Nusach Feminist

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Prof. Daniel Sperber’s recent book, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations, contains some radical liturgical suggestions. Given the timing of this post, before listing these suggestions let me make clear that this is neither an attack on Prof. Sperber nor his ideas. The title of this post is not meant sarcastically and its origin will become clear at the end of the post:

  1. She-lo Asani Ishah – Prof. Sperber does not technically recommend eliminating this blessing, however he defends the legitimacy of doing so. “Perhaps a more radical suggestion is simply to omit the benediction. Thus, for example, the Rambam strongly rejected birkat dam betulim… Similarly, the blessing magbiah shefalim… fell into disuse… Eventually, this may happen to שלא עשני אשה as well. It, too, may join the many benedictions that faded into oblivion.” (pp. 39-40)

    Surprisingly, when discussing explanations of this blessing he fails to quote the Tosefta (Lieberman edition, Berakhos 6:18, line 86 – link 1, link 2).

    He also defends changing the women’s version, albeit without advocating it. “Can we nowadays sit down and decided to add to, subtract from, change or formulate new berachot, such as she-asani ishah ve-lo ish (who has made me a woman and not a man) or she-lo asani amah (who has not made me a slave-woman)? Halachically, yes. Sociologically – will it be accepted, and by whom? That is a completely different question that a sociologist, not a halachist, will have to confront.” (p. 112)

  2. Tachanun – He advocates removing the phrase “ve-shiktzunu ke-tumas ha-nidah – They abominate us as much as the ritual impurity of a woman.” (p. 47)
  3. Amidah – He permits adding the names of the Matriarchs (Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah) to the opening blessing. “Therefore, when I am asked questions such as ‘To what extent may we add elements in our prayers?’ ‘Can we add new elements to existing prayers?’ ‘Can we mention the imahot (foremothers) in addition to the avot (forefathers)?’ I see the answer as very simple: It is all completely permissible.” (p. 111)

    I find this particularly difficult to understand because Prof. Sperber bases his halakhic argument on the Kessef Mishneh (Hilkhos Berakhos 1:5,6). But, aside from inexplicably quoting the Kessef Mishneh‘s rejected first explanation rather than his preferred second approach (p. 59 – this makes little difference for our purposes), the entire context is bedi’avad! If you make such an improper change, about which the Rambam says either “ein la’asos ken – one should not do this” or “eino ela to’eh – you are nothing but mistaken” (depending on the two explanations of the Kessef Mishneh), you nevertheless fulfill your obligation. How does that translate to “completely permissible”? I am at a loss to understand this argument. See also Responsa Radbaz 5:51 and R. Yosef Kafach’s commentary to Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Keri’as Shema ch. 1 n. 21. This Conservative responsum makes the same inference from the Kessef Mishneh as Prof. Sperber, failing to distinguish between instituting a change and tolerating an inappropriate change after the fact: link – PDF.

    His historical case is, of course, extremely well argued. I doubt whether there is a greater living expert in this area. Yet I see what I think is a glaring logical error in an important aspect of this argument. I want to check up a source in one of the footnotes before writing about this angle but if it confirms my understanding, I’ll turn this into a full-blown review for publication.

  4. In general, this book reads, perhaps unintentionally, like an extended argument against R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Prof. Sperber concludes his introduction with R. Soloveitchik’s view, as expressed in Ra’ayonos Al Ha-Tefillah and explained by David Hartman in A Living Covenant, forbidding changing the text of our prayers. The rest of the book is an extended argument to the contrary. I think R. Soloveitchik’s view is more complex than either Hartman or Sperber allow, but I will leave that for another time.

Prof. Sperber concludes: “It should be borne in mind that, in any case, there is no standard version of Jewish liturgy. Yemenites pray differently from Ashkenazim, and Halabim (Syrian Jews) differently from Moroccans… Let there be yet another nusah of tefillah, one that will be acceptable within the context of modern-day Orthodox feminist thinking, and which will hopefully gain ever wider legitimacy.” (pp. 124-129)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

124 comments

  1. I think it is important to note that Rabbi Sperber recently became the Chancellor of what is, effectively, a Conservative yeshiva in Canada. Almost all the Rabbis at the yeshiva have Conservative ordination and/or hold Conservative pulpits.

    (EDITED BY MODERATOR)

  2. To the comment that Rav Sperber should be considered as a Conservative Rabbi, given that this is the Asseret yemei Teshuva, I think it is appropriate that you engage in some serious chesban hanefesh. Here is an excerpt from Rav Sperber’s comment on accepting that position:

    “As a centrist Orthodox rabbi, I am convinced that there exists in the Canadian Jewish community a genuine need for an institution rooted in a normative Jewish tradition, which will rigorously train rabbis to a high degree of competence in classical halakhah, who will abide by its principles, but who will also be willing bravely to confront the serious challenges of modernity, and seek halakhically acceptable solutions in the spirit of respect for the individual and the community. To such an institution I am willing, and indeed eager, to lend whatever support I can to further its positive development.”

  3. Avi, it’s only really a matter of time. Prof. Sperber has been conforming more and more to Conservative methods of interpreting the Torah. He’s going to have to decide, and pretty soon, whether to maintain his current course and have the intellectual honesty to do what Alice Shalvi did, or to “turn back”.

  4. “Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Prof. Sperber concludes his introduction with R. Soloveitchik’s view, as expressed in Ra’ayonos Al Ha-Tefillah and explained by David Hartman in A Living Covenant, forbidding changing the text of our prayers. The rest of the book is an extended argument to the contrary. I think R. Soloveitchik’s view is more complex than either”

    Although probably distinguishable the Rav in practice held that most of us should rarely if ever say Tfillas haderech.Lemaaseh he felt that tfilas haderech was not meant for travelling on interstate highways after all what makes it more likely to have chayot on Interstate 95 or Interstate 90 than the Harlem River Drive.Obviously,the Rav held that Chazal were not metaken such a tfilah for conditions found in current intercity major NA highway travel. I suspect he would have held that one says tfilas haderech for travel between Kabul and Kandahar

  5. I could be mistaken, but doesn’t Rav Henkin in Bnei Banim call for omitting (or at least saying quietly, even if at the amud) shelo asani isha?

  6. Well, in Israel, shacharit generally begins with R’ Yishmael, so you rarely if ever hear any of the brachot out loud. Sounds like a perfect solution to me, added to the fact that there’s lots of historical precedent for changes, “shelo asani ish” for example.

    I’ve said this before, but I remain troubled by the ahistorical approach of the Rav in dealing with these issues, as if the world began the day we were born, so to speak.

    On the other hand, I’ve said this before as well, but I think all these attempts are dishonestly avoiding the fact that there are some things that will and can never change in pursuit of egalitarianism. Changing a bracha is feel-good. No longer eating truma when you get married is serious.

  7. Rav Soloveitchik zt’l changed his mind about Tefillat ha-Derekh for long plane rides, once air piracy became a serious consideration and danger.

  8. I am with Nahum on the superficial changes. changing one line in tachnun does not change the entire history oi Jewish perceptions of Nida, Of course the entire Orthodox world is complicit in that cover up.

    Until, R. Sperber joins the RA, I think the question of whether or not his methods and positions are “Conservative” is pretty pointless. Just because something resembles Conservative thought or practice does not ipso facto make it bad. The real question we need to ask ourselves is do we as halakhic jews accept his positions as with in the range of eilu v’eilu? Hard call in my opinion.

  9. I am curious, does this book discuss the recent suggestions for a nusach Israel? I am curious how he would argue the points.

  10. 1. Those who oppose Rabbi Sperber’s proposed changes will have to deal with the absurdity or nonsensical nature of certain lines, such as a 21st century Jew claiming that a menstruating woman is the epitome of defilement. I think as much as we want to stay true to chazal, the other examples are also true to a certain extent. How do you stay true to chazal without turning your words into a joke, into meaningless statements in a modern society? To attack Rabbi Sperber without giving one’s own answer to that question is shortsighted.

    2. I don’t know the answer to Gil’s question – but maybe Rabbi Sperber believes this to be a shaat hadechak (either with regards to making sense of our tefillot, or with regards to respectfulness to women)? And shaat hadechak k’dieved dami.

  11. “claiming that a menstruating woman is the epitome of defilement”

    Um, she isn’t? Halakha certainly is pretty clear that she is.

