Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fanning the Flames- The Wrong Way to Move Forward

I am frustrated and upset. My recent posts have repeatedly been about YCT and Open Orthodoxy. I had planned to write something else today, but feel compelled to respond to a very unfair article by Gil Student in his online journal Hirhurim. In “Tzelofchad's Daughters”, Student deals with a section of a letter that was sent from Rabbi Ysoscher Katz to Rav Herschel Schachter. In the letter, Rabbi Katz suggests that Bnos Tzelofchad were proto-feminists in that they they asked for land for themselves as women (the letter is quoted in Student's article). Student not only objects to this reading, which he is certainly free to do, but smears Rabbi Katz by showing that it was Reform scholars who first made this claim, with the obvious implication that Katz's reading is not Orthodox.

One problem that I have with this article is that following on the heels of Yoram Hazony's thought-provoking article on Open Orthodoxy, where he challenges the Open Orthodox world to explain how their views fit into traditional Orthodox thought, Student seems to show that he has no interest in hearing their response and is only interested in keeping YCT and OO out of the orthodox camp.

Equally disturbing is that Katz's reading was possibly anticipated nearly 2000 years ago by Chazal. In the Sifrei on parshas Pinchas, which I loosely translate here, it says:

When the daughters of Tzelofchad heard that the land was being divided according to the tribes, and not being given to the women, they gathered together to think of an idea (of how to approach this). They said, “The mercy of God is not like the mercy of flesh and blood, for by flesh and blood there is more mercy for males than for women, but for The One Who spoke, and created the world, it is not this way, as He has mercy on males and females as it says 'and His mercy is on ALL of his creatures' ".

While this passage is a bit enigmatic, it seems to, at least, allow for a reading that suggests that Bnos Tzelafchad were motivated by a desire for fairer treatment for themselves, rather than for their father, as Student suggests.

Of course, my purpose in writing this is not to talk about how to read an episode in the Chumash. It is also not to take a side in who is correct about theological red lines. It is just to point out that if you issue a challenge, it is only fair to wait for a response. Rather than attempting to help the Modern Orthodox community deal with a challenging situation, Gil Student suggests that his way is the only way. To that, I must strongly object.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. That's a smear? I looked in other commentaries and other online essays but none said anything relevant. I could have quoted feminist commentaries but I thought that would have been offensive. What's wrong with quoting Plaut?

    Read R. Samet's essay. He quotes and explains the Sifrei (with the help of the Netziv).

    (previous comment was deleted to add question mark where it was supposed to be)

    1. Please. I do not dispute that the Sifrei can be read in different ways. If all you were doing was objecting to a particular point, there was no point to mention Reform commentaries at all.

  3. I didn't yet Read Gil's article. But I never thought of bnot tzelafchad as being feminists, though it's a nice idea for a Rabbi's drasha.

    I do find that the episode represents something else, in a huge way, and I find it inspiring for that reason: Lo Bashamayim Hee. It's the first time we get a hint that the Torah isn't all about simply following the dictates of Hashem, but that human beings have a part in how it's interpreted. Here, they still depend on Hashem's ultimate answer, but the very fact that the daughters raise an issue and can appeal something that seems unfair is huge. It's nothing less than the first she'elah ve'teshuva.