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A Guide To The Perplexed

5/22/05

On Thursday, I read a review in the Forward by Miriam Shaviv about a "brilliant" new book on Orthodoxy and feminism.

Friday, I pick up the Jewish Journal's cover story on Reform Jews, which reads:

* Shabbat-observing
* Hebrew-speaking
* Kosher-eating
* Daf Yomi-Studying

So I wondered if either I was ignorant or if these claims were specious.

After reading the article (and the book), I quickly realized that these claims are specious.

No more than about 1% of Reform Jews observe the Sabbath as a sacred day (forget considerations about the observance of Jewish law).

Few Reform Jews keep kosher.

No more than .1 of Reform Jews do Daf Yomi.

Only a tiny percentage of Reform Jews speak Hebrew.

The Journal article taken from Haaretz focuses on individual movement with Reform Judaism towards tradition while ignoring that the great mass of Jews who affiliate Reform display no interest in increased Jewish observance or literacy.

The article bollixes up a famous anecdote:

"There are two kinds of Reform rabbis," one prominent mid-20th century Reform leader once quipped. "Those who believe in ethical monotheism, and those who know Hebrew."

Replace "ethical monotheism" with "social justice."

Julie Fax writes in the Journal:

This year's graduating class of rabbis at the Conservative University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles is made up of four women and two men. And at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, there are 10 women to the seven men.

Are female rabbis taking over the Conservative movement, which only began ordaining women in 1985?

The gender breakdown is about 50-50 among the 75 rabbinic students at the school, Artson said. That ratio, he said, reflects the school's commitment to gender-blind admissions, and to the work the school does to make sure UJ is open to women in all ways.

"Opening a school to women but not talking about the ways in which gender shapes a certain reality is not really admitting women," Artson said. "We have been conscious about making gender something we talk about here."

That means classes and mentorships bring the societal sexual divide to the foreground. And, Artson said, women are occupying an increasingly prominent role in the administration.

Contrary to what rabbi Brad Artson claims, yes, women are taking over non-Orthodox Judaism. It's a sociological fact that men don't like to compete with women and that unless a group (religious or secular, see service clubs in the past 20-years) includes special rituals only for men, men will drop out (Dennis Prager). There's an increasing shortage of men in non-Orthodox forms of Judaism. Go to Friday night services at a Reform temple and there will typically be two women (usually over 60) for every man.

I'm 43-pages into the new book by Tamar Ross -- Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism -- and I'm ready to pass judgment: This book is less than brilliant. To call it brilliant is to reveal what low expectations one must have for feminist scholarship. The book is just a cry from the heart with a lot of academic jargon.

The cover of the book is from a famous painting of a Shabbat table by Oppenheimer, but with the father cut out.

Visions of Lorena Bobbitt pass before me as this is pointed out to me by a friend.

Later, I find out via the internet that Dr. Ross's daughter Dvora lived out what her mother did only to a painting -- a PhD, she went on to have three kids without a father (via artificial fertilization).

The nonsense overflows on the back cover of Tamar's book: "Writing as an insider (herself an Orthodox Jew), Ross seeks to develop a theological response that fully acknowledges the male bias of Judaism's sanctified texts, yet nevertheless provides a rationale for transforming that bias in today's world without undermining their authority."

This is rationally ludicrous for many reasons. Number one, it is outside of Orthodox Judaism (and fraudulent to present oneself as an Orthodox Jew while making any such argument) that Judaism's sanctified texts that it claims come from God have any bias.

Number two. If you argue that "Judaism's sanctified texts" have any bias, then you automatically undermine their authority. For a reality check, examine the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism which make emphatic claims about biases in the Bible and the Talmud etc and you will find the least observance of Jewish law and the least attention paid to rabbis and any higher authority beyond individual autonomy.

As I should've guessed, there's a glowing quote on the back of the book from the indecipherable and over-rated Aviva Zornberg, who writes: "Writing in a postmodernist vein, she offers a quantum leap in her complex yet trenchant perspective on the challenge posed by feminism to the concept of Revelation."

To any orthodox believer in his religion (be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam), Revelation is not a concept, it is an ultimate truth that poses challenges to all other ways of viewing life, such as feminism, rather than it being challenged by modern academic theories.

