Friday, September 09, 2011

Sad, But Not Surprising...

The Open Orthodox movement is taking leave of any semblance of halakhic legitimacy at an alarming pace. Debating the acceptability of reciting a blessing ordained by the Sages of the Talmud was merely a strategy for testing the proverbial waters, an attempt to see whether the introduction of changes in religious practice under the banner of feminism and gender equality would be countenanced by the Orthodox community. It was a successful experiment, indeed, because the response of the Modern Orthodox world to this blatant deviation from halakhic methodology and traditional observance was tepid at best and apathetic at worst.

Only weeks later, further movement in the direction of full-blown egalitarianism is being publicly advocated and endorsed by musmachim of YCT and representatives of Yeshivat Maharat, with the support of other unaffiliated and/or simply non-Orthodox institutions. Those of us who have been monitoring the developments within Open Orthodoxy over the past several years should not be surprised to find its spokespersons giving their rubber stamp to "minyanim" that permit women to lead sections of the tefilla, read from the Torah, and perform other functions that range from the highly questionable to the outright forbidden. Nonetheless, it pains me to witness this turn of events, because I had hoped - against all odds and for the sake of the unity of Klal Yisrael - that this would not happen. What is most troubling tragic is that, due to the slow, quiet process of evolution that is responsible for these changes, the radical quality of their implications has been obscured.

It should be mentioned that the Talmud teaches us that a talented scholar can find numerous seemingly persuasive arguments to permit something that is known to be prohibited. In fact, the ability to do so is considered a sign of tremendous intellectual acumen and a masterful command of Torah knowledge. This means that even a very convincing and well constructed argument can lead to patently false conclusions.

The Open Orthodox camp has marshaled a number of unconventional responsa, original, erudite arguments and abstruse sources to legitimize their positions, just as the Conservative scholars of the 20th century found scattered sources and generated unprecedented arguments to justify their innovations. At the end of the day, however, halakhic tradition beginning with the Mishna, Tosefta and Gemara in Masekhet Megillah has been unequivocal in its stance that women may not read the Torah for the community. The reason behind this principle can be analyzed, discussed, studied and debated, but it remains an iron-clad rule, a dictate of the Sages that we, as Orthodox Jews, must be fully committed to observe.

Aside from the speciousness of creative attempts to "explain away" the halakhic principle that forbids egalitarian Torah reading, the fact is that the traditionally understood meaning of this principle has been applied across the board in our communities for millenia; and this fact, in and of itself, is a sufficient reason to dismiss any and all challenges to its validity. מנהג ישראל תורה היא - the universal, customary practice of the Jewish community is itself an indisputable part of our Oral Tradition.


SHM said...

Dear Rabbi Maroof: Please remove your reference to YCT Rabbinical School in this post. YCT is not a sponsor or co-sponsor of this event, none of its faculty are speaking at it, so it is is simply inaccurate to mention YCT in this connection.

R. Nathaniel Helfgot

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I corrected the post for accuracy. Although YCT was not an official sponsor of the event, individuals ordained by YCT were directly involved in the development and promotion of it.

MDJ said...

It's not just that YCT has nothing to do with it, it's not clear why you broing up open orthodoxy at all. This is a conference about parternship minyanim with no particular affiliation. Even R. Fox is previously involved as the defacto rabbi of the upper east side partnership minyan. So what exactly did you find so interesting about this event.

Also, you may be against partnership minyanim, but to call them full-blown egalitarianism is simply inaccurate.

MDJ said...

As for your response to R. Helfgott, individuals ordained by YU were also involved. So?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...


R' Fox is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, as well as a very prominent musmach of YCT. Full disclosure: He is also my sister-in-law's husband, and a dear friend. We obviously have our areas of serious disagreement.

Once you cross the line of halakhic observance, the question of whether something is "full blown" egalitarianism or not becomes moot.

MDJ said...

1) The point is the R. Fox has been affiliated with partnership minyanim for awhile, so why the sudden interest from you.
2) The difference between full-blown egalitarianism and partnership minyanim is only irrelevant if you are not interested in being accurate and truthful. PArtnership minyanim are not full-blown egalitarian, and both you and everyone else interested in the topic know is. So when you say that open orthodoxy is supporting full-blown egalitarianism, you are basically saying they are supporting counting women for a minyan and allowing them to be shlichei tzibbur for devarimm shebikdusha. this is certainly what any reader of your piece would think, and why it is inappropriate for you to use that language.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

1) Because this event was advertised to the public, and I was previously unaware of his involvement in this movement.

2) From the perspective of halakha the difference is negligible. Those who stress the distinction between "partnership" and egalitarianism are smoothing the terrain on the slippery slope ahead of time.

MDJ said...

>>Those who stress the distinction between "partnership" and egalitarianism are smoothing the terrain on the slippery slope ahead of time.