  12. Please don’t discuss whether Prof. Sperber is or is not Orthodox.

    Mycroft: I just spent two days with Machzor Mesoras HaRav. Rav Soloveitchik changed the text on occasion, particularly when it comes to Musaf of Rosh Hashanah. But he did it either to restore what he believed was the original text or to make the text conform to his pesakim. The text could have been written or adjusted by a Tanna, Amora or Rishon who paskened one way but the halakhic process went in a different direction. None of those equate to changing the text based on your hashkafah. Even Chasidim were trying to restor the Nusach HaKollel, not making changes because they disagreed with the hashkafos of the text’s authors.

    Jenny: There is nothing nonsensical with the berakhah of She-lo Asani Ishah or mentioning the Avos in the Amidah. Here is how R. Jonathan Sacks translates the nidah line: “They abhor us as if we were impure.”

    Gest: The book discusses R. Goren’s Nusach Achid but not R. Bar Chaim’s nusach.

    Josh: R. Henkin permits saying the blessing quietly. Normally I would be OK with it but because of the agenda of people who want to make real change, I think we now need to specifically say it out loud.

  13. So Rabbi Sacks also removes the offensive part of the passage (at least for the translation).

  14. Reinterpretation is a powerful tool.

  15. “I think we now need to specifically say it out loud.”

    Even in Israel, where, as I said, it never has been? 🙂

    Nu, the Netziv’s wife expressed the problem quite well, and she didn’t have any sort of this agenda. That was over a hundred years ago; we can learn from her.

    And that’s coming from someone who thinks the bracha is just fine.

  16. I regard most of these attempts to provide a “unified nusach” as continuing the campaign for the hegemony of the Bavli, and eradicating the remnants of minhag & nusach eretz Yisrael that persist in minhag & nusach Ashkenaz.

    Most (Nusach Ari in its various forms, Nusach haGra, R’ Goren’s Army Nusach Achid) are all impositions of Sephardic paragraph-order, and Sephardic additional words. This goes against the emphasis among, e.g., the Chasidei Ashkenaz, on word counts and minimizing words. But of course, since Chasidei Ashkenaz are not influenced by the post-Crusades influx of Sephardim to EY, and are a mysticism not based on the Zohar and more importantly the Ari, their concerns are minimized.

    Nusach Ashkenaz preserves many choices influenced by the primacy of the Beit haMikdash in the thought and practice of the Land of Israel, such as the alternate Retzei for duchening, that used to be a/the standard in Eretz Yisrael for every day. Or Mizmor Shir Hanukat haBayit preceding Hodu, thus grouping it closer to the Korbanot. The Genizah discoveries bear this out. While Bavli/Sephardi practice downplays the Holy Temple and thus our hope for its restoration.

  17. Gil, why is it OK for you to post numerous articles defining what constitutes “post-Orthodoxy”, yet now allow for discussion about whether certain individuals are Orthodox? (note that I am asking these questions seriously and not accusationally)

  18. I have tried to avoid discussion of individuals.

  19. Seeing all of the garbage that Orthodox women have to put up with makes me say the bracha with extra kavana.

  20. >I regard most of these attempts to provide a “unified nusach” as continuing the campaign for the hegemony of the Bavli, and eradicating the remnants of minhag & nusach eretz Yisrael that persist in minhag & nusach Ashkenaz.

    I regard them as, with only a little hyperbole, the Taliban blowing up thousand year old statues or the Wahabbis destroying centuries old shrines in Arabia.

    Please leave our cultural heritage alone.

  21. Man, that’s a good point. Feminists are always saying that men have it better; the bracha confirms that, no?

  22. Nachum, your language about niddah is mistaken, if not offensive. It is more correct to state that tumat niddah is the only serious case of tumah remaining in a post-temple environment – and that pertains only to relations between the sexes. Of course, the epitomy of tumah is the one resulting from contact with the dead – a situation to which virtually everyone (directly or indirectly) has been subjected.

  23. The most refreshing and fascinating “nusach challenge” I have seen is that of Rabbi David Bar-Hayim and nusach eretz yisrael which he has revived. This is the ancient nsuach tefillah of Eretz Yisrael. Now that most of (or much of) the Jewish nation is reconstituting itself in Israel what could be more appropriate (and exciting) than unifying behind a nusach, as opposed to maintaing the nusachim of the Exile? Not that it is a sin to continue to daven other nusachim,but why should we perpetuate divisions whose roots are our historical geographic dispersion when we can now grow into a new mode of practicing Judaism as a nation,not as Ashkenazim or Sephardim.

  24. I am not sure how pointing to Rabbi Sperber’s position at a conservative rabbinical school is lashon harah. The website for the school explicitly states “The Rabbinical School is built on the paradigm of the (conservative) RA’s successful School for Shamashim (founded 2004 and opened 2005).” Moreover, with the exception of Rabbi Sperber and one left-leaning YCT almunus, all the rabbis are conservative. Finally, as the website states, the school accepts students who commit to a halakhic lifestyle regardless of their beliefs. One can find all of this and more at http://www.cdnyeshiva.org/home/

  25. When I see my daughters agonizing over choices of clothing, makeup, weight issues and the like, I sometimes jokingly tell them, “this is why men say ‘boruch…sheloh asani isha’ ”

    Although I have wondered whether there is, in fact, any basis in chazal for understanding the brocha to be expressing gratitude for not having to deal with the many societal disadvantages with with women have had to contend historically (e.g. abuse and exploitation by men, health risks of pregnancy and childbirth, greater dependency on others, etc.)

    In other words, if the brocha is understood to be refering to the human societal disadvantages that women have suffered, rather than to any inherent spiritual “inferiority”, that would be easier for contemporary folks to digest.

    I’m not looking to be a revisionist, but I’m curious if there is any source to support this interpretation which I find very natural.

  26. Just as a data point regarding Dr. Sperber’s assertion about “shelo asani amah” (p112), the Sephardic nusach feminizes the endings of all three berachot when women say them “shelo asani goyah”, “shelo asani shifcha”, “baruch sheasani kirtzono”. It also changes “modeh ani” to “modah ani” in both places it appears in the morning berachot.

  27. Robet, I agree with your broader point and think that Dr. Sperber’s position at this institution is problematic, but for complete accuracy, your comment of “Moreover, with the exception of Rabbi Sperber and one left-leaning YCT almunus, all the rabbis are conservative” technically isn’t true: One of the rabbis listed there is a Sefardi rabbi who formerly was a mashgiach at Toronto’s central hashgacha and who is anything but Conservative. Again, I agree with your broader point, but the facts are important.

  28. Actually, R’ Ovadia says that “Seasani kirtzono” should not be said b’Shem u’Malchut, as there is no Talmudic source for it. He also says that women should not say Birchot HaTorah.

    Moshe, any nusach of Eretz Yisrael is probably just as old as any nusach of Bavel. It’s not like one came first.

    Y. Aharon, that’s the whole point: As the only remaining tuma issue (for non-Kohanim), it was the one that jumped to people’s minds first. Of course a nidda is tamei. So is everyone else, but when they wrote the tefilla, that’s what they thought of first.

  29. Why does R. Sperber suggest leaving out the bracha instead of everyone saying She’asani Kirtzono?

  30. Nachum, I think the point is that even if we all agree that niddah = temeah (hard to argue), that doesn’t mean we consider it “shikutz” or otherwise the epitome of “defilement” in the colloquial sense.
    Let’s say you found out your adolescent daughter got her first period. would your first reaction be “eww, gross, keep her away from me!” or something else?

  31. Steve & Robert: Regarding the Canadian Yeshiva, I recall a few months back when I visited their site, they had a well-known local modern Orthodox rav as well as a Lubavitcher listed on the faculty. They’re gone now. Maybe they realized what this really was and had charata.

  32. lawrence kaplan

    The vision statement of the new Canadian Rabbinical School states that it wishes “to reestablish the overlap between modern Orthodoxy and traditional Conservative Judaism.” I am curious whether Rabbi Prof. Sperber in point of fact believes there ever was such an overlap.

  33. Nachum, you are right about that sephardi women omit shem u’malchut in “Baruch Seasani kirtzono”. My comment reflected that, although very subtly. The focus was on the other two berachot (which are said in a feminine form *with shem u’malchut*).

