Wednesday, August 11, 2004

No fan of “monkey” business, part 2—Missing the point

The letters to the editor concerning Rabbi Schachter’s implied comparison of women to parrots or monkeys have been published. Some letter-writers complained that the author of the article failed to mention that exaggerated language is typical of a Talmudic discussion and is not intended to be taken literally.

They have a point, but they also miss the point. The authors of the United States Constitution gave only a partial vote to slaves, if memory serves me correctly. Yet anyone who suggested that their descendants should continue to have only a partial vote per person would be labeled a racist. Perhaps it was considered acceptable hundreds of years ago to compare a person or idea to an animal in jest, but does that make it perfectly acceptable to do the same to half the Jewish people in the twenty-first century?

There’s a problem inherent in a religion based on the premise that every rabbinic ruling that passes the test of careful scrutiny by other rabbis was given to Moses on Sinai. How, exactly, does one disagree publicly with a rabbi without calling down upon oneself the opprobrium of the Torah community, as happened to this article’s author? I’ve recently become acquainted with the term “da-at Torah” (which seems to indicate extensive knowledge of halacha/Jewish law) and with what appears to me to be an understanding that one does not disagree with someone who possesses said “daat Torah.” Is this the Jewish version of papal infallibility?

One letter-writer asked from what posek (decisor of halachah/Jewish law) the article’s author got permission to do a “hatchet job” on Rabbi Schachter. Leaving aside the question of whether or not the article constituted a “hatchet job,” the idea that an individual should have to ask anyone’s permission to do his/her job distresses me greatly. Does one need authorization even to have an opinion? In the weekday service, we thank HaShem for having given us intelligence (chonen ha-daat). What’s the point of praising HaShem for the gift of brains if we need permission to use them?


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