Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Leadership
קטגוריה משנית
  • Family and Society
  • The Torah vs. Public Issues
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedto the full recovery of

Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka

2 min read
The title of "Rav" is unfortunately abused in our generation. Every young yeshiva student who has passed an examination in the laws of kashrut, Shabbat and various other subjects takes on the title of "Rav". There are also those who haven’t passed objective State examinations and yet are still called "Rabbis" (therefore the system of examinations set down by the Chief Rabbinate that have raised the greatness of Torah in Israel is to be praised). The wider community that is unfamiliar with the ways of the Torah world, gives the nickname of "Rav" to one who wears a kippah and has occupied the benches of a Beit Midrash in his youth, despite not having sat for any examination at all. The time has come to address this issue. Not everyone who wishes to take on the title may do so. In the world at large, a person may not use a title unless he is found to be worthy of doing so according to the accepted criteria in that field. In Israel, anarchy must not prevail in the use of the title "Rav". There is certainly room for discussion of this difficult subject at another opportunity.

Here, I wish to present one characteristic that is impossible to acquire by way of examination. It is essential to anyone who wishes to be called "Rav" among the people of Israel and to be an inseparable part of the transmission of the Oral Law tradition from the giving of the Torah , to our times and for future generations.

We will present this characteristic with the help of a study of "LIFE ON THE FRINGES", a book by Chaviva Ner-David. This is a book written by a woman who sees herself as the first orthodox female candidate for rabbinic ordination in Israel. The question of whether this woman can be a "posseket" (halachic arbiter -halacha is the body of Jewish laws), "Ravah" or "Rabbanit" - goes beyond the framework of this article, and we will not deal with it. Here we will deal with another fundamental problem, that also applies to men seeking rabbinic ordination even when they are in truth "scholars of the book" or even authors of books, but the essential ingredient is missing.
The book is written in English the language that testifies to the author’s origin and background (the author now lives and works in Israel): the United States of America. As is well known, many phenomena that occur there, make their way to Israel after a short time. In the book she exposes many details (too many for my taste) of her personal life, her doubts, her experiences, her struggles and aspirations, in order to lay out for us her militant feminism and her disregard for aspects of the Torah.

In the book, she wishes to convince us that there is no difference between a man and a woman. She tries to show that a woman can also delve into the halachic sources and to give halachic rulings according to her understanding and, therefore, is suitable for rabbinic ordination. She convinces me of the opposite. That she is not suitable for rabbinic ordination. Not just because she is a female, but because of her personality. If a male candidate held the opinion that he would be worthy of rabbinic ordination so as to enable him to object to the authority of the halacha, he would also be unsuitable for rabbinic ordination.

B. A Woman’s Obligation Regarding Tzitzit
The book is named after tzitzit, (the fringes worn by Jewish males under their garments). The author sees the fulfillment of this commandment by women as one of the keys toward the establishment of sexual equality. According to halacha, women are exempt from wearing tzitzit. In truth a woman may voluntarily take upon herself the performance of a time-bound positive commandment, and according to the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles) even to make a blessing "that He commanded" on its performance. However tzitzit and tefillin (phylacteries) are excluded from this general principle. Tzitzit - because it may cause pride and tefillin - because of the need to maintain bodily cleanliness.

The author does not agree with this ruling. She argues that if many women wear tzitzit then there will be no associated arrogance. Similarly, if women accept upon themselves the commandment of tefillin as an obligation they will also accept upon themselves the responsibility of keeping a clean body. However, whilst this remains an unaccepted norm, the problem in fact still exists even according to her assumptions. The fundamental principles of halacha that a woman is exempt from these commandments will never change. The author does not consider this. In her opinion - and this is the flaw in her whole approach - the halachic premise that a woman is exempt from the performance of positive commandments that are time bound, must be changed as a principle. A woman is no longer enslaved to her house as in the past, her time is in her hands, and therefore all the well known arguments of Rabbi David Abudraham (14th century) brought to exempt women from positive time bound commandments are no longer relevant in our times.

