Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Female Cantor

Has Rabbi Avi Weiss lost his mind?

I don’t know what else to think. I have never been a fan. His public antics in support of legitimate causes bordered on self promotion. I don’t know if that was his intention but it certainly was the result.

He protested the establishment of a convent on the grounds of Auschwitz for Carmelite nuns who wanted to pray there for the souls of the victims. I agreed with his intent then. No matter how well intentioned those nuns were wrong for inserting themselves into the most recognized symbol of the holocaust. Which was a Jewish tragedy. Not a Catholic one.

But making a public protest wasn’t enough for Rabbi Weiss. He had to go over there and confront those nuns as though they were Nazis themselves. And that turned a legitimate protest into a circus starring Rabbi Avi Weiss.

The same thing happened a few years ago when noted anti-Semite Mel Gibson produced and distributed the ‘Passion of the Christ’ which many saw as an anti Semitic movie. But protesting the movie wasn’t enough for Rabbi Weiss. He and a group of supporters had to go to a theater showing the movie dressed in Holocaust prison uniforms and protest it there – thus drawing attention to himself and in the processes using the holocaust make his point.

Then there was the establishment of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah for the purposes of creating a more open Orthodoxy. This meant crossing lines uncrossed before by interacting with heteordox rabbis on religious matters. He broke with his rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik, who forbade doing so for religious purposes – permitting it only for communal purposes. This caused tremendous grief for the Rav in that he broke ranks with his Charedi colleagues who forbade any participation at all with them.

The Rav forbade participating with them on religious issues for the same reasons his Charedi colleagues did. It gave tacit recognition to heterodoxy. But Rabbi Weiss ignored his Rebbe and did it anyway.

And then he decided to ordain women for the rabbinate. I would have thought that was as far as he would go. And he was practically thrown out of the Rabbinical Council of America for that. He has since back-peddaled by agreeing not to confer the title on any other woman. But he still backs the seminary headed by his first ordainee, Maharat Sara Hurwitz, for purposes of training them to be rabbis albeit without being called rabbis. He thus straddles a line between a break with Orthodxy and remaining within the fold - all the way on the left.

But this time he has crossed the line. In a misguided attempt to serve the cause of feminism he has placed a woman as a cantor in front of a congregation of male and female worshippers.

His explanations as to why it doesn’t cross a line and is a permitted Halachic innovation are meaningless. He says that it is permitted because Kabbalat Shabbos is not part of the liturgy and has no Devarim SheBKedusha (Barchu, Kaddish, etc.) This, he says, is not really an area where a woman may not participate. So he does the unthinkable he puts a singing woman before a group of men and women.

Is it a technical violation of Halacha? I’m not sure. But it in no uncertain terms it is a violation of the spirit of the Halacha. Even assuming one is Mekil about Kol Isha when it comes to liturgical chant.

I realize of course that many of my supporters will ask, ‘What business is it of mine what he does?’ ‘As long as he doesn’t violate Halacha what right do I have to criticize him?’ Well for one thing I’m not sure it doesn’t violate Halacha. But even if it doesn’t - the break from the norm is huge and mimics the Conservative movement.

Furthermore this has absolutely nothing to do with feminism. A female cantor does not advance the cause of women one iota. What has any Jewish woman gained by this? Is the cantor more inspired by chanting before men? Are the men in the audience more inspired? Or is just a victory for feminism?

In my view it is none of those. It is just Rabbi Avi Weiss pushing the envelope over a cliff. And I have lost any respect I may have had for him.

I don’t see how the RCA can allow him to retain membership after this. Nor would I consider his Shul Orthodox.