For the believing Jew, God reveals himself in the Torah, not in feminism (or anything else), and, in this case, it is primarily feminism that should be critiqued by Torah and not the other way round.

Dr. Ross begins the book listing the ways she's been made to feel uncomfortable as a Jewish woman.

Now, at least when men do this, they do it as comedy (Portnoy's Complaint).

Judaism makes differing demands on everybody, male and female, Cohen and Israelite, young and old. But only women get taken seriously when they say that Judaism's particular demands on them (and lack of demands from them when compared to the commandments incumbent on men) make them feel uncomfortable.

If an Orthodox Jewish man wrote a book about how thrice-daily prayer requirements made him feel uncomfortable, nobody would pay him the least mind. But in our modern mood, a lot of silly complaints by aggrieved "minorities" are automatically treated with respect.

Now, I understand that the Jewish tradition, along with every other tradition, has long had significant strands denigrating the worth of females compared to males, and that this is obviously wrong and not something we should perpetuate.

I don't have a problem with any movement (including feminism) that encourages people to be all they can be (so long as they don't hurt others). But as Dennis Prager says, asking what is good is more important than asking what is good for my particular group.

I fully subscribe to this sentence by Dr. Ross: "More compelling for me than the issue of feminism was the clash between Jewish tradition and modernity in general."

Ross writes: "I am ideologically commited to the tradition as it stands as the basic grammar that governs the way that I relate to the world and my religious experience."

People who are truly committed to a religious tradition don't speak in this way. They commit to a tradition because they believe it is God's will, not because it is their chosen grammar.

Dr. Ross is big on "gender" -- a cultural construct -- rather than "sex," a biological fact. But to come down conclusively and totally on either end of the nature vs. nurture debate is ignorant. Some evidence points towards our genes as propelling us towards certain behaviors and other evidence points towards culture for other behaviors.

The title of this book seems deceitful. It's true agenda is to expand the palace of feminism into the world of Torah, and when the two clash, to choose feminism over Torah.

Even though Tamar is literate in the languages of her religion, she reminds me of media celebrity Irshad Manji, who had the chutzpah to publish a book in 2002 called The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith, even though Irshad is illiterate in Arabic (the principle language of Islam), a practicing lesbian, and regarded as an aspotate by many Muslims).

I believe that Tamar Ross is Orthoprax -- she practices Orthodox Judaism. But she certainly doesn't believe as Orthodox Judaism requires and thus she shouldn't pose as an authentic Orthodox Jew writing from within the tradition.

Her book was originally a paper delivered at the Orthodox Forum at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Ahron Lichtenstein then ripped her arguments apart.

Dr. Ross describes her experience at the Forum on page XIII:

It soon became obvious that members of the American Modern Orthodox establishment were not prepared to deal critically with the issues at hand.

But they were prepared, Dr. Ross, and they critically ripped your arguments apart. It was not them who were unable to deal critically. It was you.

In the round of discussion after I presented an oral summary of the paper, the atmosphere was heavy and oppressive.

In other words, they disagreed with you, and you found this "heavy and oppressive."

July 11, 1999 Haaretz

One debate will center on a question raised a year ago in an academic article: How can we pray to our God when He has no relationship with women?

This issue indeed stirred up a heated controversy about a year ago when it was first presented by Dr. Tamar Ross of the Hebrew University - herself an observant woman who covers her hair - at a conference organized by Yeshiva University, the greatest bastion of modern Orthodoxy in the United States. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, the head of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva (a program that combines army service with yeshiva studies), launched a scathing attack on Ross. According to Kehat, he even pointed out that "Rabbi Soloveitchik would certainly be turning over in his grave if he were to hear these things." The irony is that Ross will not be able to present her thesis at the conference because she has not been given time off by the same Yeshiva University, where she is currently teaching.

You can't be intellectually honest and argue for feminism from within the Jewish tradition. Feminism, as it is currently understood, is an ideology alien to Judaism.

I'm sick of all these people such as Dr. Tamar Ross and Dr. Dvorah Ross posing as Orthodox Jews and writing critiques of Orthodox Judaism from alien perspectives while all the time claiming to be insiders authentic to the tradition.

I'm starting to sound like Wendy Shalit.

