Rabbi Jeffrey Fox recently published a teshuvah regarding the presence of the male Beit Din at the mikvah immersion of a female convert. My response came out to over 20 pages with footnotes and formatting, which I feel would be as annoying to read as a blog post as it would be for me to transcribe it. As such I am posting my response in PDF format here and on Scribd. I strongly encourage readers to first consult R. Fox's teshuvah (PDF) in the original. I also reference and recommend reading Immersion, Dignity, Power, Presence and Gender by Rabbi Ethan Tucker.
The Rabbinical Council of America recently released the archives of its journal "Tradition" to the public. For those interested in Modern Orthodox Judaism and the development, Tradition is an invaluable resource as a window into its intellectual history. With all the great articles to choose from, Rabbi Yuter welcomes special guest Rabbi Avraham Bronstein to discuss some of their favorites.
Here is the list of articles discussed, all links are in PDF format.
|Josh's Picks||Avraham's Picks|
|Lamm, Norman. "The Religious Implications of Extraterrestrial Life." 2 Tradition 7-8 (1965-1966): 5-56.||Lebowitz, Yeshayahu. "In Defense of "Separation" in Israel." Tradition 2.2 (1960): 203-217.
Gan-Zvi, Israel. "Against "Separation" in Israel." Tradition 2.2 (1960): 218-236.
|Soloveitchik, Joseph B. "Confrontation / Addendum." Tradition 6.2 (1964). 3||Geller, Victor. "How Jewish Is Jewish Suburbia?." Tradition 2.2 (1960): 318-330.|
|Leibowitz, Isiah. "The Spiritual and Religious Meaning of Victory and Might." Trans. Isaac Gottlieb. Tradition 10.3 (1969): 5-11.||Rackman, Emanuel. "The Future of Jewish Law." Tradition 6.2 (1964): 121-131.|
|Tendler, Moshe David. "The Anatomy of a Responsum: The Kashruth of Vinegar Produced From Wine Alcohol." Tradition 22.4 (1987): 47-55.||Wyschogrod, Michael. "The Jewish Interest in Vietnam." Tradition 8.4 (1966): 5-18.|
|Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Israeli Chief Rabbinate: A Current Halakhic Perspective." Tradition 26.4 (1992): 26-38.||Lichtenstein, Aharon, et al. "A Rabbinic Exchange on Baruch Goldstein's Funeral." Tradition 28.4 (1994): 59-63.
Shapira, Avraham, and Aharon Lichtenstein. "A Rabbinic Exchange on the Gaza Disengagement." Tradition 40.1 (2007): 17-44.
Lichtenstein, Aharon, and Avraham Yisrael Sylvestky. "A Rabbinic Exchange on the Gaza Disengagement, Part Two." Tradition 40.2 (2007): 49-70.
Other Referenced articles:
Frimer, Aryeh A. and Dov Frimer. "Women's Prayer Services - Theory and Practice." Tradition 30.2 (1998): 5-118.
Soloveitchik, Haym. "Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy." Tradition 28.4 (1994): 64-130.
Notable Theme Issues:
- Vol. 2 No. 2: Spring 1960 – Religion and State in Israel
- Vol. 17 No 2: Spring 1978 - Writings of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik
- Vol 27 No. 4: Summer 1993 - Rabbinic Authority
An Excel file (.xls) with a spreadsheet of every article in the Tradition archive is available here.
- Sharfman, Solomon, J. "Forward." Tradition 1.1 (1958): 5-6. p. 5. R. Sharfman was a former president of the Rabbinical Council of America. ↩
- Mistakenly filed in the archive as "Terrestrial Life" ↩
- The original essay "Confrontation" was published in the cited volume pages 5-29. The Addendum was published in the compilation book A Treasury of Tradition. ↩
This past Shabbat I gave the Devar Torah in my parent's synagogue. Not only was this my first time since leaving my pulpit, but it was also the first time I had to speak in Hebrew. Although I've been in Ulpan for a few months, I'm still a long way off from being able to speak like a native, let alone infuse my usual sense of personality into my sermons. Thankfully, I did have help not only from Morfix but from friends who could not only correct grammar mistakes, but also assist with idioms and figures of speech. I take full responsibility for all errors.
The following text is from my working draft, though annotated with footnotes. Given my 7 minute time limit, 1 I had to use more "meivin yavin" textual references rather than provide actual citations.
