The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine
So-called ‘modern’ Orthodoxy is actually a return to the original normative law
MAKE IT MODERN
Thank you for explaining the current tendency of some Jewish women making sensible personal decisions regarding their appearance (“Looks can be deceiving,” Nov. 4).
It is reprehensible for religious leaders to mislead women into thinking that they must cover their hair based on Jewish law. Seventy percent of all statements in the Talmud are not accepted as law. That is the tradition of Talmudic discussion. How can we know what is law and what is not? By studying the great codifiers. Rif (Rabbi Alfasi) rejects the idea that a woman’s hair is indecent exposure (erva) and deletes those passages from his compendium of Jewish law. Rambam (Maimonides) does the same for Mishne Torah, as does Rosh – Rabbeinu Asher.
In Babylon, the ruling Zoroastrians forced women to have their hair covered in public. They also forbade women to speak in public. Jews living in Babylon had to follow these non-Jewish laws. Hence the statements in the Babylonian Talmud. Jewish women covered their hair only when they lived in countries where they were forced to do so.
In response to the Crusades, the Inquisition and pogroms, Jewish leaders felt disillusioned. In response, they reexamined the Talmud to determine what they may have been doing wrong. One of those discoveries was the idea of women covering their hair.
At first, it was the hassidic movement that forced its women to cover their hair. Later, many Jewish communities were negatively affected by World War I. The ultra-religious leaders thought that perhaps hassidim are correct in forcing women to cover their hair, so they adopted that approach. Of course, none of this helped. As history has shown, antisemitism only grew worse, and continues to do so to this day.
It is time to get real and return to true Torah Judaism. Any religious leader who is not honest about the wide spectrum of Jewish law and custom is doing the Jewish people a disservice. The result is a resentful backlash once people realize they’ve been hoodwinked by extremists. Our greatest leaders such as Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks inspired us with meaningful foundational concepts and goals of a Torah life, while encouraging each individual to decide for herself how to actualize daily practice. So-called “modern” Orthodox Judaism is actually a return to the original normative law, dropping the unnecessary historical restrictive baggage.
As we continue to build our precious State of Israel, it becomes increasingly important to respect different legally valid opinions. Unity of the Jewish people is at stake.
BYE BYE BOOTY
I always enjoy Rabbi Moshe Taragin’s thought-provoking columns, including his most recent one on Abraham the Influencer (Nov. 4). While I appreciate the moral courage of our founding father to abjure any reward for his military efforts, I have always believed the most striking part of the story was his reluctance to impose his moral standards on others. While he refused even a shoelace from the booty, he declared “the only exception is what the young men have eaten, Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, let them take their share.”
Abraham is indeed a role model for our times, a man of moral courage who embodied righteousness but did not require others to follow in his footsteps.
In Rabbi Taragin’s in-depth analysis, he states: “Abraham’s first teaching opportunity arose in the aftermath of a bloody battle.” In fact, Abraham’s entire life was about teaching and influencing his generation.
Maimonides describes Abraham’s “discovery” of God as the one who was responsible for the creation of the world. The search began when he was very young, but was not fully understood by him until he was 40. “When it was absolutely clear to him… he began to engage the people of Ur Kasdim [well before the command of ‘lech lecha’] in proofs of the existence of the one ruler and king of the known universe .... Wherever he would go people would gather around... and he would influence them until they came to understand the truth.”
But more importantly than sheer numbers and the success he had in attracting new followers is the statement of Maimonides in the third commandment – to love God. The Sifri interprets: “‘And you shall love the Lord,’ cause Him to be beloved by mankind [not just Jews but all mankind] like Abraham, who because of his great love for God called upon others to believe as well.”
It is an incredible lesson for teachers and parents that the most crucial aspect of transmitting our beliefs is not the material, text or book but rather the manner in which we inculcate Torah values. If our ideas are given over with love and compassion, there is a greater chance that the listener will accept what we have to say.