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The Left Falls Over the Edge
By Yitzchok Adlerstein, on July 30th, 2010
R. Avi Weiss’ Hebrew Institute of Riverdale will have a woman leading Kabbolas Shabbos tonight.
It will be hard to figure out a way that the rest of us will be able to regard HIR, YCT, and IRF as Orthodox, by any reasonable stretch. I do not say this with any sense of triumph. While no fan of their running roughshod over Torah hashkafah and accepted halachic protocols, major schisms in the community are rarely good. Some will appreciate the (perhaps necessary) havdalah. I still think it is a sad day for Klal Yisrael.
RYA here demonstrates again that he is tightly in the grips of of a foolish and toxic notion, and that he deserves to be strung up for hypocrisy, insensitivity, and cruelty.
In particular, I'm ireful about RYA's refusal to even discuss the way in which Torah teachings might be interpreted to make Orthodox Judaism more female-friendly. The world RYA admires tolerates lengthy and learned discussions about the permissibility of stealing from the US government. When it comes to ripping people off, halacha is a flexible tool, and every possible out is considered. When it comes to making women more comfortable with Judaism, however, this creativity is not welcome: suddenly there's no maneuvering room and we're frozen in time, stuck with practices that were originally products of their own era, and not fundamental to the religion. This double standard is bogus, and RYA knows it. Avi Weiss may not qualify as a Torah Sage, but he doesn't act with no basis. His arguments in favor of allowing a woman to lead kabalas shabbos deserve to be discussed with the same care and respect as any other halachic argument. If, at the end of the long and careful discussion, you still think he's wrong, say elu v'elu and give Rabbi Wiess's community the same respect we give to Hasidic communities that run roughshod over torah hashkofa and accepted halachic protocols.[*] He is not to be rejected, insulted and thrown onto the trash heap simply because given a woman some respect and responsibility offends your mistaken sense of propriety. By doing this, RYA is the one running roughshod over accepted protocols, protocols which include respect for different interpretations and tolerance of halachic diversity. If Orthodox Judaism has room for a post-sunset mincha service, it has room for a female leading kabbalas shabbos. And as with the a post-sunset mincha, no one is forcing you to participate if you disagree with the shita. Don't daven at H.I.R if you think women shouldn't lead kabalas shabbos, but don't speak of schism either.
I also must protest the casual ease in which RYA links together three different organizations and tosses them all out of Orthodox Judaism. HIR and YCT are not one and the same. Linking them is like saying all of Vishnitz must go because Square has a history of tolerating TAP thieves. Moreover, RYA makes no such statements of excommunication about the institution where thieves and pedophiles are coddled. Indeed, he happily shares blog space with one of the Orthodox Jewish world's leading apologists for crooks and perverts. Yet, let a shul attempt to make its service more relevant and inclusive and out come the brief, poorly considered and too-rapidly composed condemnations. These are all examples of the hypocrisy, insensitivity, and cruelty my opening sentence had in mind.
The "toxic notion" I refer to above is the idea that "pales" exist in Judaism, and that "going beyond" them is possible. Even if this were true, when the whole history of Judaism shows it is not, I note again that RYA is only concerned when the "pale" is violated from the left. The right adds stringencies, alters the traditional role of women by making them the family breadwinner, and so on, and RYA is stone-silent. But, let a shul, under the authority of its Rabbi, based on his understanding of the relevant laws, breach the "pale" from the left and its time for a parting of the ways? Why didn't we split back in the 16th century when Kabalas Shabos was invented by the community of Sefad mystics? In short, RYA is too much the traditionalist, and seems unable to grasp that his strict traditionalism is undermined by the tradition itself. Judaism changes, and will continue to change, so long as its cherished and loved by human beings. This is not something that can be fought on the chodosh osur min hatorah grounds Rabbi Wiess's opponents use.
*Examples of how hasidic communities run roughshod over torah hashkofa and accepted halachic protocols include their neglect of z'manim, reliance on magic, folk wisdom and superstitious nonsense, and in the case of Chabad, Christological messianism. Also, some of the "dynasties" behave more like mob families, v'hamayvin yaavin. Why no one of RYA's stature or higher dares to say this outright, and instead allows the masses of Jews to go on believing that Hasidic behavior is entitled to veneration and emulation is one of the scandals of 21st century Jewish life. RYA ought to leave little Rabbi Weiss alone, and chase some big game.
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