Editor’s Introduction to
THE EDAH JOURNAL 1:2
Welcome to the second volume of THE EDAH JOURNAL. All of us at Edah look forward to your
participation in this publication as a reader, contributor and commentator.
As our statement of purpose indicates, the objectives of the
journal are to inform and to stimulate ongoing discussion of issues vital to
Modern Orthodox life. Torah discourse has always been the lifeblood of kelal yisrael, nurturing our religious and
communal life in our quest for qedushah.
It is our hope that THE EDAH JOURNAL contributes to this
enduring spiritual process.
THE EDAH JOURNAL publishes
three editions per year. In addition, the journal will post reader responses
and interchanges weekly throughout the year to promote sustained discussion of
the ideas the journal raises.
I personally welcome Joel Linsider to our editorial board.
Joel joins us as the journal’s text editor.
I invite you to join THE
EDAH JOURNAL community by sending me your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sivan 5761 Edition
One less conspicuous task of an editor is to decide issues
of language and nomenclature. This is no trivial matter. We all are aware of
the political implications of “East Jerusalem” vs.
“east Jerusalem” or the theological import of “Old” vs. “New” Testaments. Contemporary
thinkers from diverse fields have taught us that language does more than
describe the objective universe around us: Words shape our understanding of
reality and how we relate to the world. The logos
creates, as it were, our universe. The Torah considers names crucial,
expressing and perhaps determining the character and destiny of their bearers.
If this is true about persons in space and time, it is true a fortiori about how we understand God,
who has no independent empirical character. Halakhah’s insistence on the
careful use of the divine Name reflects this philosophic awareness. That
sanctifying God is conceived of as ‘qiddush
Ha-Shem” ---sanctifying God’s Name---is
Halakhic strictures attach formally only to the
tetragrammaton when spoken and to seven names of God when written in Hebrew ,
yet religious Jews have developed a variety of customs regarding other
references to God, both Hebrew and English. How, then, does a journal of and
for a religious community that seeks to sanctify God above the level of
pedestrian things refer to The Holy One: “God” or “G-d?” “Hashem” or “Hash-m” or
”Ha-Shem?” “Elohim” or
“Eloqim”? Professor B. Barry Levy analyzes this
question, providing us with the relevant historical, linguistic and halakhic
considerations. In accordance with his clarification, THE EDAH JOURNAL has decided on “God,” “Ha-Shem” and “Elohim.”
The changing status, education, and prominence of women in
modern society pose fundamental
challenges for any group wishing to maintain strong continuity with its
past. Many regard the acceptance of
this emerging status of women as the fault line separating moderns from
non-moderns. It is easy for Jews to think about the phenomenon of feminism as a
monolith: Some consider it a blanket evil imported from non-Jewish culture that
requires rejection on every level; others regard it as an expression of justice
long denied, whose every manifestation is warranted by egalitarian ethics.
Modern Orthodox Jews can ill afford either simplistic
extreme view of feminism. As Norma Baumel Joseph points out, the ‘F’ word
should be neither an epithet nor an idol. Rational Orthodox policy toward
feminism should resemble our policy toward modernity: We should regard it as a
set of complex phenomena, whose discrete claims require individual judgment
before the bar of halakhic principles and values. Some will merit life; others
will be found wanting. This is not the end of the matter, merely a complicated
beginning. As many of the discussions in this edition show, varying conceptions
of halakhah and the valence each
accords to prevalent social patterns (‘minhag’)
frequently yield opposite conclusions.
Professors Joseph and Sylvia Barack Fishman demonstrate in
their respective halakhic and sociological surveys that feminist change has
been an historical reality in religious communities for the past 100
years. Women’s education outside the
home was the cutting edge of feminist innovation at the end of the nineteenth
century. As the controversy in Erets Yisrael
from 1917-1925 (articulated in the writings of Rav Kook and Rav Uziel)
testifies, the question of women’s suffrage rocked the religious community in
that era. Even non-Modern Orthodox came to accept those “feminist” innovations.
In the 1950’s Modern Orthodox rabbis debated the legitimacy
of women’s careers outside the home, and later the debate shifted to the
permissibility of women learning classical Talmudic texts. Today, those
feminist questions have been settled affirmatively in nearly all Modern
Orthodox communities and many non-Modern Orthodox as well.
Some might question the relevance of the 1920 debate between
Rav Kook and Rav Uziel over women’s suffrage to a discussion of contemporary
challenges. Though the specific question has long since been decided, it is
clear that something much more generic occupied these two Torah authorities.
Whether halakhah allows women to
participate fully in public life, to exercise authority over males by holding
public office, or to represent the Jewish community, are questions Orthodox
communities have yet to settle, either theoretically or through their contemporary politics. The suffrage
debate also exemplifies the widely divergent conceptions of halakhah employed by the two rabbis: For
Rav Kook, the voice of Torah was a mixture of philosophy, values, existing
social patterns and formal law. Rav Uziel decided these questions by first
applying a more rigorous consideration of formal halakhic principles, which
determined these innovations to be legitimate. Ethical considerations grounded
in the recognition that women are created b’tzelem
Elohim (in the image of God), in human dignity and in fairness,
dictated for Rav Uziel that the legally permitted be transformed to absolute
rights. Professor Zvi Zohar shows that Rav Uziel was hardly a strict formalist,
in his review of Rabbi Marc Angel’s biography of Rav Uziel, a book that opens
us to the halakhic worldview of the former Rishon
Rav Uziel analyzes many of the classical halakhic sources
(most importantly Rambam’s innovation in Hilkhot
Melakhim 1:5 prohibiting
the appointment of women to public office or communal representation) that
militate against feminist equality and innovation. These sources still form the
basis for many today who reject the incursion of feminism into the halakhically
committed community. Indeed, some of those same sources quoted by Rav Uziel
reappear 80 years later in the discussion between Rabbi Mendel Shapiro and Rav
Yehuda Herzl Henkin over the permissibility of qeri’at
ha-Torah and aliyyot for
The editors experienced much soul-searching before
publishing Rabbi Shapiro’s essay on qeri’at
ha-Torah for women. Its controversial nature is certain to raise
passions and disagreement in the community. Neither Edah nor THE EDAH JOURNAL necessarily advocates the
position espoused in this paper, yet we found little intellectual justification
for refusing to make public Shapiro’s comprehensive and powerful halakhic
argument that is advanced with great integrity. Whether or not the community
takes up this position for practical implementation, the paper goes far in
clarifying the real halakhic issues—and
non-issues—swirling around this contentious question. Rav Henkin, a noted
halakhic authority, evaluates Shapiro’s arguments. Crucial to both Shapiro and Rav Henkin is the issue of the
relationship of halakhah to the
prevailing sociology of the Torah-observant community. Is the present denial of
women’s aliyyot a matter of
permanent legal prohibition or shifting communal consensus? What is the
normative weight accorded to the latter?
And as Shapiro queries, “How are we to regard those who choose to depart
from that consensus?”
In conclusion, it is important to note that there is often
an irrepressibly powerful moral impulse to feminist challenges to halakhic
life. This is evidenced in the arguments of Rav Uziel, Professors Joseph and
Fishman, and Rabbi Shapiro. On its
deepest level, the feminist critique of traditional life is neither political
nor sociological, but normative. All Jews committed to Torah---whether they
reject or accept the claims of feminism—must recognize this. To be oblivious to
this fact would be to sacrifice the moral high ground of the Torah and its halakhah.
We trust that the discussions presented in these pages will
promote sustained and sober consideration of these issues, thus
contributing “lehagdil Torah u’leha’adirah”--to the
greatness and glory of Torah.