“Modern” Orthodoxy faces an internal schism

Rav Schachter, Shilita, doesn’t like the term Modern Orthodox. Many don’t. If the term is to be used, it means the type of Orthodoxy that is ready to deal with modern issues using modern knowledge. Rav Schachter believes this is nothing new in the sense that dealing with modern issues is something most groups with Orthodoxy undertake. They have to. When a question comes before a Rav, he needs to either answer it, or send the questioner to a different Rav who may be more qualified to answer that type of question.

Whilst Rav Schachter is also a Rosh Kollel, and in general a Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel doesn’t make the “best” Posek for a Ba’al Habayis, because they often live in a surreal world which is cut off, at best from the vicissitudes facing the man and woman who are immersed in Olam HaZeh, and not looking at Daled Chelkei Shulchan Aruch for most of their day. Rav Schachter is different. His interaction with an ordinary Ba’al HaBayis is palpable when he speaks, although stylistically and on occasion his oratory is more Yeshivish. He has a modest and respectful charm, which I can testify is very much real and uplifting.

Like his own teacher, the renowned Rav, Rav Soloveitchik ז’ל, Rav Schachter has an enormous and unshakeable attachment to Mesora/tradition. Mesora isn’t always that clear, of course. For example, simply looking at last week’s Parsha, when discussing how the Jews had access to Shitim wood in a dessert, Rashi quotes a Tanchuma and Yerushalmi (from memory) that Ya’akov Avinu foresaw that the Jews would need Shitim to build the Mishkan and ensured that these were planted in Egypt and then transported. Yet, Ibn Ezra says words that

If these thoughts of the Amoraim and Geonim are a Kabolo (Mesora) in learning that they received, then we must accept it. If they are not, but rather constitute a more homlitic interpretation by Chazal, then we (he, the Ibn Ezra) has another suggestion. His view is that there was an Oasis near Har Sinai, and it was from there that they took Shitim Wood

What’s obvious to the Ibn Ezra is that he is completely respectful to the Mesora. He just doesn’t have (from his own teachers) a definite teaching that Rashi’s sources constitute a definite truth, as opposed to a possibility. He does not dismiss this view as “far-fetched” and not to be accepted. Rather, he qualifies his comments with an “If then else”.

In terms of dealing with new questions, or indeed old ones, in a “modern” framework, what makes Modern or Centrist Orthodoxy different is really two things

  1. A rejection of the Hungarian view espoused by the Chasam Sofer, that “all that is new is forbidden”. In other words, if you don’t know about a new proposal or approach, then in a void of Mesorah, it is safest to always pronounce that the answer is “NO”
  2. The use of modern knowledge to aid us in understanding and further bringing Kavod LaTorah.

The latter is scary for the Aguda and those to the right of the Aguda. It represents a precipice. There is no question, that when, ironically, it comes to questions of Kashrus, all agencies rely on modern science. Science is respected, and the knowledge of the food chemist is critical. When it comes to questions of electricity and Shabbos, the Posek again must understand the physics. The Posek of a certain generation will indeed Pasken according to the modern understanding of the Science of their time. However, the modern orthodox Posek will not be afraid to also PERMIT something which was once forbidden because of a faulty model that was understood in yesteryear.

Another divide can be seen in issues involving the types of items identified in the Sefer, Hilchos Shmiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh. This has a list of many things that should be avoided because they may be injurious to health. Some are from the Gemora, others are more Kaballistic.

Rav Schachter contends that on matters of health, for example, THE MESORA itself, was to use the best knowledge of doctors of the time. In reality, when we are sick we all do that. However, when it comes to some “dangerous” things, Rav Schachter will often say that we don’t need to worry about it, as it only represented the best medical/scientific knowledge at the time. Now, we know better. We, however, must according to the Torah, use the best knowledge available in coming to a cogent and relevant (read modern Psak) as opposed to taking the Hungarian/Chassidic line of forbidding more and not less.

That being said, there are lines, and there always have been lines. Some of these lines can be argued with on the basis of “modern NEEDS” as opposed to modern knowledge or science. This constitutes the basis of articles involving  R’ Haskel Lookstein.

