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Jerusalem’s walls restored, idiosyncracies and all
Post-denominational but Conservative-trained Rabbi Shai Held responds to my vegetarian theology article
Nothing Orthodox About Open Orthodoxy
Welcoming Shabbat the secular way
Training rabbis to identify abuse
Shabbat Protocols in Case of a Hurricane
Rabbi who made controversial abuse comments reinstated
Jews for Perry?
SALT Friday
Leading Open Orthodox Rabbi Defends Alleged “Indiana Jones” Fraudster
New issue of Tradition is now online
Introducing YU 2.0
Modern Orthodoxy’s Human Pillar
Rabbi who claimed to rescue Holocaust Torahs arrested on fraud charges
Haredim to set up ‘modest’ market
US businessman invests in Bolivia, ends up jailed
Dr. David Mandel: Abuse: Prevent, Police, Prosecute
Reviews In Brief (my Jewish Action column)
Halachic Decision Making in First Rank Posekim
R. Aaron Levine – A Rav For Our Times
Alone In Its Class
SALT Thursday
Rabbis Go Hollywood for High Holy Days Sermon Tips
Hard to Fool Orthodox Kosher Customers
No happiness in gay-lesbian shidduch
Jewish Women on the American Frontier
Alone In Its Class
Sydney local council denies permission to build eruv
SALT Wednesday
Letters re ‘Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?’ ($)
Visits to Temple Mount by Haredim on the rise
Too Many Museums?
Rabbis to match homosexuals, lesbians
Haredi men to sit at back of tram?
Committee to Determine Future of the Mamad System?
Misaskim: One Crisis At A Time
R. Berel Wein: Our Mother’s Lessons
From the Sanhedrin to Alan Greenspan, strategies to avoid the perils of groupthink
A Second Look at the IDF
SALT Tuesday
R. Hyim Shafner on the dilemma of gay marriage
Israeli Judges ‘Look Down’ on Jewish Civil Law?
Memories of Brisk
The Spanish Inquisition and Me
The Long Tradition of Jewish Farming in America
No One Wants to Wash the Dishes
Israel summer gives way to Arab Spring
SALT Monday
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About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, 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 currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four 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.


  1. I had to rub my eyes after reading that article from Rabbi Shafner. He really did just write that piece and Rabbi Student really did link to it without a disclaimer in the post.

    One need not be a fortune-teller to know the same old kashes which folks will bring up for Rabbi Shafner. I look forward to hearing more from him on this topic in the future.

  2. It’s quite astonishing, isn’t it? That’s Morethodoxy for you. The same group that wants to reform Judaism to be gender-neutral also wants to perform gay marriages.

  3. Yea, some of what he wrote seems impossible to defend. But I wish him luck, at least he’s genuinely concerned for these folks…

  4. I tried to link to that article and all I got was a picture of a car.

    I’ll take Gil’s word for it that what he is proposing is gay marriage.

    Not at all surprising. This is Reform Judaism meets the digital age. Before the internet, it would have taken many decades to get from chagning the berakaha of she lo asani Isha to gay marriage. Now it takes a week or two.

  5. Rabbi Hyim Shafner | Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2011 8:07 pm | 

    My friend and former student Esther (not her real name) embodies all the values and qualities that are deemed praiseworthy in the Orthodox Jewish community…except for one.   She is a leader of Jewish people helping to form observant and learned communities wherever she goes.  She is smart, modest, humble, learned in Torah, observant with the punctiliousness and passion that is the Orthodox ideal, and she even grew up Orthodox, the perfect match for any Jewish man…except that she is, and has always been, only attracted to women. 

    Esther tried for many years to figure out what her observant Jewish life would look like.  She knew two things for sure, she was gay and she was Orthodox.  The question for her and for many Orthodox Jews who are only attracted emotionally and sexually to people of the same gender is: How should I live my life?   Should I be celibate?   Should I live with a roommate of the same gender and raise children but not tell the world in any official way that we are as loving, supportive and as one person as much as any married heterosexual couple?  Should I have a partner and be open about it and raise an Orthodox family and risk being ostracized?  The easy fixes like not being gay or not being religiously observant are usually not options for people who really are gay and who really are observant Jews. 

    I always knew the time would come when Esther would realize that she would not really be able to live alone her whole life.  A woman of community and family, steeped in the beauty of Jewish family values, of Shabbat (Sabbath) tables filled with rejoicing, singing, and words of torah study, and of community.   A woman who knows what the important values are and is not moved by the narishkiet (Yiddish for nonsense) that larger American society and its superficial media driven values constantly churns out to us.   Esther is a woman steeped in Orthodox Jewish family values and Torah through and through.  
    The time that I knew would come, has come.  She met someone she loves, someone she can create a loving, religious Jewish family with which will embody the very best of Orthodox values.   Is creating a Jewish home with another woman and raising Jewish children the best thing for Esther’s Jewish life?   I believe it is.  

    Esther wants to take the values that Judaism teaches about relationships, as embodied in its writings about Jewish family and weddings and in the Jewish wedding ceremony itself, and utilize them in a ceremony that will deepen and solidify the relationship with her same gender spouse that will serve as the foundation for their “bayit neeman biyisrael,” their house of faith among the Jewish people.  Instead of slinkingly living with a “roommate” she wants to publicly solidify this relationship and foundation for her new family in front of friends and community in order to encourage its longevity and strength.  

    The halachot (Jewish laws) of Jewish marriage pertain only to a Jewish man and a Jewish woman who are permitted to each other.  True, it is not forbidden in Judaism to ceremoniously read sections of the book of Ruth about relationships, or the Song of Songs, or to make a blessing on a cup of wine, or to offer a prayer on behalf of a bride and a bride.  On the other hand all of the paradigms of marriage in the Torah are only between men and women.  

    Is it the time to say our focus on drawing lines and holding ground against gays, their relationships and their marriages is wasted energy?  To say as Rabbi Shmuly Boteach recently has that we should stop focusing on gay marriage and worry about the 50% of heterosexual marriages that fail?  To acknowledge that marriage does not have to prompt a community analysis of what happens in people’s bedrooms but can just see what happens in their dining rooms and living rooms such as loving children and teaching them Judaism in a house of Jewish celebration and faith among our people?

    Maybe this is the moment to stand up and say it is better for gay orthodox Jews (at least those who can not be celibate and still keep the rest of the Torah with joy) to be in monogamous relationships which are the most observant ones they can be?  To say why  assume every relationship is only judged based upon what we think might be going on in the couple’s bed room and not on the building of a traditional Jewish home?   That when it comes to heterosexual couples who may be violating things in their bedroom that are forbidden by the Torah we turn a blind eye but when it comes to gay couples whose bedroom violations may be much less, perhaps only rabbinic, that suddenly we are up in arms?  

    If I believe the best thing for Esther is to “marry” a woman and raise a Jewish family and I do not help facilitate that because I fear the reverberations in the Orthodox community am I a hypocrite?   On the other hand I am a Jew committed to Jewish law and tradition and same gender marriage has never been part of that, indeed has been seen as outside of it.

    So what is a rabbi to do?

  6. The article by Hyim Shafner is both beyond the pale and in the classic “Morethodox” format of making a strong emotional appeal with only the thinnest veneer of Torah backing. In this case even that veneer is quite warped.

    I am not sure where the term Morethodox originated, but if anything makes a case for the use of the term Post Orthodox it is articles like this.

  7. Re Memories of Brisk-for different aspects of Rav Chaim that an Art Scroll would not publish see the book of Shulamith Meiselman A”H. Not the usual standard of a grandaughter of a major figure.