There are a number of points to raise about this:
1. As is well known, it is not for us to seek reasons for the mitzvot.
2. The assertion that a woman in our times is different from the woman of the past - is partially correct, and flows from the world view of the non-Torah observant community. It is true that a woman today is free from the yoke that was imposed upon her in the past. However, even today a woman taking care of children cannot free herself for the observance of every commandment that is bound by time.
3. The assertion that taking care of children is a less spiritual activity than the commandment to lay tefillin for example, flows from the notion prevalent in society that the personal advancement of the individual is more important and more spiritual than so called family duties.
4. This is the fundamental point: the modern woman who sees herself as equal to men in every respect finds it difficult to absorb the idea that those functions that set women apart (pregnancy, breast feeding and motherly warmth that will always remain within the domain of women exclusively, and for which no male substitute could ever be found) are equal in value and perhaps even more valuable than the job of a man.
5. The vision of the modern individual is not satisfied with the idea that the family as a collective fulfills commandments, some through the man, some through the woman and some by both of them. Rather, the requirement is that each individual member must fulfill all of the commandments. In the context of this concept of individualism, relating differently to a woman and a man is labeled discrimination.

C. Equality of the Sexes
The characterization of those that seek rabbinic ordination is to give central focus to the value concepts which are outside the framework of the Torah which stands in glaring contrast to the Jewish outlook. So it is in this book. The impression created by the words of the author is that the sole motivation for wearing tzitzit and tefillin is the social aspiration to be equal to a man. In that case she reasons that women should cover their heads (not just married women!); because it is not possible that a man covers his head while a woman does not. For the purposes of this argument she takes hold of an extreme"halachic" stance that a married woman in our times does not need to cover her head. This for the same reason that in her opinion a woman needs to learn Torah, not because a woman today needs to foster her spiritual being, but principally because a woman needs to resemble a man in every respect. Thus she must be eligible to be called to the Torah, to lead prayer services, to be a Rabbi etc.etc. Equality is the primary focus of the whole book. It was the experience of equality that brought her back to the lap of Judaism after a crisis in her youth.
From this basic point she criticizes the works of our sages and halachic authorities that do not comply with her opinion. In her view, the halacha must "change" to accommodate her ideas rather than that she should alter her views to the position of the halacha.
She does not differentiate between the fundamentals of halacha and her own applications. As long as she fails to internalize this principal, she will be unable to learn Torah with pure intent and will certainly not be fit to be a halachic arbiter. Her applications of the halacha change as conditions change. However, this cannot be done with halachic fundamentals for they remain eternal forever.

There is no doubt that a change has occurred in the status of women. Therefore certain things that were acceptable in the past may not be appropriate in the same form in our times. The most glaring example is the ruling of the Chafetz Chaim that requires women today to learn Torah. The Chafetz Chaim did not, G-d forbid, change the principles of halacha. The basic exemption from learning Torah is still valid for women even today. The onerous responsibility of growing in Torah to the level of the Vilna Gaon for example, does not apply to women. This commandment will always remain voluntary. With that, it must be recognized that social conditions have changed and created a new situation in which the advice of the sages not to teach women Torah (out of fear that she would make a nonsense of the words of Torah, in the language of the Rambam) is no longer appropriate. On the contrary, to prevent a woman from speaking nonsense we are obligated to teach her Torah today.
Unfortunately, this book is likely to strengthen those who argue that conditions have not changed enough to allow every woman to learn any subject from any place in the Torah…

D. The G-d of Equality
Oozing between the lines is the theological argument that Hashem (G-d) is the G-d of righteousness and justice, and also by the by, the G-d of equality. He is interested in so called equality according to the broad fashionable concepts of the secular western community. Therefore He is interested, it would appear, in a change in the halacha in accordance with this concept of equality. The assertion is that equality is what identifies men and women as being identical. This notion that both sexes are identical is synonymous with righteousness. Therefore, it could be reasoned, that the desire of Hashem is to make men and women equal in all facets of life, including the fulfillment of the commandments. It goes without saying that theology of this sort cannot change even a minute portion of the halachic principles. Whoever does not understand this cannot be called a "Rav".

