can we do it on a case by case basis?

      Like I said, it's complicated.

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  13. DF:

    I understand your point very well. This issue is whether there is morality external to halakha. There are many halakhic sources that say there is. See Rav Lichtenstein's famous article. You are taking one position: that things are moral because God commands them and assuming that this is the exclusive truth according to Judaism. Are you familiar with people like Yehuda Halevi who claim that morality is rational?

    Also all halakha must be interpreted by a posek who is not a robot but comes with his own moral compass. But "RBS man" tells us poskim have a higher sense of morality that us lowly rabble cannot comprehend or question. Well that is the nub of the issue-- I completely reject that notion-- even the greatest poskim can be at times morally blind as history abundantly shows.

    MO

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  14. I, for one, am proud to have my own set of values that need not reflect either values of the greater society or the values promoted by some religious authority figures of the present or past. I take what I feel is true and valuable and discard what I consider to be false or objectionable. It's a personal decision and, to my mind, a required responsibility for the individual. The loyalty that I have to tradition is focused more on practices than on values. My convictions about morality and ethics even influences how I regard various parts of the torah. I don't believe that the institution of slavery or the treatment of women reflects eternal values. Rather, I consider them a sop to contemporary cultural institutions and mores. I don't always act on my values, but that is a matter of personal weakness - not conviction. I believe that accepting a life of torah doesn't entail losing ones individuality or own sense of what is right and proper. Transmitting our own developed sense of good and evil to our children and students is our sacred obligation if not our key mission on earth.

    Y. Aharon

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  15. Following the Torah ought to be like being a Focault's Pendulum. The pendulum continues to swing back and forth on the same plane, but because the world turns, it looks to the observer like the pendulum slowly changes its axis as the day progresses.

    I'm saying it's not the values that change, it's the context we assess them in. What misleads people is that so much of that context is taken for granted.


    Note that we are talking about someone who left a request that his daughter say Qaddish for him, along with halachic justification for a woman saying Qaddish, because this was not the norm. (It would be in Vilna at most a century later, perhaps already.) The Chavos Ya'ir was not some backward misogynist. So what was going on?

    I have no idea, But realize the teshuvah was written in German during the 17th century, while mercenaries and ruffians continued fighting "after" the 30 Years War. When a girl grew up in a world where literally most women were raped, I do not have any idea how she would view being rented out for food. Especially after starving for a while. We cannot take our assessment of what rape does to a young woman, in our post-industrial revolution comfortable and comparatively safe lives and know what her psychological scarring would be like.

    As for outrage... The CY expresses outrage too. But in a war-torn country, where there wasn't enough charity to go around... Slow death by starvation is also an outrage. So he permits it, since sexual intimacy by a woman who is uninterested is not a sin she must die for. (Even if she herself chooses to go along rather than starve.) As the gemara explains WRT Purim, "Esteir qarqa olam haysa -- Esther was passive, like the ground", and the prohibition requires action, not passivity.

    The world changed, so that in the parallel situation, a different moral equation holds. And so would the very same value system's moral response. The axis of the pendulum hasn't moved, the world did.

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  16. My personal observation is that most those who call themselves modern orthodox (such as majority of YU crowd), are non-orthodox who once got orthodox education. They may keep some basics, but live secular life and build their life (including dating and hangouts instead of shiduchim) based on secular norms.

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    1. Shidduchim is not an "Orthodox" thing, it's a cultural Chareidi thing. (As is referring to places where boys and girls can interact "hangouts.") So what you're saying is that MO are not Chareidim. Well, of course.

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  17. It's lovely to see so many enthusiastic responses!

    Just to clarify a couple of things. I actually make far fewer assumptions than I have been accused of. When I made a normative recommendation, it was directed towards those who identify with my outlook, and certainly not the supposed 'silent 50%' in favour of slavery.

    Secondly, the existence of keyboard warriors prepared to defend what to my modern eyes seem like decidedly strange values is almost irrelevant to my thesis. My claim is simply that Charedim are modern in many fundamental ways too. The fact remains that no rav, no matter how Charedi, would give the answer the Chavos Yair gave to an identical question. Anyone is welcome to attempt to prove me wrong by submitting this "shailah" to one of R. Chatzkel Roth, R. Yisroel Chaim Menashe Freidman or R. Getzel Berkowitz (leading poskim in the various Satmar orbits).

    And, however much lip service commenters here pay to supposed "Torah True" ideals, there are plenty of Charedi men who are not upset that dina demalchusa prevents them from cutting off sinners' noses (as was popular in Sefard in the time of the Rosh), and many Charedi women who do not feel that their voting in national elections is a "bedieved" forced upon them "beleis bereirah". For another obvious example, see Yoel Finkleman's analysis of the changing attitudes to corporal punishment in certain segments of the Israeli Charedi community.

    Pretending that we Charedim "really" want a return to all the values prevalent in previous centuries is little more than a touchingly naive act of self-deception. And I say this with no illusions as to what "real Charedim" believe.

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    1. I wouldn't exactly call the responses, "enthusiastic." And calling your internet comment a "thesis", like referring to those who disagree with you (but not, of course, yourself) as "keyboard warriors", is pompous. Just saying.

