Posted by Rabba Sara Hurwitz
I love eating challah, but until recently, I refused to be a “challah baker.” The term irrationally evoked an image of a woman chained to her kitchen, slaving away for the sake of others, with no desire or choice to impact the world. That is not who I am. I am an Orthodox feminist, committed to changing the communal landscape by helping Orthodox women advance to the highest echelons of Jewish leadership—to ordain women as spiritual and halakhic leaders. I am not a challah baker.
But the truth is that while my husband is a partner in raising our children and keeping our home, I am primarily responsible for providing dinner and making school lunches. And so, on a daily basis, I try to do it all. I function as a rabbi in a large Modern Orthodox synagogue in New York, run Yeshivat Maharat to ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders, and travel the world to ensure that the yeshiva’s graduates have a foundation of support. On top of this, I pick up my young children after school, make dinner, and put them to bed. After which, I resume working. Realistically, I simply don’t have time to make challah.
Women cannot do it all, and I applaud Anne-Marie Slaughter for her honesty and courage in bringing this to the forefront of her recent article for The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Whenever I travel and teach, it is inevitable that someone asks about my work family balance; I find that often I am judged for being out of the house, or criticized for not working enough. For me it is an uphill battle, made even more complicated by the limits that Orthodox tradition places on women. And yet, I would like to suggest that this very tradition offers a framework for women and work.
[Related — Susan Freudenheim: Helping mothers have it all]
The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a.) lists several commandments (mitzvoth) that women are “patur” or exempt from performing because they are positive time bound commandments. Blowing the shofar, sitting in a sukkah, and learning Torah are a few of these commandments. Positive time bound commandments require the person performing the mitzvah do so within a certain time frame. However, this exemption does not mean that women are forbidden from performing these mitzvoth. Historically, during times when women’s primary responsibilities revolved around work in the home, this exemption was quite liberating. It was not always feasible for women to leave the house and sit in a sukkah or leave their child’s side to pray. But for women who are able to accept these time bound commandments and obligate themselves, then they may.
This very ethic should drive women’s decision to work outside of the home as well. Our tradition recognizes that some women (who can financially afford to) choose to remain at home to focus on raising children, and therefore, they are exempt from performing the time bound commandments. The halakha condones, perhaps even encourages women to consider this choice. But our tradition supports a woman’s pursuits outside of the home as well, and makes provisions accordingly. She may perform these time bound mitzvoth because the parameters of the law give her the flexibility to fulfill the mitzvah at her own pace.
And so, the choice to enter the workforce should not require a woman to sacrifice her family life. A woman should have the opportunity to be at the table, lean forward, as Sheryl Sandberg suggests in her TED Talk, while at the same time remain present for her family. Many women have managed to strike a modicum of balance. They have negotiated fulfilling careers allowing for part-time work, or reasonable working hours. It is a fact that there are certain career tracks that make a work/life balance very challenging. And as Anne-Marie Slaughter notes, it is the expectations placed on women in these careers that must change. In my own life, I have discovered that the rabbinate is an example of this type of career.
Generally, rabbis are expected to be available to their communities all the time. A pulpit rabbi is expected to open up the synagogue at 6am and close it at 10pm, literally bound by time. But at what personal cost? This kind of rabbinate is not sustainable for anyone, male or female. Does being present all day allow one to be a fully capable pastoral caregiver? Does it make the rabbi more pious to be at the office, all day long? Alternatively, imagine the values that one can imbue on children, and the message a rabbi could send to congregants if he/she is a consistent presence as a parent for children during meal times.
The rabbinate is most certainly a time bound job. But it is also a career where women, if they so choose, can impact the Jewish community. However, to harness this 50% of the population, the job description must shift. I am not advocating for spiritual leaders to avoid working hard, or to waiver in their commitment to community. I am suggesting that the community change its expectations of what is possible to achieve in a single day.
Yeshivat Maharat is not training Orthodox women to become female versions of male rabbis. We teach our students to embrace their feminine attributes. We recognize that women have tremendous talents and abilities and drive to serve the community, with a commitment to their families as well. Therefore, the Orthodox community should go forth with a realistic understanding of women’s commitment to their families, so that talented passionate women can dedicate themselves fully to their families and their communities.
So what do women, time, careers, and family have to do with challah? I used to think I had to pick one over the other—making challah or pursuing a career. But, recently I started baking challah. In the beginning, my method was to wake up in the middle of the night to braid the challah until my sister suggested that I bring the dough into the office and knead between pastoral visits or sermon writing. I want to succeed in my career and I also want to make challah. More and more, I think it is possible to create a work environment where there is time for both. I haven’t figured out how to do it all. But with the right communal support and with an attempt to re-envision communal expectations, I can be a challah baker and a spiritual leader at the same time.
