09 September 2007

Sperber's Article on Women's Aliyos

Back in July, I went to hear Rabbi Saul Berman speak on the topic of women's aliyos (of which he is not in favor) and I wanted to post on it (don't worry, I still plan on it). However, in order to do that, I wanted to read up on the relevant literature. While it has been taking me some time to get through Shapiro's article, I figured I would briefly comment on Prof. Rabbi Sperber's article. Although the amount of Torah and general knowledge that he possesses is something that I would be lucky if I gained even 10% of that, I do not agree with his article, "Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity: Women and Public Torah Reading".
His main point is found on pages 10-11 where he states that
we know that many women have a sincere desire, a yearning, to take an active and spiritual role in the life of the community and its pursuits, and excluding them from the synagogue or from involvement in worship ceremonies is a cause of great distress, as they said, "it is a cause of great sadness to them that all gather in the synagogue and they do not." It thus seems clear that kevod ha-beriyot, individual dignity, must overcome kevod ha-tsibur, particularly when the concept of kevod hatsibur does not really pertain as it might have in ancient and medieval times.
He then concludes his article (on p. 14) by stating that
it seems to me that nowadays, in those communities where it is agreed that change within the normative halakhic framework should take place and that the absence of such change will be a source of pain and suffering to an important segment of the community, the principle of kevod ha-beriyot overcomes the stated principle of kevod ha-tsibur.
One of my concerns with his point is that כבוד הבריות (lit. "honor of the creatures", but can be translated as "human dignity") may often get over-used (I think Rabbi Professor Jeffrey Woolf expressed his concerns about this when he visited our yeshivah in February, though I should probably look into that more closely...). What I think troubles me most about Prof. R' Sperber's approach to this is his prescription that כבוד הבריות necessitates that women read in those communities that opt for such a course of action. It is one thing to say that they can halakhically read and another to say that there is a halakhic imperative. Oh well, I have to keep on reading the Shapiro article on this. More posts in the future.


Anonymous said...

I prefer the Shapiro approach to the Sperber approach. The Sperber approach is a slippery slope waiting to happen. For a good example see the Dorff gay tshuva for the CJLS where he cites Rabbi Sperber's mixed kriyah tshuva as justification for allowing some forms of gay relationships.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i'd suggest reading R'Prof. Sperber's book instead of just the article.

Drew Kaplan said...

Which book?

Avi said...

You wrote "It is one thing to say that they can halakhically read and another to say that there is a halakhic imperative."

If it is halakhically permitted to expand women's (or any other group) roles to what has previously been denied to them than it IS halakhically imperative that it be done! That this is not done is IMHO the major problem of Orthodoxy.

On the other hand, if it is not halakhically permitted than, as much as one can and SHOULDring ones hands and wail and mourn over this, than one may not! (this IMHO the problem with the Conservative movement today)

(BTW, I agree with anonymous if Dorff's halakhic reasoning is wrong - and I wasn't convinced by it and my teacher says it is).

Drew Kaplan said...

AmEchad: How is it that "If it is halakhically permitted to expand women's (or any other group) roles to what has previously been denied to them than it IS halakhically imperative that it be done!"? By which reasoning do you say this? In my mind, מותר (allowed) and חובה (obligation) are two distinctly separate categories.

Avi said...

I fully acknowledge that I am imposing metahalakhic reasoning into my above statement. That is to say that if something is מותר and has a strong metahalakhic reason (feminism, losing people to non-halakhic Judaism or no Judaism [unaffiliation/intermarriage/etc.] at all) than it moves to חובה. In areas in which there is no compelling metahalakhic reason to change, then מותר can remain מותר.

see, for example, the introduction of Beit Ya'akov schools came in order to keep Jewish women in the Jewish community. So too, IF (and only IF) partnership minyanim (full disclosure: I am a member of Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem) are halakhic and women's aliyot are halakhic than too I would argue that we must make such a change. Beyond that, again, perhaps due to כבוד הציבור וכבוד הבריות (real halakhic principles, albeit that must be used only in specific circumstances) IF this is מותר than we must make such things חובה due to the dignity and honor of women.

Obviously, if one disagrees with Sperber and Shapiro and says that it is not halakhic (i.e. not מותר) that is a different position and one that, if backed up according to the positivist principles of the halakhic system and not simply because 'that's not the way it is' that is a position I can respect (disagree with the halakhic analysis, yes, but respect as firmly ground in halakhic principles). But, even there, I think that holders of said position should mourn that the halakhic system does not allow for the greater equality of women.

Avi said...

BTW, this is my disagreement with Dorff, Nevins, Reisner in terms of the Conservative gay issue. I don't think כבוד הבריות can turn the אסור into the מותר. But, it can turn the מותר into the חובה.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i think this is it

Anonymous said...

At core, the issue (IMHO) is that for centuries there has been a generally accepted minhag yisrael to be machmir on an issue where a more lenient position might be justified al-pi halacha.

The question then becomes what the effect of such a minhag should be when sociological factors in some segments of the community favor the halachically defensible lenient position.

I make no pretense of having thoroughly researched the issue, but it seems to me that proponents of R. Sperber's position would be best served by "winning the hearts and minds" of as many influential poskim as possible, rather than attempting to force the issue. Effecting this change by a "facts on the ground" approach runs the significant risk of creating deep and lasting communal schisms beyond those that already exist.

Anonymous #2