Although the Jewish world is still reeling from the murders of the three Israeli boys, there have been lots of other things cooking on the interwebs.
1. Rabbah Sara Hurwitz
Orthodoxy’s first female [fill in word of choice here] came to Cleveland to speak recently, sparking locally a huge wave of controversy that is brewing within the larger Orthodox world. Here’s another response to the issue in general.
As an aside, I find it interesting that while in English, our language is moving more toward gender-neutrality, Hebrew will never be gender-neutral. Therefore, while in English, the word “rabbi” has been broadened to include women, in Hebrew a new, gender-specific noun must be chosen, and what that noun will be is still under debate.
That said, here’s what I posted on Facebook on the subject (granted, in the middle of a conversation):
…another important question that I believe is underlying this entire discussion. It also will clarify why I don’t have a problem with men running the show in established clergy positions. That is: are you willing to accept the status quo in normative Orthodox Judaism, or are you seeking to push the boundaries to where they have not been before? I am not casting aspersion on the second option, but I will say that if your starting point is that women should have as great a role as possible within clergy then no one should be surprised when that endeavor is met with resistance and push back. I accept the status quo and proceed from there. I don’t feel I ever got mixed messages since we didn’t learn Gemara as a subject as I was never taught that men and women do the same things. Am I stupider or happier? Pathetic for not questioning and pushing the status quo, or more fulfilled internally for it? I guess everyone can make their own judgments. I’ll say this. I feel that I am reaching my potential as a Jewish woman leader doing exactly what I’m doing. I find no boundaries or frustrations. That is my experience, for whatever it’s worth.
2. Israel’s Special Ed Unit
Grab some tissues, because you’ll need them for this. Seriously, is there ANY country like Israel???
3. Your Life In Weeks
Not specifically Jewish, but this was a good piece of mussar – wisdom that helps remind you why you’re here on this earth.
4. Oprah Learns About Sabbath
I found this video interesting from a Shabbat-observant perspective, of course, but a little cheesy from the Oprah perspective. I like Oprah a lot actually, but what does she mean she didn’t “know” Sabbath was on Saturday? Wouldn’t you just say you didn’t know it was “originally” on Saturday, until Christians changed it to Sunday? There was one line in there that I loved – something like, if a door opens for you, and your faith doesn’t fit through that door, don’t walk through that door. In any case, this is a cool guy (who is apparently famous) standing up for his religious values in Hollywood. Thumbs up from me, for sure.
I don't think whether Orthodox women feel oppressed or fulfilled in their roles in Judaism is related to why some women choose to work towards a rabbinical-type status. I don't think rabbanit Hurwitz did this because she felt oppressed.
I think people have different ways of relating to Hashem and love different things about Judaism. For those who choose this controversial path, it is just another way of being Orthodox within halachic boundaries.
Mp, I don't think rabbanit is the word of choice here. Also, do you really think that envelope-pushing isn't a factor?
I think envelope-pushing is the main factor for some people who promote this sort of change, but there are women who really are motivated by a love of the rabbinical aspect of Judaism. You'd have to know the particular individual to know her personal motivations.
Ruchi, she uses the term about herself, here on p. 11 http://www.jofa.org/sites/default/files/uploaded_documents/winter_2006_journal.pdf
so I don't have a problem using it.
No, I don't think doing things differently automatically means you are trying to push the envelope and I'm surprised you would espouse that view.
I read more about it and it seems that I was wrong, pushing the envelope is a factor. But so what? Why is that bad? I think we can all expect reticence from the Orthodox community, like you said, but that doesn't mean it is wrong.
I would expect resistance, not reticence.
From the response from Jewish News, I saw this:"There is an even loftier idea that men who have many female characteristics or women who have many male characteristics are simply more in touch with their original core, their soul, which is neither male nor female but both."
Never read or heard that before and find it very interesting….could you direct me to more about this?
I, too, have never heard or read that before.
I think one mistake that both feminists and traditionalists make is to assume that all women are the same. Women are not really a group. We are one half of the human population. That means we will be just as diverse, just as complex, just as varied as men. If one woman says that she feels fulfilled and another woman says that she feels unfulfilled, it doesn't mean that either woman is wrong. The fact that someone feels fulfilled by traditional Judaism doesn't make Judaism any less patriarchal, in the strict sense of "women having less formal power within a system than men". You can judge a system on the facts, not based on how it makes people "feel". On the other hand, someone feeling unfulfilled by traditional Judaism doesn't make Judaism any less meaningful or empowering or great or true. Women are complex. They can and do react to the same facts differently. All the time.
