Sunday, October 30, 2011

Open Orthodoxy - Part 2

We wrote a bit about Open Orthodoxy in our previous post but I feel that more needs to be said. As per the mandate of this blog we will use Rabbi Slifkin’s comments from his post on this topic as a springboard, simultaneously analyzing his reaction to Open Orthodoxy’s feminist dogma while offering some of our own insights regarding Jewish feminism in general.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:
There is a raging controversy regarding "Open Orthodoxy" and especially its changes to the role of women in Judaism. I must confess that I am really, really not "up" on it.

This author makes the same confession. Nonetheless, the comments that will be made here which relate to halacha have been researched.

Rabbi Slifkin:
With that introduction, let me draw your attention to a source that recently crossed my path, and to an observation.
First, the source. Embarrassed apologies if I am late to the party with this one, but the idea that only a modern feminist Reformer would be dissatisfied with the berachah of shelo asani ishah appears to be neatly refuted by this Italian woman's siddur from 1471, which changes the berachah of she-asani kirtzono to she-asisani ishah ve-lo ish: 
Rabbi Slifkin is committing an error of conflation. Let’s delineate Open Orthodoxy’s claims re the aforementioned bracha and compare them with the brachos found in this Italian siddur.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, a prominent exponent of Open Orthodoxy, YCT advisory board member, and a member of the RCA, justifies his omission of the bracha shelo asani isha as follows: “Each morning we actually reinforce the inherited prejudice that holds that women possess less innate dignity than men… I cannot take God’s Name in the context of this blessing anymore. I suspect, at this point in history, that it constitutes a desecration of the Name, God forbid. In time-honored rabbinic tradition, "better to sit and not do.”

Now let’s compare this to Rabbi Slifkin’s Italian siddur. If you notice, there are three brachos there which do not appear in our siddur, and all relate to women. 1) that You made me a woman and not a man 2) that You did not make me a slave or maidservant 3) that you did not make me a female gentile.

This siddur was obviously written specifically for women! It doesn’t just omit shelo assani isha. It also omits shelo asani goy and shelo asani aved.

Kanefsky has a problem. He would like to imagine that there is perfect equality between men and women and therefore he would like to eliminate the bracha of shelo assani isha entirely. The Italian Siddur makes no such attempt. In fact the printer makes it clear that there are differences between men and women and some of those differences reflect positively in women’s favor. That’s why the woman says shelo assani Ish!

Now, from a halachic perspective the Italian siddur is not so bad. The gemara in Menachos (43b) mentions the obligation of stating three berachos each day, that He didn’t make me 1) a gentile, 2) a slave, 3) a woman. All three berachos are expressed in lashon zachar. Apparently the Italian Siddur attempted to modify the grammar of these berachos such that they accurately reflect the female condition. Admittedly its initial modification, “that You made me a woman and not a man”, is interesting. But it should, be noted that our standard nusach, “sh’asani kir’tzono”, is not found in the gemara. It was a subsequent addition. In fact, R’ Yaakov Emden in his siddur feels that women should not make this bracha with shem u’malchus because it does not appear in Chazal. Also, he feels the brachos of shelo asani goy/eved should be modified to reflect lashon nikeiva, just as it appears in the Italian Siddur, but a woman shouldn’t say it with shem u’malchus because, once again, it does not appear in Chazal.

Of course, I am not advocating that women should follow the nusach in the Italian Siddur. But it is a fact that many Jews over the course of history attempted to add brachos to the accepted seder. Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 46:8) makes reference to such people and claims they are mistaken but that’s it. Adding is not so bad. Deleting is an entirely different story!

Open Orthodoxy would like to see the bracha of shelo assani isha deleted from the siddur. They are attempting to be meshaneh mi’mat’beah she’tavu chachamim (see Berachos 11, Yad Hil. Kerias Shema 1) and this is entirely unacceptable, both halachically and philosophically.

Our next post will deal with Rabbi Slifkin’s remark re the prayer Hanosein Teshua L’mlachim.


  1. Perhaps what the Rav missed is that the original Morthodoxy post on the subject claimed that continuing to say "Shelo asani ishah" is now a Chilul HaShem according to the standards of modern society. The outrage over that statement led to the author quickly pulling it off the website but the effects lasted long after. This isn't about equality between men and women but rather about redefining Orthodox Judaism to ensure it doesn't conflict with secular liberal values.
    But please, Rav Sliffkin has had little involvement in this controvery. He was simply commenting on it in a limited way because, well because EVERYONE was.

  2. MIghty Garnel Ironheart,

    But please, Rav Sliffkin has had little involvement in this controvery. He was simply commenting on it in a limited way because, well because EVERYONE was.

    Me too. I decided to join the fray and comment on Open Orthodoxy. I was merely using Rabbi Slifkin’s post as a point of departure from which to offer my own personal insights on feminism.