  34. Nachum: regarding Tumat haNiddah, Niddah has a special aspect of separation from it that other forms of tumah don’t. While you might want to separate from (say) Tumat Met, or Tumat Zav or Tumat Sheretz if your goal is to stay tahor, separation from the Tumat Niddah of your wife is a lav for men, and the separation is done in a way that will probably convey less affection to her unless you can compensate with verbal intimiacy.

  35. The comments on Nidda demonstrate a very basic lack of understanding of tuma and tahara. Tuma and tahara are entirely spiritual concepts. There is absolutely no physical manifestation to tumah, so a physical repulsion at the sight of tuma is inappropriate.
    However, understanding the spiritual meaning of tumma and how it should be spiritual abomination is relevant to a large number of torah commandments and fundamental to the concept of kedusha. I will not go into the spiritual underpinnings of nidda and the connection to kedusha here. Suffice it to say, nidda is the primary way we elevate one of the most gufani (physical) aspects of life to one of the most holy.

  36. Steve, I stand corrected. There are two, not one, Orthodox rabbis, in addition to Rabbi Sperber, teaching at the Canadian Rabbinical School. However, all of the rabbis teaching Talmud and Halakha are Conservative rabbis and were ordained at JTS. The YCT alumnus and Sephardic rav teach practical rabbinics, not Talmud or Halakha. Nonetheless, despite being modeled on the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly’s Shamashim program and despite the Conservative credentials of the entire Talmud and Halakha Department, the ideology of the institution sounds a lot like the UTJ. And, since many Orthodox Jews have affiliated with the UTJ via KOE or similar UTJ institutions, it is understandable that Rabbi Sperber would affiliate with a similar type of institution.

  37. Sorry. One more point. Even though Rabbi Sperber is chancellor of a non-Orthodox institution and will be signing the semicha, should we not debate his arguments rather than dismiss him because of his affiliation? When Rabbi Joel Roth wrote his responsum for ordaining women, Rabbi Gideon Rothstein debated him in Tradition Magazine. He did not dismiss him on account of his affiliation but responded to Rabbi Roth’s arguments. Rabbi Sperber deserves no less.

  38. Re: Nidda. That’s right! I hadn’t thought of it from that angle. You are all correct. Of course, back then (and in primitive societies today), that *was* the reaction.

  39. MiMedinat HaYam

    to cohen:

    there’s another diff — you’re daughter may not be able to continue eating your trumah fruit (unless she complies with haftarah parshat emor).

    2. niddah — see ramban on rachel’s not getting off her camel for her father to search for his “trafim”. it was much more pronounced / much more distgusting in older times. by the ramnban’s time, it wasnt so ?bad? today, its even less so.

    3. in reading an article on the ancient jewish community in metz (france / germany), it points out that they continue saying a certain bracha the gemara lists, but we do not say. (nothing inherently wrong with the bracha, either, making it even more surprising.) its listed in the french siddur as being said only in metz.

    4. if you quote someone intriducing controversial issues (feminism is definitely controversial, in all its aspects) you must let open the person’s background. however, the topic has been covered extensively here previously, so a mention should suffice, unless new info is presented. unlike comments about a diff rav in israel, who is constantly being brought up in a not to the point matter.

  40. MiMedinat HaYam

    rachel should be leah. wrong sister.

  41. Re. Nidda – Did everybody here miss the point of the reference in Tachanun to “Tum’at Hanidda”? Seems clear to me that it’s a reference to Sefer Yechezkel perek 36, in which the Jews’ sins are compared to “tum’at Hanidda”, and the pesukim immediately describe how due to those sins, we were dispersed among the nations and were scorned by those nations, thereby causing a chilul Hashem. The pesukim then continue to describe how Hashem will redeem us, not for our own sake, but for the sake of His name (which is exactly what we ask for three lines later in tachanun).

  42. I agree with Moshe Y. It is highly relevant whether Rabbi Sperber is Orthodox or Conservative. He clearly has an agenda and has made a bold and provocative move by agreeding to head a yeshiva of mainly Conservative Rabbis. Whe some Rabbis have challenged the limits of Orthodoxy, they have done so from within Orthodoxy. Witness Rabbi Ave Weiss. Rabbi Sperber has chosen to do this from outside Orthodoxy. This is very telling and instructive re the underlying hashkafa that is motivating his positions.

  43. How come no one has raised the alternate text for women cited in Leket Yosher? It reads “shelo asani behemah.” I once pointed this out to a promonent “Centrist Orthodox” Rabbi and he agreed. After all, he said, the man looks at the woman and says shelo asani ishah and she look back at him and recites shelo asani behemah!

    Chill out folks.

  44. “Jeffrey Woolf on September 13, 2010 at 3:23 am
    Rav Soloveitchik zt’l changed his mind about Tefillat ha-Derekh for long plane rides, once air piracy became a serious consideration and danger”

    When did air piracy become a serious danger during the Ravs lifetime-most air piracy was Cuban related-take this plane to Cuba-certainly I am aware of Black September and the hijackings that involved Rav Hutner and many others, but plane travel became much safer in the decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s-just compare fatality rates per passenger mile-even including terrorists attacks.
    Before air piracy the Rav was certainly aware of the ElAl plane shot down in the mid 50s-so has danger really increased. Note of course that 9/11 was performed using domestic airflights.

  45. “lawrence kaplan on September 13, 2010 at 5:16 pm
    The vision statement of the new Canadian Rabbinical School states that it wishes “to reestablish the overlap between modern Orthodoxy and traditional Conservative Judaism.” I am curious whether Rabbi Prof. Sperber in point of fact believes there ever was such an overlap.”

    Is it fair to say that certainly by 1945 when R Gordis wrote his famous article advocating Conservative movement making drastic change and the soon thereafter Law Committee allowing driving on Shabbos-one could not claim that the Conservative movement had anything to do with Orthodoxy on ideology.
    I believe that modern Orthodoxy really did not have separate ideology to the 50s and 60s-thus no real overlap ever.
    I believe that the hallmark of MO Rabbis as students of the Rav andthe oldest living would be close to 90-but they would have just received smicha by 1945. There was always a firm dividing line between MO followers and Conservative followers see eg Himmelfarbs comments in the 1966 Commentary symposium. Notthat Prof kaplan needs my haskama but I agree with him.

  46. I think that R Gil’s critique of R D Sperber’s approach is on the mark.Reinterpreting a Tefilah and substituting a text that fits the intent of Chazal and the Matbea set forth therein (Brachos 40b, Hilcos Brachos 1:5,and the majority view quoted in the Kesef Mishnah, as opposed to the clearly minority views ) is a far cry from abolishing texts because of sociological squeamishness, which is evident in the cases of Shelo Asani Ishah, Tumas Nidah, a Bdieved proposal to add the names of the Imahos and the rejection of RYBS’s view of Tefilah as set forth in Raayanos Ak HaTefilah and in many other shiurim and drashos on Tefilah. I agree that quoting R D Hartman’s views of RYBS was essentially a pretextual means of rejecting RYBS’s views without discussing the same.

  47. Like it or not, this comment set forth what many of us fail to realize about Tumah , which is present both in the realm of Hilcos Nidah and Kohanim with respect to Tumaas Mes.

    “The comments on Nidda demonstrate a very basic lack of understanding of tuma and tahara. Tuma and tahara are entirely spiritual concepts. There is absolutely no physical manifestation to tumah, so a physical repulsion at the sight of tuma is inappropriate.
    However, understanding the spiritual meaning of tumma and how it should be spiritual abomination is relevant to a large number of torah commandments and fundamental to the concept of kedusha. I will not go into the spiritual underpinnings of nidda and the connection to kedusha here. Suffice it to say, nidda is the primary way we elevate one of the most gufani (physical) aspects of life to one of the most holy.”

  48. MiMedinat HaYam

    tumah is considered the absence of kedusha (per 7/14 days after childbirth)

    tfilat haderech is for hijackings, not (necessarily) for plane trouble (or shall i say “pilot error” the nhtsb always says, covering up for boeing, the only plane mfr left today)

    the conservative heter to drive is dated 1960, not 1945.

    9-11 was domestic flights because a: 50% of all air travel world wide is us domestic b: they couldnt assure themselves getting on an international flight with student visas, so domestic flights were the way to go. esp for change of plane enroute.

  49. Former YU,
    How is a woman is supposed to feel when she is in a state of “spiritual abmination?”
    I think refering to a state naturally experienced refularly by nearly all women as the epitome of distance from God is just as problematic as refering to it as the epitome of the physically disgusting.