These are the type of people who are going to have daughters who want to claim to be Orthodox and yet have children without getting married. These women have inherited their mother's narcissistic thinking process -- primarily concerned with self-fulfillment (rather than the consequences of their behavior on others).

Tamar's daughter Dvora wrote an article reviewing the literature of Jewish law on artificial fertilization for unmarried women (something that is clearly against the ethos of Jewish living, children should start out life with a mother and father).

From JVibe:

On the other hand, a knowledgeable Orthodox woman, Dvora Ross, has written a responsum in favour of artificial insemination for single women (in Hebrew, in _Jewish Legal Writings by Women_, Jerusalem: Urim, 1998). In halakhah (Jewish law), people who are not commanded to do something can still take on the obligation voluntarily. Over the centuries, Ross argues, women have taken on the obligation of reproduction.

According to several great rabbis, women are commanded to have children, as part of a human obligation to populate the world. Even though "be fruitful and multiply" does not apply to them, "the earth was created to be populated" (Isaiah 45:18) does apply. (Tosafot, Bava Batra 13a; Magen Avraham, Shulchan Arukh OH 153:9.)

Finally, according to halakhah a woman may demand a divorce because her husband is sterile (Shulchan Arukh EH 154:6). That is, she has a right to insist on having a child.

Since writing this responsum, Dvora Ross, a single woman, has had a child through sperm donation, and her choice has been accepted in her Orthodox community in Israel.

From the Jerusalem Post 4/8/04:

Dr. Dvori Ross, author of the essay "Artificial Insemination and Single Women" which appeared in the 1998 book Jewish Legal Writings by Women, is a single mother of three children. Avichai, her eldest, is five and a half. Bezalel and Na'ama, her twins, are two years old. When it came to choosing a donor, she also opted for a non-Jew.

"It never really bothered me, and halachically it is a lot less complicated," says Ross. "I'm friendly with a lot of non-Jews from The Israel Interfaith Association, so the non-Jewish donor option seemed quite normal."

All these women share a concern for the lack of a father figure in their children's lives, but each mother tries to find her own way to grapple with the problem.

For Ross, a partial solution was to ensure that her children would have access to information about the donor when they grew up, which meant importing donor sperm from the States. (The US offers the option of making contact with and having information about the donor when the children reach maturity, unlike in Israel, where sperm donation is anonymous by law.)

"I'd heard that it's very important for adopted children to know who their parents are. I thought that it wouldn't be right of me if I didn't give my children that option," Ross says.

In terms of the day-to-day presence of a father, Ross believes that it's important for her children to have role models of both sexes, but they don't necessarily have to be a mother or father. Avichai's uncle, for example, plays an important role in his life.

Ross explains: "Okay, yes, of course there are passages in the Talmud that talk about the intimacy between a man and a woman, and it's hard, it's hard for me that I'm not in the framework of that kind of relationship. But at the end of the day, I don't think that one-parent families are a bad thing.

"Certainly, I had an idyllic picture of the family, with a father, like they create for us all the time," Ross says. "But that whole picture is a modern creation of the last few hundred years. In Europe, for example, Ashkenazi women would marry, but they wouldn't see their husbands very much. In other places there were hamulot [extended families living together]. Essentially the family model that's meant to be so ideal boils down to a romantic structure of the last two, three hundred years. It's a modern creation."

It's a real shame that Orthodox Jewish women are having kids on their own when there are wonderful guys like me just waiting to become husbands and fathers.

Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism

5/29/05

Like homosexual Orthodox rabbi Steven Greenberg (author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition), Dr. Tamar Ross is engaged in dishonest work.

The painful truth is that without their false public posturing, they'd disappear from the public stage. On their own merits, they would create barely a ripple in the public consciousness. But because they present themselves as Orthodox Jews writing from within the tradition, they immediately seize our attention because their claims are so bizarre.

It's interesting to hear about an Orthodox rabbi who lives in a homosexual relationship with another man and claims that homosexual sex is ok. It's interesting to hear about a feminist writing a feminist critique of Orthodox Judaism from within Orthodox Judaism.

Dr. Ross and Rabbi Greenberg live in incompatible worlds. If they admitted this, then they would be on the road to intellectual honesty, and they would be worthy of our sympathy, if not our respect.

