Menachem Mendel

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More on Beit Hillel


Today’s Makor Rishon has an article about Beit Hillel, a new rabbinic organization that I wrote about here. The organization sees itself as a more moderate religious zionist voice. The article notes that the membership of Beit Hillel includes thirty talmidot ḥachamim, female Torah scholars.

Makorrishonhillel 1

9 Responses to “More on Beit Hillel”

  1. 1
    Benjamin Of Tudela:

    What has has liberal MO scratching our head, is what is the difference between this group and Tzohar.

  2. 2
    Benjamin Of Tudela:

    Rav Tzair explains some of the politics involved, why there was a need for a new organization –

  3. 3

    I cannot understand groups like this new Beit Hillel, or the Conservative movement, that try to make massive tinkering with traditional Judaism, and still think it can remain observant. As the Catholics can tell you, ordaining woman, even if you slyly call it a “talmidah chachama” or whatever, is a BIG DEAL. Menachme Mendel, as a liberal, I pray you to explain it to me. [I mean that seriously, by the way.] All these movements can do anything they want to make feminists happy. They will never be able to get away from the fact that the Torah says starkly a man is worth 50 shekel, a woman only 30. I have no complaint with Reform ordaining women. I mean to say, this group makes no pretense at religious observance, and so why not ordain women if they think it smart.* But groups claiming to be orthodox? I mean, come on. Who are they fooling? What kind of benighted fool will have any respect for the notion of a woman rabbi, under any nomenclature, but yet still respect dinnei derabban to refrain from eating a chicken and cheese sandwhich? Anyone with an iota of learning at all – ie, the prototypical observant Jew – will realize the inherent contradiction. So what kind of person goes for this, MM?

    *The intelligence of this move, as opposed to its religiosity, is a different kettle of fish. The fact that reform shuls, when they are populated at all, are often comprised of 90% females or more according to the jewish week, is proof enough of the folly behind it.

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel:


    First of all, I don’t know who “the prototypical observant Jew” is, so I can’t speak for them. I also know many people that have many iotas of learning who support women taking a more active role in Jewish learning and ritual, so the amount of ones learning really isn’t a determining factor. Also, maybe for you ordaining women makes rabbinic law meaningless, but there are many for whom this clearly isn’t true. Speaking for myself, I choose to live with the potentially problematic opinion that some beliefs and laws that are found in the Torah and Talmudic literature aren’t acceptable to me. I think that there are numerous examples of things that are permitted that almost everybody no longer would accept, but permitting the forbidden is much more difficult, although not impossible.

    There are communities for which a woman in a leadership position is unacceptable, and they are welcome to continue in their ways. Ordaining woman was and is a big deal, although I think that they is clearly a large number of knowledgeable and religiously observant Jews for whom what was acceptable one hundred years ago is not acceptable today. They have arrived at different answers, but they all stem from the belief that there is room within rabbinic tradition for things to change.

  5. 5

    Thanks for the response, MM.

    To clarify my remarks about a protypical observant jew, I mean one who has some grounding in talmud. [I refer specifically to contemporary orthodox Jews.] While such orthodox Jews may be woefully ignorant in scholarship, they usually have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the Talmudic viewpoint. And in the Talmudic view, women will NEVER be on an equal footing with men. In part this is because this is the view of the Torah itself, as I showed in the valuation example. In part this is because of the view of Perisa and EY circa 500 CE. And in part because this is the simple reality, regardless of how some, even many, contemporary Westerners currently think.

    Whatever the reason though, we can agree, I think, that women and men are not equal in the eyes of the Talmud. And I think we can also agree that orthdoxy consists mostly of halacha derived precisely from those Talmudic rabbis. The mixture of meat and milk is one example. I might also add the various laws of Shabbos. Thus my quandry: If one deviates from the Talmudic view by equating women with men, what is to stop him from also deviating from Talmudic views with regard to shabbos and kashrus? Stated otherwise, if the Talmudic view is outdated when it comes to women, why is it also not outdated with the 13 priciples it used to come up with so much of halacha?

    I well understand your argument that some things in the Talmud are not acceptable to you, and sympathize with it. It’s easy to do this when our lives are not impacted greatly. But when the rubber hits the road, what then? What happens when someone wants to marry a woman possul to him through a din derabbanan? What if, even less, you’re at a party, and there’s nothing REALLY treif with the food . . . Maybe you can somehow live with these blatant inconsistencies, but most others cannot, and for sure the next generation WILL not. And so again, I am left with my point, that unless one accepts the talmudic view – which does not equate women with men – one cannot seriously claim to be orthodox. Mark you, there is plenty of room within the Talmud to debate certain points. Secular education, rationalism, etc. But the different status of women in the eyes of the Talmud, and the impossibility of them serving as Torah leaders under any name, cannot be gainsaid.