      As to whether anyone would answer the shailah the same way today as did the Chavos Yair - the commenters here are pretty convincing in proving you dead wrong. That you continue to assert as a "fact" to the contrary means a) you don't really know what a fact is, and b) you're not engaging your critics, but just stubbornly clinging to your preconceived prejudices. Not very modern of you. Or is it?

      As to the fact there are some charedim who share what you refer to as modern values - of course. But you originally claimed everyone does. By the same token, there are many millions of conservative voters, including modern orthodox Jews, who don't appreciate modern values. Now, they don't necessarily think women shouldn't vote, though some undoubtedly do. But that's hardly indicative of what one things about modern values. Just like we can agree noses shouldn't be cut off for adultery, and yet still not be considered a proponent of modern values.

      Its not uncommon for second-rank pundits to speak confidently of what "we" believe, or casually toss off opinions disguised as assertions of fact. Maybe they're trying to create self-fulfilling reality wishes. Or more likely they're just not in touch with people of other mindsets. In any event, it's a mistake.

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    2. DF – I would very much describe the response as enthusiastic; I didn’t say they all agreed with me.

      I haven’t seen anyone prove me “dead wrong”, although I’ve seen a few comments claiming to. I have had people asking me to retract what I wrote based on their clearly misreading the teshuva (see Mickey’s comment, for example).

      You are simply using an absurd definition of “modern values” to mischaracterise my argument. “Conservatives”, as they are conventionally described, still adhere to what I, and most of the rest of the world, would call “modern values”. There are no yud gimmel ikarim of modernity, but the overwhelming majority of Charedim maintain views that are substantially different to those commonly held by their ancestors 300 years ago, and one of the reasons they do so is because they have been influenced by western thought and behaviour. I know this doesn’t apply to all Charedim, but the prevalence of Rav Wolbe’s views on corporal punishment in many circles is one clear example.

      I refer you to the dictionary.com definition of a thesis:
      a proposition stated or put forward for consideration, especially one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections.

      Perhaps you should take more care before in trying to understand what I’ve said before claiming that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have already written that my normative statement was an appeal to those who share my outlook – again you insist on misconstruing what I wrote. Regarding my awareness of people who don’t think like me - my original comment contained my disavowal of R. Aharon Teitelbaum’s views on abuse. Yet you claim I don't realise that people who think like him exist.

      Were you not trying so hard to not understand what I had written, you wouldn’t have wasted your time writing such an inane comment.

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    3. I think at this point we're into semantics, so I'll just drop off here. Interesting stuff. Agav, on the subject of corporal punishment, this is a footnote from an article I wrote somewhere:

      See the comments of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe in Planting and Building: Raising a Jewish Child (p.47) noting that the Talmudic injunction against hitting a child older than 16 (for fear he might hit back) could apply nowadays to children as young as three. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a well-known educator in Charedi circles, has also cited Rabbi Avraham Pam along the same lines, on his website, www.rabbihorowitz.com . Cf. however, Rabbi E.E. Dessler in Michtav Eliyahu, Vol.3, p.360, who condones the practice. See generally, Corporal Punishment: Have the Times Changed? by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin at www.drsorotzkin.com and Sparing the Rod: a Torah Perspective on Reward and Punishment in Education (Munk, 1989).

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  18. I believe you've greatly exaggerated the words of the Chavos Yair. The Chavos Yair did not permit the man to send his daughter to be “molested.”
    The case at hand was a gentile who would occasionally hug and kiss the man’s daughter which the man’s daughter always firmly rejected by pushing him a way with 2 hands. (Loose translation of the Tshuva). The Chavos Yair permitted the destitute man to continue sending his daughter (supervised by her mother) to the gentile for the purpose of conducting the man’s transactions, even though there was possibility of “Pritzus” taking place.

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    1. Avi - you have misunderstood the teshuva. "Mishmush" means molestation. The reason he allows the girl to be sent there is because "ve'im mikol makom he'arel yeheneh umasbia yitzro veta'avaso be'kach, ein be'kach klum". That's much more than "even though there was possibility of “Pritzus” taking place".

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    2. According to Jastrow, "Mishmush" means: "an illicit touch of her with his hands”
      In this case, I highly doubt it refers to actual molestation since the Chavos Yair uses the term together with "Nishuk, Chibuk, Mishmush", the first two terms mean kissing and hugging, very likely casual.
      In any event, in the case of the teshuva,
      1. The mother was present
      2. The girl consistently rejected (apparently successfully) his advances
      3. The purpose of the girl's visit was to transact her father's business
      "Pritzus" is how the teshuva characterizes the events.

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    3. My impression from the Teshuba were that the hugging, the kissing, and the touching were not at all casual.

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  19. I beg to differ with the argument that "frum people" don't or shouldn't have a problem with slavery. Rav Elhanan Samet in his parsha commentaries (in Hebrew) points out that the Torah has a very negative view of slavery and puts all kinds of restrictions on it that were unknown in the ancient world. For example, in the famous television series "I Claudius" the producer commented that they consulted a well-know expert on the Roman Empire period on how the characters representing the Roman aristocracy should relate to the slaves that appeared in the stories. For instance, should they say "thank you" if a slave did something for them. The historian said the Roman aristocrats acted as if the slaves didn't exist, ignoring them except for giving them orders or reprimanding them. They even had the right to torture or kill slaves if it suited them.
    The moves starting in the 18th century to abolish slavery (which, incidentally, were lead by religious Christians, whereas it was the atheist "progressives" like Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others who reinstated it in the 20th century) were simply being "machmir" and implementing the Torah's ultimate goal of abolishing slavery. The fact that some religious Jews "don't have a problem" with slavery simply shows that they haven't studied the matter deeply enough.

