Monday, February 20, 2017

When Legitimate Moral Values Conflict

Rabbi Rafi Eis (Herzl Institute)
Rabbi Rafi Eis has written a insightful essay on Torah Musings about the current controversy surrounding women as rabbis. The controversy has recently been increased by an OU document signed by rabbinic authorities associated with modern Orthodoxy. It stated that after due deliberation of all the relevant factors that go into Halachic Psak - women may not become rabbis. Although they did expand the role women may play in our society today.

Rabbi Eis is surely not some right wing fanatic. He was ordained by Yeshiva University, heads educational programs at the Herzl Institute and teaches at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a decidedly left wing women’s seminary in Israel. It is important, I think to consider these factors as I believe that they impact Rabbi Eis’s view on this subject. A view that I find hard to disagree with.

First he lauds the OU for issuing their statement seeing it as unifying rather than dividing. He then goes on to explain that autonomy in Judaism has its limits. And connects that to the 6 axes of morality explored by Dr. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and how the various expressions of Orthodoxy (left to right) weight them:

1. care/harm
2. liberty/oppression
3. fairness/cheating
4. loyalty/betrayal
5. authority/subversion
6. sanctity/degradation

Rabbi Eis then makes the following observations: 
These values come into conflict. Haidt posits that political liberals emphasize the first two moral axes over the other three, even ignoring axes 4, 5, and 6, while various groups of social conservatives find some balance with all six. Extreme conservatives slightly elevate sanctity above the others.
Modern Orthodox Judaism balances the six moral axes. We do not believe that sanctity, authority, and loyalty are just to promote better fairness, liberty, and care. Sanctity, authority, and loyalty are inherent values. 
I believe this is key to understanding how to view controversial issues that have conflicting moral values. As it applies to the issue female rabbis I believe the left does in fact favor some of these values over others. They see the values of  liberty and fairness superseding those of authority and sanctity. This has been the crux of the division between those that support women in the rabbinate and those that are opposed. When one places more value on fairness over authority and the other places more value on authority over fairness, it leads to an impasse where each side sees the other as betraying the value they feel is greater. 

From his modern Orthodox perspective, Rabbi Eis sees Haidt’s values as equal and therefore not to be overridden by one value over the other. Authority and loyalty must always be taken into consideration when considering fairness. If it is ignored or minimized then you are down a path of division that cannot be bridged. As it pertains to Orthodoxy, a community can lose cohesiveness when that happens. Here is how he puts it: 
Shared loyalty, authority, and sanctity generate social trust and a unique communal identity. They are strengthening motifs. Communities have particular heritages, listen to their authorities, and hold certain things sacred. By definition, these communities include some and exclude others… 
Individuals that reject the community’s history and authorities, even in the name of liberty, create distance between themselves and their community. Just as the community cannot force its beliefs on an un-wanting individual, the individual cannot impose his beliefs on the community. The individual does not dictate the terms of his community membership.  
He asks whether we are at an impasse here… wondering if this issue will serve to divide us yet again as did movements of the past. He hopes we are not. He hopes that the Open Orthodoxy stays in the ‘tent’ as they fervently wish too. I share that hope. But if they continue to place higher value on personal liberty than they do on authority, I don’t see that happening.

I am happy to see that there are still Orthodox rabbis on the left that are clearly within the tent of Orthodoxy. We need their voices. I only hope that his colleagues and constituents pay attention to him.  Unfortunately, as Rabbi Eis notes, the response by many of those colleagues to the OU rabbis that issued that statement has been less than respectful. In some cases it was witvenom and disdain for the OU rabbinic panel – as Rabbi Eis notes. That ought to stop. Because the first step towards unity is not disparaging the view of great rabbis no matter how much we disagree with them.