[Avodah] OU paper

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Tue Oct 10 13:25:47 PDT 2017

Take 2. I didn't like what I read in the Avodah queue, so I rejected my
first version and elaborated.

On Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 10:53:24AM -0500, Noam Stadlan via Avodah wrote:
:> 1- Feminism assumes egalitarianism, not only equality, as it assumes that
:> roles historically closed to women as "men's roles" should be open to all.
:> Equality only assumes that everyone should be eligible for roles of equal
:> value. (For some measure of value.)

: This is starting off on the wrong foot. I dont claim to speak for all
: Orthodox Feminists. But the first question to be asked is why is a role
: 'historically closed to women?' ...

I see this as an equally valid question, but who is to say which ought to
be asked first?

REBerkowitz rightly deprecates the modification of halakhah out of
concern for external values. He dismisses the role of the "pressures
of contemporary egalitarianism." (As RSC put it.) This puts REB in a
different place than people who unite under the word "feminism" are
indeed advocating halachic change. What he denies being a valid motive
JOFA is putting in their organizational name.

:                                      It is very reasonable, just like in
: the cases of the chereish, slavery etc, to investigate why it is
: 'historically closed." ...

Which you fail to actually do. You rebut your understanding of some
arguments for why the clsure is grounded in mesorah. After all, this is
a rebuttal paper.

The one mention of an alternative motive for change, rather than a lack
of motive for status quo, is one that is inconsistent with feminism,
as above.

: litany of reasons as to why women were forbidden to do things and he
: himself agreed that those reasons have gone by the wayside.  If you want to
: say that something is historically closed, and therefore it is assur-
: fine.  Now you dont need an Halachic reasons, because historically closed
: is the final word....

Strawman. I am not asserting that we have to hold like the Rama that being
historically closed means the option is halachically closed; identifying
history with mesorah, and thus absence of tradition with tradition of absence.

I would say, though, that if you want to buck the Rama, you have to make
an argument for doing so, and not just dismiss his rule because he
applied it to a misunderstood case.

: everyone seems to be giving Halachicly justification, both pro and con,
: then it means that historically closed is open for discussion, and it is on
: the plane of halacha, not history.  So the bottom line is that if there is
: Halachic justification for particular gender roles- of course that trumps
: everything.  But it also means that stating something is historically assur
: is not the end of the story. history is not Halacha. That is what I
: illustrated in part one.  Because you could also make the same argument
: that the chereish shouldn't have an aliyyah...

Yes, I agreed with your formulation of the problem in terms of resonant
values, and at times a contemporary value can highlight the neglect of a
Torah one.

But you don't follow through with it. Instead you end up altogether
rejecting the say of mesoretic values to decide which halachic innovations
are proper.

I would add that at times a contemporary value can change expectations,
and thus change the morality of an act. After all, it may be okay to
do something to someone when they expect it, but not if it violates
assumptions behind things they committed to. I could see making that
argument WRT monogyny and the validity of cheirem deR Gershom. Mental
images of what marriage should be changed, and so it's only moral to
satisfy the resulting emotional need rather than some older definition
of marriage. As long as the definition itself isn't inferior.

To take that poorly explained idea and possibly be clearer by making it
less general and more about our case:

Perhaps one could form the argument that while it was moral for women
not to be eligable for the rabbinate in the past because it was less
likely for the option to cross their minds. Such a practice would
cause fewer feelings of deprevation. But now that women can become CEO,
such a position does mesoretically-wrongly create feelings of deprivation.
And so societal change causes a change in application of values; just as
it can an application of law.

This is pretty close to an argument you do indeed make.

Just (as below), I don't think having a role is a right, because I do
not believe religious roles are as much opportunities as they are
duties. Unlike secular roles, which could be either, depending on how
the society in question chooses to frame them.

Your neglect of the "how", which changes are valid and which not, reminds
me of the argument of non-O rabbis who point to pruzbul and heter isqa as
justifications for their radical changes. It's not the same thing by a
lng shot. But half-way through you make the same error of considering
proof that there are valid kinds of change as proof that the topic in
question provides no barriers to change altogether.

As you say in this same paragraph (!):
:                                               Any role that is historically
: closed to any group that isn't Halachically assur is open for discussion as
: to what the Halacha actually mandates and why exactly it was closed in the
: first place....

So, it's black-letter law closure, or the change is allowed? No "resonance
of values" needed after all?

And the problem with demanding "resonance of values" is that it takes the
autonomy out of it for most of us. Because by enlarging the problem beyond
black letter halakhah we guarantee there is a non-formal aspect to the
answer, one that is for the practiced artist rather than any bright

And the notion that one is validating a value system that then sets the
person up for a very hard collision with the actual not-so-glass ceiling
black-letter halakhah defines is very related to this. The mere existence
of such a ceiling implies the likelihood of non-resonant values.

The concept of asei lekha rav, having a poseiq, moves us away from
autonomy in our behavioral decisions, and forces a heteronomy of a manner
that too violates contemporary values.

:> 2- Feminism assumes Locke's language of rights and priviledge. Why should
:> someone *be deprived* of the opportunity to be an .... -- in our case, to
:> serve as rabbi? But halachic values aren't framed in these terms...

: Being a rabbi is fulfilling the mitzvah of service to the community, talmud
: torah etc.  Whether it is a burden or an opportunity, it is a mitzvah and
: a choice of profession and communal service...

But asking about opportunity and opening doors is inherently asking
different value questions than the mesoretic ones. It's not just ancient
that we frame our moral choices in terms of duty to others and the Other,
it's mesoretic.

: Furthermore, the OU paper went way beyond opposing rabbis. they forbid a
: woman from officiating at a baby naming or other things.  that too is a
: burden that women should be forbidden from shouldering?

This misses my point. When I spoke of rights vs duties I am talking about
the entire framing of questions of values, not this specific decision. If
the rabbinate, baby naming or whatever is a duty rather than a right,
the whole question of "limiting their options unneccessarily" goes off
the table. It's not about the right to choose a boon. Your whole question
is framed non-traditionally.

Looking at feminism as a goal is an inherently un-mesoretic way of framing
the question. Rather, the nearest mesoretic equivalent would be to ask
whether men have a duty that can only be discharged by sharing the pulpit,
"officiating at a baby naming of other things".

Feminism doesn't enter the mesoretic discussion because there is no door
to be opened or closed, there is no region of personal-expression space
to discuss whether someone is given too much or too little.

The Torah is a beris, not a bill of rights.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             When one truly looks at everyone's good side,
micha at aishdas.org        others come to love him very naturally, and
http://www.aishdas.org   he does not need even a speck of flattery.
Fax: (270) 514-1507                        - Rabbi AY Kook

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