Jewish Journal

Making Sure Judaism is Fair

by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

November 27, 2009 | 11:47 am

One of the tenets of Morethodoxy as I see it is finding as many and as wide a range of opportunities as possible within halacha for all Jews to engage in Judaism and connect to God.  In the case of women this means finding greater room for women’s leadership, women’s learning, women’s expression, and women’s teaching within Orthodoxy.  My collogue Rabbi Kanefsky has written that not finding enough room for women’s voices makes orthodoxy not only less palatable but less inspiring http://morethodoxy.org/2009/11/25/can-orthodoxy-get-better-market-share-part-2/  . 
I would like to go a bit farther.  I think it’s important we have women’s voices expressed in Jewish leadership, Jewish teaching and in guiding the Jewish people because women have a unique voice. Over half of the human population is female.  Isn’t it possible that if we only hear the voice of men in Torah and in leadership that perhaps we are missing something very basic?  Perhaps the way that Devorah led the Jewish people was not the same as the way Moses led the Jewish People?  Maybe both voices are essential in order to have a complete whole.

If such an approach requires leniencies then those are the places that leniency is appropriate.  As my colleague Barry Gelman has written http://morethodoxy.org/2009/11/10/being-machmir-stringent-about-being-meikil-lenient-%E2%80%93-rabbi-barry-gelman/  and as I have written http://morethodoxy.org/2009/07/31/the-importance-of-leniency-and-the-leniencies-that-come-from-being-strict-by-rabbi-hyim-shafner/ leniency can be a very important halachic factor and indeed a stronger one than strictness.  Indeed, often stricture creates leniencies we have not intended. 

Another reason that it is important we make room for women in Jewish leadership is that it is just not fair to say to 50% of the population, your talents cannot be used for holiness in every way.  In fact, we find this argument of “It is not fair” in the Torah itself.  “It is not fair” is a valid concern that was addressed by the highest levels of Jewish leadership. 

When the Jewish people are told of the mitzvah of Passover some come to Moses and say “We are impure. Our relative has passed away and we have had to bury them, and so cannot bring the Passover offering.  It is not fair!  Why should we miss out?”  Moses doesn’t know what to do when “it is not fair” is in conflict with the law that God has given.  So Moses turns to God and God responds –Let’s find a way; let’s make a second Passover for them.

Later on in the Torah when the Torah tells us that sons inherit the land of their fathers the daughters of Tzelofchod come to Moses, and they say “it is not fair.”  Our father had no sons.  Why should we have less?  Why should the land of our father go to someone else?  Again Moses is not sure what to do when the claim of “it is not fair” is in conflict with God’s law.  Moses turns to God and God says, “The daughters of Tzelofchod have spoken well.” Let the daughters of Tzlofchod inherit him. 

What an amazing Torah.  What religion of the ancient world held the concerns of the individual on such a high footing as to take seriously the claim, “it is not fair,” only the Torah which teaches that all humans are made in the image of God.

We are not Moses, but as the rabbis tell us the leaders of each generation must see themselves as Moses in his.  What do we do when the honor of Heaven is at stake?  If we will not get a direct answer from God as Moses did, it is our obligation to utilize halacha and sevarah to find it in the Torah.  Indeed, the Talmud asks why it is that minority opinions are preserved in the Mishna if the law is not in accordance with them.  The answer is that perhaps a court in the future will need that opinion to rely upon and it will be able to utilize it.

Let us take the approach not of closing the doors but opening them.  Let us use our minds to create greater honor of Heaven, not to make the life of Jews comfortable, not to fall into the trap that we are all so afraid of, of becoming a more liberal and permissive movement, but to tweak Judaism so that it can be more open to creating greater fear and love of Heaven.  Maybe the liberal movements such as Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism went wrong in our eyes, but maybe their mistake was not in making more room for people to serve God, maybe it was in losing the passion and commitment among their masses to Torah and Mitzvot.  Let us make room for people within learning, teaching and leading the torah world, let us make more room for the glory of God, but let’s do it without making the mistakes that others have made.

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Our Orthodox Rabbis and an Orthodox Maharat writing about how they see Judaism, Israel, the Jewish People and our world.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner is the Rabbi of Bais Abraham...

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