A note on values, law, and gender-role polemics in Orthodoxy

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

There is and must be a middle ground between the claim that all my values are “masoret” and therefore inarguable, and the claim that all values are equally legitimate Jewishly and the only issue is legality.

Another way of saying it:  There is and must be a middle ground between authoritarian Daas Torah and postmodernist halakhic relativism.

There are enough critiques of authoritarian Daas Torah on the web, including several of my own, so I will take on the other side.

Replace “masoret” with “ruach chakhamim”, “(naval bi)reshut haTorah”, “derekh eretz”,lifnim mishurat hadin”, and so on – is it worth ordaining women if the price is denying all normative sway to all extralegal religious or ethical principles?

Must we now give public honors to those who steal from nonJews because they have a halakhic leg to stand on, or tolerate as members of Orthodox rabbinic organizations those who follow the minority medieval positions that justify wifebeating?  Must we stand idly by as converts are systematically oppressed, or as the economics of Orthodoxy deprives the poor and even middle class of the dignity of self-sufficiency?

Surely not – and surely then as well, even the strongest supporters of women’s ordination must recognize that it is possible and legitimate for fervent opponents to completely reject their position even while conceding the weakness of formal halakhic arguments for prohibition.

There is much room for passionate argument about the proper nature of women’s Torah leadership in Orthodoxy, and passionate argument always risks devolving into schism.  My hope is that a shared commitment to honest, deep, rigorous, holistic Jewish conversation, including but not limited to formal halakhic discourse at the highest level, would prevent schism.  But for G-d’s sake – leshem Shomayim – let us all recognize and agree that Orthodox arguments about values are possible and matter, and are allowed to have real consequences.

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