  50. Emma-Tumah represents distance from God , whether one is a married couple affected by Dam Nidah who must then conduct a relationship devoid of physical intimacy but with respect for each other as a spiritual personae or a Kohen restricted by the many issues presented by Tumas Mes, that places many not so subtle restrictions on their lives. I would suggest that you study Tumas Nidah from the sources as opposed to recycling the equivalent of Anita Diamant’s POV on the issue.

  51. “However, understanding the spiritual meaning of tumma and how it should be spiritual abomination is relevant to a large number of torah commandments and fundamental to the concept of kedusha.”
    “-Tumah represents distance from God .”

    So the fellow who just buried a met mitzvah is a spiritual abomination? Or distant from God? I don’t think so, for all that he must stay out of the Bet Hamikdash. “Cal’cha etzel negaim v’ohelot.”

    I don’t get this talk about “people with agendas.” Surely any serious person has an agenda. If we are religious Jews our agenda should be to serve Hashem, do mitzvot and spread Torah as much as we can. I believe that is Rabbi Spreber’s agenda; that one may disagree with him about what is the best way to do so is not an excuse for ad hominem attacks.

  52. Thanks Mr. Brizel.

    I have never read Anita Diamant, but I have studied the halachos of niddah on an advanced level, and, with all due respect, they do not adress my question.

    What am I, as a woman, supposed to make of the fact that an uncontrollable* physical process that, other than these halachos, has minimal impact on my life, “represents distance from God”?
    Or are the halachos themselves the only element of the “distance” (from spouse, who is not God)? And what does it mean for unmarried women who experience the same physical process?

    Furthermore, if you can’t see the “nidda forces couples to relate as spiritual personae” for the contemporary apologia that it is, I don’t really know what to say. Not that your explanation can’t be a meaningful gloss on the practice of these laws, but if anything study of the sources shows that that was not what most rabbis had in mind.

    *bracketing the issue of cyce control via artificial hormones.

    (Odd that this issue seems to be dominating the post…)

  53. I’ve not understood why the proponents of adding Sarah, Rivka et al do not advocate including Bilha and Zilpa. Were they not the progenitors of the Shvatim? Did they not consider Hashem to be their Gd as well? Were they not frum? Isn’t there an acceptable modern humanistic twist to davka adding them as well?

  54. “Nachum, I think the point is that even if we all agree that niddah = temeah (hard to argue), that doesn’t mean we consider it “shikutz” or otherwise the epitome of “defilement” in the colloquial sense.
    Let’s say you found out your adolescent daughter got her first period. would your first reaction be “eww, gross, keep her away from me!” or something else?”

    see ezekiel 16, has anything really changed?

  55. sorry mg, you’re going to have to spell that out for me a bit more.

  56. Adding the matriarchs to the patriarchs in the Amida may be a welcome addition (the non-Orthodox have done it for years), but what about concubine rights? When will Bilhah and Zilpah get their due, having mothered one-third of the ancestral tribes?

  57. There was actually a discussion in either Conservatism or Reform (or both) and the Jewish newspapers a few years ago about adding Bilha and Zilpa. Not sure if anything came of it.

    I did recently see an Ushpizin, very nicely done, that added seven women in a way that made an overall “family tree.” I think it was Avraham/Sarah, Yitzchak/Rivka, Yaakov, Leah to Tamar (?!) and Rachel leading to Yosef, Miriam with Moshe and Aharon, Ruth above David.

  58. I’m truly saddened that Prof. Sperber has yet again crossed the line, further distancing himself from normative modern-orthodoxy.

    Ari Enkin

  59. R. Enkin,
    what line has he crossed (here)?

  60. We’ve got a review of this book at http://www.jidaily.com/0JDf, although the emphasis is on the idea as a whole and not the feminist aspects.

  61. but what about concubine rights? When will Bilhah and Zilpah

    concubine I translate ‘pilegesh’. They are called in ‘vayishlach’ ‘shfochos’ maidservants but never to my knowledge pilagshim except when Rueben came to ‘bilha’. is there a difference?

  62. “I’ve not understood why the proponents of adding Sarah, Rivka et al do not advocate including Bilha and Zilpa.”

    I once asked a Reform Rabbi that very question! He said it was hard enough to get the Reform moverment to accept Sarah, Rifkah, Leah, and Rachel.

  63. MDJ-

    C’mon. Dont get me started. Every paragraph which R’ Gil presents regarding Siddur changes is “probematic”, at best.

    Ari Enkin

  64. For those seeking a better understanding of how Nidda has discussed in rabbinic writing, and consequently why the language of of tachanun reflects more than a simple idea of distance from God, see Jonah Steinberg’s frequently discussed article:
    http://www.yutorah.org/_materials/SEC%201.%20Jonah%20Steinberg%20-%20From%20a%20Pot%20of%20Filth%20to%20a%20Hedge%20of%20Roses.pdf

  65. R. Enkin,
    have you read the book?

  66. What saddens me most about these proposed and permitted changes is maybe what is also good about this.

    Different nusachot require different minyanim at the least, if not different shuls (though granted, the women-led minyanim and the shira chadasha type may have already implemented that). So now we have a different rabbinical school, a different rabbinic agency and perhaps soon different tfillot and, with it, different minyanim.

    Add to that, I am pretty sure that a lot of people (including probably me) would not feel comfortable davening where they have altered the words of shemona esreh.

    Why this may be good is that, so long as they are following a halachic process, variety is a good basis for assuring the survival and spread of Torah. But I sure hope we can all eat in each other’s homes.

  67. Gil,
    Would you consider the Gr”a removing ויאמר דוד אל גד to be hashkafic? (It may well be that I am misrepresenting this issue, but as someone who doesn’t say this line, I was thinking about it in the context of liturgical changes this morning.)

  68. MJ-Steinberg’s article is a fascinating piece of sociology/anthropology which explores why Hilcos Nidah/Taharas HaMishpacha required hashkafic change so that an Issur Kares would be viewed as such, as opposed to a medieval superstition. It would be fascinating to ascertain the levels of adherence to Hilcos Nidah and Taharas HaMishpacha today with the pre WW2 generation of MO.

  69. Unfortunately, as someone who helped facilitate a speaking tour in a number of shuls for R D Sperber and who devoured Minhagei Yisrael when I purchased the set, and who has read R D Sperber’s writings on WTGs, women’s ordination and the quoted excerpts, I am forced to agree with R Gil’s and R A Enkin’s conclusions.

  70. It seems to me that people like Ari Enkin are missing the point. It is clear that changes have been made over the years and for many reasons. Therefore it is possible to change things to make people feel better and enhance their worship. Indeed it happens all the time. So why is this different from the hundreds of other changes; additions subtractions etc. If you want to argue that it is different than you can marshal evidence to that effect rather than stating inanities like “I’m truly saddened that Prof. Sperber has yet again crossed the line, further distancing himself from normative modern-orthodoxy.” Boo hoo Mr. Enkin. I would say I am truly sorry that you cannot take the perfectly competent arguments of a Torah sage at face value without ascribing some kind of insidious motive to him, but frankly I’ve come to expect it from Jews with a true agenda, namely to create their own line item veto on change within the Jewish tradition.

  71. I think my wording was not precise when describing tumma as spiritual abomination. I did not mean to suggest that someone who is tamei should feel like an abomination to the HKBH. As Mike pointed out you can become tamei doing the chessed shel emes of burying a mes mitzva. Obviously mitzvos bring us closer to Hashem. So too, nidda should bring woman closer to hashem. It is unfortuante that for single women today, the mitzva is not practiced since we do not observe tumma and tahara.

    A more detailed explanation is that tumma represents the physical. The laws of tumma and taharah highlight the divide between the physical world and the spiritual. Kedusha means seperation, the separation is separation from the physical. Therefore a tamei perosn cannot go to the mikdash, which represents the spiritual world. It does not represent distance from HKBH, those are 2 different things. The same way a nazir brings a korban chatas (representing distance from HKBH) b/c they do not embrace their physical selves, so too as human beings we can and do come closer to HKBH through our physical actions and characteristics in performing and observing mitzvos like nidda and mes mitzva.
    Finally, I was not referring to being holy b/c it brings husband and wife together w/o physical attraction, rather I was referring to nidda as a way to be makdish (make spiritual) the act of physical intimacy, which if we look at certain sectors of the secular world we can see how sex can be turned into a purely physical action that serves no purpose other than to satisfy base physical pleasure. In sum,the opposite of kedusha. Our job is to sanctify it and make it holy (see Mesilas Yesharim on the level of kedusha). Nidda is the primary mitzva we have to do this.
    In terms of why women become tamei nidda and not men, I am not a philosopher and I am not going to start opining on the different roles of men and women and why women were giving certain physical and spiritual characteristics that differ from men. All I can say is that as a tzivuy form the Ribbono Shel Olam it should be embraced, valued and treasured.

