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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Vayeilech, Devarim 31:3-13. The Schenirer-Scherman Unintended Consequence Rule

In the Mitzva of Hakhel, we are told to gather all of Klal Yisrael during Sukkos of the year that follows Shemittah to hear the reading of a large part of Sefer Devarim.  The Torah specifies that men and women and converts and children attend.   הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את יהוה אלהיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת The purpose of the gathering is so that all that attend will hear and learn and so that they will fear Hashem and do His mitzvos. 

I'm not going to discuss the issue of women learning Gemara, but it's obvious that the women had to be there to hear the Torah, both at Hakhel and at Mattan Torah.  The raya that they were essential to Kabbalas Hatorah is that the three day delay was in order that the women should be in a state of ritual purity, such that they would be receptive to hearing the words of Torah.

It's obvious that Chazal were not sanguine about women learning Gemara in the same way as men.  Witness Rav Nachman's statement in Megillah 14b regarding Chulda and Devorah, and, of course, Rebbi Eliezer's words in Sotah 20a.  Both can be interpreted differently.  I know that.  If you're not seeing the subtext of those Chazals, then we're not sharing a lexicon and we're not really having a conversation.  Also, if you think that Chazal did disapprove of women learning Gemara, but they were not enlightened, you're not the kind of person I'm interested in communicating with.  I don't need an audience of or a conversation with kofrim b'divrei Chazal and azei panim.

Finally, it's also obvious that the times, they are a-changin'.  The current Yoatzot and Rabbaniot have worked hard to attain what they've achieved, and while no doubt equal to their cohort, they are not worthy of comparison to the poskim that learned in traditional yeshivos.  But there will come a time when some gifted  woman will publish halachic opinions that stand up to criticism and which will be shown to be of a caliber equal or superior to accepted male poskim.   The Yeshiva world will never accept this: we have plenty of examples of geonim in Torah and Yir'ah who were rejected by the right wing because of some theological or political flaw.  But this will not matter to the Modern wing of Orthodoxy.  On the contrary, they will celebrate and embrace this phenomenon.  At that point, Modern Orthodox Judaism will experience an irreversible change of trajectory.  

This beginning of this sea change is all around us, and the movement is inexorable.  Most of us know a woman who is learning the daf, or giving a shiur on Gemara, or writing articles on Halacha.  The extent and degree of this phenomenon is totally unprecedented.  For all I know, it will lead to improvement.  I can't say that men have done such an excellent job, but certainly the female perspective will not be the same.  As I said before, Chazal's words are not encouraging.

Whose fault is it?  Rebbetzin Sarah Schenirer and Rabbi Nosson Scherman, that's whose fault it is, Beis Yaakov and Artscroll.  It's not really a "fault."  What they did was no different than what Rabbeinu Hakadosh did, and it saved tens of thousands of Jews for Yiddishkeit.  But there are unintended consequences, and this is a big one, and it's gonna shake your windows and rattle your walls.

Note:
From the comments, it has become clear to me that I need to explain what I perceive to be the problem.  To me, the biggest problem is the feminization of Torah.  Torah, as it exists now, is the product of a male approach.  We learn by arguing, we fight each other over every word, and we build complex structures that define our view of Torah as a gestalt.  I believe that a woman's perspective would be very different, and that after a few generations, the Torah that stems from a gender neutral learning would be unrecognizable to us.  This would have two terrible results: The Chareidi world (such as Lakewood, Telz, Mir, and their offshoots) would utterly reject the legitimacy of those groups that exhibit these characteristics, to the extent of refusing to join them on rabbinical action committees; and, concomitantly, this would generate an unbridgeable gap that would start out based on theological differences but would ultimately express itself in enormous halachic differences and would be as wide as today exists between the Orthodox and the Conservative.

The immediate response of the modern crowd is, "do you have any empirical data that support your assertion."  No, I don't.  So consider yourself to have won this argument, and have a good day.

29 comments:

great Unknown said...

How much of "yiddishkeit" today is a consequence of horo'os sha'a and their unintended consequences? Compare classical gemora society with today's frum world and...shrek!

Of course, the consequences require more compensatory horo'os sha'a, and littler fleas to bite'm...

Confused said...