In the 19th century, teaching women Hebrew was hugely controversial. The reformers who started Beis Yaakov were considered "pushy". That doesn't mean that is or isn't pushy. History will judge. But many things we take for granted now were once considered pushy.
There is no bright line halachically, AFAIK, between a woman who is learned and who has some kind of title and any other knowledgeable woman who teaches others. If there was a line that was crossed, it was crossed in the 19th century when women were taught Hebrew and Chumash. Before that, the vast majority of Jewish woman had no formal Jewish learning.
When I almost became Orthodox, I was surrounded (literally) by Orthodox women who were in no way "oppressed". They were knowledgeable, strong, accomplished, happy with the gender distinctions in Judaism, fulfilled … all of those things. I accept 100% that those things are true. I also had to accept that I could not join them. The gender roles of traditional Judaism don't reflect me and I don't believe they come from G-d. I do accept, though, that a woman who is equally intelligent can look at the same set of facts and come to the entirely opposite conclusion.
I don't think Rabba Hurwitz expects people not to push back. This is what she believes G-d is calling her to do. As the story goes, G-d will not ask Sara Hurwitz why she wasn't Ruchi. G-d will ask her why she wasn't Sara Hurwitz.
You make it seem like boundary pushing is antithetical to normative Orthodox Judaism. Wasn't the Ba'al Shem Tov a boundary pusher when he pushed for methods of reaching God that extended beyond Talmud Torah? Wasn't Sarah Schenirer a boundary pusher when she pushed for formal Jewish education for religious women? Weren't Rav A.Y. Kook and Rav Reines boundary pushers when they pushed for religious Zionism?
Isn't an "envelope pusher" a visionary leader of normative Orthodoxy, twenty years beforehand?
SDK and Eliana,
Thanks for your insightful comments. I will speak to the Sara Schenerer example. She was most definitely not an envelope-pusher. She was a humble woman who brought her idea to the rabbinic leaders of the generation to make sure her idea was "normative" enough to implement – and she was given the green light and much support.
In Orthodoxy, we believe that the rabbinic leaders are the "eyes of the nation." We look to them to help us form ideas of what is aligned with Torah philosophy, though it may be edgy, and what isn't.
I think there's a difference between pushing boundaries in order to push boundaries and pushing them incidentally in the course of trying to accomplish a worthy goal. Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell the difference.
Right, I think that's a great distinction. The schism will arise when the ideas are met with resistance from "normative" leaders. People with great ideas have to have enough humility to occasionally ditch their ideas if the respected leadership is expressing concern – and to honestly listen to that concern and evaluate why it's being expressed. Envelope-pushers will not take those concerns into account.
I couldn't understand a lot of the Novominsker rebbe's speech. I guess it's his job to defend Judaism as his group practices it and interprets it, and to do so in front of others who understand him. Ruchi is, in my view, in a more interesting position. She is so much about showing humility about knowing just who is right and what God wants, even though she thinks she is right (as we all do, no?). It is a lot harder, I imagine, to inwardly have a hard-line about what is right and good and yet be welcoming and accepting of others. Harder than to just BE the hardliner who defines the party line without much worry about alienating, criticizing or denouncing others.
You hit the nail on the head. Many in the Modern Orthodox community were outraged and horrified at his speech, whereas you, from your distance, can evaluate it more objectively. And you're dead-on about my "position." Especially when people confront me about speeches such as these. Honestly, I vacillated greatly before including it, but I did in the name of intellectual honesty. Also, I have nothing to hide. I am proud of the Rebbe and consider him a wise and compassionate leader.
If I may "push the envelope", though: doesn't the Nov. Rebbe thereby injure the unity that I thought Os hold dear, when he denounces MOs? I can see the conflicting values–his job is to be a hardliner about a stance he views as correct. But his values are also supposed to include, from what I gather, Jewish unity.
I actually see this as a problem not for Judaism per se, but as a problem of all institutions that make claims to standing for values. For instance, the Pope HAS to be anti-abortion, anti-divorce, etc., I get it, I don't blame him for that (even though I am for reproductive rights). But he's the Pope, it's his job. Meanwhile there are 'subversive' members of the Catholic church, including lefty nuns and South American priests and all kinds of people who don't follow the party line but share the identity (maybe differing not on abortion but on priests marrying, or birth control, or women giving out communion or something else).