  72. Jewish Ideas Daily posted the following:

    “We’ve got a review of this book at http://www.jidaily.com/0JDf, although the emphasis is on the idea as a whole and not the feminist aspects.”

    One wonders whether JID, which is a great daily read, would post a serious critique of R D Sperber’s book and views on Psak Halacha.

  73. “It seems to me that people like Ari Enkin are missing the point. It is clear that changes have been made over the years and for many reasons. Therefore it is possible to change things to make people feel better and enhance their worship. ”

    The seifa does not match the reisha, as they say.
    Changes have come about for many reasons. But please show where any of those reasons included making people feel better or enhance their worship. I guess in theory any reason can be shoehorned into “enhance their worship”, but that is a byproduct of the change for a different reason, not the reason for the change.

    You might as well argue that since changes were done for “many reasons” the siddur should also be changed so that the publisher can sell another copy, just for the sake of selling another copy.

    Lets all go back to the time of the gemorah and have the siddur display the shemonah essrai with a bracha and “(Turn to page 957 for a list of possible verses to insert here)”

  74. The reason why women and not men is because it is a punishment for eve who should have really died on the spot but was kept alive to be a wife of adam. See my post about it on emes vemuna.
    The chasidim who go to mikva in the morning after relations is because of tuma which comes from the body which is consider more tuma than touching (a dead person or rat). According to the mishna woman also are not allowed to daven or say god’s name after relations or if she is a nidda. I believe in the olden times women did not say god’s name and did not daven or say tehillim. This is a modern thing against the din. To day god’s name if you are tuma. they used to say ‘tchinos’ instead.

  75. MJ-Steinberg’s article is fascinating, but the inclusion and equation of radical feminist Rachel Adler, whose orientation is profiled in Jew vs Jew with R D N Lamm struck me as somewhat bizarre, especially in dealing with an area of Taamei HaMitzvos, , where one can argue that flexibility is to be expected in response to the historical and sociological challenges of each generation. as opposed to either Halacha or Ikarie Emunah.I would note that Steinberg did not mention the fact that Chazal and the Rishonim represent a well staked out middle ground of emphasizing the intimacy of marital relations as opposed to the hedonistic Greco-Roman view or the puritanical view of Christianity.

  76. Former yu, appreciate your clarification.

  77. “But please show where any of those reasons included making people feel better or enhance their worship. I guess in theory any reason can be shoehorned into “enhance their worship”, but that is a byproduct of the change for a different reason, not the reason for the changes”

    Read the link below. Many examples are extant.

    http://www.jofa.org/pdf/uploaded/1302-SSAF4754.pdf

  78. I think that the main problem here is that no one is allowed to hold positions independent of the ideological group that they have been assigned to. If you are an Modern Orthodox Jew you must hold certain sociological positions in order to be accepted by that group. If you are Haredi, you must hold even more extreme views. Our society so penalizes independent thinking that we are willing to throw away thousands of years of Halachic flexibility to try and socially engineer an outcome.

  79. mitch morrison

    R. Sperber may want to read Conservative RAbbi David Golinkin’s impressive essay emphatically opposing changes in matbea institutded by the Anshei Knesset HAGedola. While i frequently disagree with R. Golinkin on other matters, his critic a couple of years agaist the Imahot was very well sourced and convincing. if the LWMO embrace this kind of liturgical changes then there is no reason not to scrap anything we don’t like or agree with. this was my criticism with Hakham Sassoon’s Alatz Libi siddur,which is an interesting scholarly read but one i would not daven from (plus, i’m not sephardic:-)

  80. I think the problem with the “we’d better not change anything” idea – or rather why it doesn’t speak to those who want change – is that it isn’t clear why every generation and community of Jews were able to legally and properly have their own variant siddur, but somehow that had to stop 200 years ago.

  81. “R. Sperber may want to read Conservative RAbbi David Golinkin’s impressive essay emphatically opposing changes in matbea institutded by the Anshei Knesset HAGedola.”

    Since he can prove categorically that change has occurred and that the change has been sanctioned and sometimes instituted by Torah True Gedolim throughout the years he need not rely on modern sources.

  82. MiMedinat HaYam

    one must look at tumah as an abscence of tahara. thus, women during certain times are not spiritually “full’ “(wrong word here — plz correct). men and women having gotten in contact with certain objects / living beings / formerly living beings have lost their contact with tahara, and are not spiritually “full”. why unmarried women remain in their absence of tahara is beyond the topic here. consider it policy. (except on the west side.)

    2. shifchah / pilegesh: you bring up an interesrting contrast. they were shfachot, thus subject to their masters, who decided for whatever reasons to give them to their husband. thus, there is no ktubah (or promise of a ktuba; the ktuba dates to mishnaic times.) presumably, (except for the rambam) there was some sort of chuppa ve’kiddushin, though there was no reading between the ceremonies; perhaps a promise (but the promise would go to their masters, or their heirs — the husband, who supposedly freed them).

    3. whether or not they ever added sarah, rivkah, etc. to theirf brachot, few of their followers (the feminists and / or reform) follow the practice anyway, regularly, anyway.

    as for the ushpizin, they altogether ignore the men ushpizin (unless they changed their wording since i saw it last year.)

  83. If you have non-mainstream views about Kashrus (R. Abadi) or when you are permitted to cut out a person’s heart lungs and liver (R. Tendler) no one goes around questioning whether you are Orthodox. If you are R. Sperber and have non-mainstream views on how ethical considerations are factored into psak halacha regarding synagogue ritual you have stepped over a big line.

    I just hoe that people realize that the significance of this line has little to do with the severity of the issues under consideration and is almost entirely about keeping certain denominational boundaries in place. Now this might (in America much more than in Israel) present a compelling set of reasons, but they should be discussed in those terms, as R. Broyde pointed out in his recent article about women leading kabbalat shabbat.

  84. MJ-R Tendler’s views on organ donation and R Abadi’s views on Kashrus and other issues are viewed as controversial and hardly accepted as representing the halachic consensus. That’s why they entailed so much discussion, both pro and con. R D Sperber’s views are entitled to a great deal of respect, but not as if noone can disaagree, which you imply is beyond the pale of legitimate inquiry into how sources are being presented and marshalled in favor of his POV, which AFAIK is still a very legitimate means of halachic give and take. Popularity of a book with the masses and the positions taken by the author, especially if the same are not mainstream, should never be viewed as meaning that it is beyond the pale of critical discussion.

  85. mitch morrison

    MJ,
    i am one of the more liberal Os on this blog and agree about the frustration about excessive rigidity. I appreciate R Sperber’s views, i just happen to disagree with how far he is willing to change certain texts.. the 1st 3 brochot of the Amida have been unchanged over the ages, as opposed to precise wording of the bakashot. the other issue is motivation — do we seek to remove all gender references to God. Do we neuter and neutralize all references that are either feminine or masculine? Changing the e negative brochot of Birchat HaShachar has at least some precedent (albeit limited)and does not convey the level of sanctity of the amida, but even such a change should, in my opinion, be considered with solemnity and caution.

  86. People are free to disagree, they should just be honest about what they are disagreeing about. People disagree with R. Tendler (where we are talking about a question of life and death) with far less, if any, vitriol, finger-wagging, claims of crossing “the line,” and questioning of denominational affiliation.

    An honest discussion would admit that this is motivated by considerations beyond normal questions of halakhic reasoning.

    The very title of this post “Nusach Feminist” says as much.

  87. Michael Rogovin

    2 points:

    Though I too am troubled by the link to what is clearly an institution that is more conservative (and by the way seemingly to the left of UTJ) than orthodox, I am even more troubled by the rush to call R Sperber non-orthodox when others with controversial views are deemed non-mainstream but still orthodox. Raise all the issues of sources and interpretation you will, these are fair game, but leave out the personal stuff. Stick to real halachic discussion, as exemplified by R Broyde as noted above.