  8. Shachar Ha'amim

    How does Rabbi Shafner address the issur do’rayta of performing same-gender marriages? Even though he focuses on the bedroom activities in an attempt to suggest that this is a private matter, from a halachic perspective there is a big leap from a “common-law” monogamous same-gender relationship to a “santicfied” one called “marriage”.

    Last week in Makor Rishon there was an article that discussed the polygamy question. It pointed out that intellectucally honest thinkers admit that if society can – and will – recognize same-gender marriages, then it HAS to allow polygamous marriages. The question is simple – if a lesbian couple bear a child and enter in a contract with the “sperm donor” to be a father to the child (this is more common than you think – read the rest of the article – even many lesbian couples prefer the child to have a father)m then how is this different or more acceptable than two women who share the same man – i.e. what changes things because it is the two women who have relations with each other, from the situation when the two women do not have relations with each other, but rather each have with the father?

    from a halachic perspective it is certainly easier to countenance plygamy (only gezeyrat kehilla and not 100% accepted) versus lesbian marriage?

    what would Rabbi Shafner say if Esther came to him and said she found a way to have all that he described in his article, but rather than Esther being a lesbia, Esther was a 33 year old single woman who found a couple that was willing to take her on as a second wife in the family?

  9. Shachar Ha'amim

    “This is our typical ba’al habayis in Brisk.”

    Menachem Begin must have been a very big talmid chacham. Now I undertsand why he spent that time in the underground hiding out as a member of a kolel in Bnei Brak. It was second nature to him.

  10. Shachar,
    What issur de’oraita is involved in performing a lesbian marriage?

  11. So why don’t we start from the youngest in civil cases as well?

  12. >>R. Betel Weinberg: Our Mother’s Lessons

    That would be R. Berel Wein, though no doubt betel nut and wine is a quite interesting and intoxicatin mix.

  13. FYI for those of you not on the east coast of the US, we just got hit by an earthquake.

  14. Yes, felt it here in my office in Toronto.

  15. Shachar HaAmim wrote:

    “The question is simple – if a lesbian couple bear a child and enter in a contract with the “sperm donor” to be a father to the child (this is more common than you think – read the rest of the article – even many lesbian couples prefer the child to have a father)m then how is this different or more acceptable than two women who share the same man – i.e. what changes things because it is the two women who have relations with each other, from the situation when the two women do not have relations with each other, but rather each have with the father?”

    The Talmud in Kiddushin described the phenomenon of a Shtuki-would not the above mentioned scenario involve giving birth to a child who won’t know or possibly be told, who is his or her father?

  16. MiMedinat HaYam

    besides the issue of the “father”, you have to contend with other parents not allowing their children to play with such a child (abhorent, but it definitely will happen) extending into adulthood, dating / shidduch, etc.

    besides the tendency Sachar HaAmim mentions, i would add having relations with other men (let alone having diff fathers for diff children), esp considering their tendency to have short relationships.

    2. too many museums — an outgrowth of too many PhD’s, and too many fundraisers, all chasing more / less philanthropists.

    3. charedim on temple mount — “But while many haredi rabbis allow their followers to visit the Temple Mount, “none will issue an open call to do so,” ”

    the charedi problem in a nutshell.

    contrast with the end of the article: ““That is why it is so important that Jews consistently go to the site, to maintain and fortify our grasp on it, so that the government does not relinquish it to the Muslims.” ”

    from rank and file charedim. not “askanim”, not “gedolim”.

  17. Re the recent brouhaha re the panel discussion re Crown Heights, IMO, it is indeed a sign of the abuse of the term “civil rights leader”, that R A Sharpton is viewed with such an august term.

  18. Re “too many museums”-IMO, all too often, Jewish museums represent a political POV or present Judaism as an artifact of a no longer extant social reality. All too often, such museums represent what one of my rebbes called American Jewry’s preoccupation with an “edifice complex”, as opposed to realizing that a museum per se cannot be a vehicle for instilling the ABCs of Jewish continuity-Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  19. The problem with having Rev. Sharpton on the panel was not, IMO, his participation; it was the makeup of the rest of the panel. I would love to hear a panel with him on it which also contained articulate and knowledgable members who could authoritatively challenge his actions back then and force him to either respond or appear to be clearly evading. Someone like Alan Dershowitz, for example; not someone like R. Schneier.

  20. Joseph Kaplan-why legitimize Rev Sharpton’s past record?

  21. “If I believe the best thing for Esther is to “marry” a woman and raise a Jewish family and I do not help facilitate that because I fear the reverberations in the Orthodox community am I a hypocrite?”

    “Marry” someone of same sex is an oxymoron in Yahadus.

  22. “The reformers and progressives among us have constantly underestimated the power of custom in the life of a society and a people, certainly in Jewish society and the people of Israel.”

    It is not only those who belittle custom it is often the Yeshiva bochur who following his Rebbe who belittle customs not in the Litvish tradition.

  23. Shachar Ha'amim

    What issur de’oraita is involved in performing a lesbian marriage?”

    Lo taaseh kmeaaseh mitrayim and the interpretation of the Sifra ( a halachic midrash) that this refers to same gender and polyandrous marriages.

    While the Rambam brings this source down (issurei bia 21:8) as his source for the forbidden nature of lesbian sexual acts, the fact is that the Rambam combines a disconnected piece in the Talmud which talks about daughters or kohanim who enageg in lesbian acts not being able to eat truma with this Sifra which discusses forbidden marriages. It could be that the Rambam had different text variants or this is how he interpreted it.
    However the Sifra on its own forbids same-gender and polyandrous marriages on a biblical level.

  24. Shachar Ha'amim

    “The Talmud in Kiddushin described the phenomenon of a Shtuki-would not the above mentioned scenario involve giving birth to a child who won’t know or possibly be told, who is his or her father?”

    Steve – davka that is why the lesbian couples want to have a known father involved in the picture. the article I linked to actually advocates full knowledge of who the father is – i.e. release information from sperm banks, permit genetic testing, etc. in order that children can know who the father is (also to prevent potential mazeirut – though testing can also cause mamzeirut that would otherwise not be known and not considered mamzeirut – this is a difficult issue that only great people can decide on)

    but the point is – would Rabbi Shafner countenance – or even perform a kiddushin – for a single woman such as “esther” who wants to marry a married man who has the full blessing of his wife to take on another wife? If he doesn’t but would be willing to perform a lesbian marriage for a couple that will obtain sperm from a man and keep that man involved in their lives as a father to the child, then I think he owes us all an explanation as to why the 2 cases are different (which of course they aren’t – the polygamy is probably even more legitimate than the lesbian case…)

  25. Shachar Ha'amim

    I just read the “matchmaking” article after posting my comments above.
    So I address my comments to the Rabbis involved in that initiative as well. Why is it more legitimate to arrange father-mother matches in order to “produce” more Jewish children even knowing that the parents are innvoled in other same-gender relationships, than it is to arrange marriages for single women to married men in order to “produce” more Jewish children? Why does a single straight woman who wants to have children need to have the child as a single mother or out of wedlock only to a single (or gay) man? why not via marriage to a married man whose wife agrees?

  26. “why not via marriage to a married man whose wife agrees?”

    Cherem drabbeinu gershom

  27. Shachar Ha'amim

    mycroft on August 24, 2011 at 5:59 am
    “why not via marriage to a married man whose wife agrees?”

    Cherem drabbeinu gershom

    and that’s MORE of a problem than the issues I – and others – described above?!?!? same gender marriages and the lav of lo taaseh mitzrayim??!?! problems with sthuki? etc etc.