(Even though in some ways (such as learning) I've participated more actively in Orthodox Jewish life over the past decade than the average Orthodox Jew, I've never presented myself (except ironically) to the world as an Orthodox Jew writing from within the tradition of Orthodox Judaism. It wouldn't be honest given my choices. If I were Tamar Ross or Steven Greenberg, I would abandon their public pose of Orthodoxy.)

If Steven Greenberg stopped billing himself as an Orthodox rabbi, and stopped claiming that Orthodox Judaism can sanction homosexual behavior, then he'd be honest to both God and the life he's chosen. (While people may be born to be homosexual in their orientation, it is still their choice to act on this desire, just as it is the choice of every married heterosexual to be adulterous.)

Feminism, like psychology and philosophy, is fundamentally a secular way of looking at the world (even though it can be adopted by the religious). A feminist critique of Orthodox Judaism is predictable. Of course feminism is going to clash with a 3,000-year-old tradition that gives separate roles to men and women.

What will propel intrepid readers through all 249 dense pages of her latest book (and I predict that only one out of 20 people who try to read the thing will finish, because even though I am rapid reader, I am only getting through about 20-pages-per-hour) is to see what intellectual acrobatics she will perform to do the impossible -- reconcile Orthodoxy with feminism.

Incidentally, if you want to know how I spent my 39th birthday on May 28 it was reading Dr. Ross's dreary book.

A Bible-believing Christian has more in common with Orthodox Judaism than does Tamar Ross.

Here's an example from page 135: "It is a real question whether religious belief in general and Judaism in particular can afford the forgoing of any claims to metaphysics."

For Dr. Ross, it is a real question whether Judaism can give up belief in God.

One can only wish that given such radical views, she will give up her pose of Orthdox Judaism.

Dr. Ross spends pages sympathetically evaluating feminists who've found that they must give up monotheism for its inherent sexism.

Miriam Shaviv calls the book "brilliant" in her Forward review: "Tamar Ross...analyzes why feminism poses such a great challenge to the Orthodox establishment and why there has been no systematic resolution."

Feminism poses as much of a challenge to Orthodoxy as Jesus Christ. If you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, and the divine son-of-God, you can not be an Orthodox Jew. Likewise, if you believe that feminism possesses ultimate truth, you can not be an Orthodox Jew.

Miriam writes:

Ross's central contention is that Orthodoxy's problem with feminism is about much more than men protecting their power or a community defending tradition. Feminism, she says, teaches that Jewish tradition bears a pervasive masculine bias not just in its laws, the gender ascribed to God, or in the way the male is normative and the female is "other," but in a very male way of thinking behind our image of God, our ideal relationship with Him and the kind of society He prescribes. This poses a severe challenge to the very notion of divine revelation: "[I]f the Torah's portrayal of the world and God so clearly reflects a quintessentially male point of view, how are we to view the source of such a Torah?" Ross asks. "What sort of God would ignore the voices, insights, and experiences of half the human race? Because the perspective of the Torah is limited, can we really credit it with being divine?" As a result of this, the halachic system is also undermined, because it derives its authority from the divine origins of the Torah.

"In raising such challenges," Ross writes, "feminism can be seen as undermining the deepest foundations upon which rabbinic Judaism as an authoritarian system depends for its survival."

.........

Reading Ross, it is easy to understand why so many Orthodox men fear female scholarship. Her book offers a powerful alternate theological vision that challenges some of the basic assumptions of the Orthodox Jewish world, and gives a glimpse of just how revolutionary feminism could be to Orthodoxy. In the end, however, Ross's creativity is hampered by her unwillingness to rock the Orthodox establishment. For the moment, at least, the male traditionalists are safe.

These points (by Shaviv and Ross) are ludicrous in so many ways.

If Judaism's sacred texts are as biased as Ross alleges, then they can't be divine and there is nothing to undermine. Judaism is a crock. It's not that "feminism can be seen as undermining the deepest foundations [of Judaism]." It has nothing to do with "can be seen." If the Torah is as Ross presents it, then it is not divine and worthy of no more attention than Plato and Aristotle. It is certainly not worth living one's life around, as Dr. Ross claims to do (on the back cover of her book).

