Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Response to Yated Ne'eman

On July 10th, Yated Ne'eman, a well-known Orthodox newspaper, published a scathing critique of Open Orthodoxy and YCT with a special focus on the issue of women's ordination. A significant portion of the article was devoted to attacking me personally. In response, I sent the following letter to Yated Ne'eman, which I am hopeful that they will publish in its entirety:


Dear Editors,

The July 10th issue of Yated Ne’eman contained an article by Yisroel Lichter on the subject of “Open Orthodoxy” and women’s ordination in which my views, affiliations and public statements were completely and shockingly misrepresented. I was deeply pained by the fact that these false and inflammatory rumors about me were disseminated in Yated Ne'eman, a newspaper avidly read and respected by my rabbaim, my chaverim and myself. I thank you in advance for allowing me this opportunity to correct the misunderstandings and distortions that were conveyed in that article. I hope that, for the sake of honesty and fairness, my response will be printed in the Yated in an unedited and uncensored form.

Throughout his article, Mr. Lichter portrayed me as a radical member of the “Open Orthodox” movement, referring to me as a “left-wing fringe element” no different than a Conservative or Reform rabbi. The reality is that I have absolutely no connection whatsoever to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and I categorically reject “Open Orthodox” ideology.


I exclusively identify myself with the Center-Right/Yeshivish segment of Orthodox Judaism. Indeed, the speech I delivered at Sara Hurwitz’s ceremony - from which select quotes were reproduced and maligned by Mr. Lichter – I mentioned twice that “I hail from the right wing of Orthodoxy”. This particular phrase was unfortunately omitted from the Yated article; however, my affiliation is well known to those who have had personal contact with me, including many representatives of Open Orthodoxy, who would be surprised to learn that I am being labeled a left-wing radical by the press.

If I were a left-wing fringe rabbi, then being condemned in Yated Ne’eman would not matter to me. The reason I am so deeply upset about the unfairness of your article – an article that asserted, in black and white, that I am not even entitled to the benefit of the doubt – is because I am very far from being a leftist. I feel as if I have been dragged through the mud in full view of my own community without so much as a chance to respond to the allegations being made against me.

Mr. Lichter claimed that I have a history of advocating controversial positions on women’s issues and that, therefore, I lack credibility. While I cannot speak for the other rabbis who were criticized in this vein in the article – I am unfamiliar with their backgrounds in this respect – I can say that this is patently false with regard to me. The only area in which I have promoted the cause of women in particular has been the area of Torah study, and the only public pronouncements I have made about this subject are the ones referenced in your article. I have neither adopted nor espoused any radical or controversial halakhic positions on this or any related topic. I have never been involved in or associated with any organizations, projects or activities devoted to the advancement of a liberal agenda.

My perspective on women’s issues was misrepresented in your paper and many of my statements were taken out of context. The author of the article implied that I dismissed great Torah luminaries as “dogmatic” or “anti-women” because of their opposition to the notion of women holding positions of communal leadership. However, in my written teshuva, which the Yated regrettably refused to publish but which is readily available online, I explicitly cited and affirmed the Rambam’s view that serara (political leadership) is prohibited to women. Of the three teshuvot utilized by Rabbi Weiss to support his initiative, mine was the only responsum to do this; sadly, this very significant distinction was overlooked by Mr. Lichter. Anyone who examines my words carefully will see that my premises, arguments and conclusions are fully consistent with the rulings of Rav Moshe Feinstein Z”L, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Z”L, and other gedolei Torah.

All of my comments regarding expanding the range of leadership opportunities for women were made exclusively with reference to the study and teaching of Torah, and had nothing to do with women’s ordination or their employment in synagogues. In this regard, the thoughts I expressed find broad support in the writings of many Torah giants, including but not limited to the Tosafot in Masekhet Nidda, the Sefer Ha-Hinukh, the Hida in Birke Yosef, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Z”L, Rabbi Ben-Tsion Meir Hai Uziel Z”L, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Z”L, and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Rishon Letsion Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.Granted, there may be differences of opinion on some aspects of this issue, but my position is a far cry from heresy.

Surely Miriam, Devorah and Hulda were well-versed in every area of Torah and halakha and provided instruction and guidance to Am Yisrael in their time. All of these women must have received a thorough education in Torah Shebichtav and Torah Shebal Peh and were certainly counted among the premiere Torah authorities of their age. Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, Chava, the grandmother of the Chavot Yair, and Rebbetzin Bayla, the wife of the Derisha, were similarly recognized and praised for their outstanding erudition. Is this not sufficient precedent for the notion that an inspired woman can achieve great heights in Torah scholarship and can serve as a role model and teacher for her people – provided, of course, that the halakhic principles of modesty and propriety, as well as restrictions on serarah, are observed?

