Three responses to Rabbi Rocklin’s op ed

John Stuart Mill knew better

In his thoroughly unconvincing defense of the Orthodox Union’s ban on female clergy, Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin claims that separating the sexes in synagogue and maintaining a male-only clergy comes from a view of women as spiritually superior to men; that women are “elevated sources of inspiration.” (“Why the modern Orthodox are not always modern: Understanding the OU’s policy on female clergy,” February 9.)

Many in the Orthodox community will remain uncomfortable with the notion of female clergy for the foreseeable future. But it is astounding that anyone would expect the tired “women are actually better than men” argument for inequality to resonate in 2018.

A century and a half ago, in “The Subjection of Women,” John Stuart Mill made this wry observation:

“They are declared to be better than men; an empty compliment which must provoke a bitter smile from every woman of spirit, since there is no other situation in life in which it is the established order, and considered quite natural and suitable, that the better should obey the worse.”

David Zinberg

He should try it. (He won’t like it.)

I read Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin’s article with great interest.

The article amounts to little more than a rousing endorsement of the status quo in the modern Orthodox world as pertains to women. Rabbi Rocklin writes that having women sit behind a mechitzah or up in a balcony “involves not a unique lowering of women’s status, but just the opposite — a unique elevation” and “promotes their spiritual status.” Having sat behind mechitzahs and in balconies for many years, I challenge Rabbi Rocklin to change places with me and see if he feels spiritually elevated, sitting in an area where he cannot actively participate in the service, and often cannot even see or hear it.

I guarantee he will not.

Rabbi Rocklin puts great stock in tradition as that which keeps modern Orthodoxy viable as a religious movement. And yet traditions change, as he well knows. One shudders to think what his reaction would have been when Sarah Schenirer founded the Bais Yaakov movement, reversing centuries of tradition regarding the Jewish education of girls and women.

It is halacha, not tradition, that is the backbone of our religious and spiritual existence. Halacha has kept us viable as a people for millennia, and it is robust enough that responsa already exist dealing with religious observance in space. There are halachically acceptable ways of truly elevating the role of women in the modern Orthodox world. All we need are leaders forward thinking and brave enough to advance them, and not the platitude offered by the likes of Rabbi Rocklin.

Susan Fishbein

It’s just mansplaining

In attempting to explain traditional Orthodoxy’s stance on female clergy, traditional Orthodox Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin hodgepodges ancient history, the Bible, Greek mythology, modern sociology, recent statistics, and the de rigueur mention of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

Before concluding, Rabbi Rocklin blames the lack of progress in creating meaningful education opportunities for Jewish women on … the people who actually went ahead and created meaningful education opportunities for Jewish women. Apparently, the good people who hadn’t created those opportunities were just about to when those pesky open Orthodoxers ruined things for everyone.

But on the way to his foregone conclusion — in the Bible vs. Greek myth section — he overlooks a fascinating interpretation of the traditional Bible commentator par excellence: Rashi.

Rabbi Rocklin contrasts the rescue of Sarai/Sarah from captivity with that of women in classical mythology; while in Homer’s world “a mere army of men” fight for a woman, in the Torah God Himself does so. In both cases, it is implied, the woman is entirely passive.

Not so, says Rashi. Commenting on the phrase “al d’var Sarai” (Genesis 12:17), Rashi says that God struck Pharaoh “at her word (davar). She would say to the angel, ‘Strike!’ And he would strike.” (More than once, according to the midrash — it seems Pharaoh couldn’t take a hint.)

No mere damsel in distress is Rashi’s Sarah! She wields Divine destruction, Moses-like, against clueless, presumptuous men in power.

May God give modern Orthodox Jewish women the power to resist subjugation by the Pharaohs of the world — and the patience to endure the patronizing mansplaining of well-meaning Abrahams.