It is ironic, that the vast majority of ladies who want to include male mitzvos, do not routinely keep female mitzvos. One only has to look at the practices of those in Shira Chadasha style prayer organisations (I can only speak somewhat about the Melbourne manifestation). If only, if only, egalitarianism wasn’t the petrol in their Jewish Car, and comprehensive attempts at all Torah and Mitzvos, especially those already germane to women and men, were adhered to scrupulously. Alas, they appear not to. The emphasis is on egalitarianism, the catch cry of the conservative, and the idea that people like the Rav, R’ Moshe warned about. These cannot and must not change the existing Mesora.

Yes, if there is a particularly enriched and scrupulous woman, who is like the women of yore, with Tehillim on their lips, Torah in their hands, and Yiras Shomayim in spades, who objects to such exceptions fulfilling a natural progression. Ashreichem, if you reach such a Madreyga. Men don’t need to. We are enjoined to do these things, even if we haven’t reached such heights. Woman, however, are enjoined to focus on their important orthogonal role, and if they are special, so be it.

Rav Schachter, and his colleagues, are debating these issues behind closed doors, and doing so in a spirit of Torah and not through the press with hot loaded statements, that really don’t constititute adequate Tshuvos on the topic(s) (especially when they have erroneous sources, but let’s not go there).

I pray that Rav Schachter and his Chaverim are able to peacefully negotiate the issues with Ramaz and the like, and keep true to the firm and unshakeable weltanshauung of Rav Soloveitchik when it comes to “ceremony” and Shule. Shule was never about a mode of ceremony for the Rav. It was all about Hilchos Tfilla, and the Lonely Man of Faith, never lost sought of this.

I see no renaissance in female Jewish observance surging through the modern orthodox world. On the contrary, they seem to struggle with “why is sending sms’s on shabbos forbidden”.

Enough. I don’t want to cast aspersions on many good people.

Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin

[Hat tip from Krakover]

This is from the forward.

Two SAR Students Break Ritual Barriers

Published January 20, 2014.

SAR High School, a Modern Orthodox institution in Riverdale, New York, is now allowing girls to wear tefillin.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, head of the school, sent out an email explaining that two girls were granted permission to wrap tefillin at the school’s daily all-girls meeting,reports the Boiling Pot, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in LA.
 
“I have given permission to two female students… to put on tefillin during tefilah,” Rabbi Harcsztark wrote Dec. 8, in an email to the school’s faculty, obtained by The Boiling Point. “They do so every day and have not been permitted to do so in school until now. “I believe that it is halachically permissible although it is a communally complicated issue.”
 
Ronit Morris (‘15) and Yael Marans (‘16) will now be wearing tefillin every day, the SAR Buzz reported.

“(This mitzvah) has been very important to me for a very long time and I’m really glad to be doing it at SAR,” Morris (‘15 told the Buzz. “I started putting on tefillin after my bat mitzvah. I lay tefillin for three years straight at [Solomon] Schechter every morning, and then I came to SAR and it did not seem like that was a thing that the school was going to go for at the time, and we put it off for a while.”
 
Marans (‘16) told a similar story, adding that her mother also wore tefillin every day. “Just before my bat mitzvah, I began putting on tefillin. It was just what my mom did, and, of course, what my brothers did,” she explained. “But I was one of a few girls in my grade that did. It made me think a lot about individuality, and eventually, when I wasn’t so overwhelmed by this new ritual, I realized it was making me think about God. I’m not going to say that every time I lay tefillin I feel a renewed awe of God, but sometimes it really makes me think. It’s just something in my day that makes me really conscious and concentrated.”
 
According to a Ricki Heicklin, a senior at SAR, meetings with every grade were held to address the reasoning behind the controversial decision.
 
“There were a handful of students who saw tefillin as something strongly correlated with the Conservative movement.” Heicklen told The Boiling Point, adding: “I strongly support the girls and I think it’s absurd that anybody would be upset about Rabbi Harcsztark’s decision.”
 
“Regardless of my personal choices, I think everyone at SAR should be allowed to connect to Hashem in whatever way they find meaningful, as long as it falls within the scope of halacha, which this clearly does,” Heicklen said.
 
Praying with tefillin — boxes containing the Shema prayer that are wrapped around the head and arm — is an obligatory mitzvah for boys. 
 
