Monday, July 25, 2016

Unleashing a Storm

Rabbi Herzl Hefter
Once again, I am saddened by what a brilliant Torah scholar is doing. I am saddened that his innovation – if expanded – will surely contribute to the rift in Orthodoxy that is taking place right now. A rift that is being caused by a Hashkafa that has departed from tradition.

I am not going to make my usual argument about why I have issues with Open Orthodoxy. Especially in its pursuit of women’s ordinations which is the main subject of this post. This is strictly about the rift that Rabbi Herzl Hefter is contributing to. It is a rift not only between Charedim and Modern Orthodox Jews. It is a rift even from the majority segment of Modern Orthodoxy that I call Centrists.

I have said it before. Regardless of how one feels about the religious justification or propriety of this, there is not a doubt in my mind that that ordaining women will never be accepted by the right wing. Nor will it be accepted even by the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy (also known as Centrists) This was made clear by the RCA’s statement about it.

In a sense, Rabbi Hefter actually acknowledges this. When asked about whether he thought his mentors, Rav Joseph Soloveitchik and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein would have approved of what he is doing, he clearly answered, ‘No. I don’t think so.’ He added that he thinks about that a lot. 

Unfortunately I don’t think he thinks about it enough. For if he did, he would come to the same conclusion I have. That ordaining women for the rabbinate – no matter how justified he feels it is – will never be accepted by mainstream Orthodoxy. Which means that there will be a break. On the one side between the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry that is comprised of Charedim (of all stripes) and Centrists (which is how the majority of RCA members would define themselves)... and on the other side those that support and accept a female rabbinate. The chasm will (or perhaps already has) become so wide that it will be unbridgeable! Much the like what happened to the Conservative Movement.

I understand where Rabbi Hefter is coming from. I even agree with him when he said, ‘I know men who have ordination and are not worthy of serving as rabbis, and women who are...’ 

I know more than a few Orthodox male ordainees that can barely read Hebrew. And I also know some very bright women whose knowledge of Torah on a variety of Torah subjects is so superior to mine, that I am embarrassed by it. .

So it is not too hard to understand why Rabbi Hefter feels that the time has come to recognize such such women with an ordination. But the price too high. His heart may be in the right place. But he could not be more mistaken in undertaking and perpetuating this enterprise. It is simply not worth the break in Orthodoxy this is causing. A break knowing that his own rabbinic mentors would not approve.

That he has gotten a few other knowledgeable rabbis – like Rabbi Daniel Sperber on board with this will not help getting it accepted by the mainstream. It will not be. Despite his high level of Torah knowledge, Rabbi Sperber is not a mainstream Posek and not accepted outside of his own left wing constituency.

One of the arguments I keep hearing is that things are different in Israel. That a vibrant Orthodox community already exists that  accepts these kinds of innovations. That unlike America these innovations have been widely accepted and will grow. Whereas in America they are accepted by an almost insignificant minority that will ‘whither on the vine’ (to borrow Newt Gingrich’s comments about Medicare many years ago.)   

It may very well be true that Israel has enough of a critical mass to perpetuate these innovations as a viable community. But the simple fact remains that the mainstream will not be part of it. That should be clear from the many statements that have come out by a variety of mainstream spokesmen from right to center - clearly condemning it. I don’t see that changing any more than mainstream Orthodoxy's rejection of the Traditional Movement. Who had an even greater Posek allowing their innovation of removing the Mechitza from their Shuls. They were rejected by all other mainstream Poskim. And although they were once a powerful force here in Chicago - they have since withered on the vine.

To be clear, the point I am making here has nothing to do with my own Hashkafic opposition to what Rabbi Hefter is doing. It is simply my analysis based on how mainstream Orthodoxy is reacting to it and how such reactions in the past caused there to be a split, and/or a demise of the movement based on it. Either way, I see nothing positive coming out of this. 

One has to consider the practical consequences of one’s actions. Sometimes the price of one's convictions, when weighed against the massive opposition to them by those who reject them is too high. In my view - even leaving out the Hashkafic and Halachic arguments - causing yet another split in Judaism just isn’t worth it.