Wednesday, April 09, 2014

But It Makes Me Feel More Spiritual?

Tzitzis - Photo Credit: Forward
Is there anyone that thinks that a woman that wears Tzitzis (the fringes that must be attached to all 4 corners of a piece of clothing that has four corners) is in any way normative Judaism? Well… this seems to be the next step in breaking the chain of tradition that the extreme left wing of modern Orthodoxy is going. From the Forward: 
(A) group of young women are — quite literally — taking this fiddly law into their own hands.Maya Rosen, 19, has been wearing tzitzit for three years, making her own for two, and last week launched Netztitzot, a not-for-profit organization that will sew and sell tzitzit for women.

The Mitzvah of Tzitizs is one of those from which women are exempt. It is a positive commandment that is time bound since it can only be fulfilled during the day time. So only men are required to do this and may only wear a 4 cornered piece of clothing if those fringes are attached.

So here is what the extreme left has wrought. Women can now be ordained, they can be cantors in a Shul (in certain portions of the service) even when men are present . They wear Teffilin and now even wear Tziztis. I am trying to picture this sight. And it is baffling to me why any woman would choose to so clearly look like a man in religious terms.

Now in the strictest of terms, I do not believe they are in technical violation of Halacha. Women are indeed permitted to honor and observe those Mitzvos from which they are exempt. And in that sense many of time bound Mitzvos are obsevered by woman. And they are even encouraged to do so. Like taking the Daled Minim (a Lulav and Esrog, etc.) on Sukkos. Over the centuries this has become the norm.

So why is this odd looking woman standing  behind the Mechtitza wearing a Talis and Teffilin and wearing Tzitzis as part of her everyday apparel the way men do so bad? Is it any worse than doing any other voluntary Mitzva from which they are exempt?

The answer is yes. There is a reason some voluntary Mitzvos are both acceptable and encouraged and some are not. When Mitzvios are done against the accepted grain, one has to ask why any given woman has chosen that particular Mitzva to perfom. Why choose somenthing that was never accepted in the past? Why break with tradition? What is to be gained by bucking the system?  

I know all the arguments.  If someone feels more spiritual by doing something out of the mainstream, why protest? If it enhances their spirituality, what’s wrong with it? And what gives me the right to judge them or question their motives?

The answer is as follows. Although there is no outright ban on the aforementioned innovations, there is discouragement of it in the Halachic literature. Sources for that can be found at the Lincoln Square Synagogue (LSS) website. One needs to take that into consideration before bucking the trends we in Orthodoxy follow.

Why are these women breaking with tradition – even as they do so sincerely? As I’ve said in the past there is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind that the feminist zeitgeist is what’s driving it. One may say, “So what?” “What’s the harm?” “If there is no technical problem with it and someone feels more spiritual by doing something non traditional - why hinder them just because it isn’t the norm?” “If feminism is the means by which a woman becomes aware of her spirituality, of what consequence is it to me or to Judaism in general?”

I’ve made this comparison in the past but it bears repeating. Using the argument that external influences that are not counter Halacha should be embraced by those who feel more spiritual doing them - should support a woman’s choice to wear a Burka. There too there is technically nothing in Halacha that forbids women to do that. It is – one can argue – a more modest form of dress for a woman to cover up as much of the female form in public as one can. Burkas certainly do that. Why hinder a woman from expressing her spirituality through this form of modesty? So what if Islam does it too?  Tznius is Tznius!

Do we really want to encourage such breaks from the norm…  especially when such acts are discouraged in the Halachic sources - even if not outright banned? There is something to be said for being normal. If being abnormal makes you more spiritual, well… there is just something wrong with that.

Now there is an argument to be made about allowing such innovations because of the failings of Modern Orthodoxy wherein these innovations lie. The sad fact is that there are a great number of people form MO backgrounds that go OTD. From the LSS website
As uncomfortable as it is to say this or hear it, I feel that we in Modern Orthodoxy have to look at ourselves as badly needing Kiruv. Despite our exorbitantly expensive day school education, the results are mixed, at the very best.  In many ways, all of our teenagers are religiously ‘at risk’. 
This is followed by the argument that with so many kids at risk of going OTD, one should be happy that a child is taking upon themselves a religious stringency even if it isn’t mainstream. Doing something religious is far better than violating Halacha. Furthermore - forbidding it may cause these teenagers to rebel in the opposite direction. I can certainly hear that argument. But I have to wonder if such  behavior – religious though it may seem – is not in itself a rebellion.  Which can become a slippery slope in the opposite direction too. 

How will this looking the other way impact the rest of the student body? What conclusions will be drawn from this?

In my view all these innovations ought to be completely discouraged. If someone wants to be more spiritual by finding additional ways to express it, they should start with self improvement in areas required of them. Or at least in areas that are accepted norms for women even if not required of them. Is self fulfillment really about fulfilling the word of God even if it makes you feel more spiritual?

The extreme left wing of Orthodoxy is pushing the envelope by allowing or even encouraging these innovations. Innovations that are discouraged in Halacha. And if that is not bad enough - what does that say about a woman’s traditional role in Judaism? And where will the slippery slope lead them next?