In Our heavenly voices: A response to Avrohom Gordimer, Judah Skoff attempts to launch a blistering attack on yours truly. The problem is that, due to an acute misunderstanding of the facts on the ground, Judah misfires big-time and aims at fictitious, imaginary positions. Furthermore, as Judah is Conservative, it strikes one as odd that he lectures to various Orthodox rabbis and institutions as to what proper Orthodoxy is.
Now, for the facts.
Judah writes: (The Rabbinical Council of America — RCA) went further in also rejecting the quasi-ordinations offered by seminaries for women such as Yeshivat Maharat. At Maharat, students follow a traditional course of rabbinical studies. However, instead of “Rabbi,” graduates are given the title of “Maharat,” a slightly awkward word which is an acronym in Hebrew for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, which means, “one who is a leader in Halakhah (Jewish Law), spirituality and Torah.
Incorrect: Yeshivat Maharat had already for years been issuing women full-fledged semicha (ordination) certificates, and it was already conferring upon women total rabbinic status and titles, way before the RCA resolution that bars its members from ordaining women and from hiring female clergy. Yeshivat Maharat’s program was in no way a mere “quasi-ordination”.
Judah writes: It (the RCA resolution) passed with only a small percentage of members actually voting.
Incorrect: An extremely large number of RCA members voted on this resolution. In fact, this resolution had the all-time highest number of voters in RCA history.
Judah writes: Although Gordimer has tried to make a big issue out of this, saying women’s ordination paves the way for them to serve as rabbinical judges in, what he sees, as a clear violation of Jewish law, it is important not to be side-tracked by this argument.
Incorrect: Ancient ordination was predicated upon the concept of being a rabbinical judge (v. Rambam/Maimonides – Hil. Sanhedrin/Laws of Sanhedrin ch. 4), and contemporary ordination is a carryover and reflection of the ancient status of rabbinical judge, as I explained in the latter part of this article, with complete source citations. Judah should please read what I wrote and not attribute to me that which I did not write.
Judah writes: For Gordimer, mesorah has theological implications, which are “eternal.” Mesorah, for him, is not simply a matter of familiar custom and practice but rather a body of laws which even most Orthodox Jews do not understand.
Truth: Yes, contrary to Judah’s contention, Mesorah indeed is not simply a matter of familiar custom and practice. Please read the chapter on Mesorah in Nefesh Ha-Rav, which makes this eminently clear, and is loaded with pertinent examples thereof. This is not merely the position of Rabbi Soloveitchik, but of all Torah scholars from time immemorial.
Judah writes: Gordimer makes a rather stunning admission: “a shockingly large number of our observances could be dismissed and discarded due to lack of apparently compelling source or halachic mandate,” but we do them because they are required by an authoritative tradition, a mesorah. In other words, there are any number of Jewish practices that are not specifically codified in Jewish law, but must be observed as if they were because of the tradition.
Truth: Yes, any Torah scholar knows that “there are any number of Jewish practices that are not specifically codified in Jewish law, but must be observed as if they were because of the tradition.” Judah is unaware of this basic axiom, yet he assails those who acknowledge it.
Judah writes: And who has the ability to explicate this mesorah which is “beyond our local perception”? Who has the “near-omniscient understanding of this eternal practice” of mesorah? To Gordimer, only the greatest and most learned rabbis of the day, the Torah Giants, the leading poskim, have the wisdom, knowledge, and prudence not only to make changes to tradition but also to fully understand it in the first place.
Truth: Yes, unbeknownst to Judah, according to halachic methodology, the preeminent Torah authorities and halachic adjudicators (poskim) of the generation are the ones who are charged with ruling on these and all other weighty issues in (Orthodox) Judaism.
We have seen enough. We get the picture.
Judah would do well to please go through the sources and gain a basic understanding of what Halacha is before lecturing to the public about it — and using inaccurate information in doing so.