  28. Shachar Ha'amim

    I wanted to stress that I am not advocating polygamy. I’m just stating that liberal acceptance of “alternative” marriage and/or child bearing arrangements, irrespective of what agenda it is based on, will automatically lead to acceptance of polygamy for the same reasons.

    It is only a matter of time before the SCOTUS revreses the late 19th century decisions which upheld the view that State bans on polygamy were constitutional, and this will be helped along by inttelectually honest liberals who will have to support the view that polygamous households are no more problematic than same gender households

  29. “A petition has been signed by some 1,200 locals, with some arguing that the eruv would create a “ghetto of Jewish people” and “pollute the environment.”

    The thing that makes this even more depressing is that according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the “Ghetto of Jewish People” remark was not only uttered by a Jew, but by a holocaust survivor at that.

  30. MiMedinat HaYam

    alone in class — “While in many day schools, full tuition subsidizes the cost of scholarships, at The Jewish Academy it covers only the cost of educating one child, he said.”

    as it should be. at ALL schools. ditto special ed expenses.

    2. eruv — same thing in tenafly, and in wsthampton beach, and everywhere else. just as long as “those people” dont move in here, and carry baby carriages, and raise / lower property values.

    3. orthodox jewish customers — start with the name — am/pm implies 24/7, so its obviously open on shabat. the pblm (at least a while ago) was that the russians wanted to be able to buy their ham at these stores, too. green and red color scheme implies arab national colors. selling the chametz before / after pesach may be good, but did they still sell chametz on pesach? it looks like smart aleck israelis who thinks they can fool some of the ppl some of the time, and get nowhere.

  31. “MiMedinat HaYam on August 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm
    alone in class — “While in many day schools, full tuition subsidizes the cost of scholarships, at The Jewish Academy it covers only the cost of educating one child, he said.”

    as it should be. at ALL schools. ditto special ed expenses”

    Do you have the same opinion about extra enrichment costs for AP classes and science projects etc-or are the costs for our superior students to be payed for by the general community but the costs for those who are not advanced payed for by the parents alone.

  32. Shachar Ha'amim

    “MiMedinat HaYam on August 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm
    alone in class — “While in many day schools, full tuition subsidizes the cost of scholarships, at The Jewish Academy it covers only the cost of educating one child, he said.”

    as it should be. at ALL schools. ditto special ed expenses”

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with such “forced charity” which is re-distributive by nature. It is common in many areas.

    essentially ever school district works this way. By MeMedinat Hayam’s logic only parents of school age children should pay a special tax to cover the costs of publicly provided education rather than rather than a general tax being assessed over property or income values.

    In Israel for example, when the Bar Association Law was amended to allow privately owned colleges to grant law degrees that would be recognized for licensing a provision was included which forces such colleges to grant 25% of their tuition revenues as financial need based scholarships. This efectively has wealthier students subsidizing poorer students in the same way yeshiva day schools often do.

    I can think of other areas – as I’m sure than most of you can as well.

  33. Shachar Ha'amim

    I wonder what RYBS would have thought of the fact that a conference dedicated to him was held at the Van Leer Institute which is basically ground zero for the anti-Zionist left in Israel and has bascially become a center for Marxism.

  34. You can find the audios of the Van Leer program here:
    I found them very interesting at the time.

  35. The article about the Chareidi boycott of the Machane Yehuda market is as depressing as it is predictable.

    Evidently the Chareidi leadership won’t be satisfied until there are no places left where Chareidim and non-Chareidim ever share the same physical spaces for any reason.

  36. Re: Halachic Decision Making in First Rank Posekim

    R. Hillel Goldberg’s misunderstanding of the words “nir’eh lanu” is really embarrassingly wrong. To argue that every time the word “nir’eh” appears anywhere in a sentence it means the same as “nir’eh leaniyat da’ati” is a claim that is hard to take seriously even on its face. Thankfully R. Broyde set the record straight, but I would be surprised if any readers with even the slightest familiarity with the responsa literature felt R. Goldberg’s view was compelling.

  37. Ten Jew Very Much

    Time will tell if this comment is premature, but it is refreshing to see the comments on Rabbi Shafner’s article–more precisely, the small number of critical comments. (I take Baruch Pelta’s to be non-critical.)

    It is easy to criticize him, but he expresses a real dilemma. For the momnent I shall assume that many of the frequent commenters here are wise enough to realize that there is no easy answer.

    Kudos to R’ Shafner for a sensitive article.

    Semi-kudos to R’ Gil; good for linking to it, but not for the 8/22 7:10 pm comment, which I think does not accurately state R’ Kanefsky’s view (if “gender neutral” refers to his pieces on “Shelo asani isha”) nor R’ Shafner’s (who doesn’t say he wants to perform “gay marriages”).

  38. The link to the new issue of Tradition gives access to complete pdf copies of the articles. Is this a new (wiser) policy of Tradition or an early Labor Day present from Gil?

  39. R. Bleich’s statement that, “the orthodox rabbis of Germany… were, in general, hardly famed as talmudic scholars..” is uncalled for.

  40. Skeptic: I think part of the problem is that there is no adequate translation for “nireh” in that context. I don’t think R. Broyde’s choice of “plausible” is strong enough. Maybe possible is “better”.

    Ten Jew Very Much: I believe in reading between the lines.

    Joseph: Not my doing. It could be a mistake so take advantage while you can.

  41. R’ Joseph Kaplan raises a fascinating and valuable halakhic question. Is it permissible to read the Tradition articles for one (such as myself) who does not pay subscription. Is this like a vending machine where it is prohibited to take if the machine starts dispensing merchandise even without a coin (as per the discussion at )? Sounds like a great topic for a new article in Tradition, thereby confirming the truism “mitzvah goreret mitzvah”… one edition of Tradition rapidly leads to a new edition of Tradition.

  42. I was told that Tradition has been having website problems, which is why the posting of the issue was delayed. Presumably those same issues are now accidentally causing the articles to be available without logging in.

  43. YZS: “P.S. Here’s a freebie for you. I believe I have heard from family members that the Rov [R. Ahron Soloveitchik] said Shasani Yisrael.”

  44. MiMedinat HaYam

    mycroft — ap courses have only nominal (in the grand scheme of things) incremental expenses (a teacher teaching an extra class, which he / she would have taught something else anyway. maybe.) ditto science labs (school trips, except to israel or poland or costa rica or new orleans). besides science lab is part of the educational mission of the school. of course, to some degree, its a matter of definition.

    special ed expenses are very substantial. (rabbi eliyahu teitz recently posted here at hirhurium that 12% of his budget is resource room alone (declining to provide complete special ed expenses, just calling it “a lot of money.”) )

    sachar ha’amim — you are referring to secular taxation. thats another story. i personally support those school districts that want to lower taxes by limiting extraneous expenses. such as monroe township, nj, which is (mostly) adult communities, that do not want to pay for a full fledged educational system. ditto teaneck, passaic, lakewood, monsey, 5towns, where the issue is different demographics, but same (political) arguments.

    private bar schools — the CC had a royalty notice in his mishna berura (20% of all copies should go to yeshivot.) the fact that the royalty notice is not included in any edition printed since 1943, indicates it is not observed.

    2. are there really no other halls in yerushalayim, other than van leer institute? or do they give out free chocolate? (though a friend of mine from yu days is on their payroll as one of their researchers / scholars.)

    3. rabbi schafner article — the exact same argument should apply to a couple “living together”. or a cohen marrying a woman forbidden to him. or an eshet ish marrying her paramour.

    wait a minute, the last two are done all the time, even though halacha forbids such chuppa ve’kidusshin.

