How The 5TJT
And Rabbi Ginzberg Inspired Me
About five months ago, a shadchan I consider a close friend sent me the article titled “Hidden World of Shidduchim” by Rabbi Ginzberg. I’d been dating for a while and had just gone through a tough time and she thought this would give me some much-needed chizuk. The article talks about how singles should daven for childless couples and childless couples should daven for singles.
After reading the article, I decided to start a Tehillim group where the entire Sefer Tehillim is said daily. Each participant submits a name that needs tefillos, whether for shidduchim, children, or refuah, and in return they receive a different name to daven for. In essence, “Daven for me and I’ll daven for you.” It’s a 30-day cycle, and we are in middle of the fourth round. Today, I found out about the second engagement from this group and I knew I needed to let Rabbi Ginzberg know how he inspired me! This isn’t exactly what he had in mind, but it’s still something I give him and my shadchan credit for. I can only hope that this is just the beginning of all the s’machot that will come from this group!
May these simchas be a z’chus for his daughter’s neshamah.
Whatever one’s opinion might be concerning female clergy, both the tone and the substance of Rabbi Dov Fisher’s condescending response to Justin Cohen’s letter must be addressed. This is especially important since I think that Rabbi Fisher misrepresents both the nature of the halachic process he invokes in his letter and the nature of change within Judaism.
Rabbi Fisher argues that since all four major Orthodox rabbinic bodies are opposed to female clergy, the matter is closed—once the p’sak has been rendered, all dissenting opinions are shown to be wrong. But as we know from the famous story of the Tanur of Achnai (Bava Metzia, 59b; ironically, quoted in the same issue of the 5TJT, on p. 88), and as the K’li Yakar (Devarim 17:11) explains most clearly, we are obligated to follow rulings of the Sanhedrin not because these rulings are necessarily correct, but because the Sanhedrin is our central authority. Indeed, one is deemed a zaken mamre (in contempt of court) only if he (or she) does not follow the ruling of the court in practice—but is permitted to continue to argue against it, in an attempt to get the court to change its position! (I encourage learning though the K’li Yakar; I wish there were the space here to sum up his proofs.) Thus, the consensus of our major religious bodies on this issue does not mean that there is nothing more to talk about. It means only that Rabbi Fisher is correct that an Orthodox synagogue should not, in light of these rulings, hire a female rabbi to head their community. Will or should that change? I certainly don’t know, but I know it’s still appropriate to raise the issue.
This brings us to Rabbi Fisher’s other point: Female clergy is a bad idea because it is a Christian idea. Does Rabbi Fisher not know that over the past 20 years or so, Christians have been grappling with the exact same issue we have—why has there never been female clergy? It seems more accurate to say that the issue in any tradition-based faith community is the same: reconciling the authoritative received tradition (for us, our mesorah) with contemporary values. But to say that we have imported this idea from Christianity is just not at all correct (even though some Christian denominations have recently begun to ordain female clergy). I think it’s more accurate to say that the idea of more access for women to all areas of authority in the Western world has evolved organically, and is not a Christian idea.
And, finally, on logical grounds: The Rambam tells us at the beginning of his introduction to his Shemonah Perakim that we should accept truth from wherever it comes (kabel ha’emes m’mi she’omrah). Thus, even if the idea of giving women a larger, more formal role in our synagogues stems from outside influences, this does not make the idea wrong. Does Rabbi Fisher believe that the rights women have achieved (e.g., the right to vote, or greater access to positions of leadership in the outside world) are bad? And if they are not bad—are emes—they could well find their way into Judaism, in some form. Our mesorah is not the same now as it was say, 2,000 years ago—and these changes are often the result of changes in the world around us. As the Zohar says, “HaTorah loveshes tzurah, u’foshetes tzurah” (the Torah manifests itself differently in different historical periods).
All this is why we should keep listening to each other with respect, address issues with humility, and avoid condescending pronouncements. If we regard each other in the spirit of v’ameich kulam tzadikim, we will merit l’olam yirshu aretz.
Rabbi Fischer Responds:
The contemporary notion of women as religious clergy stems directly from Christianity. For example, it was never an issue in Reform Judaism through that movement’s first two centuries, dating back to the Hamburg temple of 1815. Reform is not bound to the Torah or halachah. It considers itself “progressive.” But it never was a Reform issue. Likewise with Conservative Judaism. Over its first century, Conservative Judaism staked out positions allowing driving on Shabbat, eating swordfish, and later counting women in prayer quora and calling women to the Torah. But they never broached women as clergy until Reform did it first. What took Reform and Conservative Judaism so long?
The Methodists first ordained women as clergy in 1956. The United Methodists began in 1968. The Episcopalians joined the tide in the early 1970s.