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  20. Joseph,

    Please note, I agree with much of what you are saying, and can give you ten Tshuvos that would illustrate your point. HOWEVER - your criticism of the Chavos Yair's Teshuva is misplaced.

    It seems you have misread the teshuva; I suggest you go back and read it again.

    "there is no element of pikuach nefesh here (he writes that there would be no shailah if that were the case), so the alternative was relying on charity, not starvation.";

    That is absolutely incorrect.

    1) The Chavos Yair was actually saying (in the specific part that you misread) the exact opposite. He quoted the townspeople as saying "Even if the alternative was to die of hunger, you would not be allowed to send your daughter back". On this, the Chavos Yair comments "They don't literally mean 'die of hunger' " for if the alternative is to die of hunger, it is permitted.

    He then goes on - indeed assuming that the poor family would literally DIE of hunger otherwise - to state, that the daughter is allowed to go back if there is no other choice, and gives advice on how to minimize the disgustingness of the situation to the extent possible.

    2) You wrote "the alternative was relying on charity, not starvation." Again ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. He actually states EXPLICITLY (see the sixth to last line of the Teshuva) that it would be preferable if the townspeople would donate the minimum necessary for the family to survive.

    3) He also states (see the last several lines of the Teshuva) that if he or his daughter can find any sort of labor - even menial backbreaking work - and survive on the bare minimum, that would be preferable.

    So while your overall points may be good, your attack on this particular Teshuva is misplaced. I would hope and assume that any contemporary Rav would Pasken the same - that if a girl is going to STARVE TO DEATH, try tzedakah, try menial labor, try surviving on the bare minumum, but if there is no choice, if she chooses, the Torah does not forbid her from dealing with an unsavory person as a source of parnassah, even if she knows that person may touch her, feel her up, steal a kiss etc. (And frankly, even if she is risking that he does more - she may be permitted to take that risk as well - V'Ayn Kan M'komo L'Haarich).

    (Perhaps since the Teshuva is addressed to the father and not the daughter, you somehow read into this Teshuva that the girl was being forced by her father to do this. Actually, there is no reason to assume that. Just pretend the Teshuva was written to the girl, who was presumably in just as much in danger of starvation and just as motivated as the father...)

    *** To those who stated that he would never advise STEALING in this situation, that is incorrect. Actually, the Chavos Yair, like any Rav, would permit stealing if the option was starvation.

    **** To those who stated that the author is guilty of anachronistic thinking - you are spot on. It seems the misunderstanding of the Teshuva stems from difficulty in fathoming that yes, the Chavos Yair is literally talking about - bloated stomach, laying on the floor - starvation! To the death! There was once a time of no food stamps, no Masbia, no massive community wealth. As unpleasant as it was to be felt up by the Goy, the daughter was willing (no reason to assume otherwise other than to bash the Chavos Yair for something not there) to keep going, because the alternative was to never be felt up by anyone in her life - she would be D-E-A-D!

    I appeal to you to emulate the "Ba'al Ha"blog" whose hallmark is intellectual honesty, and admit that your attitude towards this Teshuva was misplaced. Great post, other than that, and all your points stand, but please pick a different Teshuva as an example of a horrific-to-our-modern-sensibilities-psak (There are plenty of them...).

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    1. Mickey - I'm sorry, but you're absolutely wrong. Take a look at the sentence "U'bevadai lo bedavka amru", which continues "rak rotzeh lomar yevakeish all hapesachim". THAT was the alternative.

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    2. I believe that Joseph is correct. I don't want translate the whole Teshuva for obvious reasons, but his reading is correct.

      What he says is that the people who were telling the pauper that he would be better off starving were not literally asserting that he must starve, since the molestation was "obviously" in the not category of Yehareg V'al Ya'avor and therefore would "obviously" be permitted in case of starvation, since even actual adultery would be permitted in such a situation; rather they are saying that he should beg for money instead, and that in his opinion, even this is not required (D'Gam Ha Leisah) He then goes on to explain how this is not in the category of selling your daughter as a Zonah (which would be prohibited) since that only applies to a case of intentional Zenus, He does say that he it would be *preferred* if the pauper in question did manual labor (his language is "Tavo Alav Berachah" which is definitely preference and not requirement). If it is possible to get his daughter a job as a (live-in?) maid then he is required to do this, because then "Arel" would no longer resent the daughter not coming and might continue to do business with him. I don't think that the expectation is that the daughter could support the father in this way; rather it was advice to try to resolve the conflict.

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  21. What an interesting discussion and Temujin again arrives late to the party.

    To begin with DF's certainty: "Bottom line = Leviticus 27:3-4. A man is worth 50, a woman is worth 30. QED. The Torah manifestly does not believe in 'equality.' If equality is indeed a modern value, then a Jew has to pick which one he accepts. You cannot have both ends of the stick."