While I realize that, without the benefit of context, some of my remarks could have been misinterpreted by the casual reader, they were not intended to have any radical or, chas veshalom, disrespectful implications. I was speaking in an impassioned manner of the value of Torah learning and my hope that its beauty be made available to a wider audience – men and women - across all segments of Orthodoxy. Moreover, I expressed my wish that scholarly women – again, both Modern Orthodox and Charedi - who excel in the study of Torah be granted the opportunity to teach and inspire other Jews rather than being disenfranchised or having their accomplishments discounted because of their gender.

Let me clarify that the criticisms contained in my speech were directed at people who - because of bias or preconceived notions - try to prevent G-d fearing women from learning and contributing to communal leadership even in halakhically permissible ways. My point was to condemn those who oppose women’s involvement in Torah study regardless of its halakhic legitimacy. Contrary to the accusations of Mr. Lichter, I did not intend to cast aspersions – chas veshalom - on individuals whose reservations and objections are firmly rooted in halakha and based purely on Shas and Shulchan Aruch, such as the great poskim of the past and present.

My participation in Sara Hurwitz’s ceremony was motivated by my desire to acknowledge her significant attainments in Torah study and to celebrate the fact that women with Torah knowledge can have a positive and lasting impact on the spiritual growth of our communities, provided that they operate within the framework of halakha. If my presence at that event was misconstrued as a tacit endorsement of Open Orthodoxy, its institutions or its peculiar interpretations of Jewish law, then I am profoundly regretful of my decision to attend.

I thank you again for allowing me to provide this clarification of my ideological affiliations, halakhic opinions and actions for the benefit of the Yated readership..

Sincerely Yours,

Rabbi Joshua Maroof

Rockville, Maryland

74 comments:

Yehuda said...

Well said. It seems the Yated does not place a high value on the prohibition of motzei sheim ra and lashon hara.

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Harry Maryles said...

I too think you were unjustly crucified by the Yated.

But I still question your participation at any level in such an enteprise.

One can praise the ablity of women to achieve great heights in Torah learning. RYBS certainly did and was the first one to give an actual Shiur to women at the inaugural Stern Gemarah Shiur. But I strongly doubt that he would have participated in or even approved of this maharat ceremony in any way.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you have to endure this.

נָפְלָה עֲטֶרֶת רֹאשֵׁנוּ, אוֹי-נָא לָנוּ כִּי חָטָאנוּ.

"... my written teshuva ... which is readily available online ..." Could you post a link to it? Thank you.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

RJM

Sorry your name was trashed in the circles your hold dear, and that you were portrayed as something you were not.

That being said, you really never struck me as someone right wing yeshivish, in terms of some of your beliefs anyway. Maybe I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

Please explain the following from JTA March 3,'09. Also a misrepresentation??

Joshua Maroof, a Maryland rabbi and one of Hurwitz’s teachers, says he is religiously right of center and describes himself as sitting opposite an “ideological gulf” from Weiss, who has staked out liberal positions on a number of hot-button issues. Maroof says, however, that not only would he support Hurwitz’s ordination as a rabbi, but so would many Orthodox rabbis, who he notes privately recognize there is no legal problem with a woman assuming the title.

In contemporary times, rabbi denotes a teacher and legal decisor, Maroof says, not an officiant at religious functions.

“Most Orthodox rabbis are aware that there’s no prohibition on woman rabbis,” Maroof told JTA. “I think there are many Orthodox rabbis who think this would be a great thing, and they're hoping that somebody else would have the courage to do it, as long as it's not them.”

David said...

"The reason I am so deeply upset about the unfairness of your article – an article that asserted, in black and white, that I am not even entitled to the benefit of the doubt – is because I am very far from being a leftist."

Welcome to the Orthodox world. Check with the Zoo Rabbi (or, for that matter, with the Rambam) for details on how to deal with ideological backstabbings.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof, just know that some people appreciate you the way you are and anyway, newspapers, magazines, and websites like to inflate things a lot, in order to make money, they're not necessarily interested in exposing the truth, and so don't take to heart what other people say. Be confident and proud of your own work as it is. And there are certain people who are extremely obsessed with propagating certain ideas that they forget about the people they are affecting.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maloof:
Surely you cannot be surprised that by not only teaching Sarah Hurwitz with the purpose of her getting some sort of certification, writing your "teshuva" and attending the ceremony would cause some to question your concern for "tacitly" giving credence to "Open Orthodoxy".