Shaviv claims Dr. Ross is unwilling to rock the boat of the Orthodox establishment. This is pure nonsense. How much more rocking would you have to do beyond being agnostic about the importance of God to Judaism and claiming that Judaism's sacred texts and those who've interpreted them for millenia are male chauvinists.

Shaviv claims that "so many Orthodox men fear female scholarship." I live my life around Orthodox men, many of whom are rabbis, and I don't know any who fear female scholarship. I'm well read in contemporary Jewish literature and I don't know of any publishing by Orthodox men that displays fear of female scholarship.

If Shaviv's review and Ross's book are examples of female scholarship, there's no certainly nothing to fear. Both are shoddy.

Underneath all Dr. Ross's academic jargon is a simple cry from the heart: "Pay attention to me. I hurt."

There's nothing wrong with such sentiments if one is honest about them. I like attention and I hurt. Everybody likes positive attention. Everybody hurts.

Somehow Dr. Ross and her feminist cohorts believe that life is uniquely painful for them.

Dr. Ross approvingly quotes Orthodox feminist Debby Koren:

I can forgive the Rambam [for regarding men as superior to women]. He lived in Moslem society at a time when women really were not in the same position that men were... But when a rabbi today tries to justify the reasoning [behind halakhic exclusion of women] with the same kind of apologetics, that's what I can't forgive. We can't try to sensitize the Rambam. But we can certainly attempt to open the eyes and hearts of our rabbis and teachers today. We can tell them that this hurts.

Arguing for changes in Judaism because "this hurts" is something that only a woman could get away with. Imagine if a man called for changes in Jewish law, such as the requirement that he pray three times a day, on the basis of "this hurts."

Let me assure you that getting up early every morning to go to shul to say the same words you've been saying for 40-years -- "this hurts." Only men don't write books complaining about such things. Men don't expect the community to change for them if they have hurt feelings. Men don't expect that their feelings are a sufficient basis for changing Jewish law and liturgy.

5/28/05

Without her Orthodox pose, Dr. Tamar Ross would be just another dreary feminist theorist.

Like homosexual Orthodox rabbi Steven Greenberg (author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition), she is engaged in dishonest work.

In Greenberg's case, he argues that it is ok to have sex with men and still be an Orthodox Jew. in Dr. Ross's case, she argues that it is ok to accept feminism as the ultimate truth, and to make Orthodox Judaism to conform to it.

(If your primary source of values is Orthodox Judaism, then you can't be a feminist. If your primary source of values if feminism, then you can't be an Orthodox Jew.)

Without their false public image, Greenberg and Ross would disappear from our intellecutal dialogue. On the merit of their work, they wouldn't warrant consideration from those who struggle with the great issues of life. But because they insist on presenting themselves as Orthodox Jews living and writing from within the tradition, they attract attention from the shallow media who already endorse feminism and homosexuality and now want to give it the patina of religious acceptance (the deep and largely unconscious agenda here is the substitution of secular liberal values for religious and conservative ones).

An Orthodox rabbi who lives in a homosexual relationship with another man and claims that homosexual sex is ok is momentarily compelling. A feminist writing a feminist critique of Orthodox Judaism from within Orthodox Judaism is momentarily compelling.

Dr. Ross and Rabbi Greenberg live in incompatible worlds. If they admitted this, then they would be on the road to intellectual honesty, and they would be worthy of our sympathy, if not our respect.

(Even though in some ways (such as learning) I've participated more actively in Orthodox Jewish life over the past decade than the average Orthodox Jew, I've never presented myself (except ironically) to the world as an Orthodox Jew writing from within the tradition of Orthodox Judaism. It wouldn't be honest given my choices. If I were Tamar Ross or Steven Greenberg, I would abandon their public pose of Orthodoxy.)

If Steven Greenberg stopped billing himself as an Orthodox rabbi, and stopped claiming that Orthodox Judaism can sanction homosexual behavior, then he'd be honest to both God and the life he's chosen. (While people may be born to be homosexual in their orientation, it is still their choice to act on this desire, just as it is the choice of every married heterosexual to be adulterous.)

He'd also be forgotten.

Feminism, like psychology and philosophy, is a secular way of looking at the world (even though it can be adopted by the religious). A feminist critique of Orthodox Judaism is predictable. How could it not clash with a 3,000-year-old tradition that gives separate roles to men and women?

