Caulfield Shul members would've received the following message from Rabbi Ralph Genende a few days ago. (It also appears on their website.)
Reading it over Shabbos, it seemed to me that the rabbi is getting himself involved in matters not of his concern as well as showing that he has very little understanding of the ways and practices of Chareidi Jews.
The digital erasure of the two women (Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomasen) from the iconic photo in the Situation Room at the White House raised hackles but also some interesting issues. It got us thinking about the image of women in the Chareidi world, its ramifications for Orthodoxy (if not Judaism) in general. It also has implications about the boundaries between private and public, respect for the truth and the Chareidi mindset.
While modern Orthodoxy has long-championed the greater inclusion of women in Jewish public life, the Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) world still struggles with, if not out rightly rejects it. While they have the right to read the Torah through their lenses, they don’t have the right to impose this on others as the “Torah-true way”. I don’t have a problem with the Chareidi world wanting to maintain standards of tzniut or modesty (and we could all do with a little more modesty and a lot less exhibitionism),
Thanks for that and may I suggest that Rabbi Ralph takes on some of his own advice. Wouldn’t the average observer say that the Purim photographs of him displayed on the CHC website “could do with a little more modesty and a lot less exhibitionism”? (I can just imagine what “Di Tzeitung” would do with such images!)
I do have a problem with their zealotry, their conviction that they have the G-d given right to make women sit at the back of the bus or pressure them to move out of their allotted seats on an El AL plane because they don’t want to sit next to them. I have a problem with those Chareidim who are so obsessed with the depiction of women that they minimise essential Jewish and Halachik concepts like “kavod habriyut” (respect for humanity created in G-d’s image).
We often find that preachers of “Ahavat Yisrael” and “Kavod Habriyut” usually practice it far less than those people they are aiming aim. No sector of Jewry can match the Chareidi world's incredible and often heroic acts of Chesed and Tzedaka. This is something which the so-called Modern Orthodox communities can only dream about. (Even here in Melbourne, the Chesed of the Chareidi/Chabad communities outshines the rest by miles. It may be me, but I cannot recall any major "Ahavat Yisrael" project initiated and run by the rabbinate or members of the CHC.)
Talking of “kavod habriyut”, rabbi, I have a shaaloh for you. How far does this excuse go? Eg, what if an immodestly dressed woman turns up in your Shul in shorts? Would “kavod habriyut” trump the requirement of kavod Beit Haknesset and respect for a Mikdash Me’at? Do you have some measure by which you weigh up political correctness and the Halachah? If so, it would be interesting to hear of it.
This photograph, which I found on the Shul's website, may (or may not) answer the question:
Having grown up in CHC (and still attend occasionally), I well understand that talking to your members about tzniut and dress modesty would (sadly) make about as much sense as teaching the Zohar to a horse. But that is no excuse for your preaching to and criticizing the hundreds of thousands of Halacha-abiding Jews worldwide (BH the number is growing) who DO follow the laws of Tzeniut?
To airbrush out pictures of women (which is done regularly not only in Di Tzeitung but also in other Chareidi publications) is a distortion of the truth which in Halacha is called gneivat da’at (being deceitful) and midvar sheker tirchak (keep away from falsehood).
“Gneivat da’at”? Come on, rabbi. Every reader of a Chareidi publication knows that this is newspaper policy and not only does he/she have no problem with it but expects it to follow these standards.
The apologetic statement of Di Tzeitung Issued after the event does little to assure me: “Our photo editor…did not read the ‘fine print’…forbidding any changes in the photo (by the White House)…The readership of the Tzeitung believe that women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for what they look like”. I am not assured by this because the Tzeitung producers and readers are ‘fine-print’ shmekkers; they often focus on the most stringent minutiae of Halachik practise.
For a rabbi to be so sarcastic is not nice. Yes, Chareidim do focus on “the most stringent minutiae of Halachik practice”. However, instructions from the White House publicity department don't qualify as “Halachik practise”.
And anyway, who said that the Tzeitung's photo editor was a Chareidi? Maybe he – or even she – was some bungling, inept or even junior Modern Orthodox?
And I am not assured by their reverence for what women do because this is usually restricted to a very narrow area. And anyway shouldn’t men be entitled to the same appreciation for they who they are rather are rather than what look like?
Sadly it seems that the rabbi has absolutely no idea of the Chareidi world’s position and perspective on Tzeniut values. Maybe it's time to drop into Golds and pick up a few seforim that discuss these issues from the authentic Torah angle and gain a little more knowledge and understanding of these things.
Being a rabbi in a Shul where 80-90% of the members are not observant, attending only 3 times a year and whose most fervent prayer is that their child doesn’t marry out may make a sermon demanding Tzeniyut a bit awkward. But so what? Who said that a rabbi's job is always simple and uncomplicated? When we have a situation that 90% of couples registering to be married by you (and the other so-called "MO" rabbis) list the same (prior-wedding) address for both Chatan and Kallah, shouldn’t the rabbis be concentrating on changing this way of life? Shouldn't you be sermonising again and again about marrying first, and only then moving in with each other and establishing a family? One has the feeling that rabbis are afraid that talking about this lest they be accused of chalilah vechas having "Chareidi-extremist" views.More worrying is the attitude of a large segment of the Chareidi world towards women and modesty in general. A group of Chareidi women and girls in Bet Shemesh have begun to wear Muslim garb covering their whole body (including their heads and faces) with rabbinic approval.