Anonymous said...

You would go so far as to have Yated in your house?...Pierre

Anonymous said...

I do however like that you didn't link to the article itself, perhaps because that "might give the appearance of granting them some degree of legitimacy..."
Pierre

The Hedyot said...

> ...a newspaper avidly read and respected by my rabbaim, my chaverim and myself....

Seriously? I understand that you read it, but to actually respect it?!

I'm sorry that you got unfairly slammed, but I think that anyone who finds the Yated respectable - especially a rabbinic figure - is in need of a serious readjustment of his views.

Milhouse said...

Anon of 12:19, what did you find in that story to object to? What part do you think, if it is not a misrepresentation, R Maroof should be condemned for? I couldn't see anything there that wasn't 100% in accord with the strictest halacha.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

JTA asked me about the issue of women rabbis. I responded that insofar as a rabbi is essentially a teacher/instructor in Torah law, there is nothing in the role that is technically halakhically prohibited to a woman. I said that the sources of halakha indicate that a woman can study and teach Torah to students who seek her guidance. However, I qualified my statement - as is also indicated in the JTA piece - by stating that my remarks were limited to the role of teacher/instructor, and not prayer officiant, congregational leader or anything else. What you see in the article is the product of the author's "processing" of my comments, which is essentially accurate but emphasizes what was perceived as controversial in my words rather than giving a balanced portrayal of my position.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Hedyot,

I actually did like the Yated, although that probably will change now. Respecting/Liking doesn't mean you agree with everything in a paper, just that I enjoyed reading it and appreciated much of the content.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Rabbi Maryles,

Your point is well taken, as my response to the Yated also acknowledged.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Yeshivish Atheist,

I see myself as center-right, that is where I fit in and the movement with which I would identify. There is a range of views encompassed by center-right, I think.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

I taught Sara Hurwitz Hilchot Avelut for one year. At the time there was no official program or certificate conferral planned. And my teshuva was about women teaching/deciding matters of Torah law, it had nothing to do with the other issues being discussed.

Yehuda said...

In my humble opinion I think you should repeat over and over again that the
"teshuva was about women teaching/deciding matters of Torah law, it had nothing to do with the other issues being discussed."

Additionally, the vitriol of the Yated article is an interesting example of the "return of the repressed" - i.e./e.g. Yisroel Lichter hates YCT so much that he went so far as to read their companion to Sefer Shmuel, or at least do some serious perusing. In the process, he reveals his deep ignorance of Tanakh and the Dead Sea Scrolls (and what kefira is for that matter).

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Yehuda,

I think that is what I am doing...

I understand the opposition to YCT on ideological grounds. I share many of the reservations expressed in Yated and elsewhere. But it is nothing personal, so I am not about to become a crusader over this.

Yisroel Lichter actually cited the YCT companion to Shmuel, and mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls? Afra l'pumeih!

:)

Anonymous said...

The JTA item states that Rabbi Maroof would support Hurwitz’s ordination as a rabbi. That means conferring semicha on a women. That is much more than assigning her the role of teaching Torah and answering questions. That's objectionable.

So I ask you, Rabbi Maroof- are you or are you not in favor of semicha for women?

BTW you yourself are a musmach of Rabbi Yisrael Chait shlit"a- what is his position on this issue? And would he have done the same?? And does that matter to you?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

I am not sure why this point is not being understood.

What I have repeatedly stated is that I believe it is perfectly halakhically permissible for a qualified woman to study, teach and offer halakhic guidance at the same level as an equally competent man.

A Rabbi is essentially a teacher or a source of halakhic knowledge. The additional leadership roles that we assign to rabbis nowadays may not be appropriate for women because of concerns of serarah and/or modesty, but the primary function for which rabbis are certified - namely, providing Torah instruction - is certainly permissible for women in my opinion.

Throwing around controversial catchphrases like "women rabbis" and "giving women semikha" is deliberately confusing the issue.

Let's focus on the main ideas here rather than getting distracted by sensational rhetoric.

I don't think Rabbi Chait should be held responsible for views that I espouse, whether you agree with them or not.

David Guttmann said...

