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‘Your Semicha Or Your Wife’

YU withholding ordination from rabbinic student who participated in ‘partnership minyan.’

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Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school appears to be withholding ordination next month from a student who participated in a “partnership minyan,” in which women lead certain elements of the Shabbat service, The Jewish Week has learned.

On hearing of the case, several YU-ordained local rabbis said they were stunned by the move, even though they are opposed to such services.

“I think it’s an outrage,” said the rabbi of a large congregation who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s not the way to handle this situation.”

But, contrary to discussion on the Internet in recent days, a source close to the case said the issue was not about participation in the service. Rather, it hinged on whether the student was willing to acknowledge that he should consult with his rabbinic authorities before participating in a minyan that is not acceptable to traditional halachic authorities.

While YU does not revoke semicha (ordination) from its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, or RIETS, graduates, the student in question is, in effect, in limbo. He has completed his five years of classes and tests, but he has not been conferred with ordination.

“Does he understand and agree that he is bound by the halachic process? That’s what this is about,” the source said.

While some observers say the decision underscores a significant shift to the right, religiously, at YU, others suggest that it reflects a heavy-handed political position that could damage the school’s image in the community.

In a letter to the RIETS student, due to receive ordination at YU’s Chag Ha Semicha ordination ceremony March 23, Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean of RIETS, asserted that “not all individuals given the title of ‘rabbi’ are entitled to serve as decisors of Jewish law.” The letter says this is “especially true when breaking new ground in areas unforeseen to earlier generations or when taking public stances on matters of Jewish law that are in opposition to all recognized aposkim [halachic decisors].”

The great majority of halachic sources prohibit the partnership minyan, a relatively new form of worship that gives roles to women that are technically allowed but, until now, not practiced. A recent article by Rabbis Dov and Aryeh Frimmer in Tradition, a scholarly Orthodox publication, makes a strong case against it; minority positions taken by Rabbi Daniel Sperber and Mendel Shapiro, respected scholars, have been accepting.

Most recently, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, issued a responsa firmly prohibiting the practice. He also banned females praying with tefillin.

His argument is primarily based on social and political concerns and rooted in the concept that only a rabbinic decisor is qualified to rule. Deeply respected for his vast Talmudic knowledge, Rabbi Schachter has been criticized by some rabbis who question the severity of his pronouncement. One called it “Rav Schachter’s Fatwa” because of its harsh tone, suggesting that those who participate in such services amount to heretics.

But the source close to those making decisions at YU pointed out that the RIETS rabbis calling on the rabbinic student to conform to halachic standards did not include Rabbi Schachter, and their demand took place several months ago.

“This had nothing to do with Rabbi Schachter or his recent responsa,” the source said.

Partnership minyanim have become popular in some cities in recent years, notably the Shira Chadashah community in Jerusalem and Darchei Noam on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The RIETS student in question, who asked to remain anonymous at this point, told The Jewish Week that his intention had been to have a one-time partnership minyan in his home so that his wife, who had been ill, could be called to the Torah and recite a blessing of gratitude after her recovery.

He said that the letter from Rabbi Penner is “out there” on the Internet and receiving a great deal of attention in Orthodox circles. He added that he is in conversation with authorities in RIETS in an effort to resolve the standoff.

The letter from Rabbi Penner notes that graduates of RIETS “are entitled to their personal opinions on halachic matters … and may publicize their views as opinions that are not halachically binding.” But it says they are “expected to defer, in matters of normative practice, to the opinions of recognized poskim.”

One Orthodox professor of Jewish history said the decision to withhold semicha on the basis of taking part in a questionable religious service marked “the haredization of Modern Orthodoxy.”

But another knowledgeable source urged calm, saying the issue over the individual rabbinical student no doubt will be resolved soon and that “nothing of substance has changed.”

In the meantime, the rabbinic student in question said that while his intent had been to host the partnership minyan just once, at the request of his wife, he is now is unwelcome in his community’s Orthodox synagogue, and he has held subsequent services in his home. Compounding the situation: “The people who came like it,” he said.

