(A Bit) On Judaism & Women — A Response To Jennifer Geretz

Jennifer Geretz recently published an article on Times of Israel entitled “Jewish Women: We Withdraw Our Consent”. I suggest reading said article before reading my response here. But hey, do whatever you want.

Look, I’m sure we can all agree that Geretz means well. I’m sure this article comes from a place that is truly genuine. I don’t doubt her motives.

But that doesn’t mean that I like the article.

I write now, fully aware of the high stakes and passions surrounding this issue, merely as a man with an opinion. You can take it or leave it. Let me share, at least a little bit, of my perspective on this most-important issue via a response to one paragraph in particular:

Rabbis, gentlemen, rabbotai, my brothers and my friends, we Jewish women are coming to tell you: We. Withdraw. Our. Consent. We do not consent to being excluded from Jewish ritual and practice. We demand to be considered as full Jews, as full members of your congregations, your yeshivot. We demand full access to the texts and learning of our own religion, of our own heritage, of our portion handed directly to us by Hashem. With no go-betweens, with no barriers. With no men allowed to tell us what we may and may not do in our relationship with HKB”H. We, who stood next to you at Sinai, we who said with you naaseh v’nishmah, we stand today and say that heritage, that portion, is just as much ours as it is yours. You may no longer keep us from it with the excuse that God wants it that way, or that it is in our own best interest, or even that it is in your best interest. You do not own the Torah. If God had wanted women to access the Torah only through men as gatekeepers, He would have established that in the Torah. Yet, words in which God requires Jewish women to acquiesce as a gender to any rule other than His – are conspicuously absent.

I am all-for women learning Torah. I cannot be more forthcoming or blunt about this. I think it’s great (although this point merits a discussion in its own right). Indeed, these days, I personally feel (not that my opinion is necessarily of much worth) that it is to be commended. Again, great. We should have women scholars. Real scholarship. Show me a woman with the level of knowledge the greatest scholars amongst men possess, and it will be a very happy day for me. Truly.

But such a thing does not exist yet. Instead, it seems, we have people demanding things like a child. And, quite honestly, I don’t care what you demand. Demands have no place in a legal system. You want to have a say in the legal system? Well, stop complaining like a child, and do something about it. Become learned.

I firmly believe that, as of today, much of what is lacking in women’s rights in the Orthodox world is due in large part to the fact that there is no one of true scholarship demanding it, nor allowing it. Well, then change that. Be that scholar.

But, that point aside, and in the meantime, we have Geretz telling me what she thinks God would have, or should have, included in the Torah. If God wanted something to be clear than He would have put it in the Torah! Really? If God wanted Tefillen to be black and square you would think He would put that in the text of the Torah as well, right? But He didn’t. He didn’t even explain what Tefillen are, for whatever reason. Now I’m not, at all, suggesting that I believe that Men have an exclusive right to religion. Not at all. But what I am suggesting is that there is also an Oral Law that explains and interprets the Written Law — yes, sometimes to the exclusion of women. And the last two sentences in the paragraph quoted above seem to be completely oblivious to this fact.

And worse, Geretz’s point in the final sentence quoted above is patently false. Dare I bring up the posuk:

“And to your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you.” (Bereishis 3:16)

Certainly, an explanation of this posuk is due another time, but the point stands that there is no question in my mind that by the subjective American standards of the year 2015, Judaism is a bit sexist (see here also). Why can’t women do whatever they want, religiously? Well, because God doesn’t want it. Has Geretz ever contemplated that such might be the reality?

You know, I’d really, really like to participate in the Beis Hamikdash services. Unfortunately, I cannot, because I am neither a Kohein nor Levi. I do not get to perform Birkas Kohanim. I do not get precedence when it comes to religious rituals. I never get to enter the holiest room in the world (may it be rebuilt quickly) — in fact, if I were to try, God would literally kill me. Kind of sucks, honestly. And there is nothing I can do about it. This is how God wants it. Don’t like it? I’m sorry. Is that unfair against non-Kohanim? Yes it is.

This all reminds me of the old one-liner: “You worship God your way, I’ll worship Him His.”

Now, let me be 100% clear. I do not mean to equate women’s rights in Judaism to that of non-Kohanim. They are very clearly not the same thing. So please do not misunderstand. I mean only to illustrate the point that not everyone gets to just do whatever they want religiously. I will not engage in apologetics about this point. Such is the law, like it or not. Call it unfair? That’s fine. Sexist sometimes? Sure, depending, of course, on how you define the term. I will not make any of those arguments about how “women are on a higher spiritual plane and so they don’t need as many mitzvos”. That’s childish, and doesn’t help anything.

Orthodoxy today is indeed often more “sexist” than it needs to be. But, if you’re going to define “sexist” as any difference in ritual between Man and Women then, I’m sorry, but Judaism is sexist. I’m not comfortable with that. After all, I grew up in America in this decade, for crying out loud! I’m not comfortable with the fact that the Torah is anti-Gay! I’m not comfortable with animal sacrifice! Or capital punishment at all, let alone by hurling someone off a cliff and pelting him with stones! But this only goes to show how far removed our culture is from that of the Torah’s. Sometimes this seems to be what God wants, and sometimes it is not. It’s hard to say, honestly.

What I will say, though, is that there is no question that women can, and perhaps should, be participating in much more than they do. But we need to, legally, systematically, and with scholarship and intelligence, determine just what that is and is not; what is and is not allowed. And women are more than invited to be a part of that process! But the key element is scholarship and knowledge of halacha. I stand right next to Geretz in the hopes of increasing women’s participation in many things — and to increase our comfort with scholarship amongst women as well!

But, it seems to me that the key difference between us is that I want to make sure that this is all done halachikly, and within our Divine system. I stand fully behind the idea that women can do more religiously, should they choose, than, in large part, they do now. But I fully reject the notion that we are seeking carte blanche here.

I require only a valid halachic decision, and I am totally cool with whatever it may be. Because we have a tradition, and a way of life, and God’s will to uphold here. So we need to be very careful with these things. And that comes through the halacha, and the halachic system. Being calculated and slow here is perfectly correct, and good. Render a halachic decision by a valid authority and I’m 100% okay with whatever the system produces.

Write an attention-grabbing, emotion-filled article speaking on behalf of all women, somehow, using cute stories as yours proofs, and completely neglecting to include a single legal statement of any significance — that just does not work for me.

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