Populist revisionist excursions into Jewish ritual

As per the web page of “Uri Letzedek”,

Rabbi Ari Hart is a co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek and rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. A leader of several initiatives that bring together Orthodoxy, the Jewish community, and the world at large to make positive change, Ari launched Or Tzedek, the Teen Institute for Social Justice, served on multiple community boards and social justice organizations, and has taught at schools, synagogues, and summer camps around the country. He also served as a Nadiv Social Justice Fellow for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and as Court Appointed Special Advocate for neglected and abused children in Cook County. Ari was recently selected by the Jewish Week as one of the 36 under 36, a list of “forward-thinking young people who are helping to remake the Jewish community,” and his work bringing the Hispanic and Jewish communities of Northern Manhattan together was profiled by the Jerusalem Post. Ari learned at Yeshivat HaKotel, Machon Pardes, and graduated from Grinnell College in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition.

The controversial figure, Rabbi Avi Weiss, stated

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, as an Orthodox institution, requires that its students daven only in synagogues with mechitzot [partitions for the separation of men and women]. The phenomenon of women receiving aliyot in a mechitza minyan is currently being debated on both a halachic and communal level within the Modern Orthodox community. YCT Rabbinical School does not currently take a position on this issue.”

Well excuse me Rabbi Weiss, why don’t you take a position. You are either for it halachically or against it. You may qualify your response if you wish, but in Halacha, Shtika KeHoda’a, silence is acquiesence.

It is little wonder then that YCT alumni are refused membership of the Rabbinic Council of America (the RCA). The history of Rabbi Weiss’s on again, off again Rabbinic ordination of a woman by any other name, is well documented. He is entitled to his opinion, but his opinion is not in accord with Rov Binyan and Rov Minyan of the Gedolay HaTorah of even the RCA (who the Aguda consider to be too left wing and accord no status).

As Rav Soloveitchik expressed so eloquently many times, there is an existential truth and a halachic boundary within the sinaitic transcendental framework which can not and may not be discarded or dislodged. Although one may find meaning through the prism of modern thought, and the catch phrase of “Social Justice” aka “Or LaGoyim”, these are not Halachic terms, and the meaning one finds cannot rerospectively metamorphose fundamentals of Halacha. In particular, on matters of  most enormous ramification, one must have exceedingly broad Halachic shoulders, to assume a new solitary position. We are not beholden to some quasi Daas Torah, but we are beholden to a hierarchy in the reputation of a Posek and their arguments.

Another example is the Nuevo Shira Chadasha style service. In my observation, the frumkeit exhibited through the gymnastic attempts to equalise female participation in davening one day each week, is contraindicated. This is the opinion of Gedolay HaPoskim, including the head of Nishmat, HaRav Yehuda Herzl Henkin (whom nobody would describe as misogynist artefact of yesteryear)

So, it comes as no surprise that the Huffington Post of all places, has a piece from Rabbi Ari Hart [Hat tip to RYL]. I will copy Ari’s short huff and puff, and intersperse my own quick reaction.

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” — Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, p. 12.

I’m supposed to say that each morning. If I were a woman, I would recite this instead: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will.”

These difficult, even painful blessings are a part of a series of otherwise beautiful meditations thanking God for the everyday gifts of sight, clothes and freedom.

Difficult? Painful? So the Anshei Knesses Hagdola instituted difficult pain and “supposed” us to recite it each morning? Would Ari have been happier if they had formulated it as “thank you for making me a man?” Nope. He wouldn’t have been happier. Ari would only be happy if the blessing was couched in the neo-humanistic style of “Blessed are you good for having created me a Human who is equal to all other Humans, Jewish or otherwise”.

Well, clearly they chose not to do so. Why? To use Ari’s subsequent logic, perhaps one could bless Hashem that one was chosen for their particular role, which is to be the prayer spokesperson for their family in a daily minyan?

Does he want a new prayer added “Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvosav VeTzivany Lihyos Or LaGoyim“.

It’s all fine. The Reform movement would probably do that for the infinitesimally few days that they frequent their temples.

Those other blessings roll easily off my tongue, the praise genuine and sincere. But for years I’ve struggled with praising God for not making me a woman. And I’m not the only Orthodox rabbi who struggles with it.

And if you were the only Orthodox rabbi who struggled with it, would your remarks be any less valid? If you use that logic, then the vast majority of Rabbis do not struggle with it, so perhaps there is something deficient in your understanding of this Bracha. But no, there can’t be anything deficient in one’s own logic, it must be that there is some misogynist agenda at play here. What else could it be? (And yes, I am aware of different versions of the  Brachos)

As a committed Orthodox Jew, I have accepted the entirety of halacha — the Jewish path of law and tradition — upon myself. This includes guidelines on rituals, holidays, charity, legal matters, sex and, yes, prayers. Not only do I accept it on myself, but as a rabbi, I teach it to others.

There are parts of halacha that I love, and parts that I struggle with. This blessing though, this blessing is really tough. Written by male rabbis nearly 2,000 years ago,

There you go: the argument of age. Funny, when it suits us we are ancient, and when we don’t like something ancient is an evil word. It was written 2000 years ago. Forget the fact that  other parts codified 2000 years ago roll nicely off Ari’s tongue. Forget the fact that they were also written by males, that’s okay. What would Ari do if it was written by a committee of males and females 30 years ago, and they decided that it was appropriate for the male who was “encumbered” with a myriad of different responsibilities to never ever show disdain for the fact that he happened to be born into his gender and associated role and bless God in a similar vein to blessing God with Dayan HaEmes when God forbid someone passes away. Oh yeah, Ari, don’t forget this same group of men, 2000 years ago, also agreed universally that if God forbid a little girl or little boy was murdered in some anti-semitic attack while trying to distribute charity to a group of homeless refugees from Africa, that the parents have to bless God with Dayan HaEmes. Should we do away with that blessing? Should we come up with some new interpretation? Or is the correct approach to study the metaphysical meaning behind such statements if and when we have trouble rolling such off our tongues.

