Something’s happening here, and I’m not really clear on what it is

Yesterday I posted an article at Global Jewish Voice about Canada’s first mainstream yeshiva and rabbinical school. (You can read that here.) I’m not really sure how I feel about this institution— I don’t want to speak to soon because a) it’s still the only thing we have in Canada and b) it’s all of three days old, but there are a couple things I didn’t mention in my article that concern me about the Canadian Yeshiva.

Firstly, they don’t say whether of not they’re going to ordain women. I’m guessing the answer is no, but I find it, well, slightly disingenuous that they won’t just come out and say it. They’re supposedly non-denominational, or, rather, they adhere to what they’re calling “classic Judaism.” And that’s ok. But there’s something to be said for nomenclature: words mean things, and “left-wing Orthodox” or “right-wing Conservative” are terms that make sense to people, and give them a clear(er) and immediate idea of what you’re talking about. Google “classic Judaism” and you find information about Jewish practice during a historical period: “Classic Judaism is not a contemporary phenomenon lying somewhere on the scale between Orthodox and Conservative; Classical Judaism is a historical phenomenon that precedes the Orthodox and Conservative denominations, the soil out of which the denominations grew.” [– Wikipedia.]

I understand (on a personal level, even) the appeal of non-denominational Judaism; personally, I feel that’s the future of Judaism. So I like this “pre-denominational” Judaism in theory, but I don’t think we can go back. We can only go forward. (And the concept of returning to the 19th century and before doesn’t sit entirely well with me on a number of levels.) And this– “On both sides, the new denominationalism skewed the halakha. What previously had been the glue was now the object of contention”– doesn’t ring true to me, frankly. In my experience, halakhah is contentious. What is the Talmud if not scores of scholars squabbling over their differing interpretations of the word of G-d and those sages who came before them? Modern and post-modern denominational disagreements over halakhah (whether they are about the system as a whole or about the intricacies of one particular law) aren’t fundamentally different; they just happen on a different scale.

Besides, ordaining women as rabbis is not necessarily a leniency (“[we are] inclusive where [we] can be—when it comes to custom—but not where halakha disallows”): it’s not explicitly disallowed by halakhah, and that makes me think that the only reason for not ordaining women is capitulation to right-wing Orthodoxy. And really, if you’re not going to ordain women, come out and say so.

I might be being too harsh here. After all, the faculty is very exciting: R. Daniel Sperber (of whom, you might know, I’m a big fan) is serving as Chancellor, my friend R. Aaron Levy will teaching, Dr. Hindy Najman of U of T’s Centre for Jewish Studies is teaching also, as well as many others. Maybe I’m just too hard to please; I read a lot of Haviva Ner-David and Danya Ruttenberg’s writing at a formative age (which isn’t showing any signs of being over yet), and my identity as a feminist coalesced years ago, whereas I’m still figuring out what kind of Jew I want to be and how I want to observe.

Anyway. If anyone associated with the Canadian Yeshiva happens to read this, please know that I mean no offence, and that I’m fully aware of the many holes in my Jewish education. I know I have a lot to learn, and that I’m young. But (as I told my tolerant mother, at the age of five) “I’m argumentative, and that’s the way I am!” I think I’ll mellow given time and (MOAR) education, but for now I’m liable to get fired up.

5 thoughts on “Something’s happening here, and I’m not really clear on what it is

  1. It sounds similar to Traditional Judaism or Open Orthodoxy, which I guess must both be US things. Open Orthodoxy has Avi Weiss and the YCT, and Traditional Judaism has their Union of Traditional Judaism, which I feel like isn’t really getting off the ground. I’m not really sure what the difference is, but I feel like it’s a sign that a split is coming pretty soon.

    • They are primarily US-based, but they’re known in Canada as well. We have a strong presence of American rabbis in Toronto, since so many Canadians have to go to the US to study.

      Honestly, I think Open Orthodoxy might even be to the left of Classic Judaism; they’re willing to ordain women as maharot, right? But classic Judaism, insofar as it exists as any kind of movement (and I’m really not clear on that), doesn’t seem willing to do that even that.

      I agree; I think we’re looking at a pretty interesting future, denomination-wise. Open Orthodoxy fits me pretty well (with some notable exceptions which I won’t get into here), but more and more I feel like the future of Judaism is post-denominational. I think it’s time to move beyond that.

      • I think Open Orthodoxy might even be to the left of Classic Judaism; they’re willing to ordain women as maharot, right?
        I feel like that’s one of those things that aren’t meant to be happening a lot…of course, there’s Yeshivat Maharat, but it’s still run by the only lady who was ordained maharat. It’s not happening left and right, of course…

        Classic Judaism sounds sort of like Traditional Judaism (I can’t even believe we’re talking about this :p), because I remember looking at TJ’s site and it was all “we don’t ordain women.” I don’t know where it stands, really.

        Open Orthodoxy fits me pretty well (with some notable exceptions which I won’t get into here), but more and more I feel like the future of Judaism is post-denominational. I think it’s time to move beyond that.

        Me too. I would be very close to throwing my lot in with Open Orthodoxy, but I realized that wouldn’t really be solving the problem. I think (hope!) that the future will be post-denominational. The last thing we need is another split, although I could see how it could be seen as inevitable.

  2. Stay fired up, Ilana! IMO, Judaism is for all Jews and whoever else wants to be. Despite the bullying, vociferous claims to the contrary, no ‘denomination’ has had the hotline to The Boss since Moses
    .

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