We Do Not Need Yoatzot Halachah - Female Poskim

Friday March 6, 2009 11:01 AM - 11 Comments

seforimBy Rabbi Yaakov Feitman
Kehillas Bais Yehudah Tzvi (The Red Shul)
The Five Towns Jewish Times

Last week, the Five Towns Jewish Times newspaper published an article lauding the “successful new initiative” at a number of synagogues allowing their members to benefit from a “yoetzet halachah,” a “female halachic advisor.” This innovation was ostensibly established to “assist any woman who is more comfortable discussing certain personal issues with another woman rather than with a male rabbinical advisor.” Since this was reported without critical comment or dissent, I feel that an alternative view must be presented to your readers. So please consider this article a macha’ah-one man’s protest and disagreement with the “rave reviews” this project has reportedly received.

Now, what could possibly be wrong? An educated woman, trained in a highly specialized and sensitive field, listens carefully to another woman; guides, advises, and eventually confers, if necessary, with a rav; and transmits the final decision back to the questioner. On one level, this was a wonderful idea, conceived out of concern and compassion. On another level, however, I believe this to be an insidious incursion into our time-honored mesorah.

Please allow me to explain.

The Torah was given to us with both a form and substance. Most Torah-true Jews agree that the substance of the Torah is sacrosanct. It may not be altered, distorted, or misrepresented. When tampered with in any way, Orthodox Jews generally agree that one is dangerously entering the precincts of the Reform.

What is not as generally well known is that Torah has a form, as well. The gestalt of Torah is as much part and parcel of Mattan Torah as its substance. Gedolei Yisrael through the ages were moser nefesh for the form as much as for the substance. The institution of a chavrusah, learning at a shtender, the format of a shiur are all time-honored and hallowed. An assault upon the process has always been treated as seriously as an attack upon the Torah itself. For instance, the Netziv closed the great Yeshiva of Volozhin rather than introduce government-mandated innovations. Torah giants insisted on the tzuras ha’daf-the exact printed format of a page of the Talmud and myriad details of the transmission of Torah from a rebbi to a disciple.

The relationship between a rav and those who ask a she’eilah has remained a fundamental component of the “Torah from Sinai” continuum for over three millennia. Each person develops a bond with his or her poseik. Over the years, innumerable often subtle details contribute to the total picture presented to a poseik, especially in this most personal area of life. The interposition of a new “expert” into this equation undercuts the time-honored process developed by the Torah ever since Dovid haMelech (see Berachos 4b).

There is an irony to the “creation” (their word) of a yoetzet at this stage of Jewish history. In ancient times, women were in fact very private people, rarely venturing forth into any kind of public venue. Many halachos, in areas such as tzedakah, inheritance, and business law took this fact into consideration. Yet, women were comfortable asking a she’eilah of their rav or sending their husbands. Today, when women are full members of every area of commerce and society, when they travel the world and are elected to the highest positions in government, it seems a bit incongruous to belatedly claim discomfort with a man. A rav is as much a professional as a physician or attorney, and conducts himself with discretion and consideration. One cannot help but detect an influence of modern feminism and societal pressure rather than a true problem in the comfort level of 21st-century Jewish women.

If you reread the opening sentence of this article quoting the originators of yoatzot, you will note that they refer to a “male rabbinic advisor.” This diminishing term reduces a rav to a “male advisor” and a poseik to one who makes successful suggestions. This is not the role of the poseik, and nothing can replace him.

There is, however, a female player in all this, who has surprisingly been left out of the process. This is the rebbetzin. For many centuries, women who preferred to speak to another woman approached a truly trusted advisor-the rabbi’s wife. She will be familiar with all the contextual facts mentioned earlier and is in the best position to transmit these details to the rav.

All in all, Jewish tradition has provided K’lal Yisrael with a wonderful process for resolving all issues. We would do well to take advantage of it. Nothing is broken and no fixing is necessary.

{5TJT-Mr. Larry Gordon/Matzav.com Newscenter}

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11 Responses to “We Do Not Need Yoatzot Halachah - Female Poskim”

1. Comment from 3 Daughter Dad
Time March 6, 2009 at 11:13 AM

Thank G-d for this public criticism of yet another manifestation of the egalitarianism disease that has infected the left-most quarters of Orthodoxy! Will these frum Tinokos SheNishbu ever learn that the values of Phil Donahue have no place in the halachic process? Will they ever realize that innovations must be left to Talmidei Chahchamim of the highest echeleon?