  45. Curious: Let’s not jump at a report that Rav Soloveitchik said “she-asani Yisrael”. Lots of people say lots of things in his name. Regardless, as I mentioned in my post, the problem here is why they are doing this more than what they are doing.

  46. Gil: Of course, I was just quoting the highlight of the link as a description. Since the Morethodoxy posts have received plenty of criticism on this blog (directly and via links), I figured you would want to link to their responses also.

  47. i am happy to be skeptical about Yitzchak Zev Soloveichik’s report of what they say “in the family.” (meaning, i believe him that “they” say it, but i agree that is not dispositive as to its truth.) I would note, though, that unlike the many reports of personal/private Rav details that conveniently support the policy positions otherwise prefered by the one repeating them, YZ’s report has the credibility advantage of being “helpful” for a camp he generally opposes.
    Really, it doesn’t/shouldn’t matter all that much what the Rav did if you and other in this debate concede that saying she-asani israel in a vacuum is not such a big deal, and that you are really invested more in the nefarious motives, etc. Although the tone of some prior comments on the halacha suggests that that concession is not universal.

  48. What’s “helpful” is the reminder that rabbis deviate from the common practice all the time. They even print entire books about the “minhagim” (i.e., deviations) of great rabbis.

  49. emma: Understood, but I spent about two years working on the Rav’s commentary on the siddur and don’t recall ever coming across that. I’m asking others who were involved.

  50. Rav Soloveitchik was from “Beis Ha-Rav” and generally followed the Gra’s minhagim. R. Genack likes to say that there’s no need to publish a book about the Rav’s minhagim because it has already been published — Ma’aseh Rav (of the Gra). I don’t know if you can call him a deviator for following his family’s customs.

  51. Is it just me, or do I keep reading R. Ahron Soloveitchik, not R. Yosef Dov? We are talking about R. Aharon, right?

  52. I believe that when Yitzvchak Zev says “the Rov” in his postscript he refers to R. Yosef Dov.

  53. Ah, okay. I didn’t read it carefully.

    Anyway, here is what someone abstracted to me from a comment made by Haym Soloveitchik:

    “He further went on to say that he once asked his father why they follow minhag haGra and his father laughed and said “you call following 7 or 8 psakim of the gra minhag haGra? There are over 200 psakim in the SA which nobody really ever follows but when someone accepts a couple of liturgical changes, they are suddenly following the Gra.”

  54. Re: Article about Shmuel Herzfeld – Anyone versed on the ethics of posting screenshots of people’s non-searchable and non-Google indexable Facebook feeds? Not talking about the legality just the journalistic ethics behind it.

  55. S: When the new Siddur comes out, you’ll see that just about every hanhagah comes from Ma’aseh Rav.

  56. David Mandel talks and writes a good game but does he actually follow this with action.
    He had a program at OHel treating pedophiles while NOT notifyig the authorities and with the approval of the Rabbinic advisor..When pedohiles dropped out of the program he did not notify te police or the community.
    Even when he knew which new communities the pedophiles went to he did not notify the communities.When they escaped to Israel ,Israel communities were not notified.The pedophiles continued doing their harm to our children.

  57. Re: Article about Shmuel Herzfeld – Anyone versed on the ethics of posting screenshots of people’s non-searchable and non-Google indexable Facebook feeds

    Anyone with a FB account can read Shmuel Herzfeld’s page. It is essentially public.

  58. lawrence kaplan

    The report that the Rav said she-asani yisrael seems extremely doubtful to me, considering its very vague and slender evidential base and the Rav’s well known his liturgical conservatism.

  59. Morethodoxy has deleted my comments before, so let me post them here:

    “All I can say, is thank God I am an Israelite, and thank God halacha allows me to say that b’racha every day.”

    Wow, what a racist thing to say.

    “I believe I have heard from family members”

    What a compelling statement!

  60. r’gil,
    any update on a siddur publication date?

  61. R’ Herzfeld has posted the following on his FB site (and I am posting it here because, as I mentioned I believe it to be public and, even if he didn’t know anyone could read his account before, he does now):

    Since my views on the arrest and indictment of Rabbi Youlus have been misunderstood i want to offer a brief clarification for now. (Any misunderstanding of my previosuly stated views is entirely my fault and i apologize for that).
    1) Rabbi Youlus is innocent until proven guilty. He is entitled to a vigorous defense.
    2)The actual indictment is not even posted yet. So any thoughts about this case are premature (including the thoughts i previously posted). If fraud was committed then that is wrong and sinful and a great embarrasment of God’s name.
    3) My comments about the prosecutor’s case and the NYT article should not be construed as a defense of lying — God forbid! They were an attempt to highlight an aspect of what i thought might be prosecutorial overreach. Those comments on my part were also premature. My initial reaction was disbelief and deep sadness and i thus offered public comments when i should have waited.
    4) Rabbi Youlus and his family are in my prayers. I know him personally and consider him a friend. I also know that he has done many many good things for the Jewish community and he has helped me personally on many occasions (these things do not excuse fraud) so I pray with all my heart that these allegations are false.

  62. any update on a siddur publication date?

    Check Jewish Action

  63. S. on August 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm
    Ah, okay. I didn’t read it carefully.

    Anyway, here is what someone abstracted to me from a comment made by Haym Soloveitchik:

    ““He further went on to say that he once asked his father why they follow minhag haGra and his father laughed and said “you call following 7 or 8 psakim of the gra minhag haGra? There are over 200 psakim in the SA which nobody really ever follows but when someone accepts a couple of liturgical changes, they are suddenly following the Gra.””
    The Briskers certainly didn’t follow the Gra/Nodeh Byehudah/CI on shiurim. See eg the Ravs comment on those who say one must eat what the CI did on Pesach to be Yotzeh matzah “and Grandfather was not Yotzeh mitzvah matzah on Pesach”

  64. Hirhurim on August 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm
    “Rav Soloveitchik was from “Beis Ha-Rav” and generally followed the Gra’s minhagim. R. Genack likes to say that there’s no need to publish a book about the Rav’s minhagim because it has already been published — Ma’aseh Rav (of the Gra). I don’t know if you can call him a deviator for following his family’s customs.”

    Agreed the Rav didn’t even believe that others should follow his familys customs-see eg story of living Rabbi who grew up with no family minhag of putting on tfillin on chol hamoed-they hardly put on tfillin. He asked the Rav what should he do about chol hamoed the Rav told him to put on tfillin chol hamoed. The person asked the Rav but you don’t put on tfillin chol hamoed. The Rav answered you asked me what you should do-what I do is irrelevant. Context-Rabbi of East European descent in north America.

  65. “Shachar Ha’amim on August 25, 2011 at 8:33 am
    I wonder what RYBS would have thought of the fact that a conference dedicated to him was held at the Van Leer Institute which is basically ground zero for the anti-Zionist left in Israel and has bascially become a center for Marxism”

    The Lichtensteins participated.

    “Hirhurim on August 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm
    Curious: Let’s not jump at a report that Rav Soloveitchik said “she-asani Yisrael”. ”

    “Lots of people say lots of things in his name.”

    Agreed-one should be very careful of giving credence to things that came out after the Ravs death no matter the source that were counter to what other people believed during the Ravs lifetime.

    “Regardless, as I mentioned in my post, the problem here is why they are doing this more than what they are doing”
    Agreed-because even if there were some strange family minhag for him stating it-it would have no relevance to the rest of us. The reasons for doing something are crucial.

  66. “the Van Leer Institute”

    It’s a building, nu. They have a very good parshat hashavua series.