Let us work on the premise that this argument flows from genuine naivete. Even so, one who purports to be a "Rabbanit" requires a deeper and more serious approach to matters of faith as well. According to the Jewish outlook, real equality does not necessarily mean that men and women are identical. On the contrary, sometimes real equality requires discrimination. This allows equal opportunities between the sexes without requiring that they be identical. Divine justice created a world of variety in which there are men and women, Jews and non-Jews, Kohanim (priests) and Levites, the healthy and the disabled and those with many and varied talents. This justice obligates us to allow equal opportunities to all those created in the image of G-d, but also places upon us the need to recognize differences between individuals.

There are differences in biology and mentality between the sexes that can never be changed. Justice requires that in order to give women equal opportunities taking account of her natural talent and tendencies, she should be exempt from certain social obligations (for example: the responsibility of supporting a family, conscription into the army etc.) and also from a portion of the mitzvot. Each individual has different tasks depending on their different mission and talents. The allocation of separate duties to men and women brings greater justice to the world than requiring that they fulfill identical ones.

Elsewhere I have explained at length that the Torah does not seek to suppress the feeling of autonomous individual justice. Indeed, wherever injustices to women occur, we must rise up against them and find an answer to such problems. However, is the allocation of different functions according to different sexes an objective injustice, or is it an imaginary one? Here a fundamental question must be asked. Are we defining equality according to our own fashionable measures and bending the halacha to our own ideas or are we raising ourselves to the level of the halacha?
We must understand the author’s difficulty with the notion that women cannot be witnesses. Indeed, we do not understand why women are not fit to give testimony. Different explanations that have been given, for example: that women are untrustworthy or too emotional - do not satisfy our intelligence. It is possible that the aim was to remove from women the hardships involved in testifying. Relatives are disqualified from giving evidence even against their family members despite there being no rational explanation for this. Even Moses and Aaron were disqualified from testifying together or against one another.

Here we have the true test of ones faith in Hashem’s Torah. Does he accept the authority of the Torah, or does he bend the Torah to his own personal understanding and thereby curse and rage against his King and his G-d. Can one who does not understand with human logic the mitzvah of the red heifer enter the holy sanctuary without ritually purifying himself?

E. Experience or Halacha
Further, this approach to the fulfillment of the mitzvot, is faulty as it does not express at the outset the acceptance by man of the authority of G-d. Rather it views the mitzvot as vessels through which to achieve satisfaction through spiritual experiences.

The author expresses with emotion how her daily prayers have been elevated through the wearing of tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin, and she now prays with far greater kavana (intent). There is no doubt that there is great truth in this. Indeed tefillin contains the power to sanctify man and to raise him to another sphere. But allow me to ask. On Yom Kippur when our prayers are at their highest level, do they require the wearing of tefillin? On the eve of Rosh Hashana are our prayers not said with greater intent even without the wearing of the tallit? Is it not possible that a woman can pray without wearing a tallit or tefillin with greater intent than a man who is wearing them? Who of us is greater than Chana whose prayers provide the guiding principles of our prayers today? Did she require a tallit or tefillin in order to ensure the acceptance of her prayers?

The basic question is this. Is the fulfillment of mitzvot a halachic issue or one of experiences?. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi - the great sentimentalist and poet, who based Judaism largely on experiences - continually stresses that a mitzvah only has value if it is fulfilled according to the halacha. One who is not commanded to do a mitzvah but does it anyway, does not connect with Hashem in the same way as one who performs it because he is commanded to do so. Women can see themselves as being obligated and through this to connect to Hashem (and therefore according to the ruling of the Rama, that they can recite blessings using the word "v’tzivanu"-and we have been commanded) but this is not a necessary condition. Connection with Hashem is also achieved in other ways that do not fall within the range of commandments which halachic authorities say should not be performed by women.