RJM, Being attacked for stating an honest opinion, especially when supported by the sources, is an honor. Hane'elavim veinam olevim ....

Chaim B. said...

>>>The additional leadership roles that we assign to rabbis nowadays may not be appropriate for women

Correct me if I am wrong, but the objective of R' Avi Weiss is to certify women to perform exactly these functions. Quote:"...She is, in Rabbi Weiss’ words, “a full communal, congregational, religious leader, a full member of the clergy, leading with the unique voice of a woman.”" (http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c52_a16167/Editorial__Opinion/Gary_Rosenblatt.html)
Women have served as teacher's of Torah for decades -- e.g. how else would you describe Rebbetzin Davis of Bais Ya'akov Yerushalyim? -- but have always been referred to as "Morah" or "Rebbetzin/Rabbanit" (where appropriate). The confirmation of the title "Rabbi"/"Maharat" is not just a matter of semantics, but is an effort by Rabbi Weiss to try to legitimize women taking on a far broader role in communal leadership than has been previously been accepted.

Chaim B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaim B. said...

Can you post a .pdf of your teshuvah online? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Maroof, if I understand you correctly, I believe you have been hijacked by advocates of a cause to which you do not subscribe. Through your teshuvah and participation you unintentionally lent credence to the larger program of womens' ordination, which, in the case of Ms. Hurwitz, includes precisely those pastoral responsibilities that you do not support. By doing so, you also lent credence to the wider program of "Open Orthodoxy."

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

To all those who asked,

My original responsum/teshuva was posted at http://vesomsechel.blogspot.com/2009/03/can-women-issue-halakhic-rulings.html

There is a link to the footnoted PDF file there as well.

Anonymous said...

Rav Maroof,

can you please post the complete text of the speech that the Yated selectively quoted? Thanks...

avakesh said...

I posted on this issue to which R. Maroof responded and I responded as well at: http://www.avakesh.com/2009/07/orthodox-women-rabbis-sorry-maharats-or-whatever.html#trackback.

littlefoxling said...

ROFL.

Needless to say, I find this whole episode to be lol hilarious. One thing I was curious about though: The Yated lists some very particular gripes they have with YCT and open orthodoxy. I was wondering what side of those particular issues you come down on. Particularly, how do you feel about:

-women reading prayers in English in shul
-women giving sermons in front of a congregation
-women as shul presidents
-women on shul boards
-women rabbis
-women given the title of "maharat"
-reading the dead sea scrolls
-the supposition that our text of sefer shmuel may be corrupted
-non Jews speaking from the pulpit
-gospel choirs singing from the pulpit

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Chaim,

Your point is well taken, but my point is that my comments were confined to a specific aspect of the subject matter and had nothing to do with a broader agenda. I answered the question I was asked and I was emphatic as to the limits of my answer's application.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

LF,

I think the answer to all of your questions is pretty obvious. While you may be laughing at me for caring about my membership in the Orthodox community, I feel sorry for your having abandoned it!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Avakesh,

Yours was a very thoughtful comment and a reasonable response. I will attempt to post further on this issues in the near future, as per your request.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi,

I am repeating my request for you to please post a complete version of the speech you made in New York...

Thanks!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

My speech can readily be found online, it has been posted on other sites and can be located via google in pdf form.

Anonymous said...

Hebrew Institute of Riverdale's home page links to the responsa and speeches. (You have to scroll down.)

Anonymous said...

I write the following with sadness...I know you to be a decent, honorable person - yet your actions in travelling to New York, and the words that you spoke, are wholly contradictory to your statements in this blog, as well as to your own teshuva which you wrote to justify your actions. Indeed I found it to be very odd that you refused repeated requests to post your own speech here, or even to provide a link to it - I think that you know that you went too far, and are embarrassed by the result. You conveniently lambaste the Yated Neeman for its mischaracterization of who you are, and so forth, and claim that they "ignored" parts of your speech - the truth is that your speech, taken in its totality, is an absolute disaster, and indeed the Yated may have let you off too easily, in their eagerness to attack YCT.

I guess we can start with your teshuva. Essentially you adduce the right of a woman to decide Halacha, albeit not as a judge, but as a decisor. So, poor Ms. Hurwitz is thus qualified as a halachic decisor. Judgement, you state, is "political", and act of "personal authoritative leadership" - this is what women may not participate in - but teaching and answering questions of Halacha are permissible. Fine. Let us accept this teshuva (though I believe it is open to some debate) and move on to your speech.

You say that you "firmly believe" that your aims will have only been successful when every little girl in gan, every housewife in Bnei Brak,  Will know that the potential  "Torah leadership" is within their grasp. One rubs ones eyes and wonders, "leadership"? Now, our Torah teaches us (I guess I should say that it teaches me, because who knows? Maybe there's another Torah somewhere with different lessons...) that  leadership is not at all a value, a goal to be sought. Teaching Torah is indeed a value - but we have always thought that seeking to lead is something to shy away from, something distasteful. To study Torah, to teach it to others - as a "Melamed Torah" - these are things that have been done from time immemorial by people at all levels of scholarship. Your own teshuva speaks to this - and indeed women should learn Torah, and teach it if they can, and share their knowledge with others - but Manhiga toranit ruchanit etc.? MANHIGA? Isn't MANHIGA a "serara" word? Is it not painfully obvious that your own teshuva belies the title you signed on to, and utterly contradicts every word of your speech? Isn't it obvious that Ms. Hurwitz's duties, responsibility, and her very title indicate that she will do things so different and at variance with the sources you built your yeshiva on?
(continued)

Anonymous said...

I could go on. In your zeal to promote the idea that women are men's equals in Torah study you have taken leave of your senses, and espoused precisely the opposite of your own writings. In a larger sense, though, your entire conceptualization of what Judaism is, what it teaches and what it seeks to achieve, is entirely misconceived and lacking. What Hashem wants from all of us - what He seeks to provide all of us, men, women, and children, old and young, is the opportunity to become complete and whole individuals - to reach the level of "kedusha", in which we are wholly of this world, and yet in perfect synch with creation, with Hashem and all that He teaches us in his Torah. Torah study is one of the ways to reach this level, but it is not the only way. Perfection in sh'mirat ha'mitzvot can bring- and has brought- men and women to extraordinarily high levels of closeness to Hashem. And this is what we strive for - the completeness, the dveikut - this is, and has always been, our goal. Teaching little girls -or little boys - that they will be manhigim has NEVER been part of our culture - only that they all, boys and girls, men and women, achieve the levels of kedusha and dveikut that        Can be attained. And so women have always been recognized - for all of history - for the remarkable madreigot  of kedusha that they have achieved. Their opinion and counsel has always been sought - well ahead of many a man's counsel - in times of need. Yes, there are men today, in the yeshiva world and the rabbinate, who are boors, unsophisticated and unable to appreciate this reality who may denigrate women as a group. Their loutishness, though, cannot change the reality that feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and healing the sick are as sure a ticket to shleimut and kedusha as appreciating the arcane nuances of a Tosfot in Masechet Shabbat.

So if women want to learn Torah-if they think it will get them farther ahead - fine. But Rabbi, you owe all of us an apology. You have not advanced your cause, but hampered it; you have not effectuated a Kiddush Hashem, but rather - and I say this, again, with sadness - done something that is nearer to quite the opposite.  I hope that you can find the courage , despite the untruths of the Yated and others, to reflect upon this, and to perhaps admit that going to New York that day was the wrong decision.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

Whether you agree with me or not, you have to give me credit for one thing - I am not a coward. I am willing to reveal my identity and sign my name to my statements rather than hiding behind a veil of anonymity. It is a shame that such a fine writer is afraid to take credit for his own work!

Of course, you have it somewhat backwards here, since I wrote the teshuva long before the event in NY. It was not written to justify my actions, since I am not a prophet and did not know I would be attending the ceremony or that I would be invited to speak. In fact, it was written before I knew there would be an event and before the idea of giving a title to Sara Hurwitz had even been finalized.

Another important clarification: I never, and I repeat never, signed onto the title "Maharat". I was unaware of the title to be conferred until I arrived at the ceremony that Sunday morning. It was created by Rabbi Avi Weiss independently. I was not a signatory on the certificate and I never agreed to the terminology. So you are just plain misinformed here. Obviously, I am opposed to the conferral of serara status on women. You are mistaking your own confusion about the facts for a contradiction on my part.

As to the speech, you are also mistaken on two counts. First of all, the reason I did not link to it on my blog had nothing to do with embarrassment.

It was because (1)I don't have a copy of it online to link to easily AND

(2)some of the websites I noticed that have it were not of the type to which I wanted to link my blog (at the time I didn't realize HIR had it; I would have been comfortable linking there).