Chazal maybe weren't thrilled about women in their times learning gemara. Women today are far better educated than women in 5th century Babylonia. But what I really don't understand about the moderate- Yeshivish attitude to women is the following. They teach them Shakespeare in Bais Yaakovs (or at least some of them). They teach them chemistry,biology (minus evolution),and history. All of the intellectual treasure of the secular world is shown to them. But they won't show them the intellectual treasure of Judaism? And then they wonder why girls go off the derech. Davka, at least Satmar is consistent and teaches them nothing at all...

thinkjudaism said...

very interesting post rabbi- I have a question though-
as the real reason women are able to learn torah competently is because God created them that way, is it not God who is to blame for the current situation?

thinkjudaism said...

also, here is an interesting discussion by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin (perhaps you have seen it already) where he goes into this particular issue-http://www.nishmat.net/article.php/id/7

great Unknown said...

@thinkjudaism
Consider the ramifications of your philosophy:
As the real reason people are capable of murder, idolatry, perversion, and general free will, is it not G-d who is to blame for everythng?

Barzilai said...

great unknown- that's so true. That's why such enormous policy changes must be left to the greatest and wisest of Klal Yisrael's leaders, who we pray are zocheh to siyata dishmaya. What you say reminds me of that Monkey's Paw vort- We say "Retzon yerei'av ya'aseh, ve'es shavasam yishma veyoshi'eim." Reb Tzvi Pesach Frank, in the first teshuva in OC says he saw somewhere that pshat is that Hashem listens to the tefillos of those that fear him; and after the tefilla is answered, after Retzon yerei'av ya'aseh and the wish is granted , and the supplicant realizes that what he got was bad for him, and he now prays "Ribono shel olam, please take away what you gave me!", then Hashem does that, too- ve'es shavasam yishma veyoshi'eim, Hashem listens to their cry and saves them.
The Brisker Rov in the stencil on Tanach, in Tehillim #145, brings the same thing from Reb Chaim with a minor extra kneitch.
The idea actually comes from R’ Shlomo Kluger’s pirush on the siddur, יריעות שלמה, found in the R’ Yakov Emden siddur, in the first Ashrei in Shachris. RS'K says that this is (Taanis 25a) what happened to R’ Chanina Ben Dosa and the golden leg of a table from his house in Olam Haba. When he explained to his wife asked what the cost was, she insisted that Reb Chanina be mispallel that the table leg be taken back- ve'es shavasam yishma veyoshi'eim- and, in a doubled miracle, it was taken back to Olam Haba (just like the story (Taanis 23a) of Choni Ha'me'agel.)

Barzilai said...

Confused- I don't disagree with you. If they're knowledgeable in worldly wisdom, ignorance of Torah would be suicidal. I'm just saying that the expansion to "serious" iyun was probably not necessary, and that the reality of the change is traceable to the Beis Yaakov movement and the easy and immediate access to Torah Be'Iyun so successfully provided by Artscroll.

Barzilai said...

thinkjudaism- there are many things I would like to do, that I am very capable of doing, that Hashem does not want me to do. I sometimes think I could have had successfully pursued a career similar to Dorian Grey's, but, alas, for one reason or another, haven't.

I've always contended that the reason women are more prone to headaches is that vestigial organs tend to be more prone to maladies.

All joking aside, you might be right, but Chazal consistently take the opposite position. You should see the Chasam Sofer's discussion of Michal bas Shaul, found towards the beginning of Parshas Nitzavim, D'H VAChZ'L, and what her wearing Tefillin indicated and the consequences of refusing to accept her womanly role in Torah.

Still Confused said...

But if you believe in serious iyun for girls in the humanities/sciences, wouldn't that make it necessary for Torah as well? Also, with regards to how Jewish policy/culture/society has gone so far, why are you so sure that all the decisions made until now have been correct? Maybe there should have been women poskim centuries ago. You seem to believe that society is guided by Hashgacha Pratis mixed with decisions by the leaders of the Jewish people. Why not place your same faith in that process now, that everything will work out?

Barzilai said...

thinkjudaism- thank you for the cite to the article. He represents the wing that will embrace women who pasken and lead. Again, I don't disagree with the necessity to teach women Torah. I disagree with their impetuous drive to expand that change without any limitation.

More importantly, I believe that doing so will generate real changes in hashkafa and halacha. The Torah as we know it is masculine. It is the product of a style of learning that is warlike and fierce. Just as a woman can be a physicist or an engineer, a woman can be a scholar of Torah, but her Torah will be fundamentally different.

Barzilai said...

Still Confused- you say that high level worldly knowledge requires an equal level of Torah knowledge. I doubt that is true. The vast majority of our people manage just fine on very superficial knowledge of Torah, and do just fine without in-depth analysis of Gemara or encyclopedic knowledge of the Rishonim and poskim.

Barzilai said...