The chapter that describes the experience of immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath) is emotional and touching. Having said that it must be pointed out that ritual immersion is a law, like all the other commandments and is not simply an experience. According to halacha, the mikveh purifies even if the mitzvah is performed without any kavana at all. This is also the law for other commandments. Therefore I approach with some reservations her treatment of the immersion in the Jerusalem mikveh as opposed to the one in Washington. According to her, in Christian Washington her immersion was performed in a relaxed way after appropriate soul searching and she emerged from the mikveh with a feeling of genuine renewal and supreme purity. In contrast to this, in Holy Jerusalem the immersion was carried out hurriedly without suitable soul searching and without spiritual exaltation.

Allow me to point out that the description of the immersion in the Jerusalem mikveh is a distortion of the reality, perhaps because of her prejudiced ideas. Immersions are also carried out calmly in Israel and the possibility exists for every woman to prepare herself spiritually for this important moment. An allocation of 15 minutes for the immersion, including the preparation (!) as the author describes is also contrary to the halacha and I do not know of any mikveh that operates this way. Perhaps there was a once off mishap at that particular mikveh on that particular day. If so she should have assessed the circumstances and adjusted her spiritual preparations to the objective conditions. A soldier who is forced to institute emergency procedure at short notice merits an experience no less spiritually uplifting than a civilian who prepares himself leisurely until the time for reading of the shema in the shacharit service, and perhaps even more so. We must bring experiences in line with the halacha and not the halacha in line with experience.

F. Being Selective in Halacha
Another expression of her failure to accept the authority of the Oral Law is her approach to the fulfillment of the mitzvot. Even in this book, the author does not conceal her stance. Those laws that appeal to her she performs with intensity, beyond what is required. This, as opposed to those laws that are not to her personal taste and merit her criticism and even her failure to perform them at all.

As a woman, it is natural that the laws with which she is occupied the most are those that pertain to women. She discusses at length the issue of keeping physically distance from ones spouse during the times when physical closeness is prohibited. She adopts these prohibitions only because they enhance the experience of the renewal of contact. Therefore she does not observe those laws that enforce the distance but do not provide that enhancement.

Mainly her fury is directed at these required separations during the time of childbirth. She asks: isn’t it clear that there is no fear of forbidden relations at this time? She also concludes with respect to the practical application of the halacha that there is no justification for the requirement of physical distance at this time. Indeed she brings halachic considerations such as a woman’s great need for emotional support especially at this difficult time; a consideration that our halachic arbiters take into account when necessary. However her principal argument relies on the need for the husband’s participation in the birth. Equality also requires the husband, who does not merit the physical experience of childbirth, to at least be a partner to it with his wife through his presence and assistance. The impression that is created from a reading of the book is that it is difficult for the author to accept the idea that men and women are different physically and therefore in their nature and the roles they play. She bends the halacha to suit her approach.

In her opinion, there is no halachic prohibition against a woman singing in public today (what has changed in our times in this respect?). She renders it "permissible" to immerse in the mikveh in the daytime based on the notion that there has been a change in the makeup of the family and a daughter does not know when her mother is going to the mikveh (in contradiction to this she relates that she actually took her daughter with her to the mikveh!). Similarly, she allows as permissible in principle the immersion in the mikveh without the counting of the mandatory seven clean days. The factor that leads her to nevertheless opt for the adoption of the halachic requirement to immerse only after counting the seven days, is the fact that Jewish women have accepted this upon themselves. Because this halacha has been accepted as valid by women it should be adopted, not because it is a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law) but out of solidarity with women….she also criticizes the halacha l’Moshe miSinai regarding the 11 days between menstrual periods since we know today that the menstrual cycle is close to a month.