    There are many reasons for changes in tefila. Some are made by publishers and editors. Some changes in the Machzor and Siddur were made to shorten the service (elimination of slicot from most of Yom Kippur tefila) while keeping in popular piyutim.

    There have been variant texts of birkat hashachar (I think the Italian tradition is also different on the shelo asa li isha) so it does not seem to be fixed nor unreasonable to change the text so long as the primary purpose of the bracha is maintained. These brachot were not given to us at Sinai, they were created by Rabbis so it is not unreasonable to determine their intent and fulfill it in an alternative way. If for example, the purpose is to thank God for the opportunity to perform time bound mitzvot (or to have been exempted from the same), as most commentators have stated over the years, perhaps men and women should simply say that.

  88. R. Sperber raises important Torah considerations and he is certainly entitled to a careful halakhic deliberation (as the distinguished authors before me in this forum have all excellently done).
    Under no circumstances may a gentleman say to a lady “You know, I make a blessing every day out of thanksgiving that I am not a lady” or “You know, your menstrual status is the paradigm for abhorrence as indicated by the text of our tachanun”. Such statements would constitute ona’at devarim and are biblically prohibited as per the mishnah in Bava Metzi’a 58b. I do believe it is a truism – based on Chazon Ish’ comments in the context of Holocaust rememberance day and based on R. Hershel Schachter’s essay on “Bi’ikvei Hazton” – that we are obligated to maintain the opening blessing of amidah and the “shelo asani ishah” blessing. [Cf. Shu”t Yabi’a Omer VI, Orach Chaim no. 41, where R. Ovadiah Yosef relies on this Chazon Ish in prohibiting the invocation of a blessing over Hallel on Yom Ha’aztzma’ut.] But that does not change the halakhic fact that gentlemen must always speak to the righteous ladies of Israel (as with all human beings) with tact and honour, walking on egg-shells and assiduously avoiding ona’at devarim. I think that is the key take-home message of R. Sperber’s book, and for that R. Sperber merits praise. I believe this is the theme underscored by R. Moshe Feinstein’s comments in Iggerot Mosheh, Orach Chaim IV, no. 49 and by R. Menachem Mendel Kasher’s comments in Divrei Menachem I, no. 35.
    Regarding the need to honour the righteous Matriarchs, this is accomplished with the recitation of “eishet chayil” each Friday night and the piyut “Uvikhen Va-Hashem pakad et Sarah ka’asher amar” on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We should sing these songs with extra melodiousness and pride, “la’asot nachat ru’ach lanashim” (to borrow the phrase from the gemara in Chagigah 16b. Vilna Ga’on applies the principle in Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 88:1).
    R. Soloveitchik indeed advocated fine-tuning the text of the Rosh Hashanah mussaf. There it is different, because Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 591:4 notes the problematic nature of the verse “uvi’yom simchat’khem” for Shofarot, since it deals with trumpets and not the shofar. Accordingly, R. Soloveitchik recommended the addition of a further Torah verse that explicitly mentions the shofar. See R. Moshe Ashen’s discussion in YU’s Beit Yitzchak Vol. 39, pp. 406-407.
    Regarding the niddah issue, I think one can creatively argue that it is actually the gentleman who actually suffers more than the lady. The gemara in Ketubot 64b states that a husband suffers more when cohabitation is prohibited than his wife does, which is why a “moredet” faces a hefty financial deduction from her ketubah. If this halakhic fact gives nachat ru’ach to the righteous ladies of Israel, then so much the better. We can thus maitain the text of tachanun in good conscience. [There is, however, the entirely separate issue that, B”H, the position of the Jewish People among the nations of the world is much better in our era than in previous eras. This has been discussed in the “Nachem” context, and flows as a consequence of the gemara in Yoma 69b that one should only utter prayers that are sincerely intended. Still, if one holds that “Nachem” may not be changed until the messiah arrives (-which is indeed my personal practice), then the same would presumably apply to Tachanun.]
    In conclusion, I do think that R. Sperber is a tzaddik gammur. An examination of the issues reveals that his legitimate concerns should be applied in the realm of hilkhot ona’at devarim, whereas our nusakh hatefillah should be maintained. Regarding R. Sperber’s new appointment, as Mori ViRebbi R. Kaplan correctly observes, our ecclesiastic imprimateur is exclusively granted to Orthodox Judaism. Hopefully, now that everyone has heard the sound of the shofar, all institutions will be inspired to self-transform into purely Orthodox Yeshivot, ka’asher tzivah Hashem et Mosheh.

  89. The reason an unmarried girl must not go to mikva, even a widow or divorced lady is because it should be made difficult for her to ‘meet’ men. It is also wrong for them to be mikva ‘ladies’ as is sometimes the practice. The previous poster forgets that a man can have more than one wife, so the nidda din has only been made as i have written in a previous post to stop ‘familiarity’.
    About ‘nusach’ almost all nusach sfard from east europe siddurim are different. Their nusach originates from the printers. All this talk about changing ‘nusach’ forgets that although we may not understand it there is also ‘kabala’ reasons for even nusach ashkenaz and unless someone is also a ‘mekubal’ he cannot change them.

  90. About ‘onoas devorim’. I am not saying one should go around to women telling them that, far from it, the least one mentions it the better but to a woman who ‘knows her place’ it is not considered that. The main reason we say that we are ‘pleased’ we are not women is not like the posters above infer that she is ‘inferior’. The reason is that she cannot do all the mitsvot, she does not have this ‘privilege’. Even if she does them it is considered that she has not been commanded to do them and her reward is less.

  91. R’ Chaim1, I fundamentally agree with you (and with R’ Former YU) that the laws of niddah are to be treasured and accepted as a perfect divine statute (-“Torat Hashem Temimah”), without need for rationalization or apologetics. Thank you for emphasizing this point.

  92. The distinction between Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism is one of philosophical (read: hashkafik)approach to halacha
    The Canadian yeshiva and rabbinical school states that supports teh Traditional Conservative Judaism approach. By officially identifying with a non-Orthodox institution one takes himself out of that hashkafic status. You can be personally observant but not Orthodox (i.e. Louis Finkelstein).
    Rabbi Tendler has a halachik pesak that differs with the mainstream. So do many people, his just happens to be in an area of extreme seriousness (possible yehareg v’al yaavor). Rabbi Abadi is makil in another prominent area (Kashrus). But hashkaficaly neither identifies himself with anything other than Orthodoxy.

  93. “…Eventually, this may happen to שלא עשני אשה as well. It, too, may join the many benedictions that faded into oblivion.” (pp. 39-40)

    Is Orthodox feminism really so widespread that any of the changes it makes will catch on? Or is Sperber simply out of touch?

  94. Former YU’s position is well taken. One can disagree, even vehemently with R Tendler on brain death or organ donation and R Abadi on Kashrus, but they both identify with the O world. I think that R D Sperber, by identifying with the C yeshiva and rabbinical school that supports the “traditional C approach” which is philosophical ( and historical) as opposed the O approach which is ahistorical and rooted in Mesorah, has created an obstacle that will redound to the detriment of his being viewed as a serious Posek within the MO world. Others may disagree, but I think that such an affiliation cannot help.

  95. As far as institutional affiliation is concerned, consider the following:

    Historically, Conservative Judaism’s approach to Halakhah was governed by the doctrine of Positive Historicism, the notion that the generations are becoming progressively more enlightened in their moral intuitions. Accordingly, Halakhah can evolve and incorporate new value judgements, new value judgements just like the ones that comprise the feminist worldview. Conservative Judaism always distinguished itself from Orthodox Judaism by its acceptance of Positive Historicism.

    Sperber looks for ways to bring Halakhah in line with feminism, a value system that was not accepted by Chazal. His whole enterprise implies that he believes in just the kind of historical progress that Positive Historicism recognizes. If Sperber has accepted the defining doctrine of Conservative Judaism, why isn’t that sufficient to conclude that he should not be considered Orthodox? Why do we need to look to his institutional affiliations?

  96. So by your definition orthodox Judaism distinguishes itself by ignoring all developments in moral thinking and rejecting all changes in social norms since the enlightenment?

    There are varieties of Orthodoxy that makes such a claim, but it certainly does not reflect the ideals of modern orthodoxy, nor does it reflect historical reality.

