Rabbi Avi Weinstein

The Shock and Sorrow of Jerusalem pierces the heart of the heartland.

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

Kansas City was deeply connected to the violence that took the lives of Torah scholars in Har Nof. Rabbi Kalman (Carey) Levine was among the first graduating class of the local day school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. Rabbi Moshe Twersky was the uncle of our colleague Rabbi Meshulam Twersky who teaches in our Matmidim program for observant students. As of this writing Rabbi Twersky is on a plane to Israel to be with his father, Rabbi Meir Twersky, and immediate family.

Before he left, our faculty gathered and Rabbi Twersky acceded to my request, and addressed faculty and students at our school. I will paraphrase what he said in hopes that it is accurate:

He quoted the Talmud saying that it was important not to exaggerate when eulogizing because it would be shameful for the dead to be misrepresented in any way, so even if what he said would seem to be hyperbolic, that it was not the case. He was very mindful of the sages perspective, and would, if anything, be speaking in understatement.

First, he remarkably stated that he had not given a scintilla of thought to those “who did this.” They were irrelevant; they were nothing to him. Rather, he focused on his uncle’s example and his life. His entire existence was devoted to sanctifying God’s Name. His life and death were part of the same continuum. There was no leap from his life to his death. Unlike most people who when they die, people tend to emphasize their best qualities, this would not be possible with his uncle. He was not a fragmented person–he was complete, he was that rare individual who exemplified shleimoot.

Rabbi Meshulam mentioned that he also knew Kalman (Carey) Levine whom he sat next to for three years while studying in Israel. He remarked on his indefatigueable enthusiasm for study. Some may say from this that it is a small world, but I think it’ a big world, but we’re a small people.

Although nobody has an answer for why this happened, we should focus on the what. For when you focus on the good, that which is not good falls away like a klipat shum a garlic peel.

Let us not empower our enemies by paying so much attention to them. Let us spend our time focusing on that which is good and true, and make the examples of their lives be the light while all else are viewed as merely shadows.

Much Ado About Partnerships and Orthodoxy

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I’ve been reading with interest the discussion initiated by Rabbi Klapper regarding Partnership minyanim. He has done the community a service by modeling civility in discourse that hopefully will be the rule and not the exception when discussing issues that arouse passions on both sides of the divide.

I do believe that Rabbi Klapper offered an honest encounter with the arguments going so far as to say that there may be halachic justification for a partnership minyan. That may have not been a necessary concession because had he wished, he could have found reasons to reject this concept on halachic grounds. I don’t think that level of generosity, or humility was reciprocated, and maybe that itself indicates the fragility of change agents in general who feel they cannot concede any ground because their very legitimacy is at stake.

The role of women in Orthodoxy has been evolving for decades. The first door was opened by the Chafetz Chaim with the institution of the “Beit Yaakov” schools for girls where girls were taught commentaries on the Tanakh, and laws that were under the rubric of Torah Sheb’al Peh of which the Rambam and others had disapproved.

Nowadays high school, and post high school girls schools in the U.S. and Israel have opened and welcomed girls to explore, and encounter not only Tanakh, but the Talmud as well. This has been accompanied by, however begrudging, more engagement of women in the halachic process. Whether it be through “Yoatzot Halacha”, or more female Talmud teachers. Also, women’s Tefila groups that were disparaged by Rabbi Schechter, but championed by Rabbi Henkin also have been accepted (or ignored) and were instituted not even with a bang, and barely a whimper.

Now the envelope has been pushed for changing an existing norm in favor of a more inclusive model of shlichai tzibbur and Torah readers that is founded on a fresh look at some Talmudic passages and commentaries. The fact that Rav Henkin championed women’s tefila groups, but balked at partnership minyanim, should make one at least ask the question: Why one, and not the other?” The answer is fairly simple, but I don’t know if it has been articulated. Partnership minyanim are by definition sectarian. Whereas a woman’s tefila group doesn’t replace other minyanim, but accommodates an underserved part of the community in Divine service, the partnership minyan is an alternative i.e. a replacement for an existing norm. For many, for whatever reason, it is an unacceptable alternative. What does that mean, unacceptable? It means if many had to say Kaddish and that was the minyan available, they may very well choose to stay home, as they would for a normal, egalitarian minyan.

This would not be the case for a regular Orthodox minyan with the accommodations that Rabbi Henkin endorsed. This attempt at a new norm is not merely sociological, but is exclusive of a significant percentage of “the faithful”. One can endorse this diversion from the norm for many reasons:
*It makes Orthodoxy more attractive to those who have a modern sensibility.
*It is only fair to publicly acknowledge that the role of women has certainly changed, and it is backward for it not ti be manifested in the way we pray.
*If their is halachic justification, why wouldn’t someone make this change?

I do believe had there been a halachically committed egalitarian community complete with halachically committed leadership, that many in the partnership minyan would have found a home there. In the end, it’s more important that we are around those whose children are likeminded in observance, than where we daven. It would be wonderful for them if their minyan was considered merely a matter of taste, and not a source of controversy.

It is the halachic commitment of the proponents of the partnership minyan that is most impressive, and most difficult. I don’t accept the argument that they reject halachic authority. Au contraire, their halachic commitments leave them with no other community. Thats why the discussion is so fraught and why they wish to increase the conceptual dimensions of the Orthodox tent.

Nevertheless, dramatic change of a norm that divides as much if not more than it unites is more dramatic and serious than acknowledged by the arguments offered so far. What we’re used to and how that informs expectations is not a trivial matter. It actually informs much of our day to day practice; hence the statement “Minhag din hu”

Clarifying questions before offering answers…

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

When I was a yeshiva student some forty years ago, I remember a question posed by Rav Nosson Kaminetzky that caught everyone off guard. In many yeshivas it was the practice to set aside some time for a “mussar shmooze”–a talk dedicated to making students reflect on their spiritual growth. These talks diverted from normal Torah study, and their singular purpose was to inspire one to perfect his character both as a person, and as a Jew. Rav Nosson made the point that if these lessons fell on deaf ears, and did not affect real change in a person’s behavior, then they are a waste of time. The act of studying Torah at least results in the fulfilment of a mitzvah, even if it does not accomplish any other lofty goal. Why waste time on some ineffective “mussar shmooze” at the expense of Torah study? It’s funny that I remember the question, but have forgotten, or repressed, the answer.

Today, after reading Michael Oren’s op ed in WAPO, once again, that question emerges from my consciousness. Should this war be judged like Rav Nosson’s criterion for a successful “mussar shmooze”? In other words, that there needs to be a substantial change so dramatic that it justifies the expenditure of blood and treasure? Some like Ambassador Oren say just give us time to get the job done. While others counter that even when the job is done, it won’t be over, so you have accomplished little, or nothing. Just like the mussar shmooze that has no impact, it will be considered a tragic waste that will leave Israel emotionally and economically depleted not to mention, ethically compromised. Both sides of the divide are absolutely certain that their position is correct.

That means, nobody really knows.

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