Tuesday, January 20, 2015

No Longer Alone- Getting real with Hilchos Yichud


If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that it is way past due for us to have a conversation with our rabbis and daughters about yichud. While both groups might, to a greater or lesser extent, be familiar with the basic rules of yichud, recent events have shown that the conversation needs to expand.

For those who are unaware, the laws of yichud involve the Torah prohibition against men and women being secluded in situations that might lead to forbidden sexual interactions. The rabbis, at the end of Maseches Kiddushin, discuss these laws, and the situations to which they apply. Interestingly they don’t stop there. The gemara tells of certain strictures that particular rabbis took upon themselves in this area. At first glance, some of these cases sound very strange to modern ears, even beyond the general prohibition of yichud. Why would some of the greatest rabbis need to be extra careful about these laws?

There is a concept in the gemara that says that the greater the person, the greater is their evil inclination. While this concept is sometimes mentioned, it often seems that it is not taken seriously. Do great rabbis really have a stronger yetzer hara? From the gemara in Kiddushin, the answer seems to be yes.

Rav Yuval Cherlow, a well known Israeli rav, has taken it upon himself to only meet alone with women in public places. When challenged over the propriety of meeting a woman at a cafe, he is quick to point out that he is being careful and thus appropriate. Along these lines, I would suggest that we as a community need to be extra strict with hilchos yichud.

Our rabbis need to be told by their employers that under no circumstances, should they meet behind closed doors with a woman, unless there are windows that make the meeting visible from the outside. It is to be made clear that meeting should take place in public where it is clear to all that nothing inappropriate is going on. This will protect them from being situations where they might cross lines, or be accused of doing so. All schools and shuls need to adopt this as official policy.

We must make clear to our daughters that hilchos yichud applies to all men, including their rabbis, and that no matter how holy the rabbi seems, it is never okay for him to speak with her alone in a secluded area. We need to convey the sense that we will always support our daughters if they come to us about a situation that makes them uncomfortable, and that they should trust their intuition. In no uncertain terms, we should make clear that kevod harav never requires them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.

Both respect for rabbis, and our community in general, have taken a big hit over the last few years. It is time to start rebuilding that which has been destroyed.

7 comments:

  1. Very interesting points . Who is the man in the picture?

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    1. He headed a seminary and took advantage of many students who weren't taught about this.

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  2. Very interesting points . Who is the man in the picture?

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  3. No reason to post that picture. I am not suggesting his innocence but your very valid point is weakened by your seeming aim at this individual.

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    1. Of course there is. He is one of the way too many who make this a major issue.

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  4. Thank you for reminding us that rabbis are not above halacha...

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  5. While I appreciate and share the general sentiment of the author, his position in one real way is extraordinarily unfair to women, as it creates a distance between them and their rav that inevitably makes it more difficult to seek halakhic guidance and spiritual support from the rav as counselor. This, more than anything else, highlights the need for women clergy within Orthodoxy. Women need women to whom they can turn for authoritative guidance, and not simply as intermediaries to a distant rav. The laws of yihud stand as eloquent support for the shift to maharats, rabbahs and, yes, women rabbis within halakhic Judaism.

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