In time, the movement to ordain Christian women clergy spread within and among the various Christian denominations. And so Sally Priesand was ordained a Reform rabbi in 1972. Until then, the matter did not preoccupy Abraham Geiger in Germany, Isaac Mayer Wise in Buffalo or Cincinnati, Kaufmann Kohler in New York, or any of the most radical reformers. And in 1985, Conservative Judaism followed Reform’s breaches, as they always do, ordaining Rabbi Amy Eilberg.
In the United States, halachic rabbinic authorities respectively guiding each of the four mainstream normative Orthodox rabbinic and synagogue bodies have reached the identical conclusion that woman may not serve as clergy. The unanimity among Agudath Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Young Israel, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is striking. Each arrived at its halachic ruling through a separate process, analyzing and deciding independently of the others, publishing its decision at a different time. Look throughout the United States of America: among the many hundreds upon hundreds of shuls in the U.S., only four outlier places have women rabbis. Those congregations comprise less than a percent of the community, and they all are known as radically left outposts. One of them, for example, in solidarity with the victims of the Orlando terrorist shooting, took the congregation’s members to a gay bar in Washington, DC, last year after Havdallah ended the Shavuot festival.
Really, Mr. Eisenman, I have no problem with your standing by your position. That is your right. But please do not deflect the issue from its substance to its tone. My tone is respectful because my sense of the matter is respectful. If you wish to disagree, that does not adversely impact me or anyone I know. I have no negative feeling or reason to express these thoughts in a negative tone. The facts on the ground are what they are, and now the halachic “science is settled” for the generation in which we live. It just is. You and some others may feel differently, and that is fine. But the RCA, OU, Young Israel, and Agudah all have reached the same conclusion. That is not about tone. It just is.
Have a happy Purim,
Rabbi Dov Fischer
Remembering Chaim “Lobo” Silber, a’h
The levayah of Chaim “Lobo” Silber took place on Thursday morning, March 2. I sat and wept along with hundreds of others, a sea of people, whose lives this great man touched. He was a precious gift Hashem gave us for 70 years. The depth of sadness is beyond description. Chaim, a’h, was a man whose life was filled with countless acts of chesed that knew no bounds. A man of integrity and dignity. Filled with kindness and love for his family, friends, and all humankind. Chaim, a’h, had a heart of gold. A genuine, beautiful smile that would light up a room. He was strong, yet so sensitive and understanding. A Gentle Giant. Bigger than life. He was witty, and filled with wisdom. Chaim knew when he had to be tough and when to be soft. He was a lifeline for thousands. There will be a deep chasm, a painful void, for myself, my husband, who worked for Chaim most of his working years, for my family, and for all who were blessed to have Chaim, a’h, in their lives. Let’s hope that, moving forward, we will learn from and follow his stellar example of being there in any way we can for each other. What a wonderful and more beautiful world this will be for us and for generations to come. It’s unbearably hard to imagine the world without him. We pray that dear, special Chaim, a’h, will watch over us all, just as he did in life. I will always remember him with abundant admiration and respect for the amazing man he was. He is sorely missed. May he be a meilitz yosher for us all. Yihei zichro baruch.
Kew Gardens Hills
Make It Your Mission
NORPAC’s Mission to Washington is an annual event, this year on May 17, where we bring close to 1,000 citizen activists to Washington, DC, in order to advocate for a stronger U.S.–Israel relationship with members of Congress. Mission attendees are bused (or can use their own transportation) to Washington in the morning, and arrive at the Washington Convention Center where they attend a brief plenary session with presentations by congressional leadership. Afterwards, individuals converge with their assigned groups—usually of 4 to 6 people—and meet with members of Congress and their staff to discuss this year’s talking points regarding pressing legislation on U.S.–Israeli concerns. The event wraps up the same day in the early evening, and transportation is provided to get back home.
This year, attending the mission is even more important than ever. Although it seems as if we have a good friend in the White House, we cannot overlook the fact that there are many new senators and members of Congress that have been elected in the last cycle. We lost some loyal friends and now have to make new relationships as well as reinforce our old ones. The issues facing Israel are huge and existential. With the sanction relief, Iran has a tremendous infusion of $170 billion to finance terrorism aimed at Israel and America; in addition, BDS is spreading like wildfire. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines; Israel needs us now more than ever.
The early-bird special is in effect until March 13, so if you haven’t signed up yet, do so today. Get your friends to sign up and have your rabbis make announcements in shul this Shabbos, which is Parashas Zachor. It’s all in the numbers; the more people that go, the more that we help Israel.
To register or learn more, visit norpac.net/mission-registration. To join the planning committee, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing you.
A Freilichin Purim,
Trudy and Stanley Stern