G. Halacha and the family
We thus find an approach devised by people who wish to bend the halacha to changing human trends. This flawed approach comes out in other areas, such as the approach to homosexuality. Since it is so widespread in the community this abomination must be treated as a natural phenomenon and the halacha must, in their opinion, change to suit it.
This theme is present throughout the book. The author devises all sorts of halachic "heterim" (those rulings of halachic arbiters that make something permissible) to give legitimacy to same sex relationships and in so doing ignores the fact that a same sex "couple" cannot build a family together in the normal way. It cannot produce offspring nor raise them in the widely accepted way. Her basic premise is that the prevalent view in the modern community is that a family is not necessarily built on continuity and responsibility to the next generation, but on the comfort and happiness of two people who wish to live together in a partnership.

This specific basic premise is the foundation of all the ideas expressed in the book.

On the basis of this premise of equality she finds fault with the way a Torah observant family is constructed. According to the approach of the Torah, it is the home that stands as the focal point and not the individuals that constitute it. A man is the one commanded to raise a family and to sustain it. The woman is not obligated to procreate or to support the family. Hers is a greater and more difficult role: to bear children and to raise and nurture them for as long as they need this. It is the husband who performs the kiddushin and not the wife.

This approach is unacceptable to the author, as it falls outside her notion of the individual being the focal point. In her opinion the family is a partnership between two interests. In order to criticize the halacha she presents it in a distorted way. She relies on one source (!) in the Mishna, in which a "kinyan"(halachic acquisition) is required to make a marriage, to argue that according to halacha a woman is the property of her husband as would be a slave, a maidservant, an animal, chattels and real estate (such a definition does exist in Islam as opposed to the Torah). Therefore, since slavery has been abolished from the world so too the concept of a "kinyan" must be changed. She suggests different alternatives as ways to perform the kiddushin in which the man and woman both prepare and sign a partnership contract.

This is a distortion, whether made purposely or innocently, of the halachic concept of "kiddushin". Anyone who understands the halacha well, knows that a woman is not the possession of her husband. Just one of the ways in which a bond is created between a husband and wife is the so called "kinyan". The whole of the Oral law and the works of the sages are full of such references which are too numerous to mention here. One who purports to be a "Rabbi" requires greater responsibility in understanding and applying the halachic sources. Even more than this is the need for responsibility toward the framework of the halacha. Human trends must not cause a change in the approach of the Torah to the family unit.

The author deals extensively with the tragic subject of those women who are refused a get (divorce) by their husbands. There are many opposite cases in which it is the wife who withholds the get; however there is solution in this case albeit one that is rarely used. According to the approach that sees marriage as a partnership agreement there is also a "solution" to the problem of "agunot" (those women refused a get). She suggests the substitution of the "kiddushin" according to halacha with a new concept: that of concubines and similar ideas that are rabbinically unacceptable. She admits that such solutions deprive the "kiddushin" of any sacred value, but solving the problems that exist in certain specific exceptional cases is more important in her eyes than the sanctity and stability of the Jewish home as a whole throughout the ages. There is no doubt that solutions must be found for these tragic cases, and learned sages are seeking those solutions and even implementing them; but not at the heavy price of uprooting the whole halachic framework of the Jewish family unit, which is both the most logical and progressive one.

H. The "Possek" who Throws off the Yoke of Halacha
In one place the author presents with full fiery force the internal contradiction between one who seeks to be a "posseket" and the approach to the halacha. She tells of a feminist conference at which she met a young woman interested in becoming a "posseket", but who was considering becoming pregnant and worried that her pregnancy would prevent her carrying on with her studies. The author’s advice: your body is your own and there is no need for you to include rabbis in your personal matters!

The idea that one should actually seek to be a possek is surprising. Where do we find in the yeshiva world a burning interest in becoming a possek? Dispensing halachic rulings is the result of protracted learning through which a person feels ready to do so. Generally, Torah scholars try to refrain from giving halachic rulings. The aspiration to become a "posseket" is evidence of Torah learning that is without pure intent.

Furthermore: how can one who wishes to become a possek not accept the authority of the halacha? "First rebuke yourself and then others". However the author goes further. She sees the involvement of posskim in people’s personal lives as enslavement to external influences, that in her opinion is a type of idol worship! (in her words); She cannot rest until she brings in the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin(!) to her claims. How so? Reliance on the rulings of Rabbis was, according to her, what led to that despicable murder. Allow us to ask: on the contrary, had the murderer asked Rabbis the murder would have been prevented. As is well known he argued in court that he saw no need to rely on the rulings of Rabbis on this matter.

