Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Extreme Left of Orthodoxy

Is this an Orthodox event? (New York Jewish Week) 
I suppose this might be considered old news. And yet it has been repeated by the 2 organizations that represent the bulk of Orthodox Jewry outside of the Chasidic world. Although I have no doubt at all that on this issue Chasidic rabbis would agree even more forcefully than either of them.

What I am referring to are the recent statements by the RCA and the Agudah with respect to what a movement that identifies as Orthodox has done and is still doing. Which – aside from a few other very problematic things is the ordination of women. This is well outside the parameters of traditional Orthodoxy. 

I am in agreement with both statements. But I am much more inclined to the more inclusive tone of the RCA rather than the strident rejectionist tone of the Agudah.  Form the New York Jewish Week

(T)he largest group of Orthodox rabbis, (the RCA) reaffirmed its position against the ordination of women in a resolution issued last Friday that reiterated nearly identical statements made in 2010 and 2013…

“New institutions in Israel have been ordaining women, and as part of the larger community we felt the need to speak out,” (said) RCA executive vice president, Mark Dratch…

The RCA statement praised the increase in women’s Torah study in recent years and cited what the group considers “appropriate” professional opportunities for learned women. These include taking on the roles of yoatzot halacha (advisers on Jewish law) and community scholars, and teaching at Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Study and as non-rabbinic school teachers. 

This is why I favor the RCA wording... and what I mean by more inclusive. As long as no rabbinic title or any variation of it is used, there is nothing wrong with women who so choose - to enter these professions. Their contribution to these fields should be valued as much as any man’s contribution. And in some cases a knowledgeable woman’s voice would have distinct advantages over men. Such as Yoatzot Halacha. These are women trained to deal with Halachic issues that specifically apply to women who might otherwise be embarrassed to ask a rabbi who is a man. Although that has never been an issue in the past, we live in different times now. In my view the advantages of Yoatzot Halacha outweigh by far any reservation one might have that would deny their legitimacy. 

Although they do not consider those of us that have this view to be outside the pale of Orthodoxy, I’m pretty sure that the Agudah completely rejects the idea of Yoatzot. They probably believe that the appearance of woman Paskening Shailos (deciding matters of Jewish law in novel situations) would send the wrong message. Or that even worse - it would too easily slide down the slippery slope of actually Paskening. Which they may not do as a condition of their certification. (Why they are not permitted to do this is complicated and beyond the scope of this post.) 

The Agudah statement did not mention Yoatzot Halacha at all. They barely made reference to the ordination of women as one of the primary  reasons for the reiteration of their views. As reported in the article

Agudath Israel of America’s high rabbinical court released a kol koreh, or proclamation, Monday pronouncing “Open Orthodoxy” no longer a part of Orthodoxy and dismissing rabbinic ordination within that unofficial branch as meaningless. The rabbinic court specified the leadership and affiliates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah for men, Yeshivat Maharat for women, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a fellowship of more than 200 Modern Orthodox clergy that functions as an alternative to the RCA… “They are no different than any other dissident movements throughout our history that have rejected basic tenets.” 

First, even though I agree with them in theory, I don’t like the strident tone. I also hate throwing people out of Orthodoxy. Especially if they mean well and are otherwise observant. But if the shoe fits… And I am afraid it just might. 

I just don’t feel comfortable doing that despite what I consider to be a major error on their part that crosses the line of Orthodoxy despite their good intentions. So Agudah’s point is well taken. Good intentions are not good enough. 

The Conservative Movement had good intentions too. And they too consider themselves to be Halachic. And yet there is not a single Orthodox rabbi no matter how far to the left they might be - including anyone at YCT that would characterize the Conservative Movement as Orthodox. The situation with the far left now is not all that different than the situation with the situation with Conservative movement has been over the last 100 years or so. 

I am afraid that the extreme left is going down the are road the Conservative Movement has gone and will probably end up in the same state of oblivion that is the current trajectory of all heterodox movements. 

Not unexpectedly the flagship Orthodox feminist  organization, JOFA has responded: 

“We Support Women in Orthodox Leadership Roles.” They received more than 1,000 signatures in 24 hours.

JOFA is another organization that ought to drop ‘Orthodox’ from their title. It is insulting that they used the hashtag ‘Humans of JOFA’ in reaching out for support. That implies that those who oppose their views do not consider them human. Which is of course not only insulting but beyond ridiculous. But par for the course for JOFA.  I should add that the word ‘Orthodox’ in their title is not the only word misappropriated. So too is the word ‘Feminist’. No card carrying feminist (as the term is used today) would see JOFA as truly feminist. 

But I digress. The bottom line here is this. The vast majority of Orthodox Jewry all over the world rejects the extreme left of Jewry formerly known as Open Orthodoxy. They will never be accepted as long as they continue down this path. And every indication is that they are just getting started. 

Some people argue that this movement is taking hold in Israel and far more accepted there. And that it will eventually gain acceptance here. Which may be one of the reasons the RCA and Agudah have reiterated their positions. 

I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. That it has gained some traction in certain Orthodox sectors in Israel does not make it mainstream there. If there is any Orthodox group that is gaining significant traction in Israel it is the right wing whose hardline view on this issue is along the lines of Agudah - if not more so. By virtue of their sheer exponential growth - the right wing will surely overwhelm any growth the left might be experiencing now. The idea of gaining traction here to any significant degree is unlikely as well for similar reasons. As long as the 2 major organizations of Orthodoxy continue to reject them. And there is not a doubt in my mind that they will.