Pushing your own barrow

Rabbi Ralph Genende issued an opinion (hat tip to Ezra May) about Di Tzeitung’s photoshopping of women in an uncelebrated manner.  There is a way to criticise this Satmar newspaper but Rabbi Genende has not simply sought to do that. Rabbi Genende has used this as an opportunity to trumpet modern orthodoxy and contrast it with ultra orthodoxy.

Let’s look at how he made his arguments, and ask some questions.

While modern Orthodoxy has long-championed the greater inclusion of women in Jewish public life, the Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) world still struggles with, if not out rightly rejects.

In what way do Charedim struggle with the inclusion of women? My observation is that each group within the Charedi world has their own halachic interpretation which they pursue.

In what way are the modern Orthodox championing inclusion of women? The Rav forbade the inclusion of women on Synagogue boards and the RCA issued their displeasure with Rabbi Avi Weiss’ attempts to ordain women.

they don’t have the right to impose this on others as the “Torah-true way”

In context, only readers of their paper are ‘forced’ to see this picture through their lenses. Is that not their free choice?

 I do have a problem with their zealotry, their conviction that they have the G-d given right to make women sit at the back of the bus or pressure them to move out of their allotted seats on an El AL plane because they don’t want to sit next to them.

I agree that women on a public bus should not be forced to move, but is this because of a lack of respect for women per se? I would have thought it was all about separation of sexes. I suspect that they would drag a man from the women’s section if he wandered over there.

More to the point, what has this to do with Di Tzeitung’s editorial policy unless one is simply trying to make the facile point that if they are extreme with one thing they must be extreme with others. Is Rabbi Genende implying that all those who choose not to publish pictures of women push women to the back of buses? Clearly that’s not the case.

To airbrush out pictures of women (which is done regularly not only in Di Tzeitung but also in other Chareidi publications) is a distortion of the truth which in Halacha is called gneivat da’at (being deceitful) and midvar sheker tirchak (keep away from falsehood).

How so? It is Gneivas Daas or Sheker if there is an expectation that they do not airbrush woman out of pictures. Is Rabbi Genende seriously suggesting that the readership of these papers is not aware of the editorial policy to do so? Come now.

The readership of the Tzeitung believe that women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for  what they look like”. I am not assured by this because the Tzeitung producers and readers are ‘fine-print’ shmekkers; they often focus on the most stringent minutiae of Halachik practise

So the implication is that anyone who aspires, as policy, to be a so-called בעל נפש must be telling a lie if they miss the fine print?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but how does Rabbi Genende know?

Equally, it is sciolistic to suppose that the difference between Charedim and  modern orthodox relates to the fine print. Is Rabbi Genende aware, for example, that the Rav, as scion of Brisk acted in Psak in a manner which tried to accommodate all opinions!  Is this the difference between Charedim and Modern Orthodox? I think not. Was Rav Hirsch dismissive of the fine print? What about the Sridei Eish?

And I am not assured by their reverence for what women do because this is usually restricted to a very narrow area

Is Rabbi Genende now questioning the appreciation of all Charedim for their wives because their lives are less outward and worldly (in his parlance narrow) than his? What sociological study is he leaning on to support this assertion?

More worrying is the attitude of a large segment of the Chareidi world towards women and modesty in general. A group of Chareidi women and girls in Bet Shemesh have begun to wear Muslim garb covering their whole body (including their heads and faces) with rabbinic approval.

We are all aware of this radical group. We are also all aware that they have also been condemned by Charedim. What license did Rabbi Genende use to define this phenomena as a large segment. Is he engaging in hyperbole to push his own barrow?

 There is an increasing tending in the Orthodox world to separate the sexes at schools, weddings, funerals and shule events. This was not the norm in the Orthodox world in the past.