There is a need to clarify just how much a person is required to seek rabbinic counsel in every aspect of his life, and when he may use his own judgement exclusively. As is well known the Hassidim seek the advice of their Rabbis more than other communities; though they too leave themselves wide parameters for personal decision making. But if a person does not need to ask a Rabbi even classical halachic questions then why do we need "posskot"?
In the author’s words, the halacha does not represent the word of Hashem, but is just an explanation of the sources. Only a prophet can express the will of Hashem.
A prophet has no authority to express the will of Hashem in halachic matters, only in matters of prophecy or temporary orders. "A prophet cannot write new halachot." A prophet will never be authorized to make permanent halachic rulings. "It is not in the heavens". It is specifically in the field of halacha that the Torah forbids a prophet to express the word of Hashem. That task is given over for the understanding of Torah sages, who interpret the Torah according to their human logic, with guidance from the rules that the Torah itself has set. This is the true will of Hashem in halachic matters. With this understanding Hashem gave the Torah to Moses, so that the sages of Israel would interpret it. Hashem Himself accepts, as it were, the rulings of our sages, as is borne out through the powerful expression above in "the oven of Achnai" in which the halacha was decided against the voice from heaven, and Hashem accepted the ruling by saying "my children have won me over."
The interpretation of the Torah by the sages of Israel is the word of Hashem on the condition that they see themselves as the direct and unbroken continuation of the Torah as it was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, without change and their fear of heaven comes before their wisdom.

I. Authority and Rabbinic Ordination
The author quotes someone who said to her: Why do you need rabbinic ordination? Anyone who would rely on your rulings would not require that you are ordained and anyone who would not rely on your rulings would not be influenced because you are ordained. Nevertheless she is interested in rabbinic ordination: that is both because of the principle of equality and because in her capacity of a "Rabbanit", she reasons that it will be easier for her to breach the framework of halacha. The strategy of the Trojan Horse. In ordination she sees power. The mistake is hers.

In truth, a man also does not need rabbinic ordination to dispense halachic rulings. If he knows the halacha, he does not need ordination and if he does not, then ordination will not assist him. I do not know if all the great sages had formal rabbinic ordination. The Rambam the Vilna Gaon and in our times the Chafetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach did not serve as Rabbis and yet their rulings were accepted by all Jews. Their authority did not flow from their ordination. Formal ordination is needed only when the person is unknown.

So too a man who tries to challenge the authority of the halacha, his "rabbinic ordination" will not help him. Ordination is an expression of the continuation of halacha directly from Sinai and into the future. Every pupil is qualified by virtue of his Rabbi and he from his Rabbi right back until Moshe Rabbeinu. Only one who is willing to take part in this continuation can contribute his portion to the building of halacha. There is nothing in principle to prevent a woman from taking part in this continuation of the passing of the Oral Law. A glaring example of this is the case of the wife of the Sama who made a few halachic rulings which were eventually accepted as halacha by the greatest posskim. Her being a female was neither a disqualifying nor a qualifying factor for giving halachic rulings, but rather it was her logical reasonings that relied on the tradition of halachic continuation. Rabbinic ordination does not create authority. Only the recognition of authority that ordination brings.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article this is not only relevant to females. The same is true of a man who has the same approach to halacha, he is also not worthy to get rabbinic ordination; because the whole purpose of this approach is to challenge the authority of the halacha and not to preserve its continuation. A necessary requirement of every person who receives rabbinic ordination is to faithfully and selflessly continue the traditions that Moshe Rabbeinu started when he laid his hands upon his pupil Yehoshua Bin Nun. "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly". From here commenced the continuous evolvement from generation to generation until these times. It is this that gives to one who is ordained the authority to teach halacha.

Translated by Mrs. Ruth Rose. Advocate.
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