R Yitzhak Ajzner / Beit Hillel recently released a responsum addressing the question of inviting a non-orthodox Jew for a Shabbat meal, knowing that it is likely that the guest will desecrate Shabbat if he comes. This publication, which permitted and even encouraged such an invitation, with certain crucial qualifications, aroused much public debate, including a discussion in the Hirhurim-Musings blog (link). In deference of the important participants and readers of this forum, I would like to offer further background to this responsum, explaining Beit Hillel’s Halachic approach, paying attention to the uniqueness of Beit Hillel’s methodology for making Halachic rulings, and finally giving further background to the particular Shabbat-guest responsum.

Beit Hillel's Approach to Halacha

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Beit Hillel – Traditional Yet Revitalized Approach to Halacha

Guest post by R. Yitzhak Ajzner

Rav Yitzhak Ajzner came on Aliya from Australia immediately after high school. He spent 10 years in education in Israel, in various positions ranging from a school principal to a teacher at the Hesder Yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim. He also served as a community rabbi for a few years. He currently works as a software engineer, and is a member of the Beit Midrash for Halacha of Beit Hillel.

Beit Hillel recently released a responsum addressing the question of inviting a non-Orthodox Jew for a Shabbat meal, knowing that it is likely that the guest will desecrate Shabbat if he comes. This publication, which permitted and even encouraged such an invitation, with certain crucial qualifications, aroused much public debate, including a discussion in the Hirhurim-Musings blog (link). In deference to the important participants and readers of this forum, I would like to offer further background to this responsum, explaining Beit Hillel’s Halachic approach, paying attention to the uniqueness of Beit Hillel’s methodology for making Halachic rulings, and finally giving further background to the particular Shabbat-guest responsum.

Beit Hillel’s Halachic Approach

Beit Hillel is fervently and totally committed to Halacha, the Orthodox tradition, and the rigorous methodology of studying the sources from the Talmud, via the Geonim, Rishonim, Aharonim and Poskim; carefully weighing the various opinions on the background of the issue at hand, bearing in mind the nature of the period of time.

Beit Hillel leans to a holistic approach. While one can find Halachic rulings which will emphasize certain traditional values, while paying less regard to other central Torah tenets, Beit Hillel will attempt to bring all concerns to the table. To use the responsum under discussion as an example, every desecration of the Shabbat is considered a tragedy by each and every one of those who gave their agreement to the psak. However, the general state of Am Yisrael, with the majority of Jews uncommitted to Halacha, and families split between observers and non-observers, is no less tragic, and is a full participant among the issues weighed.

Beit Hillel would never approve of leniency on any Torah value or Halacha in a void.But when value stands against value, it is the very essence of the Oral Torah, and the duty of the rabbinic leaders of each generation to evaluate and weigh the issues, using their moral compass, common sense and precedence to favor one Torah value over another.

This is reminiscent of the famed story attributed to Rav Chaim of Brisk. There are many versions, but they all have Rav Chaim instructing Jews with health concerns to eat and drink on Yom Kippur. When confronted by a colleague about his leniency on the laws of the solemn fast, Rav Chaim famously retorted: “I am not being lenient about the laws of Yom Kippur; on the contrary: I am being strict about the laws of guarding one’s life.”

Beit Hillel is not lenient, Heaven forbid, on the laws of Shabbat; on the contrary it is strict about the laws of guarding one’s fellow Jew’s spiritual life, family harmony, and the unity of Am Yisrael.

Beit Hillel’s Methodology

Beit Hillel is currently comprised of approximately 170 Rabbanim and Rabbaniyot, the vast majority leading communities or holding key Yeshiva/Midrasha roles, including several Rashei Yeshiva, who share the ideology of an enlightened, inclusive Judaism, whose “ways are pleasant”; and are committed to presenting what they consider to be the genuine face of Judaism to the public, sophisticated, nuanced and sensitive to the needs of the era.

All of the members are invited to participate in the Beit Midrash Ha-Hilchati (Halachic study forum). This forum meets about every 2 months (according to need) for roughly 5 or 6 hour sessions, to study and discuss pressing Halachic issues of weighty and significant public concern, towards publicizing responsa. Critical sources are sent to participants before convening, so they are well versed and prepared for the conference. A symposium will typically include a lecture by renowned experts on the topic at hand, who present different angles of the subject. This will often be followed by an in depth lecture by one of the Beit Hillel members on pertinent aspects of the question. The symposium is typified by lively and energetic discussion throughout the proceedings, and will end with debate over the decisions to be made, and when necessary will determine how to investigate matters further.

