Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Fiddling while Jerusalem burns

Today, R. Gil posts about some halakhic dimension of a potato that is hot or merely room temperature depending on where you are coming from: women and learning Gemara specifically, or talmud Torah more generally.

Commenter charliehall points out that "Formal education for women preceded the Bais Ya'akov movement by half a century -- R'Hirsch in Germany and R'Rice in America. Did either leave any writings regarding the halachic issues?"

In fact, formal education for girls preceded R. Hirsch as well. If I'm not mistaken the credit for that innovation goes to Haham Isaac Bernays (1792-1849), rav of Hamburg, who was also a rebbe of R. Hirsch. Isaac Bernays is noted for establishing the first day school for boys and girls. Was he a talmid chakham? Evidently. He was awarded the title of haver at age 7 for his expertise in Babba [One of them, I can't remember].

I think the answer to charliehall's question "did [they] leave any writings regarding the halachic issues?" is that they saw that a house was on fire and they didn't stop to look up what to do in the Mishna Berura, so to speak--or to write it. In fact, neither did the founders of the Bais Yaakov movement, who famously got the all-important approbation of the Chafetz Chaim after the fact.*

These pioneers acted. They knew full well that Halakha simply isn't a system under which masses of Jewish girls would defect because of a halakhic shackle. Even without the teshuva and the pesak written, obviously halakha permits saving these Jews, otherwise halakha is self-negating. And many a Jewish girl in Eastern Europe attrited before the eventual adoption of a system that, while not now controversial in itself, engenders many still-controversial questions.

It is absolutely appropriate today to look up the halakhic parameters of putting out fires and to write the teshuva. But at the time of crises? If it can't be done yesterday, then sometimes the time to act is today.

What of the Satmar Rav, who didn't even permit women to learn Rashi? Well, in his insular community Jerusalem isn't burning (or we can pretend that it wasn't/ isn't). However since that's the case then his halakhic opinion is relevent to a faction, not the kelal. Dr. Eliezer Berkovits wrote in Lo Bashamayim Hi
One might say that in the present conditions the community of an Orthodox Yeshiva is a halakhic society that functions fully democratically. One enters it and belongs to it in complete personal freedom and responsibility. The same might be said about an Orthodox community like New Square in the United States or the Meah Sh'arim quarter in Jerusalem. But are they the kind of society intended by the Torah? The total purpose of Halakha is to guide the life of the nation, not just that of a sect or of a sectional community.
*Menacham Butler points out that
Contrary to the wide misunderstanding, the Bais Yaakov schools were established before receiving the backing of the great sages of the era. Indeed, a forthcoming PhD about this founding of this movement stresses this point, to the disappointment of many in the current Bais Yaakov leadership.

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