Girls are not forbidden to do so by halacha, but rabbis from different streams of Judaism disagree as to whether or not they should.
My opinion on this and similar matters has remained steadfast over many years. It is greatly influenced by the views of the Rav and R’ Moshe Feinstein.
There will always be people who do things which are permitted according to Jewish Law, when performed in earnest, not as a temporal manifestation of a Jerusalem Syndrome or the like, and most certainly not motivated in any shape of form by the populist egalitarianism and equality arguments bandied about by the left, as if they are the two missing links of the ten commandments.
Let’s call it as it is. Men and Women are existentially different. Period. The Torah  also provides for different roles and responsibilities. This is a legally grounded Mesora.
There are degrees of freedom. They are applied, also based on Mesora, to those who have attained a certain level of kedusha. That’s not the same as saying that every man already has that kedusha when they are born, of course. They do not.
There have been female Rebbes. Read about it. There have been and are women who put on Tefillin. Maybe some want to wear Tzitzis etc. Those who are at that level, consult a Rav, and act accordingly. Judaism hasn’t censored these acts or hidden them. It is condoned, but it is controlled.
What I do object to, is the institutionalisation of such practices. No school or similar should allow these things to be done with the style of pomp and ceremony implied by the article above. Those girls are quite capable of doing these things, in a modest way, without their school or they advertising their predispositions.
I don’t say Tikun Chatzos. If I did, frankly, I’d be a complete joke. Why? I’m simply not at a level that I could meaningfully sit and cry each night at midnight about the Churban. Those who do, do so in private. Sure, some of their family will know, but they do not make it known, nor do they announce a Tikun Chatzos evening.
One of my daughters who attended Lindenbaum (Brovenders) started to get sick and tired of her Halacha class. I asked her why. She said, because they were learning the laws of Tzniyus and most of the girls (from the USA) who are extremely bright, were attempting every which way to argue with the Rav, about sleeve lengths, hem lines, and neck lines. They started with the premise that the lines (sic) were too long, and then tried to argue their way through the sources to find support for their views. The Rav who taught, engaged them, quite correctly, explaining the various views etc. Eventually, my daughter stood up in the class (as an Aussie would) and said
“Hey, I came to learn Halacha. I didn’t come to spend months arguing about skirt length and pants etc. Many of you don’t keep these Dinim anyway, and you argue. Just accept what the Halacha is, and if you can’t/don’t keep it, then it’s your business with Hashem. Can we move onto other topics please.”
I was proud of her. That’s not to imply that my daughter was a paragon of Tzniyus etc. Rather, her balance was there, and she was more comfortable knowing what Halacha and Mesora were, and their parameters, than trying to somehow stretch and play with it so that they matched her parameters of comfort.
Ten females will never be considered a Minyan. That’s another halachic axiom. If you have Yiras Shomayim, you accept it. If your religion is egalitarianism/equality, you won’t.
It reminds me of words my father ע’’ה used to say in Yiddish when I asked him a question he didn’t think he should answer:
Do you have to know, or do you need to know

Real or imagined?

I got this story from yeshivah world news. See below. My questions are:

  • What percentage of errors exactly like this did not cause problems with Sons? Surely this isn’t the first example that Machon Pe’er found of this error?
  • Would Hakadosh Baruch Hu condemn the sons because the father’s T’efillin were faulty?
  • I thought Mezuzos provided Shmirah specifically, not Tefillin
  • Does Hakadosh Baruch Hu act according to mistakes in our Tefillin? At worst, we aren’t performing a Mitzvas Aseh, surley
  • Don’t misread me. I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t have their Tefillin checked based on the advice of their Rav regarding how often to do so. I’m also not suggesting that Hakadosh Baruch Hu acts in strange and mysterious ways. I’m just trying to get my head around the concept of tragedy manifest on children due to a Sofer error in the Tefillin of the father.

    The following story is circulating in the chareidi media throughout Eretz Yisrael.

    A well-known Yerushalayim talmid chacham bought a pair of tefillin 18 years ago. After 12 years, after one of his sons-in-law lost his own tefillin the rav gave his pair to him (the son-in-law) and he used them for six years.

    The talmid chacham used the tefillin for 12 years, during which time he lost two sons, one 6 and the second 12. While the son-in-law used the tefillin he experienced a number of “incidents” involving a son, which almost ended in disaster. One of the “incidents” involved the son being badly burned.

    This week, the tefillin were checked by the sofer and then sent to מכון פער to check for additional or missing letters/words and they discovered that in the second parsha of the של ראש the posuk וכל בכור… was missing the word בני.

    The computer checking lab, מכון פער, asked to have the story circulated as widely as possible in the hope of encouraging people to have their tefillin check, by a sofer and by computer.