I didn’t want my father הכ’’מ to pass away. I could not understand why he “deserved” to leave this world in the quick and sudden way that he did, thereby causing so many of us to grieve in the most painful of ways. Yet, I knew, that I was in a chain, a continuing chain, and that although I am by definition limited, I must recite and bless a truthful and righteous God and find the strength and meaning therein. How more misplaced can that prayer be to the fragile human motif?

these words evoke for me the sexism too prevalent in the Orthodox world and beyond.

That’s your problem Ari. You’ve understood that the Anshei Knesses Hagedola were a set of “men” who caused you through this blessing to think about sexism. Wanton discrimination on the basis of gender, race and colour is not permitted, though. To be sure, discrimination is most definitely part of the Jewish religion. A King who witnesses a murder cannot testify. A woman cannot be Moshiach. Are you comfortable with the 12th Ani Maamin Ari? Perhaps they should be rewritten. Maybe the Cohen Gadol’s wife should share turns in entering the Kodesh Kodashim? If they had an operation which caused Ari to menstruate through his genitals would he feel more equal by also being Tameh for seven days and decree it incumbent on males to do so in the name of equality? If and when Medicine makes it possible for men to carry a fetus in a sterile implanted bag, will people do so in order to feel the pain of Eve? What about justice for the snake? After all, he did us all a great favour by causing us to have free choice. Shouldn’t he get his legs back so he doesn’t slither like some criminal in the night?

These words have echoes of the religious misogynists who throw chairs at a woman for praying at the Western Wall or force women to sit at the back of Israeli buses.

You can do a whole lot better than that Ari. What about the Satmar maniacs who kiss Ahmadinajad? I guess your esteemed colleagues at YU don’t count. Are they a pack of bigots? But wait, what argument would you use if the women prayed at the wall, and throwing chairs was outlawed. Where would you run to in order to try and make us feel guilty for being a male Orthodox adherent?

This blessing helps enable the religious sexism that silences women’s voices, keeps them from positions of communal leadership, and denies them study of our sacred texts.

Oh Ari, such lines are really poor. Women’s voices where I come from are most certainly never silent. Yes, I’m not meant to hear them sing individually in public. Are you? Or has that changed? Yes, there is the Din of Serara which we can debate. But, I know many boards which have female representation, even in 50/50 divisions, and you know, I don’t know how many men are part of the Woman’s Mikvah Committee.

Do I want any part of that sexism? No.

Judaism isn’t. What religion are you railing against?

So do I say the blessing? Yes.

Here’s why:

Sadly, there are some excellent reasons to be grateful for not being a woman in this world. For example:
As a man, I will most likely make more money working at a job than if I were a woman. And as an Orthodox rabbi, I couldn’t have my job if I were woman.

Great, but where I work, my boss is a female who makes almost ten times as much as me. Shall I stop saying the blessing?

Being a Rabbi is not a job. It is a role. Understand the difference.

So long as I stay out of jail, the odds that I will be raped are very low.

Not if you are in prison, kiddo. You will be attacked from the rear in ways you wouldn’t believe. Maybe men should take drugs so that they are no longer physically stronger than women. Would you take them if available?

If I were raped, I probably wouldn’t be blamed for it.

We need Rabbis to continue to ensure that Jews never attempt such that modern defence.

I can be ambitious professionally and no one will question my gender.

They may well question your religion. Why not abandon it?

Most political, religious and cultural leaders are guys, just like me!

Then quit? There will be one less. Give your wife? a go?

In most prayerbooks and Bibles, God and I share a gender.

Don’t read those Bibles. Read the ones which tell you God has no gender.

There aren’t billions of dollars spent every year trying to make me feel bad about how I look and selling me things to change my appearance.

That’s business. You think the hair restoration folk for males and the viagra peddlers are doing things for equalities sake, or some religious imperative. Get real.

I get to be a hero if I change a diaper or spend time with my kids, and most people won’t look down on me if I don’t.

Really? You should read about the number of people who send their kids off to childcare at an early age so as to enable both parents to earn enough to get by. I know a few Mr Mums. They often get snickered at. Funnily Mrs Mums don’t. Fix that.

Saying this blessing every day challenges me to face these and other difficult facts about men and women in today’s world. It forces me to remember that work as a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community would not be possible if I were a woman (though that is changing thanks to the pioneering work of Yeshivat Maharat, but not without a fight).

Nonsense. My cousin is a spiritual leader. She is a woman. She learns Shas and Poskim better than I do, is a Yoetzet Halacha and graduated from Nishmat. Difference is, she isn’t a feminist. She wouldn’t even be bothered with these meaningless titles. She isn’t there for “equality”. She is there because she has a spiritual role to play, entirely within the gamut of Halacha, and what is more she is more than comfortable in her own skin. Oh, and her husband changes nappies.

This blessing calls me to recommit to building a world where inequality and oppression do not exist.

What about male oppression? How do you recommit to that. Yes, it does exist. What about introducing a special additional prayer for the homosexual? What about the handicapped man? What should he say? What about the Cohen who cannot duchen? That’s not fair. What about Orei Miklat? Surely, harmless criminals should be repatriated within the same society? We can go on and on and on.

It calls me to recommit each day to building a world where saying “thank you God for not making me a woman” will disappear, not because it is offensive, but because it is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then you have simply not understood the axiological basis of Orthodox Judaism which is founded on differing roles. Why not call yourself conservative? Why bother with affiliation with the RCA.

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.

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