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Commentary with Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is a regular column on the Nishma website in which Nishma's Founding Director analyzes contemporary issues, in the general as well as the Jewish world, from a Torah perspective.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

YATED AND YCT: Substance and Methodology

Available on the Nishma web site


  1. Beezeenc@aol.comJune 4, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    Yated for a Dollar

    Interesting article. As usual your insight into the underlying theoretical foundations of an issue are enlightening. This raises an interesting issue because I suspect that one of the most fundamental things that separate you from the haredi world is precisely this interest in the theoretical. The haredi would reject the methodology of your analysis regardless of your conclusions. Benzion Chinn (www.izgad.blogspot.com)

  2. schweitzer@axxent.caJune 4, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    I would strongly disagree. There is no shortage of theoretical discussion in the Chareidi world. Every time they discuss the concept of working for a living, for them that's theoretical! Hah! Anyway... the question for the Chareidim is: what came first, the question or the answer? When one looks at the methodology that Conservatism use, the answer is: the answer. Whenever they have a concern about whether something is prohibited, they begin by deciding that it is, even if they don't say so in so many words. Then, using creative twists of halachah combined with high-sounding concepts like "tkiun olam" and "human dignity" they develop a justification lacking in halachic validity but sounding noble and religious. The concern that the Yated article had with YCT was similar. Having read "Open Orthodoxy!" I have made two observations. One, never put an exclamation point in your title. It looks stupid. Two, one might very well conclude that R' Avi Weiss' first concern is to develop a form of "Orthodox Judaism" that looks and feels right when presented to secular liberals. It follows that if this is his desire, then what's to say that his interpretation of halachic authorities won't reflect this, leading him to ignore opposing psaks when they don't fit his worldview? As an aside, I have no doubt that Yated is guilty of this methodology as well. From the way the article is written, there is no question that they've decided YCT is bad for Judaism. But Yated isn't exactly known as a journalistic organ with high standards. In the end, those who claim to value autonomy are simply rejecting authority because they think they're smarter than the ones in charge but don't have a megaolomaniacal streak of their own. This is what is happening at YCT, if the article is correct.

  3. The question is one of agenda. We all have an initial reaction to something that we experience or read about for the first time. We either like it or dislike it, evaluate it positively or negatively or somewhere in between. It is from that point that we continue. Most people continue on in a manner that supports this initial reaction -- if I like it I will try to find it to be good. If I dislike it I will try to find something wrong with it. So Yated had an initial reaction to YCT and, with a lehavdil as there is one, Conservative Judaism has an initial reaction to a specific case. Both follow through on this initial reaction. Yated declares YCT outside the pale which is the conclusion that they really wish. Conservative Judaism declares something permitted using their system of law which is what they wanted also. The fact is that this is not always necessarily bad. Oftentimes a posek will approach a halachic issue with a desired conclusion -- either for policy reasons to declare it assur or for humanitarian reasons to declare it mutar. But there is a difference that is significant. While we have a predisposition to try to follow or initial reaction, the Torah challenges us to be careful in doing so. Limud haTorah that demands of us to see all the different perceptions of a halachic issue teaches us to not necessarily be blinded by our initial reaction. I think one way but this perush says something different -- I am called upon to explain this other perush's way of learning. This is the world of thought that Torah demands in limud haTorah -- to see beyond our initial reaction. The world of psak brings this into action situations as well. We may have an initial reaction but the key for the posek is that it is not enough for him to find an argument to justify his perception. He has to find his conclusion to be aliba d'emet. It is not enough for him to hear an argument; he has to think the argument correct, the truth. These two processes is what keeps our agendas in check. We know what Yated and YCT want -- we know their initial reaction. It can become an agenda which does have some legitimacy. But the call of Torah is to move beyond the agenda to truly analyzed the case in a non-agenda world of thought by seeing the different sides. In many ways, this is the theoretical discussion that is often overlooked -- not recognizing that it is also not so theoretical but has a practical role. It does not necessarily change the conclusion but it makes the conclusion operate in the true, full realm of Torah