Aryeh Wiener

Three more responses to thanking Donald Trump

No thanks for Mr. Trump

I am a graduate of Yavneh, the mother of two sabras, whose sister and family live in Israel, and like my Israeli-born husband I am a dual citizen. But I live in America, enjoy the privileges of this country, and take umbrage with those who applaud the action of Frisch to thank the president (“Jerusalem, Frisch, and Jewish law,” February 9). They seem to forget that they are Americans. Hebrew day schools have no business participating in political action, especially one that would support a president who has trampled on every institution in America.

Israelis are well aware that Jerusalem is the capital and don’t need the imprimatur of an American president to signal that fact. Trump’s interference in American politics has added yet another burden to any chance for a peaceful resolution to the Middle East crisis.

I am an American and find that President Trump has assailed what is dear to me: the free press, a constitutional right; he has impugned the reputation of the FBI and the Justice Department; and he has trampled on the reputations of many honorable people. One need only look at his continual fabrications, his firings and the resignations of members of his government, his reputation as to women (which he voiced himself and then had the audacity to deny) and his snuggling up to the Russians about whom we know have interfered in American democratic elections to realize how dangerous is this man who now sits in the highest office of the land.

What I find particularly discouraging is his attitude toward immigration. He seems to forget that he is the child and grandchild of immigrants, is married to an immigrant, and, if he looks closely enough, will find that America’s greatness is due in good part to the fact that we have opened our doors to those who wish for a better life. In the 1920s America closed its doors; the Holocaust followed shortly afterward, and freedom was denied to Jews who wished to escape. (See the story of the St. Louis, a ship carrying refugees that was forbidden to land in Cuba, and was then turned back by America.) This president wants to deny the right to immigrants seeking citizenship that his own family has enjoyed.

Those of us who remember Mussolini and Hitler find that Trump has a great deal in common with them. He should be reminded that he is the president, not a king or an emperor or a monarch.

Let the students of the Jewish day schools be educated in scholastics, not be encouraged to participate in political issues, especially divisive ones.

Sandy Dermon
Fort Lee

Not worthy of praise

As a parent who sent four children to a Jewish day school in Bergen County, has traveled to Israel several times, and is all in favor of a strong and secure Israel, I would not be throwing bouquets at the president for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (“Jerusalem, Frisch, and Jewish law,” February 9). I would be offended and upset if any person or entity affiliated with my children’s day school advocated a letter-writing campaign for my children to praise a president whose character, conduct, and actions are antithetical to core values of Judaism.

A president who has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, disparages African-American and immigrant communities, attacks journalists and democratic institutions as “the enemy of the people,” denies global climate change, and could not figure out the right thing to say when neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched in Charlottesville is not worthy of praise.

Marc Sapin
River Edge

Thanks, Mr. Trump, for taking action

Regarding Rabbi Glickman’s article on the Frisch letter campaign to thank the Trump administration for moving the American embassy to Jerusalem (“Politics and the decline of nuance combine to stalk the Orthodox arena,” February 9), he fails to mention a crucial point — the incredible importance of expressing gratitude (hakarat hatov) as a supreme Jewish value.

Gratitude is as much, if not more, about the one expressing thanks than the one receiving it. I have no way of knowing the motivations of Frisch’s leadership, but I’d like to believe that it was doing what any Jewish educational institution should do — teach by example. Rabbi Glickman worries about the timing and how the campaign would be perceived. Sadly, each day brings new lows in behavior and words in Washington, so I fear the timing will never be “right.” Does that absolve us of our obligation to express our thanks? Rabbi Glickman invokes Menachem Begin to demonstrate that we should not thank anyone for something that is rightfully ours to begin with. I’ll leave it to him and other rabbis to decide whether Begin’s position represents normative Jewish law (galacha), but regardless, it simple does not apply to the present situation. Begin was referring to mere words, which are all too often empty and meaningless. Indeed, recognition of Jerusalem and moving the embassy have been U.S. policy for more than 20 years.

So it is highly significant when an administration (even one that we find deeply distasteful) finally takes action and implements that policy. Why? Because facts on the ground are vastly different than words on a paper. When America acts it is a moral statement, not just a political one. For that, all lovers of Zion should be profoundly grateful.

Robert Friedman

read more: