Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Controversy Over Morning Blessing Thanking God For Making Me A Woman

by Rabbi Dov Fischer
Recently, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, one of six national officers of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and rabbi of a West Coast Orthodox Union congregation, published a deeply disturbing internet article on the “Morethodoxy” website. The article explained why he no longer recites a brakhah formulated by Chazal that dates back to Gemara times. “[E]ach morning,” Kanefsky wrote, “we actually reinforce the inherited prejudice that holds that women possess less innate dignity than men.” Indeed, explaining his rejection of the brakhah “shelo asani ishah,” he also attacked certain great Poskim of the past and further lambasted large swaths of the contemporary Orthodox world whom he accused of forcing women to pray in cages. In Rabbi Kanefsky’s formulation: “[O]ften she must content herself with davening in a cage in shul.” He also accused Jewish courts of widespread corruption: “Women are still extorted routinely during divorce proceedings, as rabbinical courts urge them to forfeit various rights in exchange for her husband’s deigning to give the ‘get’ that she needs.” Therefore, he “cannot take God’s name in the context of this blessing anymore. . . .” He even wrote that the prayer recited by Orthodox Jews for 2,000 years and even published on page 18 of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) Siddur – he is an RCA member – is a “Desecration of [G-d’s] Name.”
Under blistering criticism, the national IRF leader took down his article 72 hours later and replaced it with a parallel piece that was rewritten to sound more genteel. But its views continue to be molded by exactly the same viewpoint and modus driven by the more Gentile. It is the Morethodoxy / IRF / Chovevei Torah (YCT) approach that, like Conservative Judaism a century earlier, begins the discussion with the Orthodox premise as a starting point for locating and then carefully hand-picking alternating halakhic opinions from among 2000 years of published Torah analysis to create a variant salad of Torah practice that deviates repeatedly from the universal norm. As Conservative Judaism, which never quotes The Mordechai, built a deviationist approach to minyan on the foundation of an isolated Mordechai commentary, so does the Morethodoxy universe first shoot its arrows, then paint its bull’s-eyes around them. In time, a minority opinion can be molded for everything, much as racist American legislators could build a contemporary deviationist American legal framework by citing rejected or minority Supreme Court opinions to justify incarcerating Japanese Americans, enslaving African Americans, and breaking signed and sworn pledges made to Native Americans.
“Morethodoxy” is self-described by many of the “Liberal Brethren” who populate the left-most boundary of the Sabbath-observant as their “safe place.” It is a tunnel on the web where mostly IRF members from YCT, but also including a few from the left wing of the RCA, can try propagating their views without being subjected to scrutiny and critique by those committed to a Mesorah-driven frumkeit.
Whether it be Rabbi Avi Weiss ordaining “women rabbis,” backed by a formal “halakhic Responsum” issued by young Rabbi Joshua Maroof as a participant, or whether it be Rabbi Kanefsky urging Israel to accept Arab demands to negotiate the possible division of Jerusalem, these moments are not mere cases of halakhic static but rather open the door to grave convolutions for communicating authentic Torah and the values of Mesorah to the general Jewish public. We all lose when a rabbi of a West Coast Orthodox Union congregation publishes that he no longer will recite a brakhah that appears everywhere including the RCA Siddur – published by the very rabbinical body of which he is a member.

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