What will propel intrepid readers through all 249 dense pages of Dr. Ross's latest book (and I predict that only one out of 20 people who try to read the thing will finish, because even though I am rapid reader, I am only getting through about 20-pages-per-hour) is to see what intellectual acrobatics she will perform to do the impossible -- reconcile Orthodoxy with feminism.

Incidentally, if you want to know how I spent my 39th birthday on May 28 it was reading Dr. Ross's jargon-ridden book.

A Bible-believing Christian has more in common with Orthodox Judaism than does an agnostic and poser such as Tamar Ross.

Here's an example from page 135: "It is a real question whether religious belief in general and Judaism in particular can afford the forgoing of any claims to metaphysics."

For Dr. Ross, it is a real question whether Judaism can give up belief in God.

One can only wish that given such radical views, she will give up her pose of Orthdox Judaism.

Dr. Ross spends pages sympathetically evaluating feminists who've found that they must give up monotheism for its inherent sexism.

Miriam Shaviv calls the book "brilliant" in her Forward review: "Tamar Ross...analyzes why feminism poses such a great challenge to the Orthodox establishment and why there has been no systematic resolution."

Feminism poses as much of a challenge to Orthodoxy as Jesus Christ. If you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, and the divine son-of-God, you can not be an Orthodox Jew. Likewise, if you believe that feminism possesses ultimate truth, you can not be an Orthodox Jew.

Miriam writes:

Ross's central contention is that Orthodoxy's problem with feminism is about much more than men protecting their power or a community defending tradition. Feminism, she says, teaches that Jewish tradition bears a pervasive masculine bias not just in its laws, the gender ascribed to God, or in the way the male is normative and the female is "other," but in a very male way of thinking behind our image of God, our ideal relationship with Him and the kind of society He prescribes. This poses a severe challenge to the very notion of divine revelation: "[I]f the Torah's portrayal of the world and God so clearly reflects a quintessentially male point of view, how are we to view the source of such a Torah?" Ross asks. "What sort of God would ignore the voices, insights, and experiences of half the human race? Because the perspective of the Torah is limited, can we really credit it with being divine?" As a result of this, the halachic system is also undermined, because it derives its authority from the divine origins of the Torah.

"In raising such challenges," Ross writes, "feminism can be seen as undermining the deepest foundations upon which rabbinic Judaism as an authoritarian system depends for its survival."

.........

Reading Ross, it is easy to understand why so many Orthodox men fear female scholarship. Her book offers a powerful alternate theological vision that challenges some of the basic assumptions of the Orthodox Jewish world, and gives a glimpse of just how revolutionary feminism could be to Orthodoxy. In the end, however, Ross's creativity is hampered by her unwillingness to rock the Orthodox establishment. For the moment, at least, the male traditionalists are safe.

These points (by Shaviv and Ross) are ludicrous in so many ways.

If Judaism's sacred texts are as biased as Ross alleges, then they can't be divine and there is nothing to undermine. Judaism is a crock. It's not that "feminism can be seen as undermining the deepest foundations [of Judaism]." It has nothing to do with "can be seen." If the Torah is as Ross presents it, then it is not divine and worthy of no more attention than Plato and Aristotle. It is certainly not worth living one's life around, as Dr. Ross claims to do (on the back cover of her book).

Shaviv claims Dr. Ross is unwilling to rock the boat of the Orthodox establishment. This is pure nonsense. How much more rocking would you have to do beyond being agnostic about the importance of God to Judaism and claiming that Judaism's sacred texts and those who've interpreted them for millenia are male chauvinists.

Shaviv claims that "so many Orthodox men fear female scholarship." I live my life around Orthodox men, many of whom are rabbis, and I don't know any who fear female scholarship. I'm well read in contemporary Jewish literature and I don't know of any publishing by Orthodox men that displays fear of female scholarship.

If Shaviv's review and Ross's book are examples of female scholarship, there's no certainly nothing to fear. Both are shoddy.

Underneath all Dr. Ross's academic jargon is a simple cry from the heart: "Pay attention to me. I hurt."

There's nothing wrong with such sentiments if one is honest about them. I like attention and I hurt. Everybody likes positive attention. Everybody hurts.