Please understand that all of this has transpired while I am in the middle of an extremely demanding period at work. I also have a two week old newborn at home. Not exactly a recipe for finding a lot of time to respond to comments and requests.

The second mistake you make vis a vis the speech is your misinterpretation of the term leadership, by which I actually meant teaching - by instruction and by example.

It would certainly be tragic for anyone, man or woman, to aspire to leadership in the conventional sense, as you have correctly noted.

Yet we say "mahn malkei - rabbanan" true "kings", or leaders, are not those who have political clout but those who learn, teach and live Torah.

I don't appreciate being told that I have taken leave of my senses, or that my whole conception of Judaism is fundamentally distorted, especially when these messages come from an anonymous blog commenter!

Your metaphysical discourse is thoughtful and I agree with many of your points; but, in all honesty, I am a Maimonidean, I have never denied that, and that is unlikely ever to change. For me knowledge of Torah and wisdom is the ultimate value, and while all of the elements of perfection you mentioned are also extremely important, knowledge is still the essential path to a relationship with Hashem and it should be made accessible in the appropriate form to all human beings.

Finally, I think I have acknowledged that my decision to participate in the ceremony was a mistake. The nature of the mistake was that I overestimated the ability of people like yourself - and you represent a broad cross section of the Jewish community - to understand the nuances of my statements and intentions.

Even highly intelligent people like yourself were unable to walk away from the situation with anything close to an accurate sense of the chronology of the events that took place, an appreciation of how minimal my role and level of involvement in the whole process actually was, or a basic understanding of my position on the issues, which is, in fact, quite coherent and consistent (though nuanced).

I stand corrected and will most definitely learn from this experience.

Anonymous said...

Rav Maroof, shlit"a

You and I have a glancing relationship, and as such I - regretfully - need to remain anonymous for the time being. I reiterate again that I know you to be a fine person of upright character - far more so than myself. I furthermore believe everything you say vis a vis the chronology of events as they transpired, especially that you did not know about the nature of the title that was to be conferred. I disagree, however, with your statement that I - and others of the broad 'electorate', if you will, lack an appreciation for nuance. In fact, I think the opposite is true; the situation you found yourself in is so fraught with nuance and subtleties that a well-meaning, innocent (and I use 'innocent' in the best sense of the word) and sincere person like yourself would by definition fail in his attempt to achive his own goals.

You are a rabbi. You are as such a public servant, and everything you do has implications. If you sit on the same stage as notorious figures, speak at programs where notorious figures are present, you would be subject to censure, and rightfully so. Many a politician has come to grief because of poor judgement in these areas. Rabbi, your public actions have meaning, and as you continue in your public service you must - you absolutely must - take note if that.

If you go to am event - like the one in New York - not fully knowing what the agenda will be, and when you get there, you find out that there are going to be a few new twists to the situation, then you wish Ms. Hurwitz a heartfelt mazel tov and promptly make yourself scarce. (I inferred, by the way, your prior knowledge of the title by the line in your speech where you refer to the title she was to be given that day - and, on YouTube, Rabbi Weiss states that you were a signatory to the title...amazing, that YouTube...) A rabbi can NEVER allow himself to be sucked in to someone else's agenda...your 'nuanced' approach is that of the scholar, carefully parsing and arriving at a position...and then when you hit the roadshow that is Rabbi Avi Weiss, your nuances get swallowed up in his far larger ambitions. I apologised for the "taken leave of senses" remark - I wrote all this on a handheld, and wanted to take it out when I did a quIck re-read before posting, but was not allowed to by this infernal little machine. (And - just as an aside - why does she - or we - need a title, anyway? I have been introducing myself without the "rabbi" thing for a long time now...as the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Gifter used to say, "I am a Melamed...as Hashem Himself is a Melamed Torah to His people"...wouldn't it be better for all concerned if she was just plain Ms. Hurwitz? )

You have a long career ahead of you, and I am sure you have learned a lot from this eisode. But you must have already met people whose Torah knowledge is not deep, but whose adherence and perfection to their Avodat Hashem has made them into sublime individuals - I know I have - and they are men, and women - across a broad spectrum. There is no question of the primacy of Torah study - but when it becomes too overstated, then imbalance occurs, and mistakes like this happen. If your focus is that only Torah study is important, and you observe that women aren't equals, or as equal as they could be, then this begins to consume you. But there is a broader picture - a picture that is panoramic, broad, and encompasses all the needs of the klal, that sees a vibrant kedusha created by acts of chessed, of mesirat nefesh, and yes, of Talmud Torah.

