August 8, 2010
Are We Torah True? -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner
In a recent blog post http://blog.rabbijason.com/2010/08/yes-orthodox-judaism-changes-too.html Rabbi Jason Miller argues that orthodoxy can not legitimately claim it is Torah true any more than Conservative or Reform Judaism can, since things in Orthodoxy also change, only slower. He points to the recent statement by 150 orthodox rabbis calling for more understanding for homosexuals in the orthodox community: http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/13912/unorthodox-position , the expansion of women’s leadership roles in Shirah Chadasha type minyanim, Rabbi Avi Weiss’ recent decision to have a woman lead Kabbalat Shabbat in a side minyan at HIR, and the new Yeshivat Maharat which will train Orthodox women for clergy positions.
Rabbi Miller writes, “A quarter century after the Conservatives opened its seminary to women, the more progressive Orthodox Jews in Centrist Orthodoxy are now debating the leadership roles of women in the synagogue. It was only a matter of time…The Judaism of 2010, in any of the denominations, looks different than the Judaism of past centuries. That’s because the times change and the Jewish religion changes too, whether people like it or not….Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on “Torah true Judaism.” If Judaism is truly going to be true to the Torah, then we must all embrace the Torah’s dictum that says the Torah does not reside in the heavens. It belongs to humanity and it is up to us to see that it remains vibrant and evolves.”
Perhaps though halachik change or the lack thereof alone is not what determines how true to the Torah one’s Judaism is. Perhaps it is a group’s shmirat hamitzvot, keeping of all the mitzvoth, and passionate commitment to torah study and Torah values that determines its Torah true-ness. If this is so then a movement which makes halachik decisions that are based on strong halachic precedent, even if these changes diverge from or expand current traditions, is still Torah true if its observance of mitzvot is total.
On the other hand if a group says it is committed to halacha but does not observe it as part of its culture it is not Torah true. Such might be the case, for instance, for the bulk of Conservative Jews today, who do not keep shabbat, kashrut or taharat hamishpacha, or indeed for some parts of the Charedi world whom though they may keep with much passion the mitzvoth between humans and God, might not keep with the same care the mitzvoth between human beings, required even toward those outside their community. I submit that it is not one’s lack of halachic chiddush that makes one Torah true, but how one observes the rest of Judaism along with the said halachic changes that determines one Torah true-ness.
An Orthodox community that, based on gemaras and their understanding of the Shulchan Aruch’s (Code of Jewish Law) definition of Kavod Hatzibur (honor to the congregation-the reason for not allowing women’s aliyot), allows women to lead Kabbalat Shabbat, and with that keeps with passion all the mitzvoth, is indeed Torah true in every sense of the word.