These meetings are invariably followed by further extensive deliberations by the Beit Midrash forum via email.

After decisions are reached, a draft is made up by one of the members, which is submitted to the Beit Midrash forum for comment and often extensive debate. This process will continue until a consensus is reached.

Once the Beit Midrash forum agrees on a document that reflects their proceedings and decisions, the document will be submitted to the wider Beit Hillel forum by email, giving the entire group the opportunity to offer new insights or point out issues or sources overlooked.

As is readily apparent, this is an unprecedented method of developing a responsum. The result is a paper which has been critically examined and weighed by some of the best minds that Religious Zionist rabbinic leadership has to offer. The entire spectrum of Halachic concerns, from texts to social issues is thrashed out and taken into account. The shared responsibility affords the decision substantial authority and validity.

Inviting A Non-Orthodox Jew For A Shabbat Meal Responsum

This particular topic was the product of several sessions, and particularly lengthy debate. All the members fully appreciated the gravity of what we had embarked upon, and it was with great trepidation that pen was finally put to paper. Our hearts genuinely and sincerely cried out “Shabbos!!“

At the same time, however, we all know of, and most of us have witnessed or even participated in the magical effect that the Shabbat meal atmosphere has upon our non-observant brethren, and how often this experience can ignite a return to tradition. Furthermore, we have all heard of the heart breaking stories of families torn apart by non-observant members becoming estranged by their observant brothers, who want nothing more than to share their spiritual wealth, but are held back for fear of desecrating Shabbat.

Yes, our moral compasses and our understanding of the big picture of Halachic Torah, instructed us that if it is possible to allow the healing of family rifts, and make a contribution to bringing alienated Jews back to their roots, then it is incumbent upon us, to find that way. But this was by no means a case of making a decision in advance, and finding the sources to justify it afterwards. The sources were exhaustively studied and debated, until the required consensus was reached that indeed there is firm Halachic precedent and instruction to permit and even encourage inviting guests to Shabbat meals; as clearly spelt out in the sources and elucidation which follow the body of the responsum (link).

Conclusion

Beit Hillel seeks to provide a balanced and socially sensitive approach to Halacha and public affairs, while zealously remaining well rooted within Halachic tradition. It has adapted a democratic and inclusive methodology which lends it authority and a prominent position in the public discourse. The responsum allowing and even encouraging the invitation of non-observant guests for a Shabbat meal, with the detailed caveats, is a prime example of the implementation of Beit Hillel’s policies; and the resulting lively and positive public discourse which followed pays tribute to the success Ribono Shel Olam has blessed us with, until this point.

About Yitzhak Ajzner

72 comments

  1. The shmonei esrai on shabbos morning states that shabbos was not given to goyim or idol worshippers and non-circumsized should not be resting there. It is only for the Jewish people which shabbos was given because they were chosen.
    All this doesnt seem like one should be sharing the shabbos with goyim.

  2. “Beit Hillel is currently comprised of approximately 170 rabbanim and rabbaniyot, the vast majority leading communities or holding key Yeshiva/Midrasha roles”

    Rabbaniyot? I assume that this does not refer to rebetzins as in rabbis’ wives, but to the fact that you espouse that women can be Orthodox rabbis in the same way that men can be. I’m not sure if you’re aware that this would render your organization not legitimately Orthodox according to the vast majority of the Orthodox camp in both the USA and Israel.

  3. It’s actually something interesting I noticed in their last pamphlet, in the list of all the members: The men are all “HaRav,” but the women vary- they can be “Dr.” or “Orechet Din” (a proper title in Israel), but every woman who doesn’t have a title is “Rabbanit.” Now: Is every one really married to a rav? Not necessarily! In which case, a nice solution to women’s titles may have been found by default.

    Meanwhile, the chardal vs. DL fight is getting vicious.

  4. They have done a great deal of good in a very short period of time, both in terms of re-establishing frayed ties with the lay community and in establishing some sense of professionalism within the Israeli Rabbinate.

    Not certain how the model might apply in the Diaspora, or more precisely the American Diaspora. If anything, the criticism of them is that they are attempting to develop an Episcopalian approach to relations between the lay community and the Rabbinate, much like the British United Synagogue model of the Chief Rabbi’s Office. Hear hear. Sounds marvelous.

