Sunday, January 10, 2016

Women Bringing Down Orthodoxy?

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll
Let me state what I think is obvious. Women are not bringing down Orthodoxy. This is what Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll says some in Orthodoxy (mostly men) are charging. At least implicitly. A charge she reverses against the very people making it. She then lists a litany of bad acts to demonstrate who the real villains are. A list that appears to validate her claims.

I can’t really dispute the facts.  Among them is the indictment of the former Chief Rabbi of Israel on charges of accepting bribes. The former Chief Rabbi is without a doubt - not a woman.

But I have to take issue with some of her other indicators. Not that there aren’t problems along the lines she outlines, but one has to look at them all from the perspective of Halalcha and Mesorah before casting blame on them for bringing down Yiddishkeit.

First let me deal with Yoatzot. She indicates that acceptance of them by Orthodoxy is lukewarm at best. And even with that - she says that there are rabbis the question the ‘Unkosher motives’ of these women. I do not see acceptance of Yoatzot as lukewarm. I for one enthusiastically accept and endorse these women. Nor do I generally attribute ‘UnKosher motives’ to them. 

As Mrs. Keats Jaskoll says, a need is that is being filled.  There are some rabbis that unfortunately do not accept them and do attribute these motives as well as worrying about ‘the slippery slope’ where innovations that are not so Kosher will be next. Although there may be some truth to that, the benefits are so overwhelming as to make such arguments almost irrelevant. Especially since the Yoatzot program specifically builds into it rejections of any movement along that slope.

Women studying Torah is another area she feels is being attacked by rabbis as destroying Orthodoxy. But the Beis Yaakov movement already settled this as did Rav Soloveitchik who gave women at YU’s Stern College for women its inaugural Gemarah Shiur. He clearly stated that the time was right for that change and he had the gravitas to make that claim stick. 

That others disagree is not relevant. There is a disagreement among different segments of Orthodoxy and it not only survives – it thrives. That one Rabbi in Yeshiva University (whose article on the subject she linked to) questioned whether we should rethink it does not change what his mentor, Rav Soloveitchik established and endorsed.

The issue of female rabbis in Orthodoxy is an entirely different matter. Again, I do not see that destroying Orthodoxy. I see the movement advocating female rabbis as a breakaway from it. Judaism will hardly be destroyed by a group of misguided rabbis that have departed from tradition to form a new movement. It didn’t happen when Reform rabbis did it. Nor did it happen when Conservative rabbis did it.

Women’s Teffilah Groups are not a danger to Orthodoxy either – being too small in number to make any difference. That it is frowned upon does not make what they do Assur. Women who participate in these groups have not been written out of Orthodoxy.

Mrs. Keats Jaskoll’s claim that that women are being erased from the world is true only among the most extreme versions of Orthodoxy. These people are not mainstream and do not represent the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry. Not even most Charedim. That they try to impose their views upon other Orthodox Jews is not only wrong, it is repugnant and even dangerous. And it has nothing to do with Judaism.

But this too will not destroy Orthodoxy. The more these extremists try and impose their radical views on the rest of us - the more they will be ridiculed and marginalized. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be opposed. They should. But their views will never (I know never is a big word – but I stand by it) never become mainstream.

The really big issue she raises is a legitimate one. That of the Agunah. Women in this state are not only NOT ruining Orthodoxy, they are the victims of it. The Halacha that only men can sever the bonds of marriage puts women at a severe disadvantage. There can be no dispute about that. The Gemerah recognizes that fact and states several times, M’Shum Agunah Akilo Bo Rabbanan – the sages were Mekil (lenient). Some Halachic strictures were relaxed for the sake of Agunos.

In our day there are unfortunately some really bad people in Orthodoxy taking advantage of the Halacha  that give them exclusive divorce rights and keep their ex-wives in permanent purgatory – unable remarry.

She cites a couple of recent cases where such vileness is demonstrated. And then point to efforts tried on behalf of these woman that have been rejected by virtually all Poskim. If there is any single challenge that could hurt Orthodoxy – this is it.

But in point of fact it ultimately won’t. Although abuses abound by both recalcitrant Husbands abd corrupt Batei Din (Jewish courts) there are things that can be and are being done to help women in this predicament. Like the creation of the organization ORA an Agunah advocacy group with Rav Hershel Schachter as their Posek. Or the RCA prenuptial agreement incentivizes a husband to not withhold a Get. There are additional things which can be done but they are beyond the scope of this post.

Unfortunately these measures do not always work and women remain Agunos. Which is patently unfair. To resolve those cases there have been attempts by some well intentioned rabbis that have tried methods that are rejected by Poskim from a variety of Orhtodox segments.

This is where I think Mrs. Keats Jaskoll and I would disagree. She complains that these well intentioned rabbis ideas have been determined Pasul (invalid) without offering a solution of their own. Which implies an uncaring attitude to them.

I do not see it that way at all. These rabbis are not unfeeling monsters that don’t care about women. They are Poskim being careful about Halacha. They simply want to prevent a serious violation that can have negative consequences for generations to come. What about being Mekil for Agunos – as the Gemarah indicates we should be? Well, being Mekil does not mean violating biblical level Halacha. It is an unfair charge to say these rabbis don’t care – or care enough. They do. But their hands are tied. These Poskim know when to be Mekil and when not to be. And it has nothing to do with being anti woman. It has to be with being pro Halacha.

How sensitive are these rabbis really  to the plight of the Agunah - one may ask? Well in one case a group of Charedi rabbis are going to spend time in prison for caring too much. They hired thugs to torture recalcitrant husbands into submission. Some say it was about the money they charged for the ‘service’. Maybe. But it worked for those women. They got their freedom – despite the inhumanity and  Chilul HaShem those rabbis created by doing it that way.

In another case Mrs. Keats Jaskoll cites that was undermined by Poskim – it was other Charedi rabbis that were undermined. They tried to help Agunah by using a legitimate loophole based on a premise that was very likely false (which they believed to be true.) That Poskin rejected it was not because they are anti woman. It is because they take the violation of that Halacha and its consequences very seriously.

The bottom line here is that it is certainly not women that are destroying Orthodoxy. But it isn’t the men either. It is the miscreants and extremists on all sides that are – even if they don’t realize it – or actually think they are improving it. They are trying. But they will fail.