Rabbi Genende has now moved from Charedi and Modern Orthodox to “Orthodox” in general. Do his claims stack up? Orthodox Schools were always segregated. Even the Rav who allowed it at Maimonides felt that once that community was able, that males and females should learn Torah in separate classes. On weddings, I’m not sure how this practice has increased in vacuo. Is Rabbi Genende also claiming that the level of immodesty has stayed constant during time? It has not. The levels of Tzniyus in clothing has greatly decreased over time. Indeed, the Rav refused to perform a wedding for a Chasan who was not wearing a hat, and did not perform weddings when the Kallah was wearing a plunging neck line  etc. Once when the Rav was caught out performing Siddur Kiddushin for a bride who was immodestly dressed, the story is related that he kept asking for a bigger  and biggur siddur until he was unable to see the Kallah past the siddur! There are also explicit sources which forbid the mingling of genders during funerals, including the Shura.

 While modest, respectful, appropriate behaviour between men and women is what the Torah expects, it does not expect a total separation of the sexes.

Rabbi Genende is entitled to his opinion, but I’m not sure why he thinks he is entitled and they are not entitled to follow a contrary view?

As the wise rabbis of Pirkei Avot advised long ago: “Be careful with your words”.

I agree with this 🙂

Let us in the modern-Orthodox world encourage them to be more inclusive in their ways and views. You need fences for protection but you also need gateways and openings so that you can grow and move freely in Hashem’s varied and colourful world.

I am not sure if Rabbi Genende speaks for modern Orthodoxy, but I don’t see his article as encouragement! Nay, he is playing to his audience; his congregation.

Disclaimer: Let me be clear that I do think that what Di Tzeitung did was careless and gross and lacked an awareness of the world, but I do not agree with using this as a platform to bash and/or push one’s own barrow; something I contend is what Rabbi Genende achieved with his article.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

11 thoughts on “Pushing your own barrow”

  1. Your sensitivities to fine analysis seem to have clouded your perspective of the bigger picture.

    First, Rabbi Genende has every right to communicate his views on modern orthodoxy to his modern orthodox kehilla. In this case, accusing him of pushing his own barrow is like condemning Ross Lyons for writing to the St Kilda membership that his is still a good footballing club. These views may be distorted, but both Rabbi Genende and Lyons have a professional obligation to their audiences – collectives created through identification with a particular ideology.

    Second, failure to characterise this episode as symptomatic of a greater inclination towards extremism posits you as an apologist. You cannot dislocate the actions from the ideology which fuels them. It thus follows that discussion of ideology is central to this debate. Your suggestion that this was simply ‘careless and gross and lacked an awareness of the world’ indicates that this is a matter of reckless naiveté, not an ideological issue.

    Finally, it seems to me that you are using Rabbi Genende’s piece as a platform to push your own barrow. You will note above that I have no particular problem with this; it is, after all, your blog for your readers. But as Leo Tolstoy said:

    ‘Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.’


    1. Skullcap:
      a) it’s Ross Lyon, no s (my sensitivity to fine analysis)
      b) I don’t have a problem with pushing modern orthodoxy, my problem is that he misrepresented it (and I gave examples)
      c) I don’t have a problem with commentating on Charedi practices, but in this instance, the attempt was clumsy and innacurate and in my opinion a device to push his own barrow
      d) Please don’t accuse me of being an apologist to extremism. It was I who posted the Age article and I have commented negatively on what they did!
      e) What is my barrow, skullcap? If you read my “about” page you’d completely understand why I posted my reaction. You see, these thoughts entered my headspace after I read Rabbi Genende’s article.

      That being said, I’m pleased to get your comments because they even out perceptions. I’ve been accused of bring critical of Charedim, critical of Chabad and now critical of Rabbi Genende (although I do not think the article he wrote represents modern orthodox thinking even if it is a more open criteria)

      PS. I’d appreciate a response to the specific points I made, rather than a meta-psycho analysis.

