Tag Archives: Orthodox Judaism

The Existential Religious Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage

I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested.
I’d like to think that if I was I would pass.
Look at the tested, and think there but for the grace go I.
Might be a coward, I’m afraid of what I might find out.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “The Impression That I Get”

With the recent US Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage to be a constitutionally protected right, religious organizations are understandably concerned as to how they will be affected by this new legal reality.  In addition to public statements issued by The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union, several rabbinic colleagues have expressed similar concerns shared by other religious leaders regarding what this ruling might mean for their own practice, particularly if they will now be forced to officiate or facilitate a practice which violates their religious beliefs. 1

Aside from these concerns over government interference in religious affairs, the Supreme Court’s ruling may have more salient ramifications on a communal level. Specifically, with same-sex marriage legalized nationally, Orthodox homosexual couples may be more likely take advantage of the benefits such legal recognition provides. This new reality may create new tensions within communities where such couples may expect or demand religious recognition for their union.

While these concerns are currently dominating the discussion, my sense is that the attention is misplaced. I do not mean to be dismissive of the concerns of others, but I suggest the details are not nearly as significant as the underlying existential tensions.
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Notes:

  1. In 2011 when New York was about to legalize same-sex marriage, I argued that Orthodox Jews should not oppose such legislation but rather insist on religious protections.
Posted in Politics, Religion, Society. Tagged with , , , , .

Ep. 101 Current Jewish Questions 23 – Biblical Criticism and Orthodox Judaism

In this important installment of Current Jewish Questions, Rabbi Josh Yuter tackles the controversial topic of Biblical Criticism and Orthodox Judaism.

Biblical Criticism and Orthodox Judaism Sources (PDF)

Biblical Criticism and Orthodox Judaism

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Blame Rabbis For Agunot, But For The Right Reasons

The following essay is derived from two recent classes/podcasts Understanding the Agunah Problem and Solutions to the Agunah Problem. These classes include several of the primary sources referenced below

Introduction

The protracted divorce battle between Aharon Friedman and Tamar Epstein is the most publicized case of agunah in recent memory. An aggressive campaign led by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) capitalized on Mr. Friedman’s relatively prominent status as a congressional aide for David Camp. The efforts of numerous online and personal protests eventually led to mainstream media coverage from outlets such as Fox News, The New York Times and Politico which called national attention to Mr. Friedman’s refusal to grant his wife a halakhic divorce. As with virtually all cases of agunah, the recalcitrant party is vilified with public condemnations and communal pressure to acquiesce.1 When the specific goal is obtaining the immediate divorce, it is a relatively simple matter to identify the party responsible for obstructing the process and to protest accordingly. Others, however, find fault with the halakhic system, and in a desire to change the status quo identify other sources of blame.

In a recent Forward blog post titled “On Agunah Issue, Pressure Rabbis, Not Rep” Dvora Myers argues that the plight of agunot is not only the fault of a recalcitrant husband, but of the Rabbis for creating the regulations in the first place.

However, if withholding a get constitutes abuse, if the husband is indeed brandishing a psychological weapon and threatening his wife with it, then the question that should be asked: How did the gun get into his hand?

The answer is clear: It was put there by Jewish law, the rabbis who formulated it, and the rabbis who refuse to amend it.

Myers’ understanding of Jewish law is informed by Blu Greenberg’s famous dictum, “where there’s a rabbinic will, there’s a halakhic way,” thus placing the burden of agunot squarely with the Rabbis. Ultimately Myers concludes,

If maintaining a nearly thousand-year-old ruling is more important than offering women equality within the religion, I would at least like to see one of these rabbis condemning Friedman admit as much. It would be refreshingly honest to hear one of them say something like, “When faced with the choice of preserving tradition and promoting justice and equality that would give women the freedom to divorce, we choose the former.”

Most Orthodox Jews would agree that adhering to a thousand year old ruling is in fact more important than fulfilling the prevailing ethic of the day. This is due to a fundamentally different approach to Jewish law, one which assumes that halakhah is ultimately a representation of Divine Will. In this case it would be strict adherence to the biblical laws of divorce in Deut. 24:1-1 and the capital offense for adultery in Lev. 20:10. It is important to consider that this approach to halakhah is shared by the agunot themselves, who while having the free will to ignore Jewish law and remarry as they wish, are committed first and foremost to keeping halakhah despite the immense challenges it presents.2 Thus, when a Rabbi adheres to Jewish law, even if it is unpopular, inconvinient, or even difficult for him to do so, he is not being an obstinate misogynist, but rather fulfilling his duty as a Rabbi.

But while it is misguided to blame Rabbis for following halakhah, it is completely legitimate to hold Rabbis accountable to the very halakhah which they espouse. Unfortunately, the Orthodox Rabbinate has not always lived up to their own ideals even when the lives agunot were at stake.
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  1. While the majority of agunot are women whose husbands refuse to give their wife a get, it is not impossible for a woman to be obstinate in agreeing to be divorced. Rarely does the husband in these cases elicit the same sympathy as a woman who is an agunah who is only “chained” due to the inherent inequality in the halakhot of divorce which require the husband to willingly issue the divorce while the wife’s consent is not needed, nor can she initiate the divorce (M. Yevamot 14:1).
  2. I do not wish to categorize agunot as martyrs to a cause, but to note the religious commitment required for one to choose to remain an agunah is rarely acknowledged let alone supported.
Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Judaism, Random Acts of Scholarship. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , .

Ep. 63 Current Jewish Questions 10 – Solutions to the Agunah Problem

In this mega-podcast, Rabbi Yuter surveys some of contemporary solutions to the Agunah problem and discusses their merits, limitations, and flaws in light of Jewish law, history, and social politics.

Current Jewish Questions 10 – Solutions to the Agunah Problem Sources (PDF)

Current Jewish Questions 10 – Solutions to the Agunah Problem

Posted in Current Jewish Questions, Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

The Selective Sanctimony of Orthodox Judaism

At times it seems that the Orthodox rabbinate has little more to contribute to the world of Jewish ideas than proclamations declaring who is, or more precisely who is not, “Orthodox.” Consider a few recent examples. This past summer Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky wrote a blog post (since removed) discussing his aversion to reciting the daily blessing shelo asani isha, thanking God for not having made him a woman. In response, Rabbi Dov Fischer castigated R. Kanefsky and the community he represents as, “propagating their views without being subjected to scrutiny and critique by those committed to a Mesorah-driven frumkeit” [emphasis added]. In other words, R. Kanefsky’s halakhic opinion is not part of the genuine “mesorah/tradition,” which R. Fischer apparently does possess. Another writer echoes R. Fischer sentiment more explicitly, “In my view this not only takes Rabbi Kanefsky out of the realm of Orthodoxy, it firmly puts him into the realm of Conservative Judaism.”
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Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Judaism. Tagged with , , .

Episode 40: Politics of Exclusion – Conclusion and Summary

Rabbi Josh Yuter concludes the Politics of Exclusion shiur series with a general discussion incorporating and previous classes. Many thanks for following!

Politics of Exclusion – Conclusion and Summary

Posted in Jewish Culture, Lectures, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , .

A Judaism of Laws or of Men

An Orthodox colleague recently created a controversy after writing a blog post explaining why he no longer recites the blessing shelo asani isha – thanking God for not creating him as a woman. Several Orthodox rabbis criticized this position for various reasons with one even questioning the author’s right to call himself “Orthodox,” ostensibly for deviating from the traditional liturgy through his omission. In the grand scheme of Orthodox Jewish history this rabbi’s personal choice is relatively trivial. However, in the subsequent squabbling over one rabbi’s legitimacy, the Orthodox rabbinate inadvertently exposes the inherent cognitive dissonance prevalent in the contemporary Orthodox community.
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Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Judaism. Tagged with , .

Episode 38 – Politics of Exclusion: Preserving Gender Roles Part 1 – Mechitzah

Rabbi Yuter’s Politics of Exclusion series shifts focus to on Orthodox Judaism’s ethos of preserving traditional gender roles, beginning with the topic of mechitzah vs. separate seating in the synagogue.

Preserving Gender Roles 1 – Mechitzah Sources (PDF)

Preserving Gender Roles 1 – Mechitzah

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , .

“Gadolatry” In Orthodox Jewish Discourse

I first heard the term “gadolatry” attributed to the late professor Arthur Hertzberg. A portmanteau of “gadol” and “idolatry,” the word “gadolatry” refers to a perceived phenomenon in Orthodox Judaism where select rabbinic leaders are treated with a degree of deference or reverence, bordering on worshipping the person of the rabbi himself. That Dr. Hertzberg would coin such an inflammatory term is not surprising given his personality, such that any reactions of offense or outrage are as intentional as they are predictable. However, it has been my experience that those strong passions on either side have turned the reasonable question of the role of the gadol in Judaism into the single greatest impediment to intelligent religious discourse in the Orthodox Jewish community.

While I have no expectations of resolving this divisive issue, I do hope to explicate the rationales implied when one invokes a gadol, and why others may find such an argument unconvincing.
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Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Random Acts of Scholarship. Tagged with , , , .

Episode 37 – Politics of Exclusion: Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox Part 4

Rabbi Yuter concludes the segment on Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox discussing attributions of Saul Lieberman’s scholarship and the failed attempt at creating a beit din with Conservative and Orthodox input.

Politics of Exclusion – Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox 4 Sources (PDF)

Politics of Exclusion – Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox Part 4

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism. Tagged with , , , .