If anything, an in depth understanding of Chabbakuk would probably do more than a similar knowledge of ein mefaglin be'chatzi mattir or hilchos eiruvin.

Barzilai said...

Yes, I believe in hashgacha directing Klal Yisrael. But I think that a sometimes the Ribono shel Olam lets a large part of Klal Yisrael mess themselves/ourselves up, as occurred during the Shabsai Tzvi debacle and Moshe Mendelsohn's generation and Bar Kochva's rebellion. I also think that there will always be those that reject the forthcoming changes re women and Torah leadership. I really don't anticipate the Eida Chareidis or Ponovezh scheduling shiurim from behind the mechitza. The path of Klal Yisrael will continue as it should, but a large percentage might go off on a tangent.

Still confused said...

The frum people with a very superficial knowledge of Torah, also usually have a superficial knowledge of the humanities. Although the reverse is not the case. In any event, it's not a question of whether they can "manage" without it. It's a question of whether it's wise to insist that they "manage" without it, and whether continuing to insist on a superficial knowledge of Torah she baal peh in today's world is still a valid option. Also, your point about Chabbakuk is well taken. You seem to be implying women should focus their iyun on Tanach. A fine idea. Remind me please which gedolim regularly quote Nechama Leibowitz?

Confused said...

The question is, who's the tangent?

thinkjudaism said...

Sorry,I didn't notice all the comments back rabbi. thanks for taking the time to address my question and other comment.

1)While my question relied on a logical fallacy, I think it successfully brought home the fact that women are competent when it comes to Torah, and that this really is God given. You may argue they should not make use of this God given ability because Jewish law precludes it, but i do not think we can honestly make the argument that Torah is "masculine" or beyond the competence of women.

The service of God, determination to try one's best in it, tradition, and logic, are all things that are neither masculine nor feminine, but accessible to anyone.

further, women are capable of war and ferocity, and anyway, just because we call it "milkhemet HaShem", does not mean it is the same as regular war.

2)If you see someone's torah or hashkafa is flawed logically, then say so. But do not say women inherently cannot learn torah when our eyes and minds tell us they can.

There has been much change in the past to our tradition, both good and bad. If it cannot be shown logically why this change is bad, or if only vague warnings like "it's a slippery slope" apply, perhaps we should not oppose it so strongly, when it relies on good sources and strong logic.

3)Being that it seems obvious women are perfectly capable of learning, we are left with certain options of how to understand opposition to it.

If you say that because Chazal took a position against women's learning then it must be they have a spiritual inability to learn properly we no longer have a shared basis to discuss this.

if you say it is a formalist point, we may discuss whether or not this is still true, or if it has been dealt with properly.

if you say that women learning logically threatens Jewish law and life,then you may find that most people disagree with you, since what could be better for jewish law and life than more people learning? However, i of course recognize that this is not logically impossible.

4)On a final note, Rabbi Henkin's decision was anything but impetuous. He brought his sources, and analyzed each one carefully. even if in the end you disagree with his conclusion, it cannot be said to be "impetuous".

Again, I am not an expert in halakha or hashkafa, so I'm only raising questions here. But it seems like some of the people you disagree with have made a very strong case, both in regards to the proper strict legal reasoning, and as to why this change is within the spirit of the law and the service of God.

great Unknown said...

Your approach to the contraindication to women learning gemora is intriguing, with one problem. The gemora in Sotah has a totally different reason: כאילו מלמדה תיפלות

Perhaps you should discuss it with your wife.

Barzilai said...

So what? You're right, what I'm saying doesn't appear in Chazal. That doesn't make it less of a concern. Chazal weren't talking about wholesale chinuch of women anyway.

Toras Hashem Temimah said...

I would say that a feminine side to Torah will just open more gates and more of the wisdom that the Torah contains. It wil be like bringing the Torah to the state of Adam Harishon before the Chet and even before being split from Chava - an absolute unity.

Barzilai said...

And that, THT, with all due respect, exemplifies the kind of thinking that I'm talking about.

great Unknown said...

The Chareidi world (Lakewood, Telz, Mir, and their offshoots) already deny the legitimacy of large groups of bnei torah - i.e., the modern orthodox, Chabad [I'm sure there are more that I've overlooked]. There are choshuva Chareidim who will not attend an asifa because one of the speakers is a rosh yeshiva at a yeshiva which allows/encourages college.

And Brisk's relationship to the aformentioned Chareidi world is "interesting" to say the least.

How Satmar looks at the Chareidi world is also a topic worth exploring.

The question of who is the excluder and who is the excludee, of course, will ultimately be resolved by the RBSh"O.