  97. S: By your definition would Rabbeinu Gershon, Me’or haGolah not be Orthodox? How about Rabbeinu Tam? Because several of their Cherems and takkanos certainly to fit your definition of Conservative hashkafa of adapting Jewish practice to incorporate moral advances taken from the surrounding society. The problem with the Conservative approach is not that they will adapt to social change, it is that the seem to recognize no limits in doing so.

  98. S,

    I am not sure that is right.

    Now I grant, of course, that Positive-Historical Judaism was the predecessor to Conservative Judaism. But, working off memory here, I recall that what angered R SRH about R’ Frankel and his scholarship was his unwillingness to say that the Mishna was based on scholarship that stems from Sinaic revelation and, instead attributing the Mishna as a product of its times. R Hirsch was also angered that R Frankel would not say this straight out. He was also angered by R’ Frankel’s use of Hebrew to publish which R SRH argued cloaked it in a false piety and was a type of dishonesty. The position of R SRH was that intellectual arguments should happen in the local tongue to avoid confusion among the masses attempting to follow along.

    If I am right the issue was not the belief in an improving morality, but the belief that Jewish oral law did not come from Sinai.

    Perhaps I misremember. It’s been quite a while since I looked at these issues and I don’t have my Collected Writings with me right now.

  99. mitch morrison

    HagTBG, if my ancient memory is right, then your ancient memory is indeed accurate on r SRH and Frankel.. it wasn’t what Frankel explicity said but the fact that he would not clearly state the Mishna was drawn from Sinai. Hirch felt Frankel was playing with semantics, whereas one could suspect that Frankel was trying to retain a certain standing and acceptance within the traditional world (which he accomplished to mixed success).
    Shalom Spira, your post at 5:01 is very thoughtful and well sourced. yasher koach.. and i’m a big fan of Kasher, so extra points. my only addition would be that from a modernist perspective – and from a classical — there is a significant different in kabody habriyot between modifying a negative brocha like SheLo Asani Isha to a positive, vs adding Imahot.
    in defense of the former, one could argue that the brocha today is received as an insult to women and that the original intent — of men being mechuyav l’mitzvot aseh zman grama – has been long lost.
    whereas, there is absolutely no visible insult to women in citing only the avot, just as there is no insult – as far as i know – in citing the mother’s name in a meshubeirach for cholim.
    Anyway, while i disagree with R. Sperber, i must agree with those who have defended his good name. attack the opinion, not the opiner. gmar machatim l’tova

  100. R’ Mike S.,
    Your point is well taken in upholding the honour of R. Sperber, who is assuredly a tzaddik gammur. At the same time (while complimenting and complementing what you are saying), I think that we all agree that the ordinances of the Rabbeinu Gershom are of a special genre, because they are recognized by Shulchan Arukh. For instance, the polygamy ordinance is discussed by Shulchan Arukh, Even Ha’azer 1:9-10. [N.B. it is interesting to note that not all poskim subscribe to the interdiction against polygamy; not only is the Mechaber lenient, but even the Vilna Ga’on too, as cited by R. Ovadiah Yosef in Shu”t Yabi’a Omer IX, Orach Chaim no. 85, sec. 21.] I think that what R. Steve Brizel and R’ S. are saying – correctly so – is that we don’t author any further “ordinances of Rabbeinu Gershom” in the post-Shulchan Arukh era today. It is, indeed, what R. Sperber beautifully calls (in an article he published in Tradition) “paralysis in contemporary Halakhah”, viz. we do not allow ourselves the same prerogatives as the Rishonim, because the path has already been illuminated for us by Shulchan Arukh. [It’s analogous to the principle that we don’t say “kim li” against the Shulchan Arukh; see R. Zvi Spitz’ Mishpetei Hatorah, Vol. III, pp. 121-124.] It’s not that we the Acharonim are (chas vichalilah) any less righteous than the Rishonim; it’s just the way the Retzono Shel Makom operates as revealed through the Hashgachah Klalit over the Oral Torah. It’s a paralysis for us to celebrate.

  101. MJ:
    By the definition I suggested, Orthodox Judaism sees itself as having its own moral thinking, one organically be built up out of the writings of Chazal. To be sure, the project of building up a system of moral thinking from these writings involves subjective judgments, and halakhists have been influenced one way or another by the culture that surrounded them. This or that value held by Chazal might be emphasized or deemphasized during this or that period in history depending on the surrounding milieu. But the point is that the *ideal* was always to shape Halakhah according to the worldview and value judgments of Chazal. Halakhists never *consciously* shaped Halakhah according to moral thinking they knew was alien to Chazal. R. Sperber knows full well that Chazal were not egalitarian thinkers.
    MJ, when you refer to the “ideals of Modern Orthodoxy” you have in mind Modern Orthodoxy according to whom?

    HAGTBG:
    I don’t see how your description of RSRH’s position contradicts what I wrote above. RSRH criticized R. Frankel for seeing Halakhah as something that was the product of the moral thinking of the time and place Chazal lived in. According to RSRH, Orthodox Judaism conceived of Halakhah as reflecting the moral thinking contained in a single, authoritative prophetic revelation. To be sure, the literary remains of an ancient revelation can be revisited and reexamined, and sometimes we can change our opinion as to what the content of the revelation was. But as long as the literary remains of that ancient revelation are considered authoritative——as they are according to Orthodox Judaism——we cannot adopt value judgments that contradict the value judgments found in those texts. Again, R. Sperber knows full well that Chazal were not egalitarians.

    for discussion:
    If someone does not believe that Chazal’s moral thinking (e.g. the lack of egalitarianism) is correct, what reason is there for that person to regard Halakhah as binding?

  102. >Positive Historicism, the notion that the generations are becoming progressively more enlightened in their moral intuitions.

    That’s simply incorrect. It’s like defining an apple as a piano. Wrong. Unless you’re thinking of a Hegelian scheme of history, but that’s not positive-historical.

  103. Frankel did not depart from Orthodox halacha and he also didn’t advocate for its departure. So why would he relativize Chazal or relegate them to the past and its mores? The issue was the origin of the Oral Law. Was it Mosaic, or just very old.

  104. In the most recetn comments, we have S. responding to S . Furthmore, before I realized that S was not S., I was rather surprised by the initial comments, which were not what I have come to expect from S. over several years of reading his posts and comments on line. Therefore, I would respectfully ask that S (not S.) choose a new tag. S. has had that tag for many years, and should be entitled to use it without confusion.

  105. S,

    My impression in commenting was that you had the view that it was an explicitly Conservative viewpoint that morality improves, as opposed to the Orthodox position. I was pointing out that, at least with one prominent Orthodox thinker of the time (who was in the thick of it) the issue was a far more narrow one: belief in the (historic) Sinaic origin of the Oral Law.

    Indeed, I am not sure what to make of your view that viewing morality of the day as better then that of the past makes one Conservative.

    I think every generation and most people have somewhat divergent views and it would be somewhat counterintuitive that they would believe the morality of their own time was the wrong one. Polygamy, slavery, marrying your niece, or making a rapist marry someone he raped … the moral view on each of these has changed. Even our priorities … pedophilia was a lesser sin in the past then now and our treatment of homosexuality over the past few generations appears to bear some correlation to how general society approaches the topic. Does it say something bad about us that we believe our modern norms are the better ones?

    Nevertheless, I do not claim to know R’ Sperber or his views. But you have not connected to dots for me that I see that your specific historical argument leads one to the conclusion that R Sperber’s views are incompatible with Orthodoxy.

  106. Hold on which S is the S I know?

  107. I mean am used to from years of reading his comments. I actually don’t know who either S is.

  108. HAGTBG
    See my last comment. Look carefully and you will see that some comments are signed S., that is, ‘S’ followed by a period, and some without the period. Those with the period are the S. we know (and love), some of us under the name “Fred” as well.
    It’s particularly confusing because S started off by making a comment much like one S. would make — just throwing out an analysis of the core point of some historical dispute.

  109. I am the newcomer here who just signed three comments “S”. From now on I will sign my comments “SM” in order to disambiguate.

  110. SM
    Thank you.

  111. Polygamy, slavery, marrying your niece, or making a rapist marry someone he raped … the moral view on each of these has changed. Even our priorities … pedophilia was a lesser sin in the past then now and our treatment of homosexuality over the past few generations appears to bear some correlation to how general society approaches the topic.

    Some people today still marry their niece. There is a R Y Hachasid about it.One does not make a rapist marry the girl unless she agrees. It seems that she usually did. Was a …. lesser in the past, what do you base that on. Our treatment of the other which the Torah likens to bestiality is a sad reflection on Jewish society. The Torah itself says what the general society thought of it and the present daf yomi as well which is no different than today.

