Tuesday, August 22, 2006

KOE Succession II

Responding to Rabbi Jay Lapidus on his list, "ocrjewish":

> But is the congregation "Orthodox"?

> NEW YORK TIMES | August 21, 2006
> An Orthodox Jewish Woman, and Soon, a Spiritual Leader
> By MICHAEL LUO

> A wife, a mother of three and an expert in Jewish bioethics will become
> the spiritual leader of Kehilat Orach Eliezer, a small Upper West Side
> congregation.

That's the key question, isn't it? By all accounts, in ritual practice, the congregation is Orthodox. But they aren't affiliated with any of the Orthodox organizations. And they were founded as the private minyan of one of the big JTS people. Who davened in an O synagogue when he was able to get out of the house.

She's Orthodox, all her training came from left-wing Mod-O institutions.

But their previous rabbi was the head of the UTJ yeshiva, which is decidedly unOrthodox, as is his view of textual transmission.

Then there are the reports that they couldn't afford a rabbi, so they took on a woman who, not having the "title", could be paid less. A correspondent with connections to UTJ claimed that the UTJ rabbis wanted only full-time positions, so they didn't apply. Their loss - my last two synagogues have had part-time rabbis with (fairly prestigious) day jobs.

So is the synagogue defined by affiliation? If so, not O.
by rabbi? If so, no rabbi to define it.
by practice? If so, O.
by affiliation of earlier rabbis? If so, not O.

I've belonged to unaffiliated Orthodox shuls, but they still made a point of advertising themselves as Orthodox. KOE calls itself "halachic". What's in a name? When one is claiming great strides for a movement to which a label applies, much.

Is it the great stride forward for Orthodox Feminism that its Orthodox Feminist congregants claim? Is it a step backwards for Orthodox Feminism in terms of classical "equal pay for equal work"? Is it irrelevant for Orthodox Feminism because a) the shul doesn't want to be called "Orthodox" or b) because the spiritual leader refuses to be called "rabbi"?

9 comments:

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...
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Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I don't think KOE is either 1) claiming to be orthodox or 2) claiming to be making some big orthodox leap forward.

I just think that calling it RWC is even more unrealistic.

And in relation to the great leap forward, no one there who i've heard discussing the search process seemed to feel that anything particularly noteworthy was happening. It seemed perfectly normal that the role of Rosh Kehilla would be open to anyone gender-indescriminately.

thanbo said...
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thanbo said...

>I don't think KOE is either 1) claiming to be orthodox or 2) claiming to be making some big orthodox leap forward.

Well, someone should so inform the newspapers and the JOFA/Drisha axis, then.

And if it's not LWMO, and it's not RWC, and it's not UTJ, then we revert to Gil's and my original position, which is "this is a non-event, that a non-O synagogue hires a woman to be a non-rabbi, so why are the JOFA crowd and the papers making such a big fuss?"

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I think the big fuss is about the fact that while it is non- or trans- or post-denominational, it's de facto description is Orthodox.

So while it doesn't affiliate, it is seen as expressing some kind of Orthodox standard. Especially since while it isn't Orthodox, it isn't Heterodox either.

dilbert said...

Labels, Labels, Labels.

Please give your definition of Orthodox, so that we may decide if you are applying it correctly. Then, please state why UTJ is not orthodox(keeping in mind that they make no claim to being orthodox), and why KOE is not orthodox, because I doubt that being named after someone from another movement neccessarily removes a synagogue from the umbrella of orthodoxy, or does it?

Obviously these institutions don't call themselves orthodox. They let people looking at them decide if the institution conforms to their idea of halachic Judaism, or not. Does orthodoxy equal halachic Judaism?

Before you put names on people and things that they have not put on themselves(and in some cases, such as R. Halivni and UTJ, they have deliberately and consciously cast off), you may want to be clear as to what exactly these names imply and mean, and why exactly they are being used as you use them.

thanbo said...

Well, that's the question of the hour, isn't it?

On one foot, then, subject to further refinement:

1) synagogue uses an Orthodox prayerbook (i.e., one that calls for the restoration of the Temple and sacrifices).

2) synagogue has a mechitzah, however low, between the men's and women's sections.

3) the poskim of the synagogue proclaim belief in the 13 Maimonidean Principles, including a strict reading of the 8th Principle: a literally correct Torah to within a few letters, and a Sinaitic Oral Law. This lets out KOE, whose posek until now (Rav Halivini) holds a very loose form of Torah textual accuracy.

Yes, I know Marc Shapiro's book (and Menachem Kellner's books, and others) take issue with a strict reading of the Maimonidean Principles, but for whatever reason, contemporary society demands a narrow definition of permissible interpretations. Louis Jacobs' "Principles of Jewish Faith", then, is right out.

4) (Not quite circular) A willingness to use the label Orthodox in the synagogue's self-description (charter, mission statement, etc.) This too lets out KOE.

dilbert said...

Interesting. So, if the new "spiritual leader" has a posek she depends on who does believe in a narrow definition of #8, then actually having her would make KOE more orthodox by definition. I am not sure how identifying as orthodox can be a criterion. Because, in essence, the definition of orthodoxy is a halachic/hashkafic one. How one names oneself, or with whom one associates should be mostly irrelevant.

thanbo said...

>should be mostly irrelevant.

But must be relevant, because it is the only way to identify an institution.

An institution's ideals, if not specifically stated in a Mission Statement or some such, can be determined from the institution's self-labeling, hence a consensus self-image, and from the ideals of its leadership.

KOE does not identify as Orthodox, and its immediate past rabbi holds a distinctly non-Maimonidean view, not supported clearly in sources, of the revelation and evolution of the written Torah.

What are we to think?

For whatever reason, they choose not to identify as Orthodox. It's their choice, so they live with the consequences within the larger Jewish community.