Schism occurs in the world of Torah all the time. The GR"A did not issue a mild reproof against Chassidus; he issued a cherem.

Perhaps the way to avoid your anticipated schism is to convince Telz, Lakewood, and Mir, et al., to start giving gemora shiurim to women.

Eli said...

As pointed out by GU, R. Eliezer objection to teaching Torah to girls was based on the danger of having clever women around, not the feminization of Torah. Clever women are indeed a big problem, but stupid ones have their issues too. Which one would you recommend your grandsons?

Setting that aside, I fully agree that given the growing number of women scholars we are bound to witness (and already do) some feminization of Torah. Another problem is that of stupid men learning Torah, leading to stupidization of Torah. Not to mention Torah scholars who lack Yiras-Shomayim leading to academization of Torah etc etc. You might argue the last two are not that bad, after all we can sift out these and focus on the true and worthy Torah scholars. So why can't you do the same with the feminized nonsense?

Another thing to consider is that the changes in the way of thinking over the years, and in different places, changes that affects the way we (as a society) learn and teach Torah, are so many and so large, that I suspect they surpass the man-woman gap. I don't want to get into differences between different Kehilos, but just one small example, quasi-local, on the time axis: consider the combined effect of (a) the change in the learning methods in yeshivos Lita in the past century (b) the raised status of Rosh-yeshiva vs. Rav (c) the abundance of printed matter (not to mention computerized aid). These together bring us to the point that enables an above-average person to be a reasonable maggid-shiur, as opposed to not very long ago when bekius in shas and poskim was more of less a prerequisite to being even considered a somebody. Without going to examples in length, I am quite sure the combined effect of the above affects the way we learn, the way we teach, and more importantly, the way we pasken halacha. The kind of poskim that grow today to be the next generation poskim are dramatically different, qualitatively and not only quantitatively, from those of the past generation [and by the way, this change is most noted in the (apparently ultra-traditional) Yeshiva world, for obvious reasons].

So, to sum up my last point, Torah is somthing-ized all the time, even now, in ways not less serious than what woman's learning could do. It is not only (I think) undeniable, but also unavoidable.

PS who said the following, and what did he refer to?
"גם בתקופה ההיא נשתנה עיון התורה לגמרי… במקומו המציא רב אחד לימוד הכימיאה ... וזה הורע לנו מאד מאד כי הוא רוח זרה מן החוץ הכניסו לתורה שבע"פ, ולא זו היא התורה המסורה לנו ממשה מפי הגבורה ... ובלמוד תורה הזה אינו מביא את האדם לידי טהרה בשו"א, ומיום שנתפשט הלימוד הזה אין בכח התורה הזאת להגן על לומדיה, והקצת מבינים בוכים במסתרים ע"ז. "

Barzilai said...

I would go to your shiur a lot quicker than to Rav Usher Weiss's, that's for sure.

I don't know from whom you took that quote, but I sure know that he was talking about Reb Chaim Brisker, and it was somewhere on a continuum between jealousy and hysteria.

Eli said...

well, you are correct on the first part, but given your second part I can't tell you who he is. I'm quite sure you wouldn't say that, had you know his identity.

Regardless of motives, the observation "נשתנה עיון התורה לגמרי" was accurate, for better AND worse.

Im guessing said...

Did the author of those lines pass away in the early 1950s?

Eli said...

earlier

Barzilai said...

It's not hard to find out who it is. Just copy a sentence, put it in quotation marks, and do a search for those words. You'll find not only the author, but the brouhaha about who he was really talking about.

Barzilai said...

I regret writing what I did before checking who the author of those words was:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaakov_Dovid_Wilovsky
or
http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%99%D7%A2%D7%A7%D7%91_%D7%93%D7%95%D7%93_%D7%95%D7%99%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A1%D7%A7%D7%99

By the way, the wikipedia article is kind of mild, considering that he really left Chicago because someone took a shot at him when he spoke on Shabbos in shul because the Shochtim Union saw him as a threat, with good reason. Seeing him as a threat, not shooting at him.

Eli said...

well, sorry for derailing the conversation. I just wanted to demonstrate that (justified) worries for changes in Torah-learning are nothing new.

[אחטא ואשוב: See also his Tzava'a http://www.hebrewbooks.org/67 and the front page of his Shut stating "והוא ספר פשוט בלא חריפות ופלפול אך הלכה למעשה" ...]

Whenever one has time, this intro to Beit-Ridvaz is worth reading. The way he describes the Torah world in catastrophic terms, written at 1908 at the prime of the Lithuanian yeshivos era, is enlightening.