Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Parallels Are Striking

Yeshivat Maharat ordainee, Rabbi Lila Kagedan (Jewish Chronicle Online)
When the Traditional Movement began, Rav Chaim Dovid Regensburg encouraged Orthodox rabbis to take pulpits in their Shuls. Rav Regensburg was no ordinary Rabbi. He received Semicha (Yoreh Yoreh Yadin Yadin) from the Slabodka Rosh HaYeshiva, R. Moshe Mordechai Epstein; and from the Lomzer Gaon, R. Yehuda Leib Gordon at the age of 20. He eventually became a Rosh Yeshiva at the Hebrew Theological College (HTC). He was also the Av Beis Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) for many years.

I mention his credentials so that his legitimacy as a Posek will not be questioned.

Back in the melting pot era of the 50s many Orhtodox Jews wanted to ‘Americanize’ their liturgical experiences. As a result of that desire, when many of the Orthodox Shuls moved from the changing West Side of Chicago - their lay leaders decided to eliminate the Mechitzos from their new Shuls. They wanted to have family style seating in their pews, just like the rest of America. At the same time most of them wanted to retain their Orthodox status. So when they needed a Rabbi they turned to HTC first. But they were married to the spirit of their time and if HTC wouldn’t provide a rabbi for a their non Mechitza Shuls, they would turn to JTS.

Rav Regensburg reasoned that by taking these pulpits these rabbis would at least retain them within the Orthodox orbit - adhering strictly to Halacha in every other sense. He also reasoned that these rabbis would encourage the membership of the Shul to send their children to Orthodox day schools. He was right. Many of them did. And those children are now Orthodox Jews that in most cases would not set foot into a Traditional Shul. What about those Mechitzos? He said they should try to get them installed but in the meantime they would have this positive influence. He felt that if an Orthodox rabbi would not take these pulpits, a Conservative rabbi certainly would and these Shuls would become Conservative and be lost.

Despite all of his reasoning and good intentions, Rav Regensburg’s Psak was universally rejected - even condemned - by every major Posek of the time. The movement was vehemently fought. Most of the rabbis that took those Shuls were virtually ostracized by the Orthodox establishment.

Rav Ahron Soloveichik was in the forefront of that opposition. Many of his students feel that it cost him his health. It certainly cost him his job as many Traditional rabbis or their influential members were on the HTC board of directors.(There were additional factors but they are beyond the scope of this post.)

History has proven Rav Ahron right. The Traditional movement is practically dead today.

History is now repeating itself. There is a new spirit in town. And her name is feminism. Only this time it has not a single Posek of any real stature. There is no Chaim Dovid Regensburg guiding them – telling them that they must cater to the spirit of the time so as not to lose Jews to the Conservative Movement. Just a few mostly pulpit type rabbis that are leading that charge. Even the brightest and most learned among them come  nowhere near the brilliance and Torah knowledge of a giant like Rav Regensburg.  

They have decided that all Orthodox rabbinic leaders are wrong. These rabbis know better because they are out in the field. The rabbinic leadership - they say - lives in ivory towers and they don’t know what’s going on in the real world. We therefore must reach out and accommodate the feminist spirit of the times that so many of our own have embraced.

But as history has shown us, even Rav Regensburg, with all of his tremendous Torah knowledge, good intentions and even successes in retaining Jews within the Orthodox orbit – was wrong. History has had its say.

The rabbis of the Traditional Movement would never have had the audacity to take a pulpit in a non Mechitza Shul without a clear Psak from their Rebbe. But today, some rabbis feel that they don’t need a Posek. And, in at least one case, Rabbi Avi Weiss has openly rejected the Psak of his own Rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik.

Rabbi Weiss’s veiws and actions have been roundly rejected by the vast majority of the Orthodox rabbinate, both here and in Israel: The Modern Orthodox RCA, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, the entire Chasidic world, the entire Lithuanian Yeshiva world, and virtually every great Posek of the modern era. They have unequivocally rejected Rabbi Weiss’s innovations. 

That he has created ‘facts on the ground’ with innovations like Yeshivat Maharat  and ordaining women means only  that he has created facts that are not considered Orthodox. Facts that have no more legitimacy than the Traditional Movement. That there are sincere people in this movement makes no difference. They may be sincere. But they are not Orthodox by definition.

Which is kind of sad for the ordainees. They think they are Orhtodox. They may in fact observe Halacha meticulously. But that does not change their status.

Now one may say who cares if they are Orthodox?! The problem is that they care because they keep insisting they are. Which brings me to the latest attempt at legitimizing a female rabbi.

Yeshivat Maharat ordainee, Rabbi Lila Kagedan has just taken a rabbinic position at an undisclosed formerly Orthodox Shul. I say formerly because - even though I don’t know which Shul, it is-  it has it violated the conditions set forth by the Modern Orthodox RCA to be considered Orthodox. And certainly it has violated the conditions for Orthodoxy set by the Hashkafos to the right of the RCA. Which encompasses the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry.

I’m sure this Shul will try and push back by putting its best Orthodox foot forward in an attempt to show how Orthodox it really is. It would not surprise me if for example if they have the most Kosher Mikvah in town. But it won’t help. They have taken themselves out of Orthodoxy by this hire. Fact on the ground or not.

This is sad for the Shul: it is sad for its members; it is sad for Rabbi Kagedan - her friends and family; and sad Klal Yisroel that yet another new denomination is born that like the original Conservative movement thinks it is not only legitimate but conserving Judaism.

I have no doubt that Rabbi Kagedan is a sincere and very bright young woman. I’m sure she has been well trained. And she does have impressive credentials. I’m equally sure she is well intentioned and very personable. But she has been misled. An Orthodox rabbi she is not. 

I truly feel bad saying all this. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone like Rabbi Kagedan. She does not deserve it and it is not my intention at all. But you cannot assert yourself into a movement that will not have you. It didn’t work for the Traditional Movement. And in my humble opinion, it will not work here. There may be more female rabbis being ordained in the future. Possibly a lot more, but they will not in my view ever be considered Orthodox. Nor will the Shuls that hire them.