Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hermaphrodites in the shtetl?

Quote of the day: (was a comment on this post)
"...if you read Minchat Chinuch without thinking about it, you might imagine that 19th century Galicia was filled with hermaphrodites, people lacking external genitalia and half emancipated slaves."

Some really unusual things will come up in jblogging. The comment above, in context, certainly had relevance. Nevertheless, it's amusing to see what comes up sometimes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Can women read the Megillah for men?

Recently the gemara (talmud) class I attending was studying Tractate Megillah, and one topic discussed was whether women can read the megillah for men.

It seems very clear from the gemara, (towards the top of page 4a), that women can do so, and that men will fulfill their obligation by hearing a woman read.

The gemara says:

ואמר רב יהושוע בן לוי נשים חייבות במקרה מגילה שאף הן היו באותו הנס
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Women are obligated in the reading of the megillah, for they too were part of the miracle.

Note that it says “bemikrah”, in the reading of the megillah, not “beshmiyah”, in the hearing of the megillah. However, Tosafot, while acknowledging that the plain text would appear to support that view, then jumps through hoops to work out an interpretation that denies women this right.

I wonder if this is a case of approaching the topic by the standards of the medieval period in which the Tosafists lived with a preconceived notion and then wringing out their desired conclusion through rather convoluted reasoning?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jewish women & skirts

Holy Hyrax wrote a rather bizarre post today about how, although pants aren't really immodest, there's a case to be made for encouraging Jewish girls to wear only skirts. The rationale? That it can be a distinctively "Jewish" look that binds Jews together. My first reaction was "huh??". In my version of "out of town" Modern Orthodoxy, no one cares what someone wears, as long as it doesn't show inappropriate amounts of skin. My second reaction was this comment on his site:


First of all, the ship has already sailed. Plenty of Jewish women wear pants including plenty of Orthodox, especially those not living in the more cloistered New York community. So if you're declaring skirts to be a distinctive Orthodox dress, you're effectively declaring that multitudes of women who keep shabbat, kashrut, and mikvah are not really to be considered Orthodox, since they don't wear the uniform.

As you pointed out, there's nothing immodest about pants. And the obsession of "does she wear pants or not" tends to be a juvenile obsession of those self-described Modern Orthodox who take more of their cues from the Yeshivish community than from anything truly modern and which is mostly unique to the greater NYC area.

Also, your comparing it to the outfits that other ethnic groups wear is faulty at best and gross stereotyping of those ethnic groups at worst. Most Asian women, for instance, dress in an entirely modern western manner.

And what about comfort? My sisters rode bikes for a little while as kids then eventually gave it up. I, on the other hand, continued riding on a regular basis till this day, despite the fact that I was stuck, as a teenager, in my all-boys yeshiva HS for far more hours than they spent in their schools. I suspect, therefore, that their reluctance to ride had something to do with being required to wear skirts. If you want to discourage a girl from playing sports or riding a bike, the best way to do it is insist that she wear only skirts.

Skirts, especially the tight outfits work by many frum girls today, are not exactly modest. Pants tend to be more modest, on average. And with pants, you don't have repressed yeshiva boys hoping to catch a glimpse under the girls skirts if they sit the wrong way.

I suspect that some part of you subconsciously is looking at what you may have been taught by the centrist/yeshivish community and trying to rationalize it in modern terms.

Sorry, it's not working.

Update, 12:30 PM:

Holy Hyrax feels that I misunderstood his post

I replied to him: Sorry if I misunderstood what you were writing and your motivation. But I still think that promoting skirts in any way is silly. I think that promoting pants wearing for those who feel like it but are afraid to buck frum society is a good thing. Let women be more comfortable and get more physical activity.

The whole reasoning for skirts in halacha is basically that it is inappropriate for men to see the split of a woman's legs so they won't be tempted by what that split hints at. That's relegating women to sex objects and the sooner the frum community leaves that behind, the healthier they would be.

But that's probably not going to happen anytime soon.

Please note that I have no objection to a woman wearing only skirts if she feels more comfortable that way for any reason. I just don't like the restriction on those who would prefer pants.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reporting abuse in yeshivot

Yesterday, Harry Maryles posted a letter from a Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school principal who, while strongly acknowledging the seriousness of past cases of abuse in Orthodox schools and that the protection of children is the first priority, warns against false accusations that could ruin a teacher or rebbi’s life. He relates two cases in his school where the accusations turned out to be false and recommends caution in proceeding in these cases.

Harry, in introducing the letter, writes:

This is not to say there should be any less vigilance. Certainly if we err - it should be on the side of the child. But great care should be taken before we act in a way that can destroy innocent people.

Bearing this in mind it is my view that when there is accusation by a child against a Rebbe the first line of defense should be to protect the child. To that end the accused Rebbe should be quietly told to call in ‘sick’ and not show up in school until the matter is fairly investigated.

Private investigators should be hired with a mandate to use discretion and protect the reputation of those being investigated. Child psychiatrists with expertise in these matters should be brought in to evaluate the child and his or her accusation. If as a result there is credible basis to an accusation then it should immediately be reported to the police. That, in my view is the prudent course of action.

I cannot disagree more strongly. Despite the risk or ruining teachers’ lives, far more children’s lives have been ruined by "internal investigations".

I agree that everything should be done discreetly and that the accusations should never be made public until there is credible evidence. And I agree that, as Harry suggests, the rebbi should be quietly told to take sick leave while the investigation is carried out.

But accusations that have any potential credibility whatsoever should be reported to the police, as required by law. The police should handle it in a discreet manner. If they don't do so, then policy changes should be made on a communal level to force more discretion on the part of the police and social services.

Far too many instances of abuse in yeshivot have been swept under the rug in past years because those institutions wanted to handle the matter "internally". Despite the best intentions here, this is another case of conflict of interest. How can investigators being paid by the yeshiva make an honest and objective assessment?

To leave it in the hands of yeshiva administrators, no matter what responsible steps are taken, is a recipe for sliding back to the old days when abuse was merely swept under the rug.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mourning the Beit HaMikdash

XGH asks if most Modern Orthodox today would really want the beit hamikdash and its ancient but currently primitive-seeming tradition of animal sacrifice back in our lives.

As such, he asks:

So, in these 9 days I shan't be mourning the loss of the BM (which has the added bonus of cutting out a lot of tedious kinot). Certainly there's much to mourn, 2,000 tragedy filled years culminating in the Shoah.

But the loss of the BM? Probably a good thing, all things considered.

Here’s my comment on that post:

The destruction of the beit hamikdash forced Judaism to evolve from the vestiges of paganism into a religion that was able to survive for then next 2 millennia.

However, the beit hamikdash was also a symbol of the independent sovereignty of Israel (even during the late period when they only had autonomy) and of the right of Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael.

The destruction of the beit hamikdash brought that era to an end, destroyed the symbol of their capital and initiated the period of exile. I think that that is more what the mourning is about, rather than the building itself.

As an analogy, think about 9/11. For most people it symbolizes the loss of life and a turning point in our collective consciousness. The commemoration each year is about that, not about the loss of the towers themselves.