Yoatzot vs. Lamdanim
Rav Aharon Feldman declared recently that "Yoatzot halacha are not good for the Jews." He gave two reasons for this. First is that (wittingly or unwittingly) they strengthen the cause of feminism, which often includes anti-Torah elements. Second is that since they are not lamdanim, they are not equipped to deal with serious halachic questions.
Do yoatzot strengthen the cause of feminists? Probably. But lots of things have side effects. Classical male rabbinic authority, for example, strengthens people who abuse such authority. The concept of religious leaders strengthened Eliezer Berland. The Gedolim strengthened Leib Tropper. Many good causes have unfortunate side effects - such side-effects do not necessarily prohibit the cause itself.
In his second objection, Rav Feldman claims that only someone with many years experience in both broad Torah knowledge and in the art of being a lamdan can responsibly deal with questions. He further claims that even though the yoatzot defer complicated questions to senior rabbinic authorities, they lack the skills and knowledge to know which cases require such deferral.
It is surely indeed true that broad knowledge and analytical skills are a great asset. Having said that, specialized knowledge of the subject matter is also a great asset - and probably even more significant. There can be no doubt that there are countless instances in which yoatzot halachah are more likely to get things right than the average rabbi (who would be consulted if no yoatzot were available), simply because they are more knowledgeable and experienced with this particular topic. Likewise, a yoetzet halacha is just as likely as the average rabbi to know when a question needs to be referred to someone higher up - and perhaps even more likely, since men tend to resist admitting ignorance. There is no shortage of examples of lamdonim weighing in on issues which are beyond their realm of expertise.
Besides, the value of being a lamdan - or perhaps, the definition of who is a lamdan - is overstated. Consider Rav Feldman himself, who is on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and surely is considered a lamdan. His infamous essay endorsing the ban on my books included arguments so weak and strained that many people were astonished that a Gadol B'Torah could write such things. This included his claim that a hashkafic viewpoint legitimately espoused by Rishonim and Acharonim, through to Rav Hirsch and Rav Dessler, subsequently became prohibited in 2004 to be held by anyone at all!
It gets even better/worse. Rav Feldman had claimed that the notion of Chazal being fallible in science was an aberrant minority view. Subsequently, I sent him a list of over forty sources espousing this view - most significantly, pointing out that it was the majority view among the Rishonim with regard to Chazal mistakenly believing that the sun goes behind the sky at night. Rav Feldman responded that since they were all saying the same thing, they count as one view, not as a larger number!
Perhaps one could argue that lomdus is indeed valuable and normally Rav Feldman is indeed a great lamdan, but he had his judgment clouded in that case by his desire to support charedi rabbinic authority in the face of it being undermined. Perhaps. But that would also cloud his judgment in evaluating the benefit of yoatzot halachah...
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