  67. Mechitzah
    From Yated piece on MO and YTC

    “With full cognizance of the implications of such a halachic decision, I would still advise every Orthodox Jew to forego tefillah betzibbur even on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur rather than enter a synagogue with mixed pews…”

    An open question if the Rav would still hold that for mere listening to shofar as opposed to davening-a living person very close to the Rav raised that possibilty pondering that public policy of the then fight against mixed pews could have been involved.

    “Orthodox rabbis uniting with non-Orthodox Jewish clergy

    “It is my opinion that Orthodoxy cannot and should not unite with such groups which deny the fundamentals of our weltanschauung. It is impossible for me to comprehend, for example, how Orthodox rabbis, who spent their best years in yeshivos and absorbed the spirit of Torah Shebaal Peh and its tradition, for whom Rabi Akiva, the Rambam, the Rema, the Gra, Rav Chaim Brisker and other Jewish sages are the pillars upon which their spiritual world rests, can join with spiritual leaders for whom all this is worthless… From the point of view of the Torah, we find the difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism much greater than that which separated the Perushim and the Tzedukim in the days of Bayis Sheini, and between the Kara’im and traditionalists in the Gaonic era. Has Jewish history ever recorded an instance of a joint community council that consisted of Kara’im and Torah-true Jews?” (from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s 1954 Yiddish article in Der Tog Morgen Journal).”
    True but misleading the Rav approved the RCAs and OUs participation in the SCA.

    “Interfaith relationships

    “We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal or ritual aspects of our faith vis-a-vis ‘similar’ aspects of another faith community. We believe in and are committed to our Maker in a specific manner and will not question, defend, offer apologies, analyze or rationalize our faith in dialogues centered about these ‘private’ topics which express our personal relationship to the God of Israel” (from an open letter by Rabbi Soloveitchik to the RCA, 1964).”

    True but notice the word “public” there were discussions with other religions under the approval of the Rav. What was approved requires very detailed knowledge-it can’t be understood by mere quoting a word or 2 as slogans.

  68. Would it have been so hard for Rabbi Bleich to refer to Eliezer Berkovits as Rabbi? It is improper for Rabbi Bleich to remove Berkovits’ smicha the way he does. Also, I wonder if people will attack Rabbi Bleich for citing the YCT journal and thus “legitimizing” the school.

  69. >Would it have been so hard for Rabbi Bleich to refer to Eliezer Berkovits as Rabbi? It is improper for Rabbi Bleich to remove Berkovits’ smicha the way he does.

    You yourself didn’t call him rabbi the two times you referred to him (while you called Bleich “rabbi” twice).

  70. I hate to say it, but Rabbi Herzfeld’s comments are terribly foolish. There will be no trial. Indian Jones will plead guilty. I don’t believe there is one person in the world who has followed this case who doesn’t know that the rabbi-adventurer was making up stories. At first we tolerated it, because we thought it was all good fun. We thought, so what if he exaggerates a little or even a lot? We all knew he wasn’t discovering Torahs at Auschwitz. But then he started to take himself seriously, and figured out that he could make money on this, and unbelievably, some gullible people fell for his crazy stories. So he was involved in terrible fraud. It is a read shame because he started with such good intentions. I hope the judge doesn’t throw the book at him. It is a nebich case. He is not a bad man, just someone who made some terrible decisions and got himself into a hole that he couldn’t get out of. One lie led to another and he kept digging himself in deeper. I hope the people he defrauded can find it in themselves to forgive him, once he makes a proper apology and restitution. His family doesn’t deserve to be suffering the way they are.

  71. Shai Held did an excellent job of demonstrating that “the less they know, the less they know it”. I’ll keep this in mind the next time someone tries to tell me that his institution is useful to anyone.

  72. I’m surprised by the hurricane article in that candles are placed on the same level as flashlights when many don’t recommend their use in these situations, and I also think that at least for LEDs there are less halakhic prolbems with their use as their is no aish.

  73. Jon, you have a penchant for dismissive comments that assume that whatever flaw you observe is self-evident. In this case, it is not (to me). (There, I admit to being among the useless unknowledgeable ppl in your book, I guess.) Care to elaborate?

  74. Jon: I’m refraining from commenting right now. My initial reaction is that he is wrong on every single point but I can’t believe that is right so I’ll re-read it and think about it some more.

  75. Re the Yated piece on how Modern Orthodoxy (which is suddenly not intrinsically an attack on the mesorah) is being silent and foolish about Open Orthodoxy, for all of “I. Schwartz”‘s comparison to the rise of Reform, in the polemics over Reform everyone had the guts to sign their actual name. Furthermore, it was people like the Chasam Sofer and other leading rabbonim, not “I. Schwartz”s who did the dirty work of writing the polemics.

  76. You mean that no one respectable in modern Jewish history has used a pseudonym? I don’t think that is correct.

  77. Actually, the Yated article was long on links to R Kanefsky, the website that R Kanefksy posted his original article, old YCT related links and short on anti RCA rhetoric.

  78. When the Yated quotes the Rav, is this a new-found respect for him, or just a debater’s tactic?

  79. I believe that latter. I believe that many American Chareidim have come to realize that in many ways Rav Soloveitchik was a kindred spirit and his conservatism is a bulwark agains the increasing excesses of American Modern Orthodoxy.

  80. The father of the Yated’s current editor ran the OU’s kashrus dept. before Rabbi Genack and had a good relationship with Rav Soloveitchik.

  81. FWIW, when RAL’s son RYL, the author of a wonderful Haggadah ( Siach HaGrid) was installed as a rav of a shul in Monsey, the Yated included a picture of RAL, the RY of Gush as well as a bio that mentioned RYBS ZL, the RY of RIETS and Rav of Boston. I have seen more respect for the RY of RIETS in the Yated and Mishpacha than in any other Jewish newspaper or magazine.

  82. lawrence kaplan

    I agree with anonymous 11:10am. I, like him, thought it was small-minded and petty of Rabbi Bleich not to refer to Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz by his rabbinic title. He thereby marred an otherwise thoughtful and learned article.

  83. “The father of the Yated’s current editor ran the OU’s kashrus dept. before Rabbi Genack and had a good relationship with Rav Soloveitchik”

    You mean the father of Pinchas Lipshutz?

  84. R. Shai Held objected to my calling him Conservative. Here is something that he wrote:

    Hadesh Yamenu: On Re-Creating Conservative Judaism in our Time
    Rabbi Shai Held

    I Introduction: The Theological Foundations
    Let me begin by attempting the impossible—to lay the foundations for a contemporary Conservative Jewish theology in just a few short paragraphs:

    The most fundamental claim Judaism makes about the world is that each and every human being in created in the image of God and is therefore infinitely valuable and beloved of God. To be a serious Jew, then, is to strive to affirm the dignity and value of every person. But it is also to live with an often excruciating tension: on the one hand, Judaism tells us that every human being matters in an ultimate way. But on the other hand, we live with the reality that human dignity is trodden and trampled upon in countless ways—by cruelty and callousness, by illness and disease, by deprivation and desperation, and by pervasive hunger, poverty, oppression, and loneliness. The extent of human suffering threatens to reduce our belief in Tzelem Elohim to so much cant and nonsense. It is in the yawning chasm between the foundational assertion of Jewish theology one the one hand, and the daily experience of that assertion’s being not-yet-true on the other, that the covenant between God and Israel is born.

    By creating human beings, God has taken an enormous risk—the risk that God will be painfully and repeatedly disappointed. In an act of infinite love, God has chosen to need us. Judaism rises and falls with the insistence that God has entered into a relationship with the Jewish people in which we are called upon to help narrow the enormous gap between the ideal and the real; evil must be combated and suffering must be dramatically mitigated, so that the earth can be filled with “knowledge of the Lord.” God’s dream is of a world in which human dignity is real and the presence of God is manifest. To be a covenantal Jew is to dare to dream with God.

