“My tradition is more real!” “No mine is!” “Nuh-uh.” “Yeah-huh.”

Crossposted to Jewschool

As noted at Jewschool:

NEWS ITEM: In a special news report published online by the NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK, a woman was designated by Rabbi Avraham Weiss to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday night, July 30, for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox Union synagogue.

So then Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi wrote a post at his blog, the thrust of which was, “Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on ‘Torah true Judaism'” because, Miller says in the post, Orthodox Jews change things too.

In response to that–its moments like this that make me love blogging, re-blogging, posting, responding, etc–Hyim Shafner, an Orthodox rabbi and contributor to the blog Morethodoxy, wrote–and I paraphrase liberally here–“Yeah, we change. But we know the Shulchan Aruch better. So we’re Torah True.”

It’s notoriously hard to figure out what the Torah really says.  But here it’s not even clear what Torah we’re talking about. In our tradition, Torah can mean, most narrowly, the Five Books of Moses. It can also mean the whole Tanach. And sometimes is refers to all of Jewish law.

So when Miller says that things change, he’s cluing us into the fact that things that may seem sacrosanct now were once innovative. Monogamy and the daily requirement of prayer are innovations that do not come from the Five Books of Moses, just as a woman leading Kab Shab at HIR is an innovation for that community–and definitely not an issue that the Torah directly says much of anything about.

But when Shafner says, “Yeah, but no”–again, I’m paraphrasing here–what he means is that it’s narrow and ignorant for a rabbi–like Miller–to claim that Torah is just Torah. Torah is also the broad, sprawling body of work that is Jewish law, writ large.

There’s plenty more to be said about this, but it’s my bed time. So I’ll end by saying this:

It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when people claim that something is any more or less legitimately what that something is because it has or has not changed over time. It drives me nuts when we talk about Jewish practice, the Constitution of the United States and just about everything else. Change is the only constant, friends. Now that’s miSinai. Good night.

3 Responses to “My tradition is more real!” “No mine is!” “Nuh-uh.” “Yeah-huh.”

  1. Larry Kaufman August 9, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    Shafner’s most valid point is that Conservative Jews don’t practice what they preach. But that doesn’t in and of itself make what they preach wrong.

    The biggest change I see in Modern Orthodox Judaism is that its adherents today are more likely to walk the talk than would have been the case fifty years ago — those who didn’t want to walk the talk having left for Conservative or even Reform or just left. Those who remain, or who come, do so because they are comfortable with the synthesis of ideology, liturgy, and lifestyle. And that new cohesion is what empowers Shafner to be so self-righteous.

    But Weiss recognizes that the cohesion will not hold as long as fifty percent of the members are disenfranchised. They could get away with it when their male chauvinism reflected the greater society, but how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? I thought that Weiss had caved when he promised no more Rabbas — so it’s like settling for civil unions and not pushing the semantics of same-sex marriage. He IS going to enfranchise women, and even if they kick him out of the RCA, he will change Orthodox Judaism.

    Miller in effect says what my rabbi was saying 35 years ago — if you want to know what the Conservative movement is going to do in 30 years, take a look at what we did yesterday. Well, the principle remains, but the gap time has narrowed. And the lifestyle gap is even narrower than the ideological gap. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will in yours — the mergers of HUC and JTS, of the RA and the CCAR, and of the URJ and the USCJ.

    Torah true is a ridiculous phrase, regardless who uses it. I’ll call Shafner Torah true when he stones the next kid who talks back to his parents, and when he stops talking about taharat hamishpacha which is nowhere in the Torah.

    Miller’s big mistake is to use “their” vocabulary which immediately weakens his case. And because change is miSinai, as you state, and we do it best, Reform will continue to be the vanguard stream of authentic Judaism.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 9, 2010 at 2:16 am #

      I actually think the vanguard will continue to be non-multi-post-anti-etc-denomination and Reform and Recon. But that’s just me.

  2. BZ August 9, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    Shafner’s most valid point is that Conservative Jews don’t practice what they preach. But that doesn’t in and of itself make what they preach wrong.

    Likewise, most Jews who attend Chabad (outside of Crown Heights) don’t practice what Chabad preaches, but that doesn’t in and of itself make what Chabad preaches wrong. (Many other things do make what Chabad preaches wrong! But this doesn’t, and Shafner should recognize that.)