Monday, March 11, 2013

Kol Isha and Modern Orthodoxy

In a previous post I wondered how the Modern Orthodox community seems to ignore the accepted halachic psak regarding the issue of kol isha. I received some thoughtful comments, including one from Noam Stadlan who wrote:
Many in the thinking MO community agree with the rationale, underlying assumptions, and thinking set forth by Rav Bigman, and certainly do not agree with Chareidi views of society and the place for women. Why should they adopt the Chareidi psak? If you think that Rav Bigman's view should not be followed, then in order to make a case that will fall on accepting ears you have to address the issues. For the thinking MO, it is the quality of the argument, not who said it (within reason) or how many said it, that matters. So if you oppose the action, you have to make an argument based on sources and logic, not a list of poskim.
Noam's comments concretized exactly why Modern Orthodox practice regarding kol isha bothers me so much. Since when has the Shulchan Aruch been appropriated by the Chareidi community? Suddenly, every rav and posek who doesn't conform to our values is now Chareidi? Even Seridei Eish, who allowed mixed groups to sing for kiruv purposes would never have permitted a public performance like "The Voice". Does that now mean that he was clearly Chareidi as well?
The comment suggests that the normative halachah of Kol Isha follows Modern Orthodox practice, and that some kind of Chareidi chumrah has crept into modern day Jewish life. Reading the sources (and I did); that is simply not the case, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. It's one thing for Rabbi Bigman to publish his position, which is of course his right. But at least he himself must acknowledge that his opinion contradicts normative halachic psak. It's quite another to suggest that someone who disagrees with him is "Chareidi" (i.e. radical), which can and should be easily dismissed. Noam wrote,
"For the thinking MO, it is the quality of the argument, not who said it (within reason) or how many said it, that matters."
Really? That's how halachah works? Every psak must be argued and debated and explained to the satisfaction of every individual? This entire line of thinking is precisely what bothers me (and to my understand, many, many others) about so-called "Modern Orthodoxy". It articulates the view that if a behavior or value that's explicit in the Shulchan Aruch and later poskim - and it is explicit and cannot be denied - doesn't match with my view, I can choose to ignore that view and attach myself to the da'at yachid I do like and do agree with, labeling anything more radical than myself as "Chareidi". Is there no notion of submission in Modern Orthodox thinking? Is everything subject to the litmus test of the individual?
That's not the way I learned that Halachah works. Rabbi Bigman is a moreh hora'ah, and can issue whatever psak he chooses. But Halachah isn't a poo-poo platter of choices for us to choose from, grabbing the ruling that we like and disregarding those that offend our tastes. Doing so flies in the face of the concept of Mesorah and an allegiance to the tradition that we believe can and must be transmitted through the generations. While the thinking you articulated certainly does match post-modern values which reject absolutes and demand that we only adhere to practices that match our personal, individual attitudes, that's not how Jewish law works.
If you want to follow Rav Bigman, then follow Rav Bigman. But don't just do it for kol isha. Do you know anything else about the piskei halachah that he issues? Do you follow his chumrot as well as his kulot, or does he too need to justify his thinking to you? (Clearly he does).
I'm not suggesting that I'm perfect. Far from it. I doubt that the Shulchan Aruch smiles on the fact that I watch "Top Chef" (not a good example, I know). But instead of suggesting that I'm really correct, and that anyone who thinks watching "Top Chef" is out of touch, and even worse - Chareidi - I'm mature enough to recognize that I probably shouldn't watch it, and this an issue that I struggle with.
A recent comment on Hirhurim about keeping two days of Yom Tov illustrated this point precisely. Joseph Kaplan wrote,
I was once told by R. Adler that there are Teaneck residents who daven in other shuls but are affiliate members of Rinat just so they can consider R. Adler their moreh deasra and follow his psak on observing only 1 day. We’re full members so it was slam dunk that all four of my kids observed 1 day during their year in Israel. And my sense is from speaking to friends that more and more MO observe only 1 day in Israel, some of whom observed 2 days not so long ago.
At least in Teaneck they some feel the need to affiliate with Rabbi Adler's shul in order to follow his psak. But according to Noam's way of thinking, who needs to affiliate? What difference does it make if he's your rabbi? After all, it's the arguments that count, which is precisely why "more and more MO observe only 1 day in Israel." They like the psak, so why not follow it?

This brings me to another comment regarding kol isha related to the Rav. Another commenter wrote that the Rav attended the opera. Sorry, that's not a psak to me, and the fact that individual rabbis allowed (or allow) individual people to attend the opera also doesn't convince me.
There's a concept in Jewish law of individuality, and not everything every rabbi tells an individual immediately becomes normative Jewish law. It's well-known that the Rav's wife did not cover her hair. Does that mean that the Rav also didn't believe in kisui rosh? Quote me a shiur, a written article, anything - where the Rav issued a psak allowing men to attend to opera. He was a very, very smart man, and knew his audience and the time in which he lived. He knew when he was speaking publicly, and when he was speaking privately, and the two are not the same.
I myself have issue piskei halachah for individuals that I would never write in public. Halachah is quite flexible in this manner. Yet, when every individual has a me-too attitude, and tells himself, "If he could do it, why can't I," the very foundation of halachah finds itself in peril of collapse.
Truth be told, this is where I fear a significant chunk of Modern Orthodoxy is headed. Without fealty to mesorah; when we can choose what appeals to us and reject authority when rulings do not - the very concept of shemirat hamitzvot finds itself on very shaky ground indeed.

My problem with a religious girl singing on The Voice isn't the fact that her rav allowed it. I know for a fact that he doesn't permit public singing. My problem is the fact that she never even asked the question in the first place. And that, as you wrote, is the very essence of Modern Orthodoxy.