  112. Shalom Spira: The analogy between “kim li” and making additional takkanot seems to me faulty. In fact, we do continue to make takkanot and respond to changes from outside. A clear example is the Israeli Chief Rabbinate extending the ban on polygamy to Sefaradim and raising the minimum age for marriage. The introduction of tubes for metzitzah in response to understanding the germ theory of disease is another example. Of course, such takkanot for the most part are not accepted as broadly as the earlier ones, in part because even we, the Orthodox are divided, rachamana litzlan, into so many factions. What R. Sperber terms “contemporary paralysis” is not a response to the publication and acceptance of the Shulchan Aruch, but a response to the emergence of the Reform and Neolog movements. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer himself, who used “Chadash Assur min HaTorah” was fairly innovative in responding to the social change of his day, until he felt the need to fight the Neolog.

    For that matter, look at those defending the increased separation between men and women in Chareidi society. It is claimed to be a response to loosening standards of dress in the larger society.

    The distinction between Orthodoxy and others does not lie in whether one responds to external changes in society, whether of practice, of science or of morals. Rather it is how one views Torah (both written and oral) and how halacha constrains that response. There is no question that R. Sperber takes an Orthodox view on this. One can argue about whether he has correctly applied those limits, or about whether his proposed response, even if he is correct about its permissibility, is wise without descending into personal attacks.

  113. Some people today still marry their niece. There is a R Y Hachasid about it.

    Never heard of one myself. But even if it’s still done it was noted as being highly desirable. That is not a trait such a marriage retains today.

    .One does not make a rapist marry the girl unless she agrees. It seems that she usually did.

    Again, today would someone even think to make the suggestion?! Clearly there has been a shift in the societal mores.

    Was a …. lesser in the past, what do you base that on.

    That a girl under 12 can be, biblically, married. Is there any direct discussion in Tanach or the gemarah about pedophilia itself being a major sin, whether or not there is penetration? Today it is viewed as a crime worse then rape (there is no sex-offenders registry for rape). I believe there is a gemarah the minimum age that sex matters/affects virginity (???)[Don’t really remember the precise details for that one].

    Our treatment of the other which the Torah likens to bestiality is a sad reflection on Jewish society. The Torah itself says what the general society thought of it and the present daf yomi as well which is no different than today.

    The “Torah itself”? A quick internet search brought the following verses as the only direct statement on the matter:

    וְאֶת-זָכָר—לֹא תִשְׁכַּב, מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה: תּוֹעֵבָה, הִוא.

    Lev.18,22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.

    [Preceding sentence: prohibits offering your offspring/seed to Molech; subsequent sentence: prohibits bestiality.]

    ישׁ, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב אֶת-זָכָר מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה—תּוֹעֵבָה עָשׂוּ, שְׁנֵיהֶם; מוֹת יוּמָתוּ, דְּמֵיהֶם בָּם.
    Lev.20,13 And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    [Preceding sentence: prohibits sex between a father and a daughter-in law; subsequent sentence: prohibits sex with your wife and her mother.]

    Neither verse references a linkage between homosexuality and the societal view (or to bestiality either). I know there is an attempt today to cite to the preceding posuk concerning offering ones child to Molech (or perhaps, literally, seed) as a basis that the homosexual sex being prohibited was specifically a cultic practice of the local religions and that’s why it was prohibited then but I do not believe that argument now has general acceptance in the Orthodox community.

    I believe there are two other (similar) stories that may make homosexual sex appear worse then rape. The first is that the people of Sedom wanted to rape the (male) angel and Lot offered his virgin daughters for rape instead. And in the story of the Concubine, the woman was thrown out of the house to be actually raped when the Jewish town really wanted to rape the man.

    One of those arguably supports your view but the other argues against it. The above acts indicate that there has been some shift in morality concerning how to approach the prevention of homosexual rape. But one story indicates that a Jewish town generally preferred, for whatever reason, homosexual rape over heterosexual rape, while the few “better” Jews preferred heterosexual rape over homosexual rape.

    And there is no direct statement in the Torah about lesbian sex.

  114. And there is no direct statement in the Torah about lesbian sex
    But it does say on the ways of the Egyptians and Canaanites that they did that.
    I think R Moshe Blau was married when his wife was 12.
    Under 12 only betrothal is really allowed. Isaac waited till rivka was 12. but you are right pedophilia is not considered a sin.
    Why is it worse than rape? Maybe girls have become less mature.
    The gemoro also mentions a boy whose brother died is allowed with his wife.
    The posuk ‘lo yiye kodesh’ refers to men and animals.
    3 years is the age of virginity.
    No, although the present daf yomi does not allow one to leave animals with non jews. Today this law has changed. They are not anymore accused of it.
    It is in R Y Hachasid 22. brought in Noda Beyuda 79

  115. I see I missed the whole brouhaha about names last night. Personally I wouldn’t mind if S posted as S, but obviously it’s confusing – who knows if some people’s screen settings even made the distinction obvious enough.

    To SM, thanks for switching for that reason. My apologies for being a little too snarky in my response – in my defense it was late at night. 🙂 I’ll be more careful.

  116. Michael Rogovin

    On reviewing the Machzor Mesorat HaRav (comments of RYBS on the Machzor) it is apparaent that he sees the avot paragraph in the Amidah as a matir to pray to God, which would otherwise be an act of chutzpah. Only because the avot did it may we do so. The avot are linked directly to the 3 daily sacrifices and prayers, not so the imahot, hence adding the imahot would seem to be a well meaning but improper textual change. Perhaps adding Channa, who provided the model for the Amidah prayer might make sense however.

    Agree with Steve Brizel (shocking as that may seem) re affiliation and I have made the same point. Still, I am loathe to label R Sperber as non-Orthodox, just as I would not have labeled R Lieberman non-Orthodox (I actually think this is a very good parallel). Nonetheless I think that by identifying (and signing off on smicha) with a non-Orthodox institution, they isolate themselves from the Orthodox community and reduce their perceived legitimacy as poskim or serious scholars.

  117. Michael Rogovin-I suspect that we agree on more issues than we disaagree on. I would suggest that the labels that one attaches either to R D Sperber of R S Lieberman ZL are irrelevant, but that their actions or inaction on a wide variety of issues speak volumes.

  118. R’ Mitch Morrison, thank you for your kind words. Vihamevarekh yitbarekh. Also, my apologies for my previously confusing R’ S with R’ S.
    R’ Mike S. – thank you for the interesting proof from R. Yitzchak Herzog’s takkanot. This itself is the subject of a responsum from Yabi’a Omer, where R. Ovadiah Yosef encourages that Sefardim should preferably perform yibbum, as Shulchan Arukh indicates, and contrary to R. Herzog’s takkanot (with all due reverence to R. Herzog). I confess that I am totally ignorant of the facts on the ground and I have no idea what happens in the State of Israel nowadays when (lo aleinu) a Sefardi dies childless. Does the brother do yibbum (as R. Yosef encourages) or chalitzah (as R. Herzog encourages)? Barukh Hashem, it’s a rare fact pattern that doesn’t arise too frequently.

  119. I want to second the motion regarding the person who praised Machon Shilo’s “nusach eretz yisrael”.

    I recommend that Rabbi Sperber support this amazing, uplifing nusach. I was happy to hear that not only Rabbi David Bar-Hayim but Rabbi Yisrael Ariel of Machon HaMiqdash also supports nusach eretz yisrael.

  120. HAGTBG:

    Indeed, I am not sure what to make of your view that viewing morality of the day as better then that of the past makes one Conservative.
    That is not what I posted.

    What I said was that viewing Chazal’s moral thinking as inferior to another system of moral thinking makes one not Orthodox.

    The belief that the human understanding of morality is progressing was mentioned by me for the following reason: Over the last century and a half, that belief has been held—explicitly or implicitly—by those who profess fealty to Halakhah and yet attempt to refract it through moral thinking alien to the shapers of Halakhah.

  121. “Does the brother do yibbum (as R. Yosef encourages) or chalitzah (as R. Herzog encourages)? Barukh Hashem, it’s a rare fact pattern that doesn’t arise too frequently”

    The idea should not be that rare-couples without children although not frequent is not rare-survived by a brother is also not rare.

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