Somehow Dr. Ross and her feminist cohorts believe that life is uniquely painful for them.

Dr. Ross approvingly quotes Orthodox feminist Debby Koren:

I can forgive the Rambam [for regarding men as superior to women]. He lived in Moslem society at a time when women really were not in the same position that men were... But when a rabbi today tries to justify the reasoning [behind halakhic exclusion of women] with the same kind of apologetics, that's what I can't forgive. We can't try to sensitize the Rambam. But we can certainly attempt to open the eyes and hearts of our rabbis and teachers today. We can tell them that this hurts.

Arguing for changes in Judaism because "this hurts" is something that only a woman could get away with. Imagine if a man called for changes in Jewish law, such as the requirement that he pray three times a day, on the basis of "this hurts."

Let me assure you that getting up early every morning to go to shul to say the same words you've been saying for 40-years -- "this hurts." Only men don't write books complaining about such things. Men don't expect the community to change for them if they have hurt feelings. Men don't expect that their feelings are a sufficient basis for changing Jewish law and liturgy.

Dr. Ross went to the 2nd Christina Conference and gave a paper entitled "Can Traditional Jewish Theology Sustain the Feminist Critique?"

I love how Dr. Ross the agnostic is giving papers to Christian (or goyish) audiences presenting herself as an Orthodox Jew and the one to reconcile traditional Jewish theology with the feminist critique? It's like having Hugh Hefner giving a paper on "Can the Traditional Monogamous Marriage Sustain The Playboy Critique?"

I suspect that for many at that March 3-5, 2005 conference, Dr. Ross was the only Orthodox Jew they had ever met.

Here's the abstract of her paper:

Orthodox Jews often view feminism as a threat to their faith because it signifies the intrusion of a movement stemming from sources foreign to Judaism, thereby creating disturbing tensions - if not downright conflicts - with traditional Jewish practice (halakha). Another level of apparent conflict with Orthodoxy generated by feminism, however, has remained completely neglected until now despite the fact that it is much more profound and critical, for it appears to challenge the very underpinnings upon which the halakha is grounded i.e., the belief in the divine revelation of the Torah.

The reasoning runs as follows: if, as asserted by the feminist critique, the Torah not only depicts God as male, but more subtly implies a whole set of cultural attitudes and structures suggestive of male thinking and patriarchal biases, thereby suppressing alternative, more feminine religious expressions, can it really be divine? The problem intensifies when we realize that all rabbinic commentary and halakhic legislation is based upon the legal and narrative sections of the Torah, which were always regarded by tradition as stemming directly from God and therefore immune to human conditioning.

The problem thus articulated is not really unique to feminism; it applies equally to countless other areas where Jews feel the time and culture bound nature of the Torah and subsequent traditional texts. But because other instances of time and culture-bound ritual no longer touch upon live issues, they are more easily ignored, whereas the ostensible inappropriateness of the overwhelmingly patriarchal nature of the Torah and halakha hits especially hard. Thus the feminist critique might herald one of those decisive historical moments when faith can be lost or strengthened by refinement.

If the feminist critique in its Jewish mold threatens to relativise and conditionalise the whole corpus of traditional halakha, Orthodox Jews stand in desperate need of a traditionalist theology which will accommodate the following two requisites:

On the one hand, the ability to acknowledge with a maximum of intellectual integrity the degree to which the Torah is formulated in a time and culture bound societal mold

Yet, at the same time, the ability to strongly assert that this same Torah is nevertheless the voice of God speaking to us, with every word of the voice equally holy and indispensable and even to find theological meaning in the fact that our sacred and revered texts have been bound to the implicit premises which feminist thinkers have been uncovering.

I believe that this issue points to a new theological dimension that is well worth exploring. In my presentation I will mine traditional Jewish sources for material that supports such a theological framework capable of accommodating the above two requisites without resorting to untenable pictures of God and His intentions.

This is drivel. Feminism can not shake the faith of an Orthodox Jew. The faith of an Orthodox Jew depends on his belief that God gave the Torah. Feminism has nothing to say about whether or not God gave the Torah.

July 18, 2007

Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer reviews Tamar Ross's new book in Bar Ilan's Torah uMada Journal.

Dr. Ross responds.

Dr. Frimer responds.