Sunday, May 22, 2011


I am happy to see that the Charedi world has restored a degree of intellectualism into the public domain. That used to be almost the sole province of the now defunct Jewish Observer. When that magazine folded there was no real journal that was devoted to the intellectual discussion of the hard issues of the day.

To be sure (I hate that phrase - it is so cliché already!) new magazines abound in the Charedi world. Some better than others – Mishpacha and Ami are among the better ones. But as good as they are - they are family oriented reading material. Although they do tackle some very serious issues, they are not devoted to the kind of intellectual discussion that had become the hallmark of the Jewish Observer.

This is not to say that I agreed or disagreed with their perspective. As is the case with most things, I evaluated each article on its own merit. Nor am I saying that The Jewish Observer was on par with academic journals and adhered to their academic standards of writing the way Tradition Magazine for example does. But it was definitely the best they had and did a pretty good job of presenting their case.

But the success of the new glossy magazines killed the more intellectualized Jewish Observer. I lamented their demise at the time. Agree or disagree, I felt they ended up bereft of any intellectual component that could articulate the Charedi perspective.

This is no longer the case. A new and in my view better journal of Jewish thought has just been launched by the name of Dialogue. It is Charedi and presents its views unapologetically. Its rabbinic board consist of 3 people: Rav Shlomo Miller of Toronto, a major Talmid Chacham and Posek who heads the Lakewood Kollel there; Rav Moshe Meiselman, a nephew of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the Rav) and Rosh HaYeshiva of Toras Moshe in Israel; and Rav Aharon Feldman, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel.

One thing that makes this a bit different is that it does not belong to any organization that might have an agenda of its own. Their agenda is strictly to speak about issues from a Charedi perspective. I do not believe – for example – that they will ever disparage the Rav as did the Jewish Observer.

I received the inaugural issue last Friday and had a chance to read some of the contributions – 3 of them to be exact. The subjects were contradictions between Science and Halacha, Orthodox feminism, and a refutation or Rabbi Broyde’s attempt to find a Halachic justification for those married religious women who do not cover their hair.

Rav Meiselman tackled the science-Torah issue. He is apparently coming out with a book that will deal with those issues in depth and based his article here on that. Frankly I found that he fell quite short of making his case. He focused on time-lines and how they effect scientific versus biblical accounts of the origins of the universe and the Mabul – the great flood of Noah’s time.

He basically asserted that we cannot judge events like that using scientific methods dating. Those events were beyond space-time continuum. He claims that it is very likely that nature as we see it today may not have been the way it was before the great flood. And that the two events in question were miraculous and outside of the nature and outside of time as we currently measure it. Dating methods are therefore impossible to determine scientifically. Scientists make the mistake of assuming the constancy of nature never having been altered by the miraculous. Rav Meiselman says that this is not the case and that the miraculous nature of creation and the Mabul did alter things both at the time and perhaps afterward in the case of the Mabul.

This is an old argument. It has been used by people like Rabbi Avigdor Miller to explain why there is no geological fossil record of any kind of global flood. I do not find this argument any more compelling than simply saying that God erased the evidence of the flood. He is God after all and can do what he wants. This is an answer for a pre-determined outcome.

This is not God forbid any attempt on my part to refute the biblical narrative of the Mabul and conclude it is allegorical. I simply remain with a question and have some alternative theories that make more sense to me.

As it applies to creation, Rav Meiselman does not come right out and say so but he seems to be saying that he does not believe in an ancient universe. He uses the same timeline argument to negate ideas put forward by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan who believed in an ancient universe. Rav Meiselman says that measuring time prior to the completion of the six days of creation is meaningless - as it cannot be measured in natural terms.

In the Yeshiva we used to call this a Dochak Terutz – forced conclusions. The problem I have with that is that we know how to measure time via a constant known as the speed of light. When we see a star exploding today that is a million light years away, this means that it took six million years for the light of that explosion to get here and actually exploded a million years ago. To say that somehow the speed of light constant was changed and is now immeasurable seems to again be fitting a scenario into a pre-deterimed conclusion. It is Dochak.

Eytan Kobre’s highly critical article of Orthodoxy’s premiere feminist organization the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) was a far better piece. He went to great length to show just how unorthodox the agenda of this organization is. In fact I agree with just about everything he said.

What made his arguments interesting is that he used some very prominent modern Orthodox Jewish thinkers to make his case for him. Not the least of which was the Rav. But it also included Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. But I do not let Rabbi Kobre entirely off the hook here. What he did is what I believe to be an inherent flaw in this magazine. He felt the need to criticize Rabbi Dov Linzer for empathizing with those women who wanted to be more participatory in roles that he shows are illegitimate for them.

How can Rabbi Kobre critize that? He claimed that such empathy encourages them to seek these unpermitted avenues for themselves. I really don’t see how it does that when Rabbi Linzer clearly rejects it in unambiguous terms. It was an unnecessary slam against a man who is a dedicated servant of God and L’Shma… and one that he just used to make his case! He should not have done that. I can’t help feeling that Rabbi Kobre felt the need to somehow show his disdain for YCT and its leaders. He has a right to do that of course. But not in this somewhat insulting and back-handed way.

What is perhaps even more egregious is how Rabbi Kobre introduced his article. He began with citing modern Orthodoxy’s legitimate criticism of Charedi hagiographies - those revisionist biographies absent any truth that is even remotely seen as negative about their subjects. He then had the nerve to imply that all of modern Orthodoxy is on the side of JOFA and then suggested we have our own revisionism to deal with as it pertains to Orthodox feminism.

How he can make that comparison in the opening paragraphs and then use almost exclusively modern Orthodox religious figures that reject the kind of feminism he talks about just as much as he does? It is at best a gross oversight and at worst an intellectually dishonest way to paint all of modern Orthodoxy in a negative light.

In the final article two rabbis - Yosef Weiner and Yosef Ifrah - deal with Rabbi Broyde’s article with an undertone of derision. I understand that they are unhappy with Rabbi Broyde. I even agree that they have a right to try and refute him in the way they do.

I am not going to go into the details of the debate. Although they made some pretty good arguments against him, I do not buy that Rabbi Broyde was irreversibly refuted at all.

But to treat Rabbi Broyde with a derisive undertone actually undermines their position. They comes off as arrogant in the extreme. But at least they did not treat Rabbi Broyde as did Rav Shlomo Miller who as mentioned earlier is on the rabbinic board of this journal. He declared Rabbi Broyde to be a reformer on par with Aharon Choriner who wrote Teshuvos for the founders of the Reform movement. I guess that’s progress of a sort.

The bottom line here though is that I welcome this new publication and wish it much success. My hope is that they take criticisms such as those I offer here in the spirit in which I give them. To improve the way they write and also write in more respectful terms no matter how much they disagree with a disputant. Then indeed we can have the dialogue between us implied in the magazine’s title.

Update: One of the authors on the hair covering issue -Rabbi Yoseph Weiner has graciously sent me an e-mail to alert me to the fact that Rabbi Broyde was indeed given the proper honorific 'Rabbi' in the first paragraph of the actual text. I somehow missed that. I was looking at the opening synopsis that preceded it where his name was first mentioned and in a subsequent skim of the entire article I did not spot that. I apologize to the authors for this error and have corrected the post accordingly. The synopsis opened up the article. It began with 'R. Broyde'. That is what threw me off. I would advise that in the future they should use the proper honorific the very first time a name is seen in an article in order to avoid the kind of error I made.