Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rabbi Dov Fischer

Not So Open
And Shut

Dear Editor,

As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I can only recoil in horror and shame from Rabbi Dov Fischer’s article “Open and Shut” in the February 17 issue.

The summary dismissal of a topic of such importance to the Orthodox community is itself extremely aggravating and self-aggrandizing–as if their statements make this the final word on an issue this existential. Sadly, though, this has become typical of these organizations, which have insulated themselves from the vast majority of Jews, even of the Orthodox variants.

Mr. Fischer states that female clergy are beyond the pale of “halachic Judaism” but nowhere will he cite any relevant halachah. This is telling. These organizations are undoubtedly the same ones that would have ruled against girls’ schools in Europe last century. After all, where was the halachic imprimatur? Mr. Fischer cites women’s ability to be a member in a minyan, he mentions a certain congregation visiting the site of a terrorist attack at a gay bar, the matrilineal line of acceptance as a Jew–all topics known in Yiddish as red herrings, having absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. No sign of a relevant halachah appears.

We must conclude that these Jewish organizations are mired in the past–a past where men ruled and made the rules–and that they very much would like to keep it that way.

Does anyone really believe in the year 5777 that there is any profession that a woman cannot do as well as a man? Or one that shutting out 50% of the Jewish population improves? Does it make any halachic sense that while Devorah was able to lead Israel in biblical times, no woman can be trusted as president of an Agudah or as a pulpit rabbi today?

This intransigence, not based on any halachah, at least any halachah shared with us, is extremely detrimental to these Orthodox organizations and to the Jewish people.

Justin Cohen


Rabbi Fischer Responds

Jewish law is based on the halachic process. That process includes learning from explicit text in Tanach and in the Talmud as understood by halachic authorities (poskim) who have gained widespread acceptance among mainstream normative Torah Jews for the breadth of their learning, the temperament and wisdom of their application of learning to real life, and their mastery of the “art of p’sak,” the process by which law is reached.

On the matter of why there is no room for “women rabbis” in the normative mainstream Orthodox community, all four nationally representative bodies of Orthodoxy have spoken in unanimous agreement, even as each body has reached its position on a separate occasion in a separate deliberative process independent of the others: Agudath Israel of America, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

My article augmented those halachic rulings by noting additional considerations, including but not limited to the facts that (a) the movement for women rabbis emerged along a continuum emanating from Christianity and not from within the Torah community; (b) Judaism is defined by G‑d in the Torah, and that definition assigns certain life roles from birth, differing from Western Christian values, so that (for example) people who are born non-kohen never can overcome that biology, regardless of their advanced Torah learning and spiritual excellence; and (c) women, and never men, define whether a baby is Jewish or not Jewish, and only the non-Orthodox have taken that extraordinary power away from women, prompting a major nationwide and generational intermarriage catastrophe now rife throughout the United States. I added that Judaic demographic survival demands that women be excused from minyan prayer and therefore are not counted in the public prayer quorum, just as with an onen.

I appreciate that your overheated letter reflects your passion, but calm reality still reflects that Agudah, YI, RCA, and OU have at least as much interaction as you have with the feelings and sentiments prevalent among grassroots Orthodoxy across the United States. Ninety-nine percent of OU shuls and 100 percent of Young Israels and Agudah shuls have never hired a woman rabbi, nor would they. No matter what names you wish to call us, what adjectives, adverbs, or verbs you employ to express yourself, there still remains a universally agreed American Orthodox Jewish mainstream coming down identically on the same issue–and when that happens, that speaks with emphasis.

Rabbi Dov Fischer

Young Israel of Orange County

Irvine, California

Saving The Graves

Dear Editor,

We are indebted to you for the lucid and informative account entitled “Murdered a Second Time” (“From the Editor,” February 17), which will surely bring to the attention of a wider audience the need to protest the building of a convention center and concert hall over the heart of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Vilna. Your essay, with its brilliant and apt title, may well make the difference in this just and humanitarian struggle, which for us is also a holy cause.

The efforts of the Five Towns Jewish Times are greatly appreciated.

Shnayer Leiman

Supreme Hypocrisy

Dear Editor,

In last week’s letters to the editor, David Pecoraro lamented the fact that Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland during a presidential election year (“Supreme Shanda,” February 17). His argument, repeated endlessly by Democrats and the likes of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, indeed demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Democratic leadership.

When President George W. Bush nominated current justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Schumer did exactly then what he is railing against now, and attempted to block their nominations. This is what he said in 2007: “We should reverse the presumption of confirmation . . . We should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court except in extraordinary circumstances.”

Mr. Pecoraro then proceeds to boost Judge Garland’s conservative credentials by citing the “archconservative”–in his words–Senator Orrin Hatch, who described Garland as a “consensus nominee.” Actually, Hatch is no conservative. According to the website Conservative Review, which assigns grades, called “liberty scores,” to members of Congress on how conservative they are based on their votes, Hatch has a 33% conservative rating, or an F.

In addition, there is scarcely any evidence that demonstrates in the first place that Garland is a constitutional conservative. The president should only nominate someone who it is known with certainty is a dedicated originalist, whether it is a judge based on prior rulings, or whether it is a professor of constitutional law based on books he or she authored on the subject. President Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is indeed a dedicated originalist based on his court rulings and other material available. Gorsuch has the endorsement of real conservatives such as Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

 Moreover, Mr. Pecoraro asserts that GOP senators John McCain and Ted Cruz acted in opposition to the popular will by blocking Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency since Clinton won the popular vote, and these senators have said that the people should decide who fills the open SCOTUS seat. Let me kindly remind Mr. Pecoraro that under our system of constitutional republicanism and federalism, the people elect the president through the Electoral College. When the senators said that the people should decide, they simply meant as expressed through the Electoral College, not literally a majority of the voters. (Ted Cruz is a firm supporter of the Electoral College; with McCain, I have not found any evidence to the contrary.)

This being said, I applaud Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for actually doing something useful for once in his abysmal political career and blocking the nomination of Judge Garland.

And here’s another friendly reminder: Schumer isn’t compromising with the president on anything. He’s been particularly adamant about stonewalling any candidate the president nominates to the Supreme Court. Even if the president had acceded to some sort of compromise to nominate Garland now, and then waited–should another vacancy occur during his term–to nominate Gorsuch later, Schumer would still filibuster anyway, because, as he himself has said, Gorsuch is not in the “mainstream,” a code term meaning that he’s not a radical leftist and activist judge who supports abortion on demand. So that proposal, though appreciated, would be an inevitable failure.

Finally, in light of Schumer’s flip-flop on SCOTUS nominations during a presidential election year, Mr. Pecoraro’s editorial should accordingly be entitled “Supreme Hypocrisy.”


Rafi Metz

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