- I actually went 8 minutes. ↩
"What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it." (B. Shabbat 31a)
In the aftermath of the R. Freundel voyeurism scandal, the Orthodox Jewish community has been relentless in its criticism of its current religious establishments. Some have focused their attention on the vulnerability of converts, many of which received a reprieve when the Israeli rabbinate ultimately decided to uphold R. Freundel's conversions. Others advocated for changes in how a mikvah is operated with Rabbanit Henkin arguing for giving women keys to the mikvah and R. Seth Farber insisting on modifying Jewish conversion law to prohibit men from witnessing a female convert's immersion. 1 Still others targeting the Rabbinic establishment, epitomized in this case by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). 2 Rabbi Marc Angel pointed to the moral deficiencies of Judaism's gatekeepers and Dr. Erica Brown criticized the lack of rabbinic accountability. 3
Naturally, certain members in the very same Rabbinic establishment aggressively defended the status-quo in the face of media "misrepresentations" and activists "hijacking" the scandal to further their own agendas. I have no doubt others perceive the defamation of their institutions to be the result of an unfair generalization, where the entire system is disparaged due to criminal acts of one lone individual.
My concern today is not the propriety of these critical generalizations, but rather the predictability of them occuring after a major scandal. Not only have Jews long engaged in generalized delegitimizations, but this traditional rhetorical stratagem has been repeatedly employed by the current Rabbinic establishment, including, ironically enough, the RCA's own approach to conversion.
- In Farber's words, "The facts are that while we must meet halachic requirements, we also cannot allow a situation to continue where men are in the mikveh when women are immersing." The problem however is that Jewish not only does not prohibit men from witnessing this immersion, it most likely requires it. B. Yevamot 47b describes the procedure for converting women as having women assist the convert in the water while the male witnesses stand at a safe distance outside of the mikvah waters. Rambam in Hilkhot Issurei Biah 14:6 adds that the men should turn their faces away so as not to see the naked woman exiting the water, which not only is an affirmation of modesty, but reinforces the obligation for the act of immersion to be witnessed by the men. Even if argues that men need not personally observe the dunking, claiming that men must not be present requires a demonstrating that Biblical or Rabbinic Law is being violated, which necessitates citing chapter and verse of the specific violation. It is only through Rabbinic legislation that specific interpretations be mandated on the entire Jewish population or new prohibitions be innovated. See my series on The Halakhic Process for a more detailed exposition on the system of Jewish Law. ↩
- Disclosure: I am currently a member of the RCA, though I hold no position on its board or any of its committees. All opinions expressed here are my own and are not intended to reflect the views of the RCA or any of its members. ↩
- This is only a small sample of quotes, articles, and op-eds published in public venues. My Facebook wall was inundated with countless more comments regarding these positions and many more. ↩
For there is no one on earth who is righteous, who does only good does not sin - Ecclesiastes 7:20
In the wake of Yet Another Rabbinic Scandal, Rabbi Yuter examines the effect of a Rabbi's actions on his ability to be a source for teaching Torah.
By now anyone who would find this website should be familiar with the "Facepalm" and "FAIL" memes. The former is usually a response to a stupid or ignorant statement made with earnestness and sincerity, while the latter generally applies to all sorts of blunders. A few years ago I created a kind of portmanteau of the two, specifically for use in unproductive Jewish religious conversations online which I helpfully dubbed the "Fail Rav" or "#FailRav." The title picture for the movie Lonely Man of Faith and the book Divrei HaRav, provided a particularly appropriate portrait of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik for this purpose:
With the help of some meme generators I stamped the requisite "FAIL" subheading and uploaded it to a now defunct image sharing site. Lest the internet lose another irreverent meme, I recreated a collection of Fail Ravs which you're free to use as you see fit.
A Facebook friend recently posted a "personal list of essential reading for a thinking Orthodox Jew." These sorts of questions are fun exercises (especially for book geeks like myself) since it requires a degree of thought, introspection, and strategy. For a list to be useful to others it cannot be comprehensive; telling people to read everything is not terribly practical. 1 But there also has to be thought as to the criteria for the list. For example, there is a perpetual debate in professional sports over the Most Valuable Player award regarding whether it should it go to the "best" player or the one who contributes the most "value" to his team. Books are even more subjective in that what might be "essential" for one person might be irrelevant to someone else. In my capacity as a community Rav I was in a position where I could give targeted recommendations to individuals, accounting for their background, interests, and affinities. 2 The RCA has a reading list appropriate for prospective converts which may or may not be "good," but they can service as decent "starting points" for future discussion.
Since this is my list I'm going to make my own rules and qualifications:
- I'm limiting myself to 15 books. Why 15? Because that's how many books I came up with.
- Order does not matter.
- All books will be in English because I'm simply more familiar with English books than those in other languages.
- I'm ignoring "primary" works such as the Bible or Talmud on the grounds that these are too obvious for inclusion and someone interested in Judaism ought to be reading them anyway.
- I'm assuming that readers have a more intellectual disposition which means more academic books than popular ones, though I give greater weight to books which are more accessible and "readable."
- My goal in compiling this list is not for basic literacy in Torah, but for understanding the Jewish religion, particularly the manifestations of Orthodox Judaism.