      שבת שלום


  2. Had this been posted on April 1st, I would have known it was a prank. One can only applaud Rabbi Ralph for making such a clear statement. We criticise the Taliban for activity only a few steps more severe, and lament that mainstream Moslems do not confront these crazies who are derailing honest lifestyles. You really need to look at yourself.


    1. This is quite true in my experience. For example I attended a talk at R. G’s shul last Tisha B’Av where the guest speaker posited the thesis that the Exodus (and presumably also Torah from Sinai) never happened historically. This was said to a large audience, including children, with little regard to the fact that the Ten Commandments begin with “I am the L-rd they G-d who took you out of Egypt.” To say that the Exodus never happened is very far from any “Orthodox” position, and it clearly crosses the line into the Conservative camp. While this was a guest speaker and not the Rabbi himself, he certainly made no counter argument to dispel the impact upon the congregation, and again, especially the children, who have no educational context with which to put that speaker’s words. He has essentially just undermined not only their Pesach experience, but most of their Jewish education as well, putting into the category of “fable.” Nice work, Rabbi


  3. Your depiction of the Rov’s position on Maimonides is misleading. It is well known that whereas Rav Schachter claims the co-ed structure was a B’dieved, numerous others who were intimately involved in the school and close to the Rov claim the opposite. The jury is evidently out on this one.

    Indeed, I asked the Rov’s own grandson (R’ Moshe Lichtenstein) this question, and whereas he did not confirm the Rov felt was a lechatchila, he suggested that it was by no means clear what the Rov would say today.

    That you seem far more confident than the Rov’s own grandson doesn’t inspire confidence in the balance of your arguments on this topic.


    1. Thanks amused for your considered comments.

      There is some conjecture about the Rav’s views across a range of topics. The Rav interpreted and re-interpreted his views, as one should, according to the Metzius reality at the time of the (new/repeat) question.

      In this instance, in a series of three 1.5 hour Shiurium that Rav Shachter gave after the Rav’s petirah, Rav Schachter mentioned that he had heard directly from the the person responsible for hiring Melamdim at Maimonides (on the previous day) that in response to a question from Maimonides the Rav suggested that if it was possible to find two quality Melamdim for that one class, then it would be good that the boys and girls had separate classes/melamdim.

      It is true that one can read into this various different things, but the one thing that one cannot read into this public story, is the type of position espoused by Rabbi Genende.

      The reason I presented this was precisely to point out that to claim that the so called Modern Orthodoxy (which Rabbi Genende himself is want to claim that the Rav is the father of) has a negative view on segregation to the extent of the assertions in Rabbi Genende made is simply false.

      I happen to agree that we have too many very very ordinary Torah Academics warming benches when they are simply not cut out for the Torasam Umnasam, but I will not agree (for reasons outlined in my post) with the particular invective employed by Rabbi Genende.

      Indeed, the Rav never (to my knowledge) employed such invective against such people on such issues. The Rav was a huge Baal Tzedaka and he collected for his Uncle, R’ Velvel and spoke for Chinuch Atzmai at the behest of Rav Aron Kotler.

      והמבין יבין


  4. An an educated Australian Chareidi woman who is very satisfied with the way we are treated by our husband’s and the males in our community, I applaud you for your excellent and well thought out rebuttal of Rabbi Genende’s ‘opinion’. Perhaps it is time Rabbi Genende realised that modern Orthodoxy is not the be all and end all of Judaism and that we too have the right, as Chareidim, to live as we choose to, without constant rebuke from those who have chosen a more modern way!


    1. Chaya Leah, thanks. I believe that Modern Orthodoxy is fine. I think that every group should respect each other more. My issue was that Rabbi Genende in his haste to condemn Charedim arguably misrepresented Modern Orthodoxy in the process! I think that one can express respectful disagreement, and I encourage that. I don’t think his was a dignified approach.


  5. [edited]
    There was a chappie here once who used to swipe at other communities from the pulpit. RG’s use of the internet is no different.

    The other chap didn’t last long after that..


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