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12.2.09 at 11:12 pm | (18)
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July 6, 2012 | 10:38 am
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Follow this link to a blog post I wrote on a fascinating Teshuva written by Rabbi Chaim David Halevi. This Teshuva is a great example of the appropriate use of what has become known as meta-halachik concerns. All the halachik evidence is in favor of the main group, but, nonetheless, Rav HaLevi recognizes that there is a larger issue and is willing to adopt a bi-dieved (non optimal) position (praying with liturgy that is not one’s custom) in favor of maintaing the connection of the the marginally committed.
June 7, 2012 | 9:08 pm
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Occasionally I write another blog called Piskei Darom. It is dedicated to to sharing Piskei Halacha (religious rulings) and to the exchange of ideas about Pikei Halacha.
Please follow this link to my latest post on a fascinating Teshuva (the entire Teshiva is available there) of Rabbi Shlomo Goren comparing conversion in Israel to conversion in the Diaspora. Rabbi Goren argues that the establishment of the State of Israel changes the way conversion should be approached in Israel.
The connection to Morethodoxy is that Rav Goren’s offers a Psak that considers a changed historic reality to be a major factor in the decision—a key feature of Modern Orthodoxy.
June 5, 2012 | 1:13 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
The final score was 5-3. Our eleven year old son and his teammates had just lost their little league championship game. Over the pizza of consolation, Coach Jeff congratulated his players on a great season. And then he offered them a gem - a word that I hope that my son and all his buddies will learn to live by.
“Sometimes you learn more by losing than by winning”, he said. Under other circumstances these words might have just gotten lost in the post-game pizza and power-aide. But Coach Jeff wasn’t just casting about for some words of comfort. Everyone who knows him knows that there isn’t an insincere bone in his body. Coach Jeff was candidly and lovingly conveying to the kids a piece of wisdom that he knew to be straight and true. And it got my attention too.
What, you may be asking, are the some of the things you only learn from losing? Well, for starters, you learn that there’s a small but reliable pod of people in this world who love you unconditionally, and who will keep cheering you on no matter what, just as long as you keep giving it your all. Also, you learn what losing feels like, and you understand how appreciated it’ll be tomorrow when you put your arm around the shoulder of someone else who’s lost. And you learn that disappointment and defeat are very different things, and that the latter is determined not by what an opposing pitcher did today, but by what you do when you get out of bed tomorrow. You learn that there’s no gift as appreciated as the gift of another chance, and you learn how to give this gift to everyone around you. Coach Jeff knows what he’s talking about.
It led me to reflect on the idea that we, the Jewish people have learned a lot from losing too, and God knows we’ve lost plenty of times over the millennia. We’ve learned that God can be anyplace, and that we build a Temple to His Great Name through every act of justice and compassion that we perform. We’ve learned that we can count on one another in our times of deepest distress, and even flirt seriously with the idea that no amount of internal disagreement can ever alter the bedrock reality that we are one people. And we have learned that there is no one more righteous on the earth than the one who offers shelter and protection to the stranger in his midst, to the one whom the rest of the world has cast out. We have learned what the purest and highest form of righteousness is.
Thank God, we have been doing much more winning than losing over the last 64 years. May God continue to bless Israel with strength. And May it be that we never forget all the things that we have learned.
June 2, 2012 | 10:05 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
A Brooklyn based newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, has recently tried to cast more inclusive sections of Orthodoxy in a negative light. Instead of understanding Rabbi Zev Farber’s recent Morethodoxy post about the cultural place of women in shul as a tension between two competing values, that of traditional prayer architecture and process on the one hand and that of the desire by the halacha to honor and include all Jews (even women) on the other, Yated saw only one side.
In the Gemara (Shabbat 31a) Hillel and Shamai argue regarding conversions. Convert after convert comes to both Shami and Hillel and each convert presents themselves as insincere, desiring to convert to only some of the laws of the Torah or to convert for selfish reasons. Obviously the decision to accept or reject such converts lies again in a tension between two competing halacic values, on one side the need to not dilute the Jewish people and their commitment to Torah, and on the second the Jewish value of embracing others and not mistreating the stranger. Shami emphasizes the first value over the second in an extreme way, so much so that he chases the would be convert out with a stick, and Hillel emphasizes the second value, so much so that he immediately embraces the seemingly insincere (yes I know what Tosfos says) convert and converts them all right away. Which is right? Both are legitimate Jewish opinions, both the word of God, but only one is the halacha, the path we as Jews are to follow, that of Hillel. Indeed the Talmud explains that the law is like Hillel due to his embracing, tolerant personality (Talmud Aruvin 13b).
Today Yated is suggesting YCT Rabbonim continue to be excluded from the RCA. In times past their camp suggested the RCA be excluded from Orthodoxy. Today they suggest YCT’s future talmide chachomim are illegitimate, in years past they (or papers like them) suggested the RCA’s Godol was illegitimate.
When I was growing up in the Charedi world I heard only slander about the RCA and Yeshiva University. That YU was a, “Rabbi factory” and that their musmachim knew nothing. I think I was 15 before I realized that “JB” was not a famous criminal but a Gadol Ba’torah, Rabbi Yosef Dov Solovetchik.
Any orthodox person who is over 30 and grew up to the right of modern orthodoxy remembers these things. But the RCA did not become a new movement as people feared; the RCA saw itself as legitimately orthodox and in the eyes of much of the orthodox world remains so.
Less tolerance for fellow Jews and human beings, a less embracing attitude toward the would-be proselyte, dismissing ways within halacha to include women in traditional tefilah, these things, though perhaps sounding pretty frum, do not make one more of a Torah Jew. Just ask Hillel.
May 23, 2012 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Dr. Rachel Levmore should be commended for writing in this article that “ The time has come for Stern College to take a stand as “Stern College” – its rabbonim, teachers, administration – clarifying that each and every student of Stern and her chosson sign a prenup.” What Dr. Levmore offers is only a partial solution.
It is pulpit rabbis who are on the “front lines” of this issue as they very often perform weddings are are in a position to influence the couple to sign a Halachik Pre Nup. Pulpit rabbis should refuse to perform weddings unless a Pre Nup is signed. So should Roshei Yeshiva. Having a Halachik Pre Nup should be a universal practice and this is the only way to do it.
Years ago the Gerrer Rebee decreed that there should be limits on the number of people invited to weddings as well as limits on the menu and the size of the band. The Rebee realized people were spending too much on weddings and that the time had come to a stop to it.
After the decree was passed a wealthy Chassid approached the Rebee and explained that while he understood why the Rebee had introduced the new rules, since he was wealthy, the new rules should not apply to him. The Rebee’s answer was simple. “You can follow the rules or find a new Rebee.”
At the fourth annual convention of the International Rabbinic Fellowship that took place this week the following policy was enacted. “ IRF Rabbis may not officiate at a wedding unless the couple has signed a halachic prenuptial agreement. IRF Rabbis are further encouraged to participate ritually only in weddings in which the couple has signed a halachic prenuptial agreement. Ritual participation includes but is not limited to reading the ketubah, serving as a witness, and making one of sheva berachot.”
Rabbis should educate their congregations as to why signing the Pre Nup is required and make it part of the culture of the shul.
Some Rabbis claim they cannot sign it as there are poskim who are opposed to it. This is approach, the need for unanimity before a halachik position can be accepted leads to what what Rabbi Daniel Sperber calls “Paralysis In Halacha.”
The tragedy in the case of Halachik agunot is that there are real human casualties whose lives are literally paralyzed by Rabbinic malpractice.
May 21, 2012 | 8:17 pm
Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
In an interview with ABC News last week, President Barack Obama said, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Since then all hell has broken loose. In the Orthodox Jewish community alone, three different organizations reacted publicly to the president’s announcement. Agudath Israel announced that they are “staunch in their opposition to redefining marriage,” although they admitted that the president, like everyone else, has a right to their opinion. (Everyone else except for Marc Stanley, apparently, whose statement the Agudah labels “outrageous, offensive, and wrong.”) The Orthodox Union expressed disappointment in Obama’s statement, stating that they “oppose any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same sex unions.”
The most strident condemnation came from the National Council of Young Israel which expressed “deep disappointment” in the president’s statement, writing that they are “diametrically opposed to same gender marriage, which is a concept that is antithetical to the religious principles that we live by.” The NCYI ended their statement with the following: “As firm believers that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman, we simply cannot accept a newfound social position that alters the value, definition, and sanctity of marriage as set forth in the Torah, which has guided us for thousands of years.”
Here is where I see the problem. Certainly the Torah has guided observant Jews for thousands of years. Nevertheless, the United States of America and its president are not bound to legislate in accordance with the Torah. Religious Jews are just one group in the plethora of religious communities in the United States and we can hardly condemn the president for not taking Torah law into account.