Mazel tov to you as well on your newborn - with such wonderful parents as yourselves, your children will undoubtedly go far...

You have a long career ahead of y

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Anonymous,

On the contrary, people with whom I have a relationship should have no fear of revealing their identity. I have already heard from friends, colleagues and teachers, some of whom were critical of my actions and some supportive. And the fact that I already have relationships with them gave their words greater weight.

I spoke before Rabbi Weiss and at the time the title was still a secret. My reference to it in my speech was deliberately vague because it was still unknown! I admire your detective work, but sometimes your inferences are misguided.

Although Rabbi Weiss indicated that I would be signing the document, this never actually happened. I did agree to sign a certificate that testified to Sara Hurwitz's competence in the areas she had studied, but I had no idea that the title "Mahara"t" would be introduced.

To be totally honest, when I heard the Mahara"t idea I was not sure it entailed serara per se. I am still not sure. Some other elements of the document she received may lend themselves to this impression more than the title itself does. I would have to review the certificate to confirm my recollection that this is the case.

One thing I will not do is impugn Rabbi Weiss as a person, call him "notorious", or anything else of the sort. I fully believe that he is sincere in his convictions although we may disagree on some fundamental issues. He proudly identifies as Orthodox and would never do anything that he believed was against Halakha.

Contrary to my preconceived notions about him before I moved to Riverdale and got to know him better, Rabbi Weiss is not the Jewish Al Sharpton. He is a genuine Ohev Yisrael, and when he errs, he does so as a result of his empathy for the plight of the Jewish people. I say this even though I think many of his actions are profoundly misguided and, in some cases, halakhically prohibited. As I was quoted as commenting in the JTA article, an ideological gulf does separate me from Rabbi Weiss, but I will not label him notorious or evil. He simply isn't.

I was not swallowed up in Rabbi Weiss' ambitions. I was in agreement with much of what he was doing and opposed to some other aspects of his project. My mistake was the belief that what I thought was essential, and wanted to communicate, would be conveyed to the populace. Instead, my voice was drowned out and my remarks were interpreted through a prism that did not do justice to their meaning.

Again, I am in total agreement with you about the rabbinical title issue. I have no need for my own title, I never set out to be a rabbi in the first place and my semikha document is somewhere in a closet in my parents's house, together with other diplomas for which I have little or no use.

And I acknowledge the multifaceted nature of perfection and Avodat Hashem that you describe so eloquently. I don't think my efforts to empower women in their pursuit of Talmud Torah should be seen as a dismissal of the other key elements of religious life.

It was not the overemphasis on Talmud Torah that led to my mistake. It was naivete about the manner in which my actions and words would be interpreted by people with agendas and/or by objective observers without the benefit of context.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Anonymous said...

Re: Yated Ne'eman, and also Re: Yehuda's very first comment:

Hilchot De'ot teaches us that there is a single principle underlying actions of speech and actions of the body.

See this opinion about current events in Jerusalem.

Anonymous said...

Rav Maroof,

Thanks for your response. When I wrote about sharing the stage with notorious people, I had in mind Hilary Clinton and her incident with the Palestinians accusing the Jews of gassing (?) them, and her inability to protest - and other incidents of that nature...no, Rabbi Weiss is certainly not notorious, and I did not mean to imply that in any way...but he certainly has a roadshow, and quite an enjoyable one at that! I have particularly enjoyed his harrassment of Pat Buchanan, and recall fondly hearing Pat complaining about Ay-vye and his antics. But the good rabbi has an agenda, and you are not it....

Shabbat Shalom!

Taming Korach said...

Rav Maroof,

Mazal Tov on the birth of your new child! At the Magen we know you to be an insightful gentle ben Torah. I myself have been unfortunately the victim of such slanderous comments from other Jews, even as I pursued an Orthodox conversion to Judaism some 11 years ago here in Israel. G-d should protect you and everyone at the Magen from ayin ha-rah.

Justin White
Jerusalem, Israel

P.S. for Claudia Sunshine-Jesus was a sinner against Israel.

Daniel M. Ramos said...

Rabbi Maroof,

First of all I want to wish you and your family a most heartfelt mazal tov! I myself have a two little boys (3 and 4 years old). I still remember the experience and challenge of raising a newborn. I hope the little one learns to sleep through the night quickly. I am sure that I will soon be raising a newborn again with the help of Hashem.