Or even some group like the NRA, their job (as crazy as it is in my view) is to defend gun rights to the last inch, which they consider a value, but once in awhile one of their members speaks in favor of registration laws or something, outraging the leadership and then they denounce that member, who considers herself/himself a loyal NRA supporter.
Judaism is also a 'political' institution in a way, and so I guess that conflicts with the unity thing, and also gets it caught up in managing multiple kinds of allegiances and identities. Doesn't seem very much about faith in that context, although clearly the leaders have to say, or even believe, that it is faith at stake in those 'institutional' conflicts.
Unity is definitely a huge value, but of course life is more nuanced than that. It doesn't trump all. A careful listen will reveal a denunciation of an "ism" and not of other human beings, but that's a distinction that doesn't feel satisfying to those who hold that "ism" dear. Perhaps even just as dear as unity as a value, Orthodox hold dear the value of the protection of boundaries and beliefs. Where those values come to a head, and one has to be chosen over another, is where we (and I don't just mean the royal we, I mean me as an individual) would turn to a wise leader to help navigate the way.
I'm surprised that you don't think it's about faith. It would seem to me that it's with a heavy heart that someone like the Novominsker Rebbe would harp on our differences, but he feels he must to protect our boundaries.
Being united is easy when people agree, though. So valuing unity only in so far as our isms agree… eh.
And calling other Jews heretics is a denunciation of them, I think.
I described above unity as a value even where people disagree. But where one finds one's values at risk, an assessment must be made as to how to proceed. I think your comment oversimplifies.
Do you have a direct quote on the "heretic" thing "
On the sabbath question: I've always wondered–but never bothered to look up–why DO Christians think God's 7th day was Sunday and Jews think it's Saturday? I think Muslim sabbath is Friday, no idea why. I guess it depends on how you come to the idea that Day 1 was a Sunday or a Monday . . . but does the Bible say that? I mean, from a modern perspective you would assume that the first "work day" is Monday, but I guess that derives from a Christian model where Sunday is, by definition, a day of rest. I have to confess that I find it a little funny to imagine God deciding whether the first day is a Sunday or a Monday. Calendar history must have a lot to say about this.
The Christians changed their day of rest to Sunday, at least in part to differentiate themselves from the Jews. As far as I know, based on my extensive research (i.e., googling it for the past few minutes while my son makes silly noises at me), they don't deny this. Interestingly, in Spanish, French, and Russian, the week starts on Monday, even though in Spanish at least, the word for Saturday clearly comes from the word "Sabbath."
But the Bible can't really say that the first day was a Sunday or Monday because those words are later inventions to describe the first day mentioned in the Bible. The Bible says "one day," "second day," "third day," etc. (on the first day there was only one day, so at the time it was one day, and not yet the first day — kind of the way Queen Elizabeth only became Elizabeth I when Elizabeth II became queen). According to both Jews and Christians, Saturday is the name later given to the seventh day of the week (well, sort of, since in Judaism days start at sunset).
As for the Muslims, my similarly extensive research tells me that Friday is their day of public prayer, not a "Sabbath" or day of rest.
DG, you crack me up.
I can offer a Christian explanation here: According to the New Testament, early Christians met together for worship on the first day of the week (Sunday) because of their/our belief that Jesus' resurrection took place on that day. Paul (and other Jewish converts) continued to go to synagogue on Saturday and then meet with other Christians for worship and teaching on Sunday. Eventually Sunday, as a day of particularly Christian worship, became conflated with Sabbath. A desire to differentiate may have played a role in that shift (I'm a little fuzzy on that, to be honest), but the established practice of gathering together for worship on Sunday made the shift possible. There remains a small minority of Christians who believe the change in day was a mistake, and that the Sabbath should still be observed by Christians on Saturday (Seventh-Day Adventists being the most well-known). I hope that helps.
Thanks, Kadee, that is very helpful!
You'd be surprised how many Christians have *no idea* what day the Sabbath actually is. I correct people all the time.
Torah says the Shabbos is a gift solely in the covenant with the Jewish people (Shemot 31:17) and we pray to that effect every Shabbos Shemoneh Esrei 'And You did not give it, HaShem, our G-d, to the nations of the lands, nor did You make it the inheritance, our King, of the worshipers of graven idols. And in its contentment the uncircumcised shall not abide — for to Israel, Your people, have You given it in love, to the seed of Jacob, whom You have chosen.'
Why does the Torah community care about 'Rabbas' when they won't be serving in their shuls anyway? Because changes in tradition force break-away movements that fragment Jewish unity.