    I have seen them succeed in bringing more than 650 Tel Avivians to shul regularly on chagim, worth their weight in gold for that accomplishment alone.

  5. Yitzhak Ajzner

    Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.
    The term “Rabbanit” is not intended to be the female version of the title “Rav”.
    This title has become accepted to refer to women in the field of Torah education, irrespective of the status of their husband.
    Beit Hillel benefits from the scholarship of many such rabbaniyot; and it is my experience that their insights and perspectives are invaluable and indispensable.

  6. Bravo to R. Ajzner and Beit Hillel for striving to bring the beauty of serious and meaningful Jewish living to those who have yet to engage with it. We need more of these brave efforts.

  7. OK, we’ve got a problem here. That previous comment was not posted by me.

  8. Problem solved. Thank you Nachum #2 for changing your user name.

  9. Am I the only uncomfortable that non-halakhic scholars have a voice in reaching halakhic decisions? Of course, it all depends on the detailed workings of the group, which are not entirely clear to me. But it would never occur to me to bring together people without halakhic expertise to decide an halakhic issue, unless as advisors.

  10. Gil, you are not alone. Notwithstanding whether I agree with the p’sak (I do), I am bothered by two points in the article. First, “Beit Hillel is currently comprised of approximately 170 rabbanim … who share the ideology of an enlightened, inclusive Judaism, whose “ways are pleasant.”” The implication is that if one does not agree with Beit Hillel’s procedural method at arriving at halachic decisions (I do not), the person is not enlightened and does not believe in an inclusive Judaism (whatever that means) and does not hold that the ways of Torah are pleasant. Second, Beit Hillel says that it “has adapted a democratic and inclusive methodology.” I was not aware that the way to pasken was to count the hands in the room when the hands, as Gil points out, are not always attached to experts in the field (so Rav Ovadia’s methodology is not implicated).

  11. “non-halakhic scholars have a voice”
    “bring together people without halakhic expertise”

    where do you see that? (or, what level of expertise do you demand?)

  12. ““Beit Hillel is currently comprised of approximately 170 rabbanim … who share the ideology of an enlightened, inclusive Judaism, whose “ways are pleasant.”” The implication is that if one does not agree with Beit Hillel’s procedural method at arriving at halachic decisions (I do not), the person is not enlightened and does not believe in an inclusive Judaism (whatever that means) and does not hold that the ways of Torah are pleasant.”

    technically, this is a fallacy: “all members of beit hillel are X” does not mean “all X are members of beit hillel.”

  13. Rabbi Ajzner, thanks for the response. If I may ask for a clarification: does Beit Hillel support, or take any stance on, the issue of a woman serving as rabbi of a shul or of a community- regardless of what title she goes by, but serving the exact same function as a community rabbi? In other words, do you support the idea of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s Yeshivat Maharat?

  14. Hi Emma,
    Respectfully, I think you missed my point. I wasn’t talking about people who are not members of the group. I was talking about people that don’t agree with the methodology at arriving at psak halacha. The implication is that those who do not believe in a democratic approach to psak are not enlightened etc. On that point, I believe that R. Ajzner has gone too far.

  15. Right. There is nothing about saying “our members think X” that means “no one who is not a member thinks x.” You want him to make explcitly clear that “our members are a subset of ppl who think X and also agree with our methodology”?

    I know I am being a bit pedantic, in that something can be “implied” despite not being a logical derivative of what was actually stated. But I really don’t think that’s what has happened here.

  16. Is the above view of inviting a non-O Jew to shabbos somewhat similar to Chabad’s view?

  17. Fotheringay-Phipps

    Even if this approach to psak were valid – which I don’t think it is – BH will have bigger problems.

    Their approach will tend to attract people who are primarily looking to reform halacha in certain preconceived ways, who will eventually dominate the group and redirect the movement (assuming it’s not just a form of reform to begin with).

  18. Their approach will tend to attract people who are primarily looking to reform halacha in certain preconceived ways, who will eventually dominate the group and redirect the movement (assuming it’s not just a form of reform to begin with).

    Ah yes. That old slippery slope. As if the Chasam Sofer’s “Chadash Assur min ha’Torah” wasn’t an innovation with its own such slippery slope.