    If covenant is the bridge between the world as it is and the world as it must be, Halakha is the language with which we tell God’s story. It is the way in which we as a people give voice to our most treasured memories and our deepest aspirations, the path by which we attempt to introduce the sacred into the mundane, the holy into the otherwise merely quotidian. Most importantly, Halakha is our attempt to instantiate prophecy– to implement and embody the ideals which Torah holds dear—the ideals of love and holiness, of justice, compassion, and goodness. “Hakham Adif MiNavi” (Bava Batra 12a), the Rabbis tell us, “the sage is preferable to the prophet.” The reason for this is clear, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook insists: prophets are especially good at lamenting evil and idolatry and articulating the lofty ideals of love of God and humanity, but they are less effective when it comes to the problems of implementation, of getting the world from here to there. It is the sage who works to translate the grand ideals of prophecy into the realities of everyday life. All of this is a way of saying something at once simple and profound: Prophecy without Halakha easily descends into empty platitude, while Halakha unmoored from prophecy too often ceases to be about anything at all.

    Judaism has a clear vision of the kind of human beings it wants us to become. We are required to observe the Mitzvot—no small task, to be sure—but that is only the baseline. The Torah asks us not merely to obey measurable laws, but also to “walk in God’s ways”—that is, the Rabbis explain, to clothe the naked and visit the sick, to bury the dead and comfort the bereaved. We are asked to become like God by being creatures of Hesed, of love manifested as kindness. Even more profoundly, we are asked to transform our own suffering into love—to love the stranger, because, after all, we “know the feelings of the stranger.” To become a Jew in the deepest sense is to cultivate one’s innate capacity for compassion, and to strive to serve as an earthly reflection of God’s own infinite compassion.

    Out of the ongoing encounter between God and the Jewish people grows Torah—both the Torah (that is, the Chumash or Pentateuch) and the larger and ever-expanding corpus of religious writing Jews refer to simply as Torah. In embracing the findings (or perhaps more accurately, the assumptions and therefore the findings) of historical criticism, Conservative thinkers have had to grope for a nuanced understanding of revelation, one which allows for the crucial and determinative role both of divine speech and of human hearing. “The prophet is not a microphone,” as Heschel said; “prophecy,” he told us, “consists of a revelation of God and a co-revelation of man.” I would put it a bit differently: one of the important innovations of Conservative Jewish theology is the recognition that revelation is itself covenantal, that the Torah itself (like Torah more broadly) is an inextricable weave of the divine and the human: “The Bible is more [note: not less—S.H.] than the word of God: it is the word of God and man; a record of both revelation and response; the drama of covenant between God and man.” Ultimately, my own sense of the Torah as divine revelation is rooted at least as much in my own experience as in a prior commitment to philosophy or dogma. It is here, in Torah, that I hear the commanding voice of God again and again. Heschel said it with magnificent eloquence, emphasizing “hashamayim min hatorah” (Heaven from the Torah) at least as much as “torah min hashamayim” (the Torah from heaven). For many of us, the experience of the former bolsters our deep faith in the latter.

    II On Learning Torah: Between Historical Criticism and Talmud Torah
    From its origins in 19th century Germany, Conservative Jewish thinkers embraced the study of history and applied historical-critical methods to the sources of the Jewish tradition. It is hard to overestimate how much a century and a half of Wissenschaft des Judentums and academic Jewish studies have taught us: we have learned an immense amount about the provenance and meaning of an extraordinary array of texts, ideas, and practices, and scholars affiliated with the Conservative movement have consistently blazed new trails in exploring the interactions between Jewish thinkers and their cultural environments. But even more fundamentally, the culture of Wissenschaft des Judentums generated new ways of thinking— in contrast to the traditional assumption that all texts were revealed in a kind of “eternal simultaneity,” historicism enabled Conservative thinkers “to understand the present in terms of the past and the past in terms of itself.” Historical scholarship has deepened our understanding of Jewish life in literally countless ways.

    But if historical criticism has brought many blessings with it, it has also created profound problems, on levels both practical and philosophical. Times have changed dramatically, and the curriculum and pedagogy of the JTS Rabbinical School will have to be adjusted accordingly. At a time when a vast number of rabbinical students were young men from traditional backgrounds who had been educated in yeshivot, it made sense for rabbinic education to focus on exposing them to the methods and findings of historical study, thus arming them with more sophisticated understandings of the tradition about which they had already learned a great deal. Today, an overwhelming majority of the men and women who study for the rabbinate come from liberal or secular environments in which they have had only the barest exposure to the Jewish textual tradition. As Luke Timothy Johnson has written of liberal Christian seminarians, “The most pressing need of such students is to have the tradition transmitted in the first place, as a prerequisite to critical reflection on it.” One cannot dissect a text one has not yet learned to read.

    But the problem runs still deeper, to a kind of relentless historicism that occludes much of the richness and complexity of Torah. It is one thing (and, as I have said, I think it is a good thing) to be concerned with establishing the original meanings of texts, and to read them in their historical contexts. But it is quite another to insist that the text’s only “true meaning” is the one posited by historical-critical scholars, as if origins somehow exhausted essence (a strangely Protestant assumption, in any case). Historical criticism is an important lens through which to view Jewish texts, but it is ultimately precisely that, and only that—one possible lens among many, itself historically and culturally situated. To be sure, students should be taught to think critically about the differences between historical and ahistorical readings, between peshat and derash, and between critical scholarship and darshanut. But in an institution committed both to academic scholarship and to Torah, students must be taught unambiguously to treasure both.

    To put matters even more starkly: there is often a tension between Talmud Torah and Jewish studies which we have perhaps never adequately acknowledged. When historicism rules, when it alone is taken as the standard of truth, faith can be eroded and we come, tragically, to measure sophistication in terms of unbelief. We run the risk of celebrating history to the exclusion of theology, of affirming the historical as a means of evading the normative. Students should be encouraged to ask not only what a given passage meant, but also what it means. Rabbinical students should learn many of same things as do graduate students, but they should also be encouraged to ask, in the presence of the text, what it is that God asks of us. To teach Torah to Conservative rabbinical students in the way I am suggesting is a kind of Herculean task, seeking to bring together the rigor of academic scholarship on the one hand and the religious passion of a Jew standing again at Sinai on the other. Zechariah Frankel, I imagine, would be proud.

    With great courage and clarity, JTS’ Chancellor Ismar Schorsch has recently lamented the fact that much of the programming at Conservative synagogues is geared towards “entry-level Jews” rather than to more “advanced” ones. In light of this admission, it becomes doubly incumbent upon the movement’s seminaries to ensure that rabbinical students acquire the skills (whether textual, analytical, or homiletical) necessary to teach and inspire “advanced Jews.” The question of a rabbinical school curriculum is a truly difficult one, and I do not presume to have the answers; it is hard work to train literate Jews in five or six years, let alone to make them talmidei chakhamim. But I am confident that a different ethos is both possible and necessary– one that marries religious passion with intellectual sophistication; one that is not embarrassed by the religious quest even as it pursues the scholarly one; one that cultivates and nurtures the heart as well as the mind; and one, finally, that truly pushes and inspires students to learn and to be more than they otherwise would.

    III Halakha and Conservative Movement: Do We Believe in Law?
    One of the critical questions facing the Conservative movement is whether we measure our religious actions only in terms of what we find “meaningful” at any given time, or also in terms of a set of assumptions about what is expected of us. Do we believe in the importance of law for Jewish religious life? Is the language of chiyyuv (obligation) compelling and operative in our life and theology? Put even more starkly: are Mitzvot more than “folkways,” or have the lines between the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements become irrevocably blurred? Some will be quick to point out that the Conservative movement today is not exactly awash in Halakhically observant congregants. As a sociological observation, this is undoubtedly true, but in important respects it is also beside the point– the question of Halakha is at bottom not a sociological question but a theological one.