  6. 6

    I would add one point to the above, and that is that undoubtedly there is room within orthodoxy to change. The Beis Yakkov movement, although is overly trumpeted, is indeed the best example of that. But that is women teaching other women. There was always precedent for that. There is even precedent in Masechet Niddah for women examining Niddah cloths of other women, and even a conservative like me would have no problem were that to become more popular. But there is NO real precedent [and dont cite Deborah, her own words prove my point] for a woman being a teacher of Torah to men. It is simply a curiosity of late 20th century Americana, destined one day, probably soon, to be relegated to the history books.

  7. 7
    Menachem Mendel:

    I agree with you that according to the Talmud women aren’t equal to men and that I, among others, cannot accept that. I don’t think that this means that one has to throw out all of Rabbinic Judaism. IMHO, unless there is a very strong reason to deviate from what is found in the Talmud and poskim, one should not. There are many Jews who can’t live with that slippery slope, and if they can’t, then they shouldn’t. The problem is more what one thinks about the authority of halakhah and not about what can be argued through halakhic discourse.

    “In part this is because of the view of Perisa and EY circa 500 CE.”

    Does this mean that if our view is different than we can accept things that weren’t acceptable in the sixth century?

    “And in part because this is the simple reality”

    I think that one should distinguish between the statement “women are different than men” and “women aren’t equal to men.” For me it is unacceptable to claim that a woman isn’t equal in value or rights to a man. It creates many challenges, but it is something that I feel Judaism must incorporate. Yet I also believe that women and men are identical and I don’t think that in order to be equal a woman has to do the same thing as a man, but they do have to be treated equally.

    “But there is NO real precedent [and dont cite Deborah, her own words prove my point] for a woman being a teacher of Torah to men. It is simply a curiosity of late 20th century Americana, destined one day, probably soon, to be relegated to the history books.”

    On this point I think that you can be proven wrong. While it wasn’t very common, there clearly are historical examples of women teaching Torah to men and paskening. See these sources cited in these two responsa by David Golinkin.

  8. 8
    Menachem Mendel:

    “Yet I also believe that women and men are identical and I don’t think that in order to be equal a woman has to do the same thing as a man, but they do have to be treated equally.”

    should be

    “Yet I also believe that women and men AREN’T identical and I don’t think that in order to be equal a woman has to do the same thing as a man, but they do have to be treated equally.

  9. 9

    MM, thank you (as always) for your reasoned discourse. Below I got on my soapbox to deliver a grand soliliquy, at which I had to laugh at my own pompous grandiosity. I kept in for the heck of it, but feel free to ignore. Basically the issue is, like you said, how much one wants to live on the slipperly slope. For me its a no brainer, because for my money there’s no way in heck “though shall not seeth a calf in its mother’s milk” can ever truly mean “though shall keep two sets of dishes.” So if I’m going to start messing around with chazal’s social orders, the whole thing is coming down. If you are able to ignore them on social issues but want to abide by them for others, I dont know why on earth you would, but more power to you!


    The distinction you draw between men and women being “different”, on the one hand, and “unequal”, on the other, seems to me a red herring. The two words are indistinguishable. While concededly in some societies – Arabs come to mind, at least from my surface knowledge – women are second-class, that has NEVER been the case in Judaism. The question is in the physical manifestion of the word “equal”. The 21st century American liberal had been conditioned to think equal = comingling. Thus, the aforementioned liberal thinks the concept of “separate but equal” is inherently wrong. The Torah observant Jew does not. But in no case does either party confer inferior status upon the woman, except to the extent the Torah itsef does. As I noted above, the Torah says in black and white a man is worth 50 and a woman 30. That’s not the Talmud, that’s the Bible.

    But we have to speak more candidly. Nowadays, in the name of “equality”, we have so politicized and illegalized genuine debate, such that one can no longer have meaningul interourse. Thus, for example, there is no discussion at all about differences between the races, despite what is obvious to the naked eye. Any discussion about race is limited to whispered comments and rolls of the eyes between fellow travellers. Everyone knows they exist, and quite plainly, but all are afraid to speak about for fear of legal liability of imagined social ostracization. So what of the differences between men and women. Are they really equal? The great architechts of mankind, in every field, have been men. The visionaries, the leaders, the ones who built civilization – men, all of them. Who are the creators in society, if not men? Who are the ones looked upon naturally as leaders – how can anyone not say men, with a straight face?

    That women are equally intelligent, is not disputed. Likewise, it is obvious that among the billions and billions of human beings that have walked the earth, you will find plenty of exceptions to what I said above. These are givens. But the natural place of the male is in the leadership role. In America, with a society of paper-pushers and regulators and office clerks, sure, women can take leadership roles. Because, essentially, when you ger right down to it, they are not really doing anything. But to build something up, whether physical or conceptual, and to move masses behind you – leadership, in other words, it takes men.

    [at this point I decided I was being too windbaggy and stopped.]




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