  19. I second both of Emma’s points. Gil, can you point to where in the essay it states that they elicit opinions from people without halachic expertise? Steve, the essay does not in any way infer that anyone who disagrees with their methodology is not enlightened and does not hold of darchei noam. It just states that these are ideals that B”H holds particularly dear. The “About” page of this blog states “The Hirhurim-Musings blog is intended only for the interchange of ideas for the purpose of Torah study, promoting enlightened public policy and/or the refinement of character.” That doesn’t imply that the other blogs are for unenlightened boors.

    I will admit that the wording of the essay does seem to imply that there are some out there who B”H would find unenlightened and not in keeping with darchei noam. If you need a concrete example, please see the post above which accuses B”H of being a “form of reform”.

  20. Yaakov N — What is your view of R. Norman Lamm’s view:

    At the same time, things have to be done gradually. To have a woman learn Gemara a generation or two ago like women learn Gemara today would have been too revolutionary. But with time, things change; time answers a lot of questions, erodes discomfort, and helps. So my answer, when I was asked by a reporter about what I think about women rabbis, was, basically: “It’s going too fast.” I did not say it was wrong, I did not say it was right. It just has not paced itself properly. I was criticized, of course. People asked, “You mean that al pi din they’re allowed to become rabbis?” My response: “I don’t know — are you sure they’re not allowed to?”

    Are you, Yaakov N, sure they’re not allowed to?

  21. interesting idea…worthy of thought and discussion.crowdsourcing halacha.
    crowdsourcing: The general concept is to combine the efforts of crowds of volunteers or part-time workers, where each one could contribute a small portion, which adds into a relatively large or significant result.

    another reason why this could be important: it has been shown -proven?- that under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. also, groups do not need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart. its called the “wisdom of crowds”.

    whether this works with halacha is open to debate.

  22. Ruvie — Is your 2nd day of Chag for Americans in Israel example from previous discussions an example of such halacha crowdsourcing?

  23. IH – good question. i think that is more of a behavior pattern or similar to the rabbinic notion that the “hamon am” have a halachik intuition that plays a role in defining or deciding halacha , at times.

    crowdsourcing would happen before a result or decision is made and not the decision of many creates a crowdsourcing event.

  24. Crowdsourcing halakhah is done here: http://judaism.stackexchange.com/

  25. IH- Bottom line, R. Lamm is opposed to what Rabbi Weiss has done (“it’s going too fast”). His agnostic and moderate reasons for his opposition are hardly an endorsement of women rabbis. It’s not relevant “lemaaseh” that he’s not sure in terms of the future. We are living in the present, in which he is opposed. Also see this, from a 1997 article:

    http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/5932/orthodox-women-moving-toward-religious-leadership/

    “Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University, opposes ordaining women.

    ‘It shakes the boundaries of tradition, and I would never allow it,’ said Lamm.”

    R. Lamm has given no indication that he has gone back on that view. He just apparently told an interviewer that he’s not so confident in that view that he’s willing to say that the other side is for sure wrong.

    Either way, the overwhelming consensus of poskim and the Orthodox establishment have indeed declared with certainty their opposition.

  26. R. Lamm is essentially advocating the same position as R. Chaim Navon: https://www.torahmusings.com/2013/01/conservative-orthodoxy/

  27. Gil – is beit hilel any different than an other organization like a moetzes that comes out with an halachik ruling – they all seem to have the same haskafa (each individual org.) so maybe crowdsourcing may not be the correct term but a type of.

    also, beit hillel seems to have some qualifications to the level of knowledge to join vs mi yodea which seems to be a free for all and anonymous (but maybe useful for gaining knowledge before asking a rabbi, i have no idea).
    are people disturb because women are involved in halachik decision making? is that the background issue when someone says “reform”?
    otherwise, what is the issue with methodology if the wisdom of crowds is a viable alternative?

  28. Yaakov N — It is precisely the change in R. Lamm’s statements between 1997 and 2010 that is my point.

    In 1997, per your reference, he says: “It shakes the boundaries of tradition, and I would never allow it” and a mere 13 years later, he said “I don’t know — are you sure they’re not allowed to?”

    You seem to be so sure, however, that you’re using the single issue as the litmus test of this new organization’s validity. Or, have I misunderstood your comments thus far?

  29. Fotheringay-Phipps

    IH: “Ah yes. That old slippery slope.”

