Thursday, June 11, 2009

Embarrasing Questions

There is a blogpost at Honestly Frum about a functioning Yoetzet Halacha in a modern Orthodox community who received over 1000 Shailos over the last year. A Yoetzet Halacha is a woman who has received special training in Halacha pertaining to issues of sexual relations between husband and wife – and answers common Shailos by members of her community. This phenomenon has been in existence for about ten years now in Israel and has spread to the United States.

This is a controversial position in that women are now dealing with Halachic matters heretofore reserved for Rabbanim. Many Charedi Poskim are opposed to the very idea of Yoatzot (plural for Yoetzet) because they see it as a thinly disguised step towards the introduction of female rabbis into Orthodoxy – to which they are opposed.

Indeed I too am opposed to the idea of female rabbis, not because of any technical Halachic problems - which I don’t think really exist - but because of both practical and sociological reasons. But that issue is not for now.

Yoatzot are not rabbis and don’t pretend to be. They are simply very knowledgeable educated women who love to learn Torah. And they have funneled that energy into a program that has enabled them to be involved in a very productive endeavor. One that we should all embrace. They have clearly enunciated their desire to not replace rabbis. They forward all difficult Shailos to rabbis who are Poskim anyway. They are merely knowledgeable intermediaries who can answer commonly asked questions directly to those who ask them.

This phenomenon is not really that new. Rabbis wives have historically done much the same thing. The only difference is that these women have received special training for it

To me the advantages of Yoatzot are so obvious as to make any real opposition laughable.

I am not one to go off the reservation when it comes to normative behavior. People who read my blog know that I oppose many 'innovations' that may be technically within the parameters of Halacha but are outside normative Orthodox behavior.

For this and other reasons I am opposed to things like Woman’s Teffilah Groups for example. Not that I would Assur them even if I could. But I find such innovations to be pushing the envelope of Halacha too far - for mostly feminist reasons. I find that the advantage of a Woman’s Teffilah Group - which I readily admit exists - is outweighed by the feminist baggage that comes with it. And I'm a feminist!

But Yoatzot is an entirely different situation. Yoatzot serve a vital Halachic service that - because of the nature of the subject matter which many women find embarrassing to discuss with a male rabbi – have been ignored by too many religious Jews. This has resulted in either violations of Halacha or in unnecessary Chumros that have adversely affected marriages.

Those who protest Yoatzot and say that embarrassment should never get in the way of asking a Shaila to a Rav are right. But that doesn't stop them from being embarrassed and not asking. Yoatzot have obviously overcome the embarrassment issue and they have borne fruit in that more people now follow Halacha because of them. This is precisely why Yoatzot are a necessity. Although we have been steering Shailos like these to Rabbanim for centuries - and for centuries it seems to have worked – who really knows for sure?

There was always an element of embarrassment in these types of Shailos. Who is to say that everyone always asked? It wouldn't surprise me if many did not. We can’t really know.

The fact is that we DO know that many people - both women and their husbands - ARE embarrassed today to ask a Shaila about sex related issues today. The fact that there has been an increase in the number of Shailos asked of these Yoatzot that rabbis were never asked proves that this was the case and that Yoatzot provide an invaluable service.

This is a no brainer to me. Any opposition here because of feminist concerns is truly misplaced. The advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages - by miles!