    QED. Quod erat demonstrandum; "that which has been demonstrated." But what has been demonstrated? A simple reading suggest a currency valuation of vows or the dedication of a person to God. Yet the valuation you selectively cite, DF, only pertains to males between the ages of twenty and sixty. After sixty years of age, a male's valuation plummets rather precipitously to half that of a younger adult woman's. One can debate what the criteria for the valuation are, but in context, it would appear that it's economic potential of people (hence different schedules for gender and age) and contemporaneous currency values of chattel and property. Extrapolating from your demonstration, then, we might conclude that a woman under sixty is twice as qualified to serve as the shul's president than an older male and is of more worth...however you define it...than an octogenarian Gadol. QED, indeed.

    But to jump to the awkward question here: Is modernity inferior, just a different way we are more familiar and comfortable with, or does it offer real qualitative advantages? If we focus on the tangible effects of modernity on our cognitive state, then the latter suggests itself. We are, well, empirically smarter...between 15%-30% percent as measured by IQ testing histories...than we were only a century ago. This is likely due to the fact that those of us fortunate to live in the "First World" have an improved and a more widespread system of education, because we enjoy better health and nutrition, live in safer, live in less stressful and more stimulating environments, are more geographically and socially mobile, benefit from a revolution in communication and have radically reduced our levels of inbreeding (the latter is debatable, but if does not affect IQ, it certain affects health to some extent). So, perhaps a rationalist modern Orthodoxy which emerged from and strives to exploit these benefits simply offers better ways of thinking about old and new issues and may be better equipped to understand Torah and even to propose better ethical and philosophical solutions without necessarily abandoning core principles. Jess sayin'.

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    1. > We are, well, empirically smarter...between 15%-30% percent as measured by IQ testing histories

      1. IQ doesn't' really measure intelligence, it measure ability to perform certain tasks necessary for academic achievement.

      2. The improving IQ scores don't' really mean that people are, on average, getting smarter. It mean that people are getting better at performing the kinds of tasks measured by IQ tests. The alternative explanation is that most people in the '40s were functionally retarded by today's standards, which cannot be true.

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  22. A brilliant illustrative analogy, Mr Micha Berger, one which Temujin likes so much that he will probably shamelessly steal (and manage to muddle up) now and again:

    Following the Torah ought to be like being a Focault's Pendulum. The pendulum continues to swing back and forth on the same plane, but because the world turns, it looks to the observer like the pendulum slowly changes its axis as the day progresses.

    [...]

    The world changed, so that in the parallel situation, a different moral equation holds. And so would the very same value system's moral response. The axis of the pendulum hasn't moved, the world did.



    At the same time, ploni1's equally excellent argument (September 18, 2014 at 1:31 PM) still stands:

    Re: The Chavos Yair - Ask...whether he would've permitted that same man, due to his extreme poverty, to steal food. The answer is almost certainly 'No'. Otherwise, anything would've been permitted due to Pikuach Nefesh. However, he permitted the use of his daughter for that terrible act. So he clearly viewed stealing a loaf of bread as much worse than prostituting his daughter...

    No doubt the Thirty Years' War imposed serious privations upon the Jewish communities, yet no relaxation regarding theft of food or even loosening kashrut standards appear to have emerged. In all fairness, though, we shouldn't draw hasty conclusions; we cannot assume that prostituting one's daughter was ever acceptable in practice, teshuva notwithstanding, and indeed there is no mention of such in the historical record. Of this we may be certain, as both Jewish and non-Jewish records of the times are quite detailed. We can perhaps thank the prosaic sobriety of ordinary men and women which mitigates the heads-in-the-clouds theoretical excesses of theologians.

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  23. Thanks. I have used the same metaphor in a somewhat different way in the past. See my blog post "My Life as a Pendulum".

    My point wasn't that the privations made the choice more necessary, but that it shaped how girls of the era responded to being mandhandled, molested, or even raped. While never positive experiences, I am not sure they were as life-changing, that molestation would cause indelible psychological scarring. We live in a world where people grow up expecting certain rights, comforts, and certainly control of their bodies. But this girl did not. What is being imposed upon her, given her expectations, was not what we expect.

    For similar reasons, the halachic punishment for rape qua rape is not as great as one would expect. However, given rape qua violence upon her body, the fines would be quite large. Because the medical expenses and embarassment (? -- trying to translate ripui and boshes) are situationally defined.

    As odd as it sounds, while molestation is always evil, the magnitude of the evil is situational. And it could be the lesser of evils in one context in a way that we would never imagine being products of another.

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  24. I think the lesson from all this is that people who want to convince others that they are right should use arguments rather than speak down to them. Stating that "surely nobody would believe x, y, or z" is a bit insulting and will generate the kind of backlash that this post did.

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  25. One is inclined to agree, Mr Berger. Psychological responses to traumatic events and violence are no doubt culturally and even politically, coloured. One hesitates to put his head into this buzz-saw, but there is obviously no objective standard by which to calculate suffering from different kinds of assault. Is a non-violent rape of a woman worse than a severe and debilitating beating of a man, torture, or even a violent rape of a man by another man, and so on. In this sense, the magnitude of an evil can indeed be deemed situational...providing one can avoid the sucking quicksand of moral relativism. Perhaps the focus on material compensation in halakha, which can look so cold to the modern eye, is an attempt to rationalize the response and to provide a minimal baseline for dealing with assault against the person. That the focus took into account tzniut and honour was inevitable; that changing circumstances, values and mores will recalibrate this focus is, perhaps, inevitable as well. Mr Ploni's point, though, shows us that there will be inevitable gaps in how Jewish law and ethics treats similar pikua nefesh situations.