    Let me speak personally for a moment: like many (if not all) observant Jews, I have moments of real and deep struggle with Halakha—moments of feeling bound by Jewish law and yet unable to live up to it, and moments of profound doubt when I wonder about its binding authority altogether. But it seems to me that one of the foundational assumptions of traditional Jewish spirituality is the bedrock sense that God is a Metzaveh (Commander), and that we are, all of us, metzuvim veomdin mehar Sinai (eternally obligated from that original moment at Sinai). Maintaining a system of norms means that there is an ideal to strive for, even as we are repeatedly (and sometimes painfully) reminded of our shortcomings. Covenantal faith means living in relationship to a God who is at once demanding and forgiving, embracing us in all of our flawed humanity, all the while pushing and prodding (and yes, commanding) us to do better.

    Of course, to re-affirm the reality of commandedness and chiyyuv is only to begin the conversation, not to end it. Even if the question of whether to “do Halakha” were settled, the question of how to do it would still be the bone of bitter contention; in many ways, we are a movement in search of a legal theory. What we need is a renewed and vigorous faith that Halakha can dialectically critique and respond to ever-evolving covenantal narratives—it is in the frank admission that narratives do change, and sometimes (though not always) for the better, that a Conservative theory of Halakha might find its distinctive voice. In conversations within the Conservative movement, Halakha is too often portrayed either as a merely formal set of rules or as an oppressive throwback to an outdated form of piety. If we are to re-invigorate Halakhic conversation in the Conservative world, we must steer a steady course between the Scylla of empty formalism on one side, and the Charybdis of pure “aggadism” with only the most tenuous commitment to law on the other. It will take teachers and thinkers of profound passion, learning, creativity, and humanity to resuscitate Halakha as the covenantal language of the Jewish people, but it is possible.

    IV Conclusion: Reinvigoration and Renewal
    In my short rabbinic career, I have had the great privilege of working with two remarkable egalitarian communities— the Conservative Minyan at Harvard Hillel and Kehilat Hadar in New York City. I have been consistently struck—and deeply saddened– by the powerful and pervasive sense of disappointment and alienation many young, observant Jews feel towards the Conservative Movement. They frequently describe synagogues whose very architecture militates against communal participation, cantors who too often turn them into spectators rather than davenners, services that are vapid or dull, and afternoon schools (and sometimes even day schools) at which they learned little of any substance, import, or meaning. The form differs, but again and again the complaint is essentially the same: Conservative Judaism is boring and lifeless. Talking and listening to these passionate Jews, I often find myself wondering whether the Conservative movement is just another struggling mainline Protestant denomination, adrift and at sea while the energy and creativity of a new generation of Jews is directed elsewhere.

    The Conservative movement could yet discover new energy, new vigor, and new passion. It seems to me that any authentic and meaningful Judaism must maintain an unshakeable faith in both human dignity and divine love; must tell the story of a God who liberates slaves and sides with the downtrodden; must present us with the possibility of moments of true godliness; and must affirm, above all, the sense that “something is asked of us.” In theory, Conservative Judaism could be all of this, and more: it could be a Judaism committed at one and the same time to the authority of tradition and to the blessings of the modern world, bound by a Halakha simultaneously loyal to the past and deeply responsive to the present; a Judaism impassioned about Talmud Torah and intimacy with God, about social responsibility and the creation of communities animated by compassion and kindness; a Judaism that takes the covenant between God and Israel seriously and nurtures within us a love of God and neighbor; a Judaism convinced—but truly convinced—that Torah can and must help heal the brokenness of our world. It could be all of these things, but it will take broad vision, enormous courage, and profound faith that we are both partners and servants of the Holy One. In order for change to be possible, the problems must first be honestly and forthrightly confronted. Heschel once remarked that in the face of crisis, “the masses despair [, but] the prophets respond.” The hour is late, and we could use a few prophets right about now.

    Rabbi Shai Held serves as Scholar-in-Residence of Kehilat Hadar in New York City, teaches in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and is a Jacob K. Javits Fellow in Religion at Harvard University.

  85. And here is Held’s bio on Beliefnet:

    Rabbi Shai Held is the director of education and the Conservative Rabbinic Adviser at Harvard Hillel.

    A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, Shai was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary. He founded and for five years ran the Kerem Institute at Hebrew College in Brookline, Massachusetts–a residential program for college students aimed at introducing them to Judaism and Jewish Studies. He also serves as scholar-in-residence at the E Pluribus Unum Interfaith Conference on Religion and Social Justice, a program that trains students of different religious faiths to become advocates for social action and social justice within their respective communities. Shai has been extremely involved in a variety of human-rights and social-justice issues, including most prominently relief efforts for refugees from war-torn regions.

    He lectures and teaches widely on issues of Jewish philosophy and theology, spirituality from a Jewish perspective, and the relationship between Judaism and the quest for social justice, especially the alleviation of poverty and hunger in the United States and around the world.

  86. The article you cite by R. Held was published in 2004; the bio is from 2001. Your talents and integrity as a researcher are on display as always. This would be like a bio that says “Gil Student attends Conservative summer camp.”

  87. Which means that he was ordained a Conservative rabbi, considered himself one and as recently as just a few years ago served as one.

  88. some people actually grow and change over a period of seven years. others do not.

  89. MiMedinat HaYam

    having C smicha is an automatic disqualification for having any “srarah” position in any version of the O world. (i doubt even yct would hire an C rabbi for a religious functionary position.) a number of C rabbis subsequently got O smicha, and even got positions in the O world.

    having a daughter attending camp ramah is not a disqualification from serving on the o-u board, or even writing a book on shabat. (hope to see many of us at lamport auditorium this coming wednesday when the book is featured.)

    while on the subject of the o-u, almost every single charedi involved in kashrut got their kashrut education at the o-u kashrut dept. obviously this extends to such pr fields as publishing a charedi newspaper.

  90. If he’s made some big break with the Conservative movement, I’m not aware of it. His Hadar bio doesn’t specify and Google made it clear that he’s Conservative. It’s not like I can include his complete resume. It was just a few-word description I gave every contributor I mentioned because the book has writers from all over and readers deserve to know who is speaking. I believe in calling someone whatever they want but based on my Googling today I’m at a loss as to how he expected me to know that he doesn’t consider himself Conservative anymore. Then again, how am I supposed to know whether he’s just saying that for marketing purposes? Is he a member of the RA? RCA? IRF?

  91. You could quote the bio in the book you were supposedly reviewing. That would be the obvious possibility.

    BTW, I have no idea what union if any he belongs to but being a member of the RA means nothing– David Weiss Halivni is still a member of the RA to the best of my knowledge.

    Seems like you tried to pick a fight with the guy and weren’t expecting to get hit back hard. Why review a book that’s over a year old? Is this your attempted revenge for him having taken on R’HS last year? Sad, if you ask me.

  92. Having started a major non-denminational yeshiva doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the Conservative movement to me. Anyway. Good Shabbos.

  93. I heard that his shoes have 13 holes that need to be laced. Obviously, he isn’t orthodox.

    You sound like children.

  94. emma on August 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Jon, you have a penchant for dismissive comments that assume that whatever flaw you observe is self-evident. In this case, it is not (to me). (There, I admit to being among the useless unknowledgeable ppl in your book, I guess.) Care to elaborate?