    No, it’s not about a slippery slope.

    Please reread what I wrote.

  30. ruvie: Being knowledgeable about Judaism does not mean being accomplished in halakhah. There are multiple areas of specialization for Jewish scholars.

  31. what leads you to believe members are, in fact, specialists in those other areas to the exclusion of halacha? what level of accomplishment in halacha do you think is required? more than that of a rabbanut musmach with a pulpit? we are not talking (so far) about radical psakim that require “broad shoulders,” so much as consensus decisions of what amounts to a professional organization.

  32. as i understand it, the women’s leadership issue has a different valence in israel. it is not clear to me why rabbi lamm’s assessment is relevant there in either direction.

  33. Because it includes rabbaniyot, whom I assume are not trained in practical halakhic decision-making.

  34. Crowdsourcing for many subjects is an excellent idea. For example if one should have an internet. Rabbis have banned it. There is absolutely nothing in halacha against it. There are many such so called ‘daas torah’ today which have nothing to do with religion. Why should a rabbi have more knowledge than the rest of us about it. If anything they have a lot less personal knowledge and have to rely on what they are told.

  35. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method

    The Delphi method (pron.: /ˈdɛlfaɪ/ DEL-fy) is a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts

    Of course the question that R’HS always focuses on is who gets to vote?

    I aways wonder whether poskim benefit from all the thinking that’s out there before giving a psak.
    KT

  36. Emma — I’m perplexed. The comment to which I responded asked the author of this post: “In other words, do you support the idea of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s Yeshivat Maharat?”

  37. joel rich – the point of “wisdom of the crowd” is that they are not experts yet they come up with a more accurate answer/solution than the single best expert. its counter intuitive. whether this can be applied to halachik decision making with knowledgeable torah educators/lamdanim/even ry is the crux of the question.

  38. ruvie — clearly, the knowledge base of the crowd is pretty crucial here, and, in fact, is part of what folks are concerned with, no?

  39. ADCWonk – no, that is the point.
    see: the wisdom of crowds by james suroweicki

    The book relates to diverse collections of independently deciding individuals, rather than crowd psychology as traditionally understood. Its central thesis, that a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts, draws many parallels with statistical sampling, but there is little overt discussion of statistics in the book

    Based on Surowiecki’s book, Oinas-Kukkonen[3] captures the wisdom of crowds approach with the following eight conjectures:

    It is possible to describe how people in a group think as a whole.
    In some cases, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.
    The three conditions for a group to be intelligent are diversity, independence, and decentralization.
    The best decisions are a product of disagreement and contest.
    Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.
    Information aggregation functionality is needed.
    The right information needs to be delivered to the right people in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way.
    There is no need to chase the expert.
    summary:
    http://www.squeezedbooks.com/articles/the-wisdom-of-crowds.html

  40. I’m not convinced that “the wisdom of the crowds” applies to things that are extremely technical. Nor am I convinced that Beit Hillel’s approach mirrors that described in the book. You wouldn’t have a crowd-sourced discussion on, say, whether a complicated math proof is valid or not, e.g.

    After all, the second conjecture you listed starts with the words: “In some cases…”

  41. r’ ruvie,
    Hence “a panel of experts”. The question is who qualifies. One benefit is that “experts are anonymous through the process and can change their minds easily based on the feedback/reasoning of others.

    Anonymity of the participants

    Usually all participants remain anonymous. Their identity is not revealed, even after the completion of the final report. This prevents the authority, personality, or reputation of some participants from dominating others in the process. Arguably, it also frees participants (to some extent) from their personal biases, minimizes the “bandwagon effect” or “halo effect”, allows free expression of opinions, encourages open critique, and facilitates admission of errors when revising earlier judgments.

    [edit] Structuring of information flow

    The initial contributions from the experts are collected in the form of answers to questionnaires and their comments to these answers. The panel director controls the interactions among the participants by processing the information and filtering out irrelevant content. This avoids the negative effects of face-to-face panel discussions and solves the usual problems of group dynamics.

    KT

  42. IH – yes, this one issue would be a litmus test of Orthodoxy for me. Let’s not overly Talmudically analyze Rabbi Lamm’s view – he’s just one person, albeit a great thinker, but not a posek (nor does he claim to be). And either way, we can’t glean whether or not he considers this a litmus test of Orthodoxy or not, since he simply never discusses that issue. So why bother guessing. I’m basing myself on the general view of the Orthodox establishment. And I agree with the statement of Agudath Israel that on this one issue we are indeed certain, that it is indeed a litmus test of Orthodoxy.

  43. When there is doubt as to what the halacha is, the Gemora sometimes says “puk chazi,” such as in what bracha to make on water. But that concept doesn’t establish halacha, it just verifies what the halacha is. Ifg most people make a shehakol, then that’s what bracha applies. It seems that BH is using a similar approach-gather many people (I’m sure educated and learned) and ask them to help establish halacha, without letting us know that each participant is an expert in the field. It just seems to me that that this is not the way that chazal intended halacha be established. The instant question is whether one can be the cause of a particular chilul shabbos. That is a halachik question that must be answered by trained poskim. If that is what is happening in BH, I have no objection. But the process as described leaves me in doubt.

  44. actually it sounds to me like most (all?) of the ppl in BH are the type of ppl who would be asked questions like “can i invite my nonreligious cousin for shabbat” independently. and with a non-radical question like that, would be expected to answer rather than say “go ask another posek.” given that, it seems like a good thing that they are talking about it with each other and studying in depth rather than each left to his own, no?

  45. Gil –
    Thanks. Now I think I understand. If I understand correctly, the lack of expertise you are concerned about is not lack of knowledge on the topic, but rather lack of experience in using that knowledge to issue a psak. Interestingly, the system as it exists of course perpetuates that status quo as women of course have no way of gaining that experience in the Orthodox setting. That said, if this is psak by committee – arrived at by a give and take more so than by simple vote, it is likely that those who have experience with making a psak will compensate for those who do not, and the valued opinions of those who may have a unique perspective and may have extensive expertise on the topic will still be heard. More importantly, if B”H has “showed their work” (as many of my former math teachers were fond of saying), why can’t the opinion be judged based on the merits of their work rather than on the relative experience (in the area of issuing a psak) of each individual involved in making that decision?

  46. crowdsourcing: The general concept is to combine the efforts of crowds of volunteers or part-time workers, where each one could contribute a small portion, which adds into a relatively large or significant result.

    Brings to mind the Sanhedrin…

    Crowdsourcing halakhah is done here: http://judaism.stackexchange.com/

    I don’t think anyone there sees him/herself as innovating halacha, only as reporting and linking to what others have written.
    (On hashkafah, people there feel more free to advance their own ideas)

  47. “Because it includes rabbaniyot, whom I assume are not trained in practical halakhic decision-making.”

    (1) you assume
    (2) are all men with smicha so trained?

    i was giving you the benefit of the doubt that you had some criteria other than gender here – say that many ppl who get smicha and go on to be shul rabbis are not so interested in halacha per se. i actually agree that learned women are less likely to be trained in “practical psak” than otherwise-equivalently learned men. But I would think it would behoove you to find out about either the women in question or their institutions of learning before making unequivocal statements like “non-halakhic scholars have a voice in reaching halakhic decisions.”

  48. emma: I agree. Not all rabbis should be in such a committee either. But I have no specific information on the rabbis in this committee from this post.

  49. Gil — and if there were woman trained in practical halakhic decision-making, would you object?

  50. IH: No

  51. Move over “Eidah” here comes Beit Hillel. Oh, I forgot, is Eidah still around?

    There will always be those who want to explore the envelope. That does not mean that the mainstream has to accept or validate their efforts.

    The problem is that at times those who explore the envelope become frustrated with the lack of acceptance of their conclusions and drift beyond Orthodoxy.

  52. without specific information on the rabbis, or on the women (other than assumptions) it seems to me your concerns are valid but need to be couched as hypotheticals and/or as needing more information on membership criteria, not as statements of fact.

  53. Gil — fair enough. So, the question that should be posed is what standard of training in practical halakhic decision-making will be required by Beit Hillel in selecting who can decide psak within the process described in the post.

    It’s a shame when reasonable critical questions like that are lost in the political noise that is already overwhelming the comments on this post.

  54. I don’t know that training is really the question. The issue is expertise in pesak (or pesikah, as they call it in Israel), which involves but is not limited to training.

  55. Gil — I was just using your words. Phrase it how you like, but articulate the critical question on objective issues of how psak should be decided, not on politics.