2. Comment from Rachel R
Time March 6, 2009 at 12:16 PM

True, in olden days one could always go to the Rebbetzin. (I have done so on occasion). However, the reality is that nowadays the Rebbitzen may not be available. Due to our modern skewed values not only must the Rav frequently hold a “day job” in chinuch which limits his availability, frequently the Rebbitzen must also work just to keep bread on the table.
Also, perhaps it is just because of the pritzus that is so widely-seen in the world today that women have become more shy about discussing private matters.
Another factor may be that since most Rabbanim start going away to yeshiva at thirteen or fourteen, and thus get very little exposure to women - even their sisters and mothers - there may be some embarrassment on the part of the Rav.
Perhaps the answer is not to issue blanket condemnations or approbations, but to leave it up to each kehilla to decide what it seems most appropriate.

3. Comment from Rochel
Time March 6, 2009 at 12:18 PM

You wrote his name wrong. Its Rabbi Feitman, I think

4. Comment from An observer
Time March 6, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Rabbi Feldman,

With all due respect, I cannot agree with you assertion that the “form” of torah is constant and unchanging.

The present “Tzuras HaDaf” is the work of a christian, Daniel Bomberg. Here is a quote for Wikipedia:

Daniel Bomberg (died 1549) was an early printer of Hebrew language books. Christian, born in Antwerp, he was primarily active in Venice between 1516 and 1549.

He produced the editio princeps of the Mikraot Gedolot, the Rabbinic Bible, consisting of the Hebrew text plus rabbinical commentaries, between 1516 and 1517, and the first and oldest complete set of the Talmud, between 1520 and 1523, a well-preserved copy of which is contained in the Valmadonna Trust Library.

You might find an interesting submission on the ThatBook blog complete with pictures of different format gemaras.

http://thanbook.blogspot.com/2009/03/small-format-gemaras.html

5. Comment from yaakov
Time March 7, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Wonderfully written article! Glad to see there are still people willing to stand up for true torah values while expressing their opinion in a clear and repectful manner.

6. Comment from avf
Time March 7, 2009 at 3:17 PM

not mentioned for political correctness, is that “female halachic advisor” will probably bring (more) destruction into kehillos, not less.

7. Comment from crazy
Time March 7, 2009 at 8:17 PM

An observer: are you out of your mind? the Rabbi wasnt talking about tzuros hadaf!

8. Comment from frummer yid
Time March 7, 2009 at 11:09 PM

when they tried this in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Swift had this stopped

9. Comment from orthodox jew
Time March 7, 2009 at 11:20 PM

to rachel: just because you havnt been able to get what you need from a rebbetzen doesnt mean we should give up a mesorah of thousands of years find a new rov or rebbetzen who has time for you .
as to the issue of every kehilla to decide for themselves this is the greatest recipe for disaster

10. Comment from Torah is torah
Time March 8, 2009 at 12:54 AM

Rabbis do not make appointments for women to come and speak out a shayla. If a woman has a halachic/haskafa question it is the norm for the husband to ask the rav. That may not be the best solution. Rebbetzins of today are busy with their own careers or daycare arrangements. Having female yoitezes to speak with is a perfect solution.

11. Comment from Matzav
Time March 8, 2009 at 10:19 PM

With all due respect to the issue of mesora, how do you know that gedolei torah don’t sanction this position? Have any of you asked R’ Mordechai Willig or R’ Aharon Lichtenstein what they think of the women who are serving as Yoatzot and the value of the roles they serve? Like all issues of the day, some rabbonim are okay with it and others aren’t, but just because you don’t hear this issue discussed, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been subjected to discussion by major poskim. R’ Feitman isn’t a “one man macha’ah” contrary to what he writes. Plenty agreed with him in the past, but since this is such a non-issue for so many no one really cared to raise a fuss. Until R’ Feitman.

And as for comparing the rebbitzen to a Yoatzet, that is a joke beyond belief and can only be stated by soemone who isn’t an expert in this field. One who is truly holding in modern-day halacha issues would know that a non-trained rebbetzin cannot possibly understand all the contextual issues critical to certain areas.

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