Secondly, I have to admit that I was quite shocked by what I read in Yated. I have found through your writings that you are a man of conviction and intelligence. Your work has been of great use to my family and I. Although I do not know you personally I truly feel for you. I can not imagine how this situation has troubled your family. I hope that your forthrightness is accepted by your peers as the genuine truth that I believe it to be. It simply does not make logical sense otherwise. We must judge favorably. I truly appreciate your responses and your desire to clear up all of this confusion. Yasher Koach!

Finally, I believe it is painfully obvious that Rabbi Weiss owes you an apology. I do not believe he meant you harm; however, it is plain that he was not completely clear with you about exactly what was going to be occurring at that "ceremony." This is obvious from your statements of clarification. I hope that Rabbi Weiss realizes that His "project" has done harm to a fine man in public. There is a possibility that all of this has caused you a certain amount of embarrassment. I believe it is especially the duty of Rabbi Weiss to attempt to rectify this situation as much as possible. It would simply be the right, proper, and decent thing to do.

I wish you much success, happiness, and a big handshake from the orthodox community of Austin.

Mikewind Dale said...

Rabbi Maroof,

Perhaps if I knew more about your positions, this would be obvious, but as things stand, I cannot tell why you are to be considered distinct from Open Orthodoxy/YCT.

The Haredim deny women the ability to learn Torah at all, while the right-wing of MO allows women to learn Torah but never connects the dots and realizes that that there no halakhic impediment forbidding women to give shiurim.

As far as I can tell, the right-wing of MO would permit a woman to do everything a rabbi does, but only if she lacks the title. Can women answer halakhic questions? Of course. Can women speak in public? Of course; look Rebbetzin Jungreis and Nechama Leibowitz! Can women counsel those in emotional distress or who need lifestyle advice? Of course. There's not a single thing a rabbi today does, that a woman cannot do. So the right-wing MO seem to hold that as long as the woman lacks semiha, she is kosher, but as soon as she receives smiha, she is instantly invalidated from performing all the functions which non-smiha'ed women are already allowed to do. Obviously, this inconsistent position is cognitively and intellectually wanting.

You - being intellectually consistent - say both that women are allowed to learn Torah, and use that Torah in official settings, and even have a title that acknowledges what these women are already allowed to do. In what way then do you differ from YCT/Open Orthodoxy in your position?

(I'm not trying to draw a straw-man by saying that the right-wing MO are, as a rule, inconsistent and intellectually famished, and that YCT alone is intellectually consistent as a rule. It is simply in this one particular issue that I find that right- and left-wing Orthodoxy both agree on all the fundamentals, but that only the latter (viz. the left) acknowledge the logical conclusion of these universally agreed-upon fundamentals.)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Mikewind,

My objection was to being labeled as ideologically LW-Open Orthodox. That doesn't preclude agreeing with their stance on some issues.

The only area in which I would differ with their position on this is that they summarily dismiss the Rambam's view that there is a restriction on "serara" for women.

Although the exact parameters of that restriction are legitimately debated in halakhic literature and responsa, it does exist and is generally accepted by posqim as a principle of Jewish law.

This point has been set aside rather than confronted by the Open Orthodox group, in my opinion.

Mikewind Dale said...

Rabbi Maroof,

What about haskamah/kabbalah by the tzibur obviating serarah? If the congregation accepts the woman, then of what concern is serarah?

In any case, however, today's congregational rabbis wield no serarah at all. As Professor Menachem Friedman points out, today's non-traditional voluntary communities mean a congregant can easily and summarily leave the congregation for another. Today's rabbis have no power at all. (Of course, roshei yeshiva also have no power; they too have no power to force their views on anyone.)

(The non-traditional voluntary communities that exist today have also led to the ridiculous flaunting of the new concept of minhag avot, and the concomitant flouting of the traditional Torah concept of minhag ha-makom. The truth is that hadash assur min ha-torah, and so we must go by minhag ha-makom, and not this innovative and anti-traditional concept of minhag avot. But that's another story.)

Mikewind Dale said...

(I believe that often, the LWMO are far more traditional, and the Haredim are much more innovative and anti-traditional.

Moreover, if Torah is the form and derekh eretz is the matter, as Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg explains Rav Hirsch, then the Haredim, in rejecting derekh eretz, are little better than the Reformers who rejected Torah. In the end, im ein derekh eretz ein Torah, im ein Torah ein derekh eretz. Body without spirit and spirit without body are equally inefficaceous.)

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