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  26. PS, A very good post in a very good blog, Mr Berger. On the subject of this pendulum, Umberto Eco's novel, Foucalt's Pendulum is a fascinating...treatment on the nature and pitfall of mysticism gone nuts, albeit it from a definitely modern secular and materialistic. Kabbala and the antics of Renaissance kabbalists, Jewish and Christian, feature quite prominently. Written by a professor in semiotics (of the Name of the Rose fame) with a passion for philosophy and superbly translated, it is jolly good read as well.

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  27. Exactly right. That's the only thing to take out of this. In fact, I just read RNS's post that he linked to at the bottom, where he pretty much says that morality is ever shifting. Thus, no one can say confidently what is and what isn't moral, because the standards of today weren't the same fifty years ago, and might reverse itself again in another fifty years. That's the fatal flaw in Joseph's comment. The original Adlerstein article, while debatable on other grounds, wisely avoided that morass.

    R. Slifkin concluded, in English " צריך עיון." I concluded my comment yesterday, "its complicated." And that is that.

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  28. Micha - you write that the Chavos Yair expresses outrage. Err, no he doesn't. And that's entirely the point. He had a different value system, and regardless of the thirty years war or the fall of Carthage, were any contemporary posek in an identical situation he would not express the same sentiments. Your assumption that the CY had good reason to believe that the girl would suffer only limited psychological damage is simply plucked out of thin air, as is your assertion that most women of the time were raped (this "besula" obviously hadn't been). The point here is that he did not think in the terms you do, which becomes clear by simply comparing what you write with his teshuva.

    It's not that today's Charedim "express their dissent" from the values presented in traditional texts, it's that they live their lives differently. Anyone can claim that they have no problem with kiddushei ketana, but I am near certain that few people nowadays would be prepared to stomach the thought of their nine year old daughter getting married (or perhaps that's also my naive assumption based on not understanding what "real Charedim" believe).

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  29. My point wasn't that the privations made the choice more necessary, but that it shaped how girls of the era responded to being mandhandled, molested, or even raped. While never positive experiences, I am not sure they were as life-changing, that molestation would cause indelible psychological scarring. We live in a world where people grow up expecting certain rights, comforts, and certainly control of their bodies. But this girl did not. What is being imposed upon her, given her expectations, was not what we expect.

    What you have here is a wonderful argument for enabling female Dayanim. Because I think that only men could convince themselves of this theory.

    To cite an analogy, the prevalence of female doctors has vastly improved the sensitivity towards women's privacy needs in medicine. I think that the change is not in women's needs and expectations, but in the controlling authorities actually bothering to pay attention.

    I fully admit here that I'm running off anecdote and not fully objective evidence.

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    1. A very correct and modern view, Mr Ohsie, but historically problematic. Afflictions are always interpreted through the filter of culture. To wit, the traditional emphasis on family honour and damage to a woman's value for marriage as an economic crime in cases of sexual assault over that of individual pain and suffering. One is certain that Mr Berger is not minimizing suffering, merely pointing out a historical fact. Also, the suggestion that gender might provide for superior sensitivities to certain kinds of injustice is merely a contemporary assumption which is unproven by history and current realities.

      Still, one need not declare the psak either a moral travesty from some sort of a modernist "universal justice" perspective, given that we cannot readily divine its application in specific cases in the past, nor can we insist on the inviolability of the chavos yair psak today while fretting over skirt lengths and colours without explaining the absurd incongruity of inviolable tzniut humras besides what appears as a permission to prostitute one's daughter under difficult circumstances. In a funny way, it's almost as if the Marxian thesis-antithesis-synthesis principle is at play here!

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    2. I don't think you're right David, and your analogy actually underscores this. My understanding is that in Europe women have a much lower expectation of privacy in medical settings, and aren't typically bothered about it. I have heard and read many anecdotes to that point.

      What you actually have here is a wonderful argument for the strong need to put a devil's advocate across academia. There is so much group-think that leads to a lot of biases. I've long been convinced of Micha's theory in many other contexts. Even in modern society there are analogues. While molestation certainly produces long lasting harms to modern victims, I've come across countless stories of men in frum communities who committed various forms of indecent exposure in the presence of school children. Regardless of the appropriate way to deal with the perpetrators, the course of action appropriate for the kids was uniformly skewed, at least initially, with all sorts of ridiculous suggestions of counseling and the like coupled with hysterical fears and over the top safety suggestions from community parents. What everyone failed to realize is that the kids would probably have been just fine if the parents laughed it off and told them the men had been acting in an immature, not-tzniusdik way. The reaction risked creating trauma that almost certainly was never there to begin with.

      In any event, I find it quite unremarkable that the lasting effects of molestation or any other affront to dignity would vary based on society. Besides my counter-example of medical privacy, it might be worth mentioning that mikva ladies working in mikvas serving both chassidic and non-chassidic women have noticed that the chassidic women don't appear to be uncomfortable when they have to disrobe, but the "litvish" women do.

      Simcha

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    3. I don't think you're right David, and your analogy actually underscores this. My understanding is that in Europe women have a much lower expectation of privacy in medical settings, and aren't typically bothered about it. I have heard and read many anecdotes to that point.

      I'm sure that there are a wide range of sensibilities in your example. What has changed over time is the recognition that there is such a range and accommodating for it. And if you ask women over a certain age, you'll see that 1) this has gotten better over time and 2) female doctors are much more sensitive to this.

      To add to this, ask around and you'll find that many women have experienced "medical" examinations that were likely abuse. There are some controls in place today that help to limit that sort of thing in both medical and other settings. Here is a simple example:

      "Two-deep leadership on all outings required. Two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and a parent of a participating Scout or other adult, one of whom must be 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips and outings. There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when the presence of adult leaders is not required and adult leadership may be limited to training and guidance of the patrol leadership. With the proper training, guidance, and approval by the troop leaders, the patrol can conduct day hikes and service projects. Appropriate adult leadership must be present for all overnight Scouting activities; coed overnight activities—even those including parent and child—require male and female adult leaders, both of whom must be 21 years of age or older, and one of whom must be a registered member of the BSA. The chartered organization is responsible for ensuring that sufficient leadership is provided for all activities."

      While molestation certainly produces long lasting harms to modern victims, I've come across countless stories of men in frum communities who committed various forms of indecent exposure in the presence of school children. Regardless of the appropriate way to deal with the perpetrators, the course of action appropriate for the kids was uniformly skewed, at least initially, with all sorts of ridiculous suggestions of counseling and the like coupled with hysterical fears and over the top safety suggestions from community parents. What everyone failed to realize is that the kids would probably have been just fine if the parents laughed it off and told them the men had been acting in an immature, not-tzniusdik way. The reaction risked creating trauma that almost certainly was never there to begin with.

      I can't comment on the particulars of your situation. But I'll make two points.

      1) But people will also minimize touching by people in positions of authority as simply "not-tzniusdik". This is the issue that I'm talking about.

      2) "Laughing off" an incident as immature is almost certainly not the right lesson. Kids do need to be taught the limits of acceptable behavior; they do not automatically know it. Besides the need to investigate other possible actions by the same person.

      In any event, I find it quite unremarkable that the lasting effects of molestation or any other affront to dignity would vary based on society.

      I think that the analogy is quite stretched. Of course, there is a range of what people consider acceptable and desirable behavior for themselves. The questions is to what degree unwanted sexual touching was considered traumatic.

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  30. I have read the teshuvah carefully.

    As for the facts of the case: The gentile at times would suddenly, against the girl's will, hug, kiss, and caress her, but she would always push him off. Also there was another woman present.

    The CY says that:

    I) if there is an actual danger of starving, it is certainly permitted to send her back.

    2) even if there is no danger of starving, but he will have to go begging from door to door it is permitted. to send her back.


    3) There are three preferable alternatives:

    a) to have the community provide him with stipend, even:"be-tzimtzum," a very meager one;

    2) for him to find another job, even a manual one like wood chopping;

    3) to hire the girl out as a servant , so as to be able to explain to the gentile why she can no longer go to his house.

    Anyone who thinks that begging from door to door in the time of the CY is like begging from door to door today does not know what he is about

    I appreciate the extreme poverty and insecurity of the Jews in the time of the CY. Still, what I find troubling about the teshuvah is that there is no consideration as to how this impacts on the girl, just whether the father would be violating the prohibition of al te-hallel et bitkha.

    Lawrence Kaplan



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    1. What is "al tekhalel et bitkha" if not a prohibition mandating concern for ones daughter? In this case, the CY thought that it was not considered a lack of concern (i.e. a violation of al tekhallel) to send the girl back.

      Why does it feel as if we are all standing in judgement of the morality of Torah and being "dan l'kaf zkhut" by saying that things were different then, and they were not "that bad", considering that all they had was Torah for morality, unlike us who are so much more advanced...

      If anyone thinks that they have a better system of morality and they are not afraid of the consequences of their actions, let them go on their merry way. Why do people bend over backwards to accommodate the Torah with their "moral" sensibilities?

      Why do you think that more consideration than the Torah commanded is necessary? What about consideration for the father and the rest of the family?

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    2. Why do you think that more consideration than the Torah commanded is necessary?

      1) Do you think that it is moral to stop supporting your children at the age of six? If not, why not?

      2) קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ

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    3. You misunderstood. Obviously factors change based on time and place. My point was that if the CV paskened, that means that it was a sound decision that TOOK her well-being into account bc thats what ak tekhallel is.

      Maybe today we might pasken differently but that is NOT bc we have more moral sensibilities, only bc the environment is different.

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    4. The CY only seemed concerned about the element of Arayot, as the concept of psychological trauma was probably not well understood during his time. It seems that the girl went willingly, most likely to help her family or simply because she was destitute herself. I strongly doubt the CY would permit the man to coerce his daughter to go.

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  31. your representation of the chavos yair's teshuva is very misleading, he was not supporting a business of sending one's daughter to be molested for pay.

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  32. As for the facts of the case: The gentile at times would suddenly, against the girl's will, hug, kiss, and caress her, but she would always push him off. Also there was another woman present.

    Professor Kaplan, I think that this is both an accurate translation and is clearly molestation. Besides the fact that by the time the information makes from the source into the Tshuvah, the Posek must assume a range possible violations worse than listed.

    Still, what I find troubling about the teshuvah is that there is no consideration as to how this impacts on the girl, just whether the father would be violating the prohibition of al te-hallel et bitkha.

    Unfortunately, I have heard similar sentiments expressed today with respect to abuse cases. Halachic analysis is sometimes used to minimize the seriousness of the violation.