Last Update:

02/18/2015 - 09:25

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"While some observers say the decision underscores a significant shift to the right, religiously, at YU, others suggest that it reflects a heavy-handed political position that could damage the school’s image in the community."

Well as long as they've got both sides of the debate there... Jeez--how did this one get past the proofreader?

I believe that the quote from Rav Yaakov Emden is a misquote.It can be found here
Rav Yaakov Emden actually only considers giving the aliyah to the wife if the husband is not there ( and he clearly means can not be there, not that he leaves to allow his wife to get an aliyah) and even then, only allows it theoretically (as he would only allow it practically if some of his fellow rabbanim would agree). This being the case, I do not think that this source can be used in this context.

I'm glad I'm not important enough to be excommunicated.

As mentioned above by Dov Blatt, withthis student's education, he will not have a problem with acquiring Rabbi's who would be happy to stand for this student's ordination, and grant him the title Rabbi. In the end, that rejection may turn out to his benefit as well as his happiness..

“not all individuals given the title of ‘rabbi’ are entitled to serve as decisors of Jewish law.”

If this is the case what are these Rabbi's? The you can not rely on them to answer halachic questions. Why then are they ordaining these younf men??

Setting aside the issue about the process and meaning of granting semikhah, there is -- contrary to several comments above -- a basis for connecting birkat ha-gomel said after childbirth with an aliyah, especially if the minyan is at home. R. Yaakov Emden argues that the aliyah normally given to a father after childbirth is in place of the sacrifice originally brought by the mother. Accordingly, he argues, if a minyan were held at home, it would be proper for the mother to have the aliyah. See the section on a woman who gives birth to a girl in his siddur.

It seems to boil down to YU refusing smicha to a rabbinical student because he failed to ask his Rebbe if he could have his sick stricken wife recite a thanksgiving blessing. Oh and by the way, the student asked that he remain anonymous. Am I the only one who thinks that pertinent details have been left out of this article or were failed to be ever be obtained?? I like reading the JW, but this shameful.

I agree 100% with YU. They are only acting according to normative orthodoxy as defined by the majority of leading poskim such as rav Soleveitchik, Rav Moshe feinstein and Rav Schachter. Semicha is not merely a degree but in effect a license and any institution has the right to set its standards.This especially true in light of Weiss, Sperber and Riskin, whose "Rabbas, women leading prayer services and revised conversion standards in reality the attempted Conservatizationof orthodoxy.

"Inclusion" is a false premise here, we don't vote on Jewish practice and in fact it was the abdication of rabbinic leadership in the Conservative movement to the laity which crippled their movement by making it vulnerable to popular demands and social movements out of fear that people would leave the movement which in fact resulted in ever larger declines in their membership.

Read the letter from Riets. This story is not only biased, it's missing key facts. This isn't politics nor hareidization, it's simply a case of acknowledging the nature of rabbinic authority.

"Modern Orthodoxy" is under attack.When certain well meaning rabbis stretch the parameters of halacha and accommodate modern American liberalism these situations will always arise.As the Rav once supposidly stated, these problems will start once women begin to write the checks !Well they are writing them and now want to cash them !Modern Orthodoxy is gravitating to the jewish conservatism of the 1950's.
When the charedi, hasidic, and yeshivish world see this it pushes them even further to the right-convinced now more than ever that strict orthodoxy is the only approach.
And by maintaining the traditional approach that has been followed for centuries
their community is strong and growing .Men and women respect and fulfill their
important and different roles.There is a Yiddish expression- me ken nisht tancen uf tzwei chasunahs in der zelbe zeit".(you can't dance simultaneously at two weddings )

I think there's definitely some facts missing from the public story. That being said, I think the move is political. REITS is trying to define what they are not. They view partnership minyanim as assur, bottom line. I think it's a huge mistake, they are closing their tent. As of now they're still the "biggest name in town" and can do whatever they want--it feels authoritarian. My questions: 1. Was there ever a stipulation that semicha students need to check-in with their rebbeim at ever halakhic juncture? 2. Should REITS make an ex post facto decision after the student had already completed his studies and requirements? 3. Will REITS add participation in partnership minyanim as grounds for not getting semicha from them for future students? I am curious to see how this will unfold, though I doubt YU will capitulate (despite rumors claiming the contrary).