Or they are building a fence to maintain the distinction. Why can't you stick to the facts in your post -- Open orthodoxy (or some of its representatives, but whatever) are ok with partnership minyanim. You can even say "with egalitarianism". But once you use the modifier "full-blown", which, as anyone who care about this knows, means as opposed to what is proposed by partnership minyanim, there is no way to defend you statement as true. It is simply sheker. You may think that it will be true in the future, but that does not make it true now. I am quite disappointed that you cannot see that.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

You interpret the breaking down of a fence as the creation of a fence. This is a difficult position to maintain. In my post, I am commenting on what I believe is reflected implictly in the support given to Partnership Minyanim.

This is not to say that PMs exemplify absolute egalitarianism in their current form, just that those who promote PMs are committed, in principle, to total egalitarianism, but have not yet crossed that bridge in practice.

I am sure you realize that if any - and I mean ANY - nominally "Orthodox" scholar were to pen a responsum allowing women to be counted in a minyan, regardless of the speciousness of the proposition and supporting arguments, said article would be posted on JOFA's website within minutes of its publication and would be implemented in practice by YCT Musmachim in a matter of months or years afterward.

They are simply waiting for someone bold to provide the justification for the state of affairs they desire and for which they have carefully paved the way.

David Wolkenfeld said...

1. Although I do not share the strength of your rejection of partnership minyanim, I sympathize with your opinions.

2. I am also sympathetic with your sense that the boundary lines between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy lie on one side of "partnership minyannim." I certainly think that's a reasonable position one could come to, even if I am personally not willing to write out of Orthodoxy the many hundreds of observant Jews who attend partnership minyanim. [I think it could be a step towards a more tolerant Orthodoxy if the representatives of the "Center-Right" would clarify where exactly their red-lines are. The status-quo leads some Orthodox liberals to the nihilist stance of "they will never accept us anyway so we might as well do x,y, or z if we think it is halakhic and appropriate."]

3. I found your post to be profoundly unfair and dishonest and with all possible humility I urge you to reconsider your words. In the opening paragraph of your post you fabricate a vast and coordinated conspiracy of Orthodox liberals to introduce "full blown egalitarianism" by stages. Say what you will about Rav Kanefsky's position on Birkot HaShahar (and there's been no shortage of both reasonable and unfair criticisms of Rav Kanefsky), but he certainly acts and writes with sincerity and did not endure an unpleasant mini-controversy merely as a trial balloon in coordination with organizers of a conference in New York. There is not a shred of evidence to support the conspiracy that you described. There is enough to argue about, with respect and assuming that others are acting l'shem shamayim, without inventing conspiracies.

Almost by definition, partnership minyannim are "independent" and are thus unlikely candidates for conspiratorial colusions.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I don't believe we can easily categorize individuals as Orthodox or non-Orthodox based upon whether they attend PMs or not. Orthodoxy is a matter of principles, commitment to the beliefs of traditional Judaism and fealty to Halakha in general. The fact is that most participants in PMs are not halakhic scholars who are capable of ascertaining the halakhic legitimacy of PMs; they are following leaders, and it is leaders whom I would hold responsible because שגגת תלמוד עולה זדון, particularly when they have chosen to rely upon an essentially unknown scholar's lone opinion that happens to contradict the unanimous normative and halakhic tradition that preceded him.

I think it is clear that endorsing and promoting a practice that is contrary to the Talmud, Rishonim and the statements of all known posqim would pretty obviously constitute stepping over the line. I don't think anyone in the Open Orthodox camp could really be confused about that.

I am not suggesting any sort of conscious, deliberate or explicit collusion. I am observing a social trend, the incremental developments manifest in Open Orthodoxy. This is not a grass-roots revolution being organized and directed from a "situation room" at YCT. It is a gradual unfolding of trends fueled by the ideological influence of Open Orthodoxy. Rabbis and laypersons alike are testing the waters to see how far they can push the limits of halakha before they are "pushed back" by or "pushed out" of Orthodoxy.

They are feeding off of one another's initiatives, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. In that sense, I perceive the movement, as a whole, progressing in a certain direction.

Richard said...

Do you really think that R. Daniel Sperber is an "essentially unknown scholar"? You may think that he isn't a posek and has no halachic authority, but a subpar scholar he is certainly not.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I am referring to Mendel Shapiro's responsum in the Edah Journal, not R'Daniel Sperber.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to you R. Maroof, I do think it is worth reflecting on the extreme postures you take when advocating an issue. It was only a few years ago that you stood in front of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and vigorously spoke about the need for women's advancement in the most passionate of ways. Now, a few years later, you speak about women's issues in yet again extreme passion.

While your arguments may have substance to ponder as R. Wolkenfeld pointed out, it is hard to even address them given the overgrown wisteria of excitement, melodrama and exaggeration present.

In an age where what you say can leave an imprint for eternity, or at least until the data file corrupts, I would very humbly suggest rethinking the tone by which you speak. R. Kanefsky did no less in retracting his initial post and it takes a man of true humility to do so in front of the eyes of the Internet. I only say these things because I sincerely believe that you are indeed someone who could be mekabel this, hopefully sensitive reproach, and refine your approach.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I stand behind the content of the speech I gave at the conferral ceremony 100%. I have never backed down from it or changed my view of it; in fact, I am proud of what I said, and this is why I uploaded the clip to Youtube myself.