That is simply untrue. Here and here are a couple of links to prove that.
There is an increasing tending in the Orthodox world to separate the sexes at schools, weddings, funerals and shule events. This was not the norm in the Orthodox world in the past.
Really? “Increasing tending”? Maybe a quick glance at, say, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - written about 150 years ago (and sourced from Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim - all who belonged to the "past") will enlighten you. Regarding mixed weddings see Ch. 149:1 and re the mingling of the sexes at funerals Ch. 198:10. So much for your “not the norm in the Orthodox world in the past”!
And may one suggest that for one of the few rabbis who allows and supports the Minhag Hagoyim of "double ring" ceremonies under the Chuppah, talking about “not the norm in the Orthodox world in the past” seems strange.
Not only was this "not the norm in the past", but it is absolutely prohibited by the greatest Posek of recent generations Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his Igros Moshe (Even Ha’Ezer vol 3:18). Rabbi Feinstein was by no means considered an ‘extremist’ or ‘Chumra” posek. And he writes it is Assur. But obviously Rabbi Genede has a different opinion.
While modest, respectful, appropriate behaviour between men and women is what the Torah expects, it does not expect a total separation of the sexes.
Come on rabbi. You know very well that you are preaching to those who not only don’t read your stuff, but hardly know you exist. Why waste your precious time?
Wouldn't it be far more beneficial and productive if you spoke and wrote to your own flock about issurei arayos, pritzus, tumas niddah? Have you EVER dared to sermonize about Chilul Shabbos? Far safer to preach about the lack of “kavod habriyut” and the “gneivat da’at” by primitive Chareidim.
As for your comment about “gneivat da’at (being deceitful) and midvar sheker tirchak (keep away from falsehood)” can your inform us about the last time you publicly - and honestly - spoke or wrote about the Torah’s “retribution” for Shabbos desecrators – “Mechaleleho Mos Yumos”? Or explained the "unadulterated" (non-gneivat da’at) Torah view about homosexual behavior?
Too risky, eh, rabbi? Far easier to criticize a Yiddish newspaper in Brooklyn.
Total isolation leads to a warped worldview and ironically an unnecessary emphasis on sexuality as the defining mark of humanity. As Rabbi Marc Angel has recently remarked: “It reduces all humans to sexual objects unable to conduct themselves with propriety, decency and morality…this philosophy is grotesque…if we do not stand up against these tendencies to isolate the genders, then don’t be surprised if they become accepted among the rest of Orthodoxy.”
I would be willing to bet any amount that Chareidi Jews “conduct themselves with propriety, decency and morality” in far, far more than any other group. Rabbi Angel should compare the numbers with his MOs. He’s in for a shock. (And whilst I know very little about Rabbi Angel and his congregation, I'm willing to bet that all the issues I have raised with Rabbi Genende are just as relevant to him.)
He also notes that such views cause more Jews to become alienated from Orthodox and Halachik practise.
What nonsense! Who has EVER heard of an observant Jew leaving Yiddishkeit or joining the Reform because Chareidm don’t put pictures of women in the newspapers?
The Zeitung debate highlights a wider issue: the breakdown in the walls between public and private. In an internet world you can no longer hide behind the walls of your community; anything you print goes viral immediately. As the wise rabbis of Pirkei Avot advised long ago: “Be careful with your words”. Hopefully the Chareidi world will become more sensitive to this and to the recognition that their views and opinions are impacting on all Jews and our relationship with society. Let us in the modern-Orthodox world encourage them to be more inclusive in their ways and views. You need fences for protection but you also need gateways and openings so that you can grow and move freely in Hashem’s varied and colourful world.
Message from the Chareidi world to Rabbi Genende: Thanks but no thanks. We are mochel your encouragement and suggest that rather than advising us on how to run our lives, spare your strength for your home turf to work with your own congregants. Presumably that is why they pay tour salary. Get them to understand and accept some of the basics, ie, observe the Shabbos, eat Kosher, put on Tefilin, Taharas Hamishpacha and you’ll have achieved something positive. You are wasting your time trying to “downsize” Chareidim.
PS. And if you feel that talking Torah and Mitzvot to your parishioners is too 'risky' or an absolute waste of time then I suggest you continue to invest your efforts with the Christians and Buddhists (information I found whilst reseaching this post. There is a higher probability that that they will heed your advice than will Chareidim.
Finally, I apologise if some of my words seem overly harsh, but I have relied on Chazal who teach us “Bemakom sheyesh Chillul Hashem ein cholkin kavod larav”.
Ari (who really wants to return to the Shul of his youth)
PS. Someone has just brought to my attention that Isaac Balbin has also has his say on Rabbi Genende's piece. As Sholomo Hamelech once said "tovim hashnayim min ha'echad".