Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Is Shira Hadasha Orthodox?

Jerusalem Post
Page: 03
Is Shira Hadasha Orthodox?

Sir -
In "Who's afraid of Shira Hadasha?" (February 2) Barbara Sofer notes that many critics of what she calls an "Orthodox egalitarian" minyan have never actually been to the synagogue. The reason for this is omitted: It is because the vast majority of Orthodox opinion forbids men to pray in such a synagogue for reasons pertaining to Halacha (I am unaware of the halachic intricacies pertaining to women praying there). Shira Hadasha itself admits that it follows a minority opinion. So the question is: Is Shira Hadasha Orthodox? Telling is the fact that the synagogue is largely affiliated with David Hartman, the co-founder's father, who long ago left mainstream Orthodoxy. Also Shira Hadasha and like-minded minyanim do not belong to any Orthodox synagogue umbrella organizations. So to call the minyan Orthodox is questionable, at best.

Baruch Pelta


  1. "Also Shira Hadasha and like-minded minyanim do not belong to any Orthodox synagogue umbrella organizations."

    So being Orthodox no longer means you follow Torah and halakhah and the will of God, but only whether you belong to a suitable organization?

    If I eat pork chops but belong to an Orthodox organization, does that make me Orthodox? Conversely, if I keep every tit and tittle of the Torah and Talmud but do not belong to any organization, I am not Orthodox?

  2. Also, it begs the question of what an "Orthodox synagogue umbrella organization." What makes such an umbrella organization Orthodox in the first place? Maybe the OU and RCA are not Orthodox, and Shira Hadashah is the only Orthodox synagogue on earth?

  3. I am reminded of something a student of Hakham Jose Faur's wrote. Speaking about the "slippery slope" of permitting women to read from the megillah, Hakham Aaron Haleva wrote,

    I fail to comprehend "slippery slope."

    The Law is what it is, and it is not always the same as what Jews (especially ones who do not first study the Law) imagine it is.

    If women may read the meghilla, then they may (as R. Ovadia Yosef has pointed out). If they may read the Sefer [Torah], then they may. If they cannot serve as hazzan, then they may not.

    All of these issues are well defined and precisely known by anyone who reads the Law (and not somebody’s report of the Law).

    The "slippery slope" idea only has any significance if a "rabbi" has authority to make new law. So then — the thinking goes – if the "rabbi" "allows" women to read the meghilla in public to a mixed minyan, next he may "allow" a woman to pray Musaf (what a crying shame that would be, anyway, no?). What women cannot do is truly well defined, and there is nothing to be afraid of in letting them do what they are allowed to do, which is also very well defined and very well known or knowable.

    Once again, this "slippery slope" mindset I find to be acutely non-Jewish. Unlike all other religions where the "clergy" have authority, in Judaism the Law has the only authority. The Law is actually the sovereign. A hakham has relevance only insofar as he can guide you to what the Law is.

    If the very Sanhedrin is moreh that X is the Law, and you happen to know that this is hora’ath ta’uth, and really Y is the Law, then you may not listen to them, and you must not follow them. No other nation on Earth ever had such a rule, or such a culture where the People were the true repository of the Law.

    Imagine! The Tora expicitly tells you NOT to listen to the rabbis in certain cases. I.e., when they are wrong, as you see it (provided you have sufficient knowledge to make the call). Rebel against the authorities — why that sounds like insurrection and blasphemy!

    Wait — isn’t that just like the Maccabees rebelling against the corrupt kohanim in Jerusalem? Isn’t that something we **celebrate** ? Didn’t God himself even send a sign that He approved, with the oil and all?

    (or was that just the same corrupt rabbis some 200 years later simply ripping off a pagan Roman holiday? In a time when nobody in Israel or Babylon had anything good to say about Rome("malkhuth harish’a") or its culture.)

    We should try to preserve this very unique value. It is what makes Am Yisra’el truly a "horizontal society." The only one that ever existed. I do not see that it still exists very much, though. It is also what allows free thinking men to reject the "Jewish Scholars" (our modern day "authorities" — at least for the "Modern Orthodox" types) when they are wrong.

    In a horizontal society it is not who you know, but only what you know. Good practice and training for "olam shekullo emeth."

  4. Compare the following passage Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ("The Character of the Jewish Community", in Collected Writings, pp. 23f., 47):

    It is not the rabbinate or the board of trustees but the community itself that is the focal point of all Jewish communal life. It is from the community that all religious authority must emanate. The office and functions of the board of trustees have meaning only to the extent that they represent the community and carry out its will. Only by virtue of the trust placed in him by the community does the חכם, that expert in the Law, become מומחה לרבים, the public authority, the rabbi in the true sense of the word. Judaism has no "hierarchical authority" that can impose regulations on the community, or appoint religious functionaries, against the community's will or even without consulting the community. Our Sages teach us that אין מעמידין פרנס על הצבור אלא אם כן נמלכין בצבור "one does not appoint a trustee for the community without having first obtained the free-willed consent of the community" (ברכות נה). They cite the example of the appointment of Bezalel, who was first introduced to Moses by the Almighty Himself with the words ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל וגו, and then by Moses to the Children of Israel with these words: ראו קרא ה בשם בצלאל וגו. "See for yourselves" that God has made him worthy of this calling by endowing him with outstanding talent (Cf. Exodus 31,2; 35,30). The Sages further teach us that כל גזירה שבית דין גוזרין על הצבור ולא קבלו רוב הצבור עליהן אינה גזירה "any ordinance enacted by the religious authorities but not accepted by the majority of the community has no binding authority under the Law" (ירושלמי שבת פ"א הל"ד). Even the supreme authorities of religious law, men like Daniel and his council, Shammai and Hillel and their assembly, made the binding, legal authority of their own religious ordinances dependent on their acceptance by the majority of the Jewish community (שבת יד, חולין ו). This is the intent of the unchangeable basic law of Jewish religious communal life as sanctioned in advance by the Supreme Lawgiver, God Himself, when He proclaimed His Law at the time of מתן תורה on Mount Sinai. God offered His holy Law to the entire community for their free-willed acceptance; the eternal binding authority of the Torah is based on a covenant made without coercion. Even with regard to the מצות העתידות להתחדש, religious obligations that were added subsequently, we are taught קימו וקבלו, קימו מה קבלו כבר, the Jewish people carried out only that which they had previously accepted as their obligation of their own free will (שבועות לט). ... We have already seen that the Jewish religious community should be autonomous, that it should be willing and able to direct on its own the functions of all its parts in every aspect of Jewish communal life. The center of power and authority in the Jewish community is not the board of trustees, nor even the rabbinate, but the community itself. The board of trustsees and the rabbi derive their functions only from the election or authorization by the community. The board of trustees can act only by order of the community, and the rabbi is a rabbi solely by virtue of the fact that the community has accepted him as such. Even after the community has delegated part of its authority to the trustees and the rabbi, the community itself must continue to make certain at all times that its authority is being implemented solely for the purpose of helping the community attain its sacred objectives. Indeed, as we have seen, the autonomy of the Jewish religious community has been safeguarded to such an extent that even the Jewish nations' highest religious authorities made the binding force of their own ordinances conditional on whether they were accepted by the nation as a whole.

  5. As an aside, Rabbi Hirsch's words would support what Jacob Katz says about Agudat Yisrael vis a vis Rosenheim and Breuer, viz. that laymen and the Torah itself (i.e. halakah) were to govern Agudat Yisrael, not rabbis and da'at torah.

  6. Synagogue umbrella organizations aren't very big here in Israel, most shuls don't belong to any.