    To wit, the traditional emphasis on family honour and damage to a woman's value for marriage as an economic crime in cases of sexual assault over that of individual pain and suffering. One is certain that Mr Berger is not minimizing suffering, merely pointing out a historical fact.

    Temujin, first off, I'm not criticizing anyone personally. But what you point out is change in what you call the "traditional emphasis" and says nothing about what women were actually experiencing. I don't know of any evidence that the level of trauma has changed over time.

    Also, the suggestion that gender might provide for superior sensitivities to certain kinds of injustice is merely a contemporary assumption which is unproven by history and current realities.

    You would need a lot of evidence to convince me that women don't have a better understanding of women's experience as victims of unwanted sexual contact and that female suffrage plays no role in changing legal and cultural norms in this area.

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    1. as a physician who treats both men and women on a regular basis, as well as interacting with other physicians, both male and female, i can assure you from experience that on average female physicians have neither greater insight nor greater sensitivity to so called "female concerns" (this is true of nurses as well). likewise male physicians seem to have no greater insight or concern for male patients. what has changed is that over the last 50 years (the timeframe during which an ever greater percentage of physicians are women), is that medicine has become far less paternalistic. this has affected the practice of male and female providers equally.
      since over the last 15 years i have seen thousands of patients, and interacted with hundreds of other physicians, i think the sample size is large enough that my experience is not merely anecdotal.

      an american/israeli physician

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    2. So dueling anecdotes is not going to solve this. But just to see if we can gather something out of this: what experience are you talking about what questions did you ask? Are your saying that your experience is that men and women patients and men and women phsyicians experience and commit sexual abuse in the guise of medicine at the same rates? And that men and women overall experience abuse and unwanted advances at nearly the same rate in their daily lives?

      I do agree with your overall assessment of general improvement for both male and female physicians, and I'm not 100% sure if the increasing percentage of women physicians is a cause, effect or spurious correlation. But to say that most men understand women's experiences in these areas as well as women who have actually gone through the experience do is stretching it. It would be akin to saying that physicians who have not experienced combat can have the same level of understanding of the complex psychological issues facing some of those who have, because our level of knowledge and training in this area has increased so much.

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  33. ...you point out is change in what you call the "traditional emphasis" and says nothing about what women were actually experiencing. I don't know of any evidence that the level of trauma has changed over time.

    Perhaps you mean the post-trauma, David? The trauma would be the same of course, depending on the level of violence and damage...as one presumes we humans have been anatomically and neurologically unchanged for while. How the trauma is "processed" beyond the physical effects of the injuries is a different matter, of course, which is why today we expect psychological therapies in the post-trauma stage to have an effect. In cultures where the woman's social value and standing are affected, where stigma affects her family and community or where she is personally blamed for the violation and even punished for it, the effects are certainly far worse. Extreme examples of this can still be found in Islamic societies. In cases of war or civil violence, where there is a sudden increase of victims, the stigma and its social effects tend to diminish or temporarily disappear. This has been the case with pogroms and invasions. Historical records show that in such cases the families did not reject the women, they remained marriageable and resulting children were accepted in the families and communities.

    You would need a lot of evidence to convince me that women don't have a better understanding of women's experience as victims of unwanted sexual contact... And lot there is. You are forgetting that in most cultures, ours as well, victims of sexual violence include men and more typically, boys. In past societies, such as of ancient Sparta, in South East Asia and Africa, warrior societies routinely took on young boys as apprentices and "wives." The victims of such homosexual child sexual abuse...and their societies... treated their experience as normative and the victims went on to marry, join the warrior societies along with their entire cohort and to continue the cycle. As for the role of female suffrage and feminist activism for that matter, you are assuming that these played as big of a role in bringing about changes as they believed or claimed. Those in the activist avant garde don't necessarily bring about changes, although they do seem to play a role in popularizing issues. Note how societal and judicial attitudes towards rape parallel those towards violence in general, and how both are unequally applied according to class. If sexual crime against lower class women was not equitably addressed in the past, neither were crimes of violence between men. It’s only recently, with a more equitable application of justice for all classes, that we saw an overall improvement in how we address rape...and common assault in a bar brawl between workmen. Which brings us to the business of the chavos yair, teshuva, which whatever apologetics can be spun about it, clearly reflects not just an inequitable gender attitude, but one of social class as well. Simply interpreted, without splitting theological hairs and apologetic gobbledygook, the girl and her family should tolerate and cope with the attentions of a Goy, because her family is poor and she is no different from any other pauper and servant since time immemorial. How this jives with the universalist principles of Torah justice, Temujin will leave to others, perhaps to our good friend above, E the P.

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    1. I don't know of any evidence that the level of trauma has changed over time.

      Perhaps you mean the post-trauma, David?

      No I meant the trauma. Micha speculated that what today is considered a traumatic sexual assault would have been less of big deal to the victim then. I doubt this.

      You would need a lot of evidence to convince me that women don't have a better understanding of women's experience as victims of unwanted sexual contact...
      And lot there is.

      You bring down a lot of other horrible things that have gotten better. Which means that we mostly agree that we know a lot more now than we used to, not because we're smarter, but because knowledge builds of over time, and with it a more universal sense of morality attuned to the needs of a greater number of people including women, slaves, foreigners (barbarians) and the poor. As to how much women's liberation played a causative role, I can't say and won't insist on, except for the mathematical truism that it unleashed a huge percentage of societies collective intelligence to work on these projects, regardless of whether or not women have any particular special contribution to add.

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  34. The CY was paskening for his time. Halacha in these matters does adjust to the times and takes account of what is acceptable in each generation. This is a measure of its flexibility (don't we want that?). No, morality is not absolute and unshifting, but nevertheless there are red lines.

    Halacha does not and will not, sanction all types of relationships and lifestyle as equally valid. (I won't get into the new 'Open orthodoxy' debate).

    Halacha does not and will not, sanction assisted suicide and euthanasia. (In some western nations, these now make up a large proportion of deaths for the over 80's)

    Why won't halacha sanction these? Surely, we should move on with the new more advanced, more morally sensible attitudes of the modern age? A significant majority of the intelligent public supports both of these policies and we are being left far behind!

    The answer is that there are absolute red lines in halacha and we should be eternally grateful for them. Halacha does not determine its moral compass by public opinion poll. But that doesn't mean that it cannot accomodate reasonable changes, made on an individually assessed basis.

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    1. Whoa, there Anonymous, that assisted suicide thing doesn't follow. Temujin will let the other fellows here have a go at the halakhic and other theological issues and will say that even from a strictly secular perspective, the rationale behind it is at best wobbly.

      Pain control, end-of-life management, geriatric and palliative care and such, as our guest physician here might confirm, have come a long way. That leaves the woolly and very suspicious principles of "quality of life"and "dignity." We already see physicians, medical boards and insurance carriers taking over the decision making, from family members and the poor patient and disabled people and depressed individuals are now getting the old thumbs-down as well. Funny how this pseudo-ethical nonsense just happens to coincide with demogrsphics and rising costs of medical care. One suspects that insurance providers, national health plan administrators and impatient offspring waiting forever for their parents' diminishing assets might have more to do with the push to off-line the old dears than the dubious "ethical" considerations. Surely such might have crossed your mind?

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  35. I would suggest people read Pamela by Samuel Richardson, the runaway 18th c. best seller. The heroine, a lower class servant girl, is molested, abducted, and subjected to an attempted rape by her upper class master. However, she successfully resists all his attempts on her virtue (i.e. virginity) and finally they both fall in love and marry. She is very fortunate, a lower class servant girl catching a wealthy upper- class gentleman. So what if he molested and abducted her and attempted rape. A real Cinderella story. The women all loved it and ate it up.

    I'm with Temujin.

    Lawrence Kaplan
    Lawrence Kaplan

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    1. What an excellent example Professor Kaplan! And let's not forget Pamella's other virtues such as her cloying sweet kindness even to those who hurt her and, possibly for the first time in this class of literature, kindness and fairness towards servants and the lower classes. And then we have a counter-example, one of downward mobility, in the sad tale of Flaubert's Emma, of the Madame Bovary fame, initially a solid member of the emerging bourgeoisie, who became deeply indebted and eventually impoverished in her consumer-mad society to became morally compromised whilst foolishly hanging on to the popular romantic notions of the day. A century later, and the brutal condition of the lower classes appeared unchanged.

      There you have it, Mr Ohsie, literary bits illustrating the fact that accumulated knowledge does little to improve ethics, as you seem to think. The libraries of Paris and London together, all the science and natural knowledge nof the 18th and 19th century and all the lofty moral ideologies and theologies made precious little difference. What did make a difference is the rise of an entrepreneurial middle class, industry and with it, mobility of the workforce and the first mass entry of women into the workforce. This, more than anything put pressure on the institutions of slavery, violence and lawlessness among the lower classes, the rule of nobility and exclusion of women from economic and political rights. Necessity is ther mother of virtue, you might say. You see, you have no evidence that either quality or quantity of moral philosophies bouncing around made one iota of a difference, whereas the correlation between industrial economies in a free enterprise playing field and the rise of human rights can still be witnessed (and reliably predicted) chronologically and geographically.

      Anyhow, a shana tova to Rabbi Slifkin and his family and to all here!

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  36. Ah, never mind, Anonymous; as you were good man, Temujin failed...yet again...in the reading comprehension department and totally misunderstood your argument about assisted suicide. Um, you are against it, one guesses, right?

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    1. Of course I am. You got it! I was setting up a red flag against following the latest apparently rational and popular moral arguments. Unfortunately it is not just uninformed public opinion which supports a very liberal end of life policy. It is also the learned academic panels which are set up to advise government on these issues (at least that is the situation in the uk).

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    2. Poe's law strikes again!

      Lawrence Kaplan

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  37. Historically, most of our culture was highly influenced by our surrounndings. There was nothing close to a central Jewish court for over 1,000 years. Most of what we do is at most Da ' at Yehudit.
    It is sad when people make lichaims and get tipsy in shul. Or how about how Chabad drinks so much vadka? How about that the Ashkenazim, who needed to live with Christians judged them not to be idolaters, while the Sephardim mostly decided that Christians were idolaters? Or how about the clothing Hasidim wear in scorching heat? I honestly believe that if it started in Africa, the level of frumkeit would somehow be tied to the miniscule size of the loin cloth. I could cite hundreds of examples to prove that other than a few core beliefs, almost everything has been open to interpretation and influenced by surrpundings cultures.

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