- These books don't simply represent books I like but the ones I've found myself citing, referencing, or recommending most often. Here I get to explain why.
- Omissions from this list are not to be considered as a value judgement on those works.
- All selections naturally reflect my personal biases, but I'm going to try to give a short explanation for each of my choices.
I'll conclude the introduction by saying that if you only read these books to the exclusion of everything else, you will only be moderately less well-informed. Consider these books only as isolated moments on a lifelong journey of intellectual growth.
Now, let's get to it...
After several weeks of intense fighting in Israel and Tisha B'Av fast approaching 1 celebrations will be be more subdued this year. 2 In a sense it's kind of fitting given how eventful this past year has been for me personally. As I announced last March, I left my position as Rabbi at the Stanton Street Shul to make aliyah. 3
While friends have been very encouraging, supportive, and congratulatory regarding this significant life change, I'm not sure how many people realize that this past year for me, in many respects, was marked by some pretty significant failures. Some of these are public knowledge; I got priced out of my neighborhood, and other professional and academic pursuits did not end in success. Other failures have been more private (at least for the time being) though to be sure no less spectacular.
If there's a difference in myself at 37 is that I no longer equate failure in specific endeavors with failure in life, nor must failure necessitate feelings of regret. At some point this past year, I realized that virtually all the times I've set out to do something specific, I've either failed or otherwise come up short. In contrast, the most amazing experiences I've had were more often the result of serendipity/hashgacha or otherwise things I never would have imagined, let alone intended. 4 This by no means demonstrates that my efforts were worthless, only that work with one goal in mind frequently opened up opportunities I had never considered. 5
Thus as I turn 37 I am proudly flying my flag of failure, the "דגל הבל" if you will. 6. And as I venture off into the great unknown of Israel, I look forward to the many varieties of new failures I have yet to experience, having full faith that in the end, וַיִּהְיוּ כַּטּוֹב, the ultimate results, while unintended, will be just as good. 7
- The "Sad Trombone" does not constitute impermissible music during the 9 days. ↩
- At least I can fulfill Ecc. 7:2 and Ecc. 7:4, and you know it's a Good Time whenever you're following Ecclesiastes. ↩
- Lots of people have been asking me the same questions so I'll save some time: My flight leaves next Monday August 11th landing in Israel Tuesday August 12th, I'll be staying in Arnona, Jerusalem with my parents until I find a job, at which point, I move to wherever it makes sense based on the job location and my budget. I'll initially be looking for tech jobs as there are more positions which tend to pay better, but I'm open to all possibilities. More on that later in this post. ↩
- My trip to Medellin Colombia comes to mind. ↩
- דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט / Man plans, God Laughs ↩
- Not a literal translation, but in addition to the rhyme, the gematria of "דגל" and "הבל" are both 37. ↩
- Both "כַּטּוֹב" and "וַיִּהְיוּ" also have the gematria of 37. Incidentally, the gematria feature alone is why lazy rabbis ought to splurge for the Bar Ilan. ↩
As Israel is engaged in yet another military operation, Rabbi Yuter examines to what extent Torah treats all lives as equals.
Since I became a pulpit Rabbi I have rarely posted my sermons. In part this is because with the exception of the High Holidays I don't write out my sermons word for word, preferring to deliver my sermons with a more conversational tone rather than a monologue. 1 However, given that this was my last Shabbat as Rav of The Stanton St. Shul, I had requests to share my final sermon to the congregation. Even when I do write out sermons in advance, I use my text less as a "published" document and more as a guideline in to ensure my focus. Consequently, the actual sermon I actually deliver occasionally deviates from the text in front of me, not in its essence or point, but in terms of word choices or spur of the moment editorials to include or exclude some material.
I hesitate to call my final sermon a "classic," but I can say that this is fairly typical of the sermons I would give with its crucial elements being:
- A close read of a text, usually as in this case the Bible, but occasionally a Rabbinic teaching.
- A message or point based off of the text, presented as a "suggestion" or "possibility" and hopefully relevant to the congregation.
- Explicit and/or subtle references to outside works. 2
- Optional: explicit or subtle puns, usually bad.
- Do all of the above in 10-15 minutes.
Without further ado, the working notes from my final sermon at The Stanton Street Shul, with annotations.
- Although I was trained to give very formal sermons, I realized early on that not only did that style take substantially more time to prepare, but the extra effort would not have mattered to the congregation. I found the conversational style worked best in my synagogue to communicate ideas, and it allowed the freedom to adlib and respond to hecklers. For the High Holidays when I had to focus my mental energies on managing the service as well as meeting higher expectations, writing out the entire sermon was essential. ↩
- I also don't title my sermons, but if I had to for this one, I'd have used this one, taken from the series finale of ST:TNG. ↩