  56. ADCWonk- i may not saying it applies in the case of psak halacha. it may or may not (not qualified to judge). when i read the post i wonder whether the participants knew of crowdsourcing (who doesn’t know that buzz word but whether they thought its operative here and the wisdom of crowds. taken together it may create a pro argument for this.

    as to cases of necessary technical expertise: NASA concluded an online experiment that it called clickworkers, which was designed to test whether the collective judgement of ordinary people would be of any use finding and classifying craters on Mars. you could go to the site, undergo a short training session, and click away. the result was that the clickworkers’ collective judgement was “virtually indistinguishable” from that of “geologist with years of experience in identifying Mars craters.”

    maybe one can draw some lessons from this. maybe not. its just a thought that i think is worthy of asking R. Yitzhak Ajzner.

  57. I concur with R Gil’ comments to the extent that the same state that amateurs with no expertise should have no role in Psak Halacha.

  58. From the Beit Hillel website: “All members of Beit Hillel serve (or have served) in rabbinical positions or in teaching positions at post-high school institutions, and bring with them immense halakhic and spiritual training, as well as commitment and devotion to Beit Hillel’s goals.”

    From Rabbi Ajzner’s article: “This forum meets about every 2 months (according to need) for roughly 5 or 6 hour sessions, to study and discuss pressing Halachic issues of weighty and significant public concern, towards publicizing responsa. Critical sources are sent to participants before convening, so they are well versed and prepared for the conference. A symposium will typically include a lecture by renowned experts on the topic at hand, who present different angles of the subject. This will often be followed by an in depth lecture by one of the Beit Hillel members on pertinent aspects of the question. The symposium is typified by lively and energetic discussion throughout the proceedings, and will end with debate over the decisions to be made, and when necessary will determine how to investigate matters further.

    These meetings are invariably followed by further extensive deliberations by the Beit Midrash forum via email.

    After decisions are reached, a draft is made up by one of the members, which is submitted to the Beit Midrash forum for comment and often protest. This process will continue until a consensus is reached.

    Once the Beit Midrash forum agrees on a document that reflects their proceedings and decisions, the document will be submitted to the wider Beit Hillel forum by email, giving the entire group the opportunity to offer new insights or point out issues or sources overlooked.

    As is readily apparent, this is an unprecedented method of developing a responsum. The result is a paper which has been critically examined and weighed by some of the best minds that Religious Zionist rabbinic leadership has to offer. The entire spectrum of Halachic concerns, from texts to social issues is thrashed out and taken into account. The shared responsibility affords the decision substantial authority and validity.”

  59. These are not amateurs. These are not amei ha’aretz. They are well informed in halacha. They do their homework and their due diligence on these issues.

    If your concern is – as Gil says – that the women lack experience in psak, the majority of the participants are men who have that experience. Decision by committee erases that inadequacy and allows for other valued points of view.

    If you do not agree with their opinion, attack their reasoning, not their credentials.

    If on the other hand, your issue is that you are not comfortable with women serving in this capacity, then say that and be done with it.

  60. Many of you are showing an American diaspora bias, and a shameful one. There are many Toenet Rabbanut who are vastly more qualified to appear and argue before Bet Din than 98% of the standard pulpit semicha, and I say that as their adversary in almost all circumstances as the fathers rights group executive committee. But they are generally of excellent caliber, and I now proudly count at least of my own daughters in their midst. Penina Neuwirth could run rings around any Bet Din in the USA today. Uvda.
    Whatever objections we have, and Lord knows they are countless, the professional capabilities and qualifications of the Toenot Rabbabut is not high on the list. Stateside, you still permit women whose sole qualification is that they sleep with the Rabbi an undue influence with the women in their communities. As you develop a professional cadre of Toenet Rabbanut that will move closer to the normative Israeli approach of meritocracy.

  61. GPickholz – Not that I know anything about Israeli to’anot, but I am certainly glad to say that the to’anim I know of are not regarded as poskim by anyone. Using all means available to win a case for a client has very little to do with paskening halacha.

  62. J-
    My how envy the ability to share your beliefs about impartiality of rabbis. It must be nice.
    To quote Rav ben Dahan when head of the Batei Din in Israel, now MK Ben Dahan, “there is no such thing as a neutral Rav nor posek any more than there is a neutral attorney representing both sides of a dispute. All play an important role in the Bet Din process, but all represent one side alone.”

  63. “All members of Beit Hillel serve (or have served) in rabbinical positions or in teaching positions at post-high school institutions, and bring with them immense halakhic and spiritual training, as well as commitment and devotion to Beit Hillel’s goals.”

    From experience with others, “teaching positions at post-high school institutions” is not much of an indication of either great scholarly aptitude or a full, healthy sense of yirat shamayim.

    Of course I cannot speak for the individuals involved here.

    “there is no such thing as a neutral Rav nor posek any more than there is a neutral attorney representing both sides of a dispute. All play an important role in the Bet Din process, but all represent one side alone.”

    Is the appropriate comparison to an attorney, or to a judge?

  64. its interesting to see how dl community (my assumption here) approaches or tries new innovative ideas in israel and how the reaction of the mo community here is mostly of suspicion and doubt or worse (attacking credibility by calling them reform). they have confidence in who they are and don’t look over their shoulders like the americans do.

    it would be interesting to know the makeup of the 170 people (olim or israelis by birth) and who follows them (or their objective audience). i also wonder if young israelis really care for this (either they call their ry or figure it themselves like so many other things). most interesting will be the influence on the halachik intuition of the community (not puk chazi as steve b. described) and its future practices.

  65. Shlomo –
    I don’t disagree. But they also self describe themselves as bringing with them “immense halakhic and spiritual training”. Rabbi Azjner also makes clear that B”H is “committed to Halacha, the Orthodox tradition, and the rigorous methodology…”. I realize that none of this is a guarantee of quality, and I could understand politely questioning the credentials of those in the organization. I do not understand the assumptions that they are amateurs and that they have no halachic expertise. Further, it seems these assumptions are only presented because 1/6 of their membership are women. The implication is that if this were an all male organization, these assumptions would not be expressed, at least not in this way.

    If someone takes issue with their halachic conclusions, argue the merits of those conclusions. If the issue is discomfort with women serving in this capacity, then please say that.

  66. Present daf yomi 43a
    The gemoro wonders how dinim mentioned in one place in the morning could have been retold in another place far away.
    The gemoro answers that it was done through ‘yosef the demon’.
    Some take this literally. The ‘or zorua’ says it was done through some type of telephone (to another demon!) but not that he traveled the distance.
    The ‘meiri’ says it was done by a Jewish human person who did not keep shabbos and therefore called a ‘demon’.

    My answer would have been it was done by a non-Jew.

    It therefore would seem that they allowed ‘unorthodox’ Jews in their lectures on shabbos but not non-Jews.

  67. Aryeh Baer wrote in part:

    “From the Beit Hillel website: “All members of Beit Hillel serve (or have served) in rabbinical positions or in teaching positions at post-high school institutions, and bring with them immense halakhic and spiritual training, as well as commitment and devotion to Beit Hillel’s goals”

    I question whether the above is even close to what is called Shimush Etzel Gavrah Rabbah in knowing the ins and outs of Halacha.

  68. And that totally makes ok to assume they are amateurs with no halachic expertise.

  69. If someone takes issue with their halachic conclusions, argue the merits of those conclusions. If the issue is discomfort with women serving in this capacity, then please say that.

    A psak is not simply an academic paper which tries to prove a conclusion. It is also a statement of social agenda which aims for maximal acceptance and thereby authority. When it comes to a position paper released by Beit Hillel, I could imagine several objections. Some will be bothered by the fact that women are involved. Others, by the possibility that unqualified men could be involved. I just looked at the list of Beit Hillel members. Many familiar names. Many people, male and female, whom I deeply respect. But also at least one who is competent at his current job but I don’t really think is qualified to make policy at any higher level. Is the latest statement by Beit Hillel by him? I think it very unlikely that his voice would prevail against numerous more qualified and talented people in Beit Hillel. But I don’t know for sure. And I’m something of an insider. What about an outsider who is not aware of the qualifications of any of the members, who only knows that their conclusions seem a little provocative and their “rabbinic” membership includes women? That does not seem like a recipe for broad acceptance.

  70. On a lighter note:
    I would be very interested to be a “fly on the wall” in the internal Beit Hillel debates. To hear what they think are the considerations in each direction on difficult issues of halachic policy. Now, if only I were to forge a rabbinic identity…

  71. This post seems like nothing more than simple advertising; it provides no substantive information about the group, its members, its goals or its methodology.

    It’s mostly buzzwords and boosterism. Why is it posted here?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: