Friday, September 01, 2023

Throwing a Cat into the Aron Kodesh

Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Arutz Sheva)
A Charedi friend of mine once illustrated well the idea behind Kedoshim Tihiyu – the Mitzvah in the Torah of ‘being holy’. He did so in the following way:

There is nothing in the Torah that prevents us from throwing a cat into an Aron Kodesh (the holy ark in a shul). Is there anyone that thinks it’s OK to do that? Even if one is a devout animal lover and animal rights activist? The idea being that just because something is technically not against Halacha, does not mean we should do it.

This is the thought I had about a surprising incident that occurred in a Charedi Shul in Ramat Bet Shemesh Daled (Video available here). From Arutz Sheva: 

The Head of the Rabbinical Court of the Eida Haharedit (Jerusalem Haredi Council), Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, vehemently condemned the synagogue officials of a Lithuanian (non-hassidic)-haredi synagogue in Beit Shemesh who honored a woman with "Gelilah," the ceremonial wrapping of a Torah scroll.

The incident took place during a Torah dedication ceremony at a synagogue in Ramat Bet Shemesh Daled. A video that was posted to social media this week shows the woman, who apparently is involved in the donation of the new Torah scroll, rolling and dressing the Torah scroll in the sanctuary as men surround her.

The synagogue officials claim they received a dispensation from one of the local rabbis, but the rabbi denied the claim.

Honestly…  I have mixed feelings about this. 

On the one hand this was only a Hachnosas Sefer Torah and not Tefilah B'Tzibur (public prayer). Which in a Shul requires separation between men and women by a Mechitza.  I'm therefore not sure that it was technically against Halacha. Especially since it did not involve any recitation of prayer. It was just Gelilah - the wrapping up of the Torah after it is read.

On  the other hand, it was in a Shul in a setting that traditionally involves only men while women observe – usually behind the Mechitza.

This event kind of reminds me of the ethos of the extreme left wing of Modern Orthodoxy (formerly known as Open Orthodoxy) which for similar reason permits a woman to recite Kabbolas Shabbos at the Bima in Shul on Friday nights between Mincha and Maariv. Since that too is not considered public prayer and at best is only a minhag. There is certainly no precedent for something like this in our Mesorah. 

What is somewhat unique about this particular event is that it happened – not in a left wing MO shul but in one that identifies as Charedi.

I am not a fan of the Eida Charedsis (to say the least). But at the same time Rav Sternbuch tends to have a far more lenient approach to controversial matters like this than his colleagues .And yet he gave it a full throated condemnation..

I would not go that far myself. But I tend to agree with the fact that this is not appropriate. I can’t imagine why the leadership of that Shul cast aside centuries long tradition.  Did it have something to do with her financial contributions to the event? Is this just another case of ‘follow the money’? I don’t know.

I would have opposed it because it is indeed such a strong break from tradition - violating the centuries old cultural norms of the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry. Especially in the Charedi world. But more importantly it boosts the left’s argument that as long as it is not against Halacha, why not permit it?  If it benefits a cat to be placed into an Aron Kodesh, why not do so? 

Just a few of my quick thoughts.