    Well not quite – I happen to respect your opinions generally. Indeed, you’d only make it into my book of useless unknowledgable people if you were so wrong on this particular issue that you went and wrote… well what R. Held wrote. Or something as comprehensively incorrect (and obfuscatory).

    I certainly would care to elaborate. I don’t have time right this moment though. It will take quite a while to go through every single thing he said, and illustrate exactly *how* it was either a response to a straw man or just not correct. I mean, just note that he managed to write like 4 pages in response to a paragraph. That alone should indicate whether or not what he said is of any value. Overall, it seems to me that he only bothered responding so that he could pick a fight and draw more attention to himself and his institution.

    R. Gil: I’m disappointed. You went down EXACTLY the wrong route in refuting him. Whether or not he’s Conservative doesn’t actually matter for the purposes of what you wrote, which is exactly why he started talking about it. If I were you, I would have focused on how he didn’t actually respond to any of your criticism, while managing to sound like a pompous jerk in the process. (Oh, really? Natural Law is a *technical philosophical term* that, I suppose, mere mortals can’t use without an accompanying genealogy? Good to know.)

  95. Jon from Brooklyn: who know you were such a Talmid Chacham– you have bekius in R. Bachya, the Rambam, the Maharal, Rabbi Amital, etc.? Where’s do you get such bekius? And yes, it’s a scandal that someone raises doubts about whether the Rosh yeshiva at Mir is a natural law theorist, or questions whether someone might be using a term they don’t understand; pointing that out makes R. Held a “pompous jerk”? Please. Seems to me he responded to every one of R. Student’s criticisms, and then some. Oh and by the way, writing 4 pages in response to a paragraph is standard in both Jewish and philosophical writing. You’re so blinded by incoherent hatred that you actually make no sense. What’s funny is that the same arguments could and would have been made by countless Jewish thinkers, but because R. Held runs Hadar, he just *has* to be wrong, doesn’t he? You just look ridiculous.

  96. Chaim: The natural law issue is irrelevant. The point is that R. Held failed to explain why gratitude leads to what he says it does, not that natural law has to be the reason (although I could have listed philosophy professors and Rav Hutner, as well). He completely ignores this point and continues talking about gratitude preceding obligation without addressing the main complaint people have against Rabbeinu Bachya — whence gratitude? I think I first heard this objection from R. Aryeh Klapper but it is fairly standard. Pointing to Rav Dessler’s restatement of Rabbeinu Bachya doesn’t address this side-question in any way.

    And all his talk about obligations beyond halakhah are misleading because my first objection is that he takes the result of gratitude in a different direction than those who preceded him. The second objection is that he claims that chesed is not an obligation which in his response he half retracts and half continues. His claims about meta-commandments like those the Ramban advocates are halakhic, as quoted by dozens of poskim. And Rabbeinu Bachya is talking about obligated beliefs and mussar. Why R. Held discusses teshuvah is beyond me, since everyone agrees that it is a halakhah. And whoever said that everything is halakhah? Not me.

  97. And addressing him as Conservative was not intended as hatred in any way. I would have called him Conservadox, Orthative or whatever he wants if I had known his affiliation. The book didn’t mention anyone’s affiliation but I thought it was important background for readers so i had to figure it out. He has JTS ordination, was Conservative chaplain at Harvard and is writing a book about the theology of Heschel. The idea that I used it to dismiss his chapter is ridiculous because I praised R. Cosgrove (Conservative) and R. Moffic (Reform) because I found their work impressive.

  98. Jon: You are right that I shouldn’t respond to the point about Conservative but I take great offense at it. This is probably the only Orthodox blog that quotes Cnservative rabbis. I’ve hosted guest posts (including one that got R. David Wolpe quoted in Yated!) and excerpts from Rabbis Heschel, Wolpe, Jacobs, Goldin and others. The reason I even agreed to review this book (the review was supposed to be for publication but the magazine shlepped and shlepped so I withdrew it) was because I respect R. Cosgrove. I read his doctoral dissertation from cover to cover.

  99. Rabbi Student,

    I still think you’re missing a lot: Rabbi held’s essay is based on a reading of the Guide of the Perplexed 3:53, which can be read as gratitude leads to hesed. If I remember correctly, that’s how R. D. Hartman interprets it in Torah and Philosophic Quest.

    Also, Rav Dessler isn’t just re-stating Bachya. He explicitly links gratitude to chesed by means of vehalakhta biderachav and tselem elokim. If you’re upset with R. Held on that point, you’re really criticizing the Rambam (I think) and Rav dessler (definitely).

    Also, if there’s a problem with R. Bachya’s theology– whence gratitude?– I don’t think R. Shmuelovitch solves it for you. Calling something natural law isn’t really an answer. I bet R. Bachya (and Rabbi Held, for that matter) would say that if you don’t feel grateful to God for life, there’s something wrong with you. If R. Shmuelovitch is natural law, so is R. Bachya.

  100. I think R. Held is clear about chesed in his response: he thinks acts of chesed are an obligation, but says that Jewish writers have been ambiguous about whether working on middot leading to chesed is Halakha or an obligation that goes beyond Halakha. He brings down Rabbi Amital, Rav Kook, and Maharal, and says they’re more radical in that they’re conflicted about whether calling chesed a duty is a good thing. I don’t see any retraction here. It’s all pretty clear if you’re not reading in gotcha’ mode.

  101. Chaim: R. Held’s essay is not based on Moreh 3:53. It begins with it to define chesed and state that God does chesed. I did not address that part of the essay. I criticized the next steps which are not based on the Moreh.

    I don’t recall that part of Rav Dessler’s essay but even if it does say exactly that, so what? If R. Held wanted to write something with the level of rigor of drush, like Rav Dessler, then all he had to say in response was that he was writing a drush. I thought he was trying to write serious theology.

    R. Shmuelevitch does solve the problem with R. Bachya’s argument, although it is a debatable solution. Your response (“if you don’t feel grateful, there’s something wrong with you”) is circular and beside the point. Why is gratitude expected?

  102. he thinks acts of chesed are an obligation, but says that Jewish writers have been ambiguous about whether working on middot leading to chesed is Halakha or an obligation that goes beyond Halakha

    Where do you see that in the original article?

  103. R. Student: the next steps are, according to many Rambam scholars, a crucial piece of what the Rambam is driving at. I would think that’s what R. Held means when he links 3:53 and 1:54. Again, read R. Hartman.

    I don’t think Rav Dessler is just drush. It’s more like psychology– he thinks that if you feel genuine gratitude, you will be pulled to give, to become like the Giver. That’s not drush– it’s a description of what it’s like to feel grateful.

    The issue with gratitude is that you can’t argue for it. Either you feel it or you don’t (which chazal would call kfui todah). In a similar style, look at Yesodei HaTorah 2:2– the Rambam isn’t arguing there, he’s describing. A lot of serious theology begins not from arguments but from experiences and feelings. I assume you’ve read the Lonely Man of Faith? “I am lonely” is not an argument. That’s how theology works. Maybe not medieval theology, but a lot (maybe most) of modern theology.

    Anyway, I’m going on vacation. It’s been nice talking to you. I still don’t see anything in R. Held’s essay that is in any way outside the game of very traditional Jewish theology.

  104. If that is the case, R. Held did not make that clear in any way. I don’t have Hartman’s book but will try to take a look.

    Rav Dessler is a hodge podge of drush, kabbalah/chassidus and other things. Inspiring and thought-provoking. I don’t know anyone who takes it seriously beyond that.

    R. Held seemed to me to be making an argument, just one that contradicted various statements by Chazal and Rishonim.

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