Taking a step back, it seems to me that—with all due respect to the various institutions quoted above—all of these statements are missing the boat. The most incisive analysis published on this issue thus far, from the Orthodox community at least, has been Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s piece in the Huffington Post, “The greatest threat to the future of the American family is not gay marriage but rather divorce.” I would add that this threat extends to “accidental families” as well, wherein the couple does not remain together, irrespective of whether they were ever married.
In contrast, same-sex marriages are of interest to a certain subset of the population, and do not affect the lives of heterosexuals who wish to marry their opposite-sex partners. The existence or legality of gay marriage should not be an issue for the Orthodox Jewish community, unless there is a fear that Orthodox rabbis would be forced to perform such weddings or that Orthodox synagogues would be required to treat such couples as “married.” However, if the NCYI is concerned about this, they should have raised this in their statement as the OU did:
“…we appreciate President Obama’s statement today acknowledging that in states where same sex relationships are legally recognized, such laws must carefully address and protect the religious liberties of dissenting individuals and institutions, and the President’s reported reference to the New York State law (on whose strong religious liberty provisions the OU worked) as a model for how such protections must be in place.”
This concern, at least, makes sense and falls under the purview of an Orthodox Jewish organization aiming to protect its own constituency. What is not under the purview of Orthodox Jewish institutions, or the institutions of any other religious group, is to demand that America enact legislation that is specifically in line with its own religious tenets. To paraphrase a quip made by a colleague, I assume the NCYI would not be shocked to learn that in addition to supporting gay marriage, President Obama also does not keep Kosher and drives on Shabbat.
Although I have no problem with all fifty states permitting gay marriage, Boteach makes an alternative suggestion that is worth considering. He argues that perhaps the government should leave the marriage business altogether and only do civil unions. That way any couple, homosexual or heterosexual, will receive the same civil status and legal recognition, and each can “consecrate” their union in a manner meaningful and acceptable to their own faith communities.
In truth, the implied claim that the legal status of a married couple in America carries some “religious weight” in the Orthodox community is disingenuous. The only reason couples married in America are considered married according to halakha is because they perform a religious Jewish ceremony. If they were married in a civil ceremony instead, then according to the vast majority of halakhic authorities (Rav Henkin being the notable exception) they would not be considered married according to halakha.
Furthermore, if a Jewishly married couple were to get only a civil divorce, there is no halakhic authority that I am aware of that would consider them divorced according to Jewish law. None. So in what way does the Orthodox community actually take the legal status conferred on a couple as binding in a religious sense? This is why it is hard for me to understand the extreme, almost visceral, reaction of much of the Orthodox leadership.
Two further points need to be made. First, as I wrote in a previous post, even in the Orthodox world-view, where homosexual congress is considered forbidden, there needs to be sensitivity to the fact that homosexuals—whether for genetic, hormonal, or psychological reasons—experience the same need for love and intimate companionship that heterosexuals experience. Homosexual men and women looking to marry are simply trying to establish a life of love and intimacy in a familial context in the same way that heterosexual couples that marry and have children do. Although the OU’s statement does mention that they condemn discrimination, overall this voice of concern and empathy for homosexuals is sadly lacking in the current discourse. To quote Boteach again: “Who does it bother to have gay couples granted the decency to visit each other in hospital during serious illness, make end-of-life decisions and receive tax benefits as a couple?”
Second, considering the current erosion of the stable family unit and its replacement either with rampant divorce or non-committed relationships, homosexual couples who want to form committed relationships are hardly the enemy. In fact, this type of relationship is closest in character to the choice made by married heterosexual couples in religious communities like our own. Contrary to the opinion of some fringe groups, people who feel they are attracted only to members of their own gender will continue to feel this way throughout their lives. Considering this fact, as a religious community deeply concerned about the strength of American society, whose goals are to solidify family values, shouldn’t the gay couples who wish to marry and bring up children be seen as our allies, not our adversaries?
May 17, 2012 | 7:00 am
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
After being a bit strident in my last posting, for which I apologize, I want to turn to something really beautiful and loving that I happened to see live yesterday as I was on the treadmill. It’s so easy for me to write in strong language on this blog or any blog from the comfort of home, in safety and tranquility, but once in a while you come across accounts of people who are really making the ultimate sacrifice and putting their lives on the line.
Please take fifteen minutes to watch this powerful tribute by President Obama to Leslie Sabo, a”h, an casualty of the Vietnam war who heroically gave his life to save his fellow soldiers. It was one of the most stirring speeches I have seen. May God bless the memory and soul of Leslie Sabo and all those who gave up their lives for the United States and for Israel – two great allies in a world of of grave dangers.
As we head for Yom Yerushalayim on Sunday, may Hashem bless all of us and the holy city of Jerusalem with peace.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin