Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Women's Issues

On the heels of Hakham Ovadiah Yosef's recent espousal of liberal views regarding women and Megillah - novel to some but not intrinsically newsworthy since he has been quite candid about his position on these issues for many, many years already - comes an article on the question of the ordination of women as Orthodox Rabbis.

For many years I have planned to write a paper on this very subject including a systematic review and analysis of the relevant halakhic sources (there are a limited number but their implications are quite fascinating). The appearance of this news item has reawakened my interest in doing so in the near future. Perhaps the blogosphere is the ideal venue for its publication, one installment as a time. To be continued, I suppose...


Micha said...

ROY says it's only permitted beshe'as hadechaq (where no men who can lein are available). He's saying that when stuck, you can rely on a "some say" in the Shulchan Arukh.

But this position in the mechabeir is specifically Sepharadi. The Behag writes that the mitzvah on men is to read the megillah and the mitzvah on women is to hear it. The obligations are different, and therefore women can not serve as proxies for men. This Behag is quoted by Tosafos and the Rama on that very same SA. We Ashkenazim don't have the "yeish omerim" option, even when stuck.

I'm not sure how this qualifies as "liberal views".


Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

You're right. I was being mostly facetious when I characterized them as liberal views. In any case, I doubt the appropriateness of applying categories like liberal and conservative to halakhic rulings.

Every poseq should be granted the presumption of objectivity and honest evaluation of the sources when he issues a ruling on a specific question and should not be ideologically pidgeonholed as either a liberal or conservative who was predestined by conviction to interpret the law as he did.

Micha said...

Is branding a contemporary poseiq as liberal or conservative different in kind than the Zohar branding Batei Shammai and Hillel as being din vs chessed?

(I'm commenting only on the appropriateness of applying categories, not identifying liberal with chessed or anything of that sort.)

If we can say that Beis Hillel saw chessed as a higher value in the Torah (in comparison to din) than Beis Shammai did, why can't we say the same of contemporary rabbi XYZ and conservative/liberal viewpoint?


Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

There may be different schools of legal thought in halakha as there are, l'havdil of course, in the framework of secular law. And these distinct orientations to and premises about the system as a whole will attract the jurist's legal intuition toward one formulation of the law rather than the other. In this sense, yes, we can say that there are different philosophical approaches to halakhic interpretation.

But I would eschew descriptors like liberal or conservative because they suggest a penchant for leniency or stringency for its own sake as opposed to a methodological or philosophical approach that is internally consistent.

Kylopod said...

I wouldn't describe R' Ovadiah Yosef's ruling as "liberal," for the simple reason that R' Ovadiah Yosef is not a liberal, and in general has issued rulings that are regarded as strict on the Orthodox spectrum.

When you have Modern Orthodox rabbis issuing rulings that seem to expand the role of women in traditional practices (e.g. women's prayer groups), it can be called liberal because it arises from a general philosophy intent on finding liberal solutions within the framework of halacha.

I might even describe some of R' Moshe Feinstein's rulings as "liberal," because even though he was not regarded as a liberal on the Orthodox spectrum, he did seem have a philosophy of favoring leniencies in halacha, at least under certain circumstances.

micha said...

I don't think Kylopod's description of ROY's pesaqim is accurate. He is more lenient than most about as often as more stringent. E.g. he allows the use of passive element microphones, without requiring medical need (as in hearing aids).

Still, I agree with the conclusion, that ROY isn't liberal. Neither in the sense I meant, that it emphasizes humanism in contrast to Judaism's other values, nor as our host cautioned, implications of leniency.

ROY tends to consider all the options, and while he most often seeks to follow consensus, when there is none, the second factor appears to be their distance to his target audience. E.g. Placing Maran Bet Yosef and other Sepharadim ahead of Ashkenazi rulings, looking at a vary limited list of Qabbalah-influenced poseqim (see Yechaveh Da'at 3:47), etc.. And then finally his own opinion of the strength of the arguments. His methodology places person opinion and argument writing very low in priority.

Very different than Lithuania. In Lithuanian pesaq, there is much more need to know the values of the poseiq, as the greater dependence on personal creativity makes the line between us and Conservative blurry. Depends more on knowing whether the poseiq internalized the Torah's values. (Which, BTW, was the original meaning of "da'as Torah" as R' Yisrael Salanter re-coined the term. The mindset necessary for proper pesaq.)