This entire tempest in a teapot is derailed by people focusing on the partnership minyan issue. The issue is not that, it is simply whether or not an Orthodox yeshiva can or should ordain those who openly defy Orthodox Halacha. If he was driving on Shabbat, should he be allowed? Virtually all Orthodox Halachists say these minyans aren't okay, so they cannot ordain him if he condones them. This has nothing to do with feminism, it's an issue of fidelity to principles. No one says he cannot do it- he just cannot do it with the YU stamp of approval.

When YU starts taking more steps to repudiate the crimes of those it has already ordained, and spends less energy stifling the appreciation of the many nuances of halakha among those it is about to ordain, klal yisrael will be better off.

I was deeply disappointed to read this disingenuous article. Let us review some of the basic facts and see if they were accurately portrayed.

The first issue is the saying of Birchat Hagomel. While it is common practice to associate this bracha with Kriat Hatorah there is actually no halachic obligation to do so which means that the young man in question could easily gathered as whomever he wanted to his apartment (assuming he made sure there was a minyan present) and his wife could have said the bracha. Alternatively, he could have had a standard minyan and she could have made the same blessing. As such the choice to create a partnership minyan was really independent of her need to make this bracha; that was simply the context in which it occurred. That is hardly the manner in which the article depicts the choice he was presented with.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the young man had engaged in extensive discussion with his primary rebbi at Yeshiva University (who is not at considered a member of the right wing camp ) who had explicitly advised him to not go this route. These conversations happened before the printing of the Frimer's article or any statement of Rabbi Schachter. As such the concern of the RIETS administration was one of his rabbinic judgement; a legitimate concern before one ordains a young man and gives him a seal of approval. Once again, this is hardly the manner in which the article portrays the incident.

I am saddened that a fine journalist of Mr. Rosenblatt's caliber would not do his due diligence to both arrive at the correct facts and then present them accurately. I hope that the young man in question works out his difficulties -a process that was underway but is likely to be hindered by this article - and I hope that Mr. Rosenblatt would have the integrity to admit his error in the reporting of this story.

Well put! There is no question that the partnership miyan was not needed to bench gomel and the fact that the student repated such a minyan shows that his beleifs and practices diverge from normative orthodox practice and rulings. The article was very one sided with crticisms based largely on unamed sources. This was either sloppy or biased journalism. I think Gary Rosenblatt is capable better.

What an incredibly one sided article.

I quote: "While some observers say the decision underscores a significant shift to the right, religiously, at YU, others suggest that it reflects a heavy-handed political position that could damage the school’s image in the community".

So basically, the two ways of looking at this story (according to Rosenblatt) are both "negative" (in the view of Rosenblatt).

This is akin to saying about someone suspected of a crime that "some say he is an axe murderer, while others opine that he might actually be a mob hitman".

How about the fact that maybe said individual didn't do anything at all?

Similarly, maybe there is a true and legitimate reason for denying this student Semicha? (Even assuming that Rosenblatt's facts about this story are accurate, something which seems to be contested by commenters above).

Could Rosenblatt not find even a single "expert" or source to opine that the withholding of Semicha just might be for a legitimate reason?

And, by the by, the student claiming that his intention originally was to hold the minyan as a one time event is irrelevant, because presently, he continues to hold it (in his own home!). Obviously, he believes (and continues to believe) in what he is doing.

Wow! YU is looking like the Republican party more and more everyday!

What does THAT mean? What's wrong with the Republican party? At least they aren't promoting dubious and fluctuating moral codes like the progressive Democrats and trying to stuff it down our throats...

Mendel Shapiro is a "respected scholar?!" In the same breath as Rabbi/Prof. Sperber? This shows the author has no idea what he is talking about.

No disrespect to Shapiro intended. But you have to know who is who.

I do not know much about Mendel Shapiro, but frankly it is nearly impossible to not be more respected than Sperber

If, as the story indicates, the student organized a one-time partnership minyan in his house to enable his wife to receive an aliyah and bentch Gomel, then Rabbi Penner's statement that no recognized posek allows such a services simply is NOT true. Rav Yehudah Herzl Henkin, the author of Bnai Banim and a recognized posek, in a response to to the original essay of Rabbi Mendel Shapiro allowing partnership minyanim, clearly states that while regular partnership minyanim
in a synagogue or other public venue are not permitted an ad hoc partnership minyan held in a home or private venue may be permitted.

I should also point out that Rav Schachter quotes very selectively from the writings of his teacher, the Rav. It is worth noting that in all his essays and letters forbidding mixed pews the Rav NEVER referred to the fact that it was forbidden because it was the practice of the Conservative movement. Readers can check the sources found in Community, Covenant, and Commitment and confirm the truth of this assertion for themselves.

With all due respect to Professor Kaplan, who surely is familiar with the Rav's writings, there is a difference between the centuries old prohibition of women wearing Tefillin and mixed pews. Mixed pews are nowhere permitted in Halacha and their prohibition does not relate to their being used in Conservative/Reform Judaism, On the other hand womens' wearing of Tefillin has basis in Halacha and has been prohibited for external reasons and in our times also because of the practice found in Conservative Judaism.

"...home so that his wife, who had been ill, could be called to the Torah and recite a blessing of gratitude after her recovery." If that is the reason, there is more to the story then he is letting on. Birchat HaGomel does not need an aliyah in order to be recited, and often shuls will call out 'birchat hagomel' before hagba so women who need to recite it can do so (from the womens section).
Also "the haredization of Modern Orthodoxy.” ? How is keeping the status quo equivalent to being a haredi? If you are adding chumras, maybe, but keeping things the same? Hardly. I think there is more to this story.

This is what we now call Boteachism. Turning your back on the mainstream and then calling them fundamentalist if they criticize you.

These Rabbis are want to ban umbrellas in order that it won't rain. If Modern Orthodoxy refuses to accommodate these women - especially based primarily on personal and sociological discomfort (i.e. nothing textual) - they will very likely turn outside of Orthodoxy altogether.

If these Rabbis truly view Conservative Judaism as a waiting room for total assimilation, they should stop using mild sociological discomfort as a weapon with which to bludgeon a large group of people out of Orthodox community forever.

The logic of your argument escapes me. Orthodox Judaism has always preferred ideological purity (relatively speaking) to inclusiveness, quality over quantity. Halachic Judaism is not interested in the numbers, but in loyalty to halacha. Period.

If traditional Judaism had made "making people feel comfortable" its main concern, it would be heading for the dustbin of history along with the Conservative and Reform movements.

This sounds like Gary Rosenblatt trying to manipulate public view toward the way he believe it should be. Last time I checked, Gary Rosenblatt doesn't have semicha from ANYWHERE!

I am disappointed by this headline which does not capture the story and was never an ultimatum posed to the RIETS student.

Obviously, this is about the JWeek trying yet again to stir the pot and sell some papers.

The line in the sand that the rabbis of Yeshiva University have drawn around partnership minyan and women wearing tefillin is beginning to look more like a trench. We are witnessing an effort to shut down the halakhic process, and consolidate power into the hands of a few rabbis who have declared themselves the only legitimate decisors. There is a campaign to delegitimize rabbis whose opinions are not in accordance with the party line, and the threats made to this Rabbinic student are only the most public example of this power grab.

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