My only regrets had to do with the context of the event, which led to my broader hashkafic stance being misinterpreted in the media.

Furthermore, I have nothing but respect for Sara Hurwitz as an individual. She is knowledgeable, compassionate, sensitive, and possessed of a rare humility.

You are fundamentally misunderstanding the thrust of this post. I am not vigorously opposing "women's advancement". On the contrary, I am strongly in favor of women's advancement, WITHIN the bounds of halakhic practice and Torah thought.

The problem is that those who are promoting women's advancement through "Partnership Minyanim" seem to be dispensing, at least in part, with the objective study of and adherence to traditional halakhic principles and norms.

This is not what I would call advancement. I believe this is a setback, because it is leading women that we should be "advancing" in Torah and Mitzvot away from the very system of halakha and hashkafa that we value so tremendously.

Anonymous said...

Dear R. Maroof -

Again respectfully, is it not possible that your tone, your vigor and your excitement had something to do with the content of your speech being misconstrued by the public and the media? It was Bilaam's mistake to only blame the place, the context, everything else besides himself.

The argument you made in your comment in response to me is very different than what you wrote in your blog post. It is different because it is not overshadowed by attempts to paint conspiratorial intentions, to construct elaborate palaces of scheming and tarnishing organizations that have nothing to do with your *actual* point you are trying to make.

One should tread very carefully when making claims about the intentions of other people and certainly whole institutions. This is especially so when it is done in a public context and most true when it is done in the month of Elul. The halachot of rechilut and lashon hara are so extensive and far reaching precisely because the tendency to slip into one of them is so easy.

My beracha for you is that you utilize the remainder of this month and the upcoming Yamim Noraim to reflect on the appropriate usage of short essays on a blog, without footnotes, references or substantiations to malign whole institutions of Torah observant, G-d fearing Jews and whether this is fitting practice for a rav u'manhig le'yisrael.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I am not maligning any individual or institution. I am merely commenting on a trend I observe in the Orthodox community today.

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I am not attributing conscious, malicious intentions to anyone.

I am also very open about my identity. It must be easy to criticize under cover of anonymity. I have never availed myself of this luxury. While I suspect I know who you are, I am not certain, and this allows you to speak with impunity, whereas I must be concerned with the consequences of what I say.

For the record, I am just as passionate about the content of that speech as I was then. Honestly, nothing has changed in that regard at all.

However, I was naive in the sense that I assumed my remarks would be taken at face value - as a message in support of the advancement of women's learning and teaching and nothing more.

It is not about blaming the place. I take responsibility for conveying the wrong impression about my beliefs. I am merely stating that the choice of venue - which I agreed to and take responsibility for - as opposed to the words uttered, had much to do with the wrong impression that was conveyed.

moonlight1021 said...


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moonlight1021 said...

The Mole said...

Regarding previous posters who chide the Rabbi for calling these people out, I'm not sure you can make those claims.

These poskim that endorse anti-halachic practices are fully open to (respectful) criticism. They are publicly going against the teachings of our sages and encouraging others to do the same. Especially when we're at such a breaking point of disunity within the Jewish people, these practices have no lasting positive effect. And what is troubling with these trends is that they are perceptively halachic to the poorly educated (which is a heck of a lot more of us than we want to admit).

And since when is an institution immune from criticism?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Rabbi Maroof, what is your goal?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

If I have a specific "goal", it is to clarify where I stand regarding a number of issues about which my philosophical or halakhic stance has been misunderstood. Unfortunately, I have come to realize that when I refrain from commenting on these subjects, positions with which I do not agree wind up being attributed to me.

Elisha said...

Boy, don't you just love those anonymous comments? Even though I don't subscribe to any subset of Judaism, I respect and admire the fact that you write with passion and a strong tone. You were assertive with clarifying your stance on the MaHarat issue and you persisted to defend your views through many media outlets in the subsequent months.

As your atheist sister-in-law, I am proud that you attach your picture to your words, unlike the anonymous commenter who would rather "hit and run" with condesending advice and then hide behind the mask of anonymity.

I have been told my entire life that I need to tone down the way I speak and write. That will never happen. I think that those people who make such requests (under the guise of 'concern')are threatened by what you have to say.

Elisha Perlman said...

I also observed that the anonymous commenter certainly appreciated your passion and excitement when (s)he thought that you had a common agenda in the Open Orthodoxy movement. But once (s)he discovered that you are opposed to some ideals coming from that movement and you requested that your name be removed from any literature where you are linked to the movement, THEN they condemn this same passion because it doesn't benefit their own cause.

Another thing that gets my goat is that the cowardly anonymous poster accused you of gossip. People are allowed to have opinions. Speaking them should not ilicit accusations of gossip.

In addition, the wimpy anonymous commenter asks in a condesending tone whether your actions are worthy of a Rabbi. I am appalled at how fast he resorted to this particular insult. You obviously touched a nerve.

As a firm advocate of freedom of speech, I say KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT and don't back down even (expecially) when they stoop to name calling and accusations of evil speech. They are just trying to supress your opinion since it puts a damper on how the public perceives their own agenda.

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