So there has been much ado about the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR) having a woman lead Kabbalas Shabbos. In a pithy phrase of many wise men, who cares? HIR is a modern Orthodox shul in the way that the phrase used to mean; in the way that moniker was embraced by those accepting the challenges and complexities that come with living in the modern age. HIR is the same institution that famously ordained a rabba (woman rabbi with a different name). So, if Cross-Currents and Rabbi Adelstein get all worked up and trot out a bunch of right wingers and classic right-wing arguments using the same reductive and faulty analysis that continues to lead them astray, who cares? Would they ever go to HIR? What is Cross-Currents going to do, threaten them with a non-existent cherem? Have Avi Shafran write another inane apologia in The New York Times explaining as only he could how a woman davening for the ammud for a portion on Friday night presents a clear and present danger to the future of Orthodox Judaism? No, as certain as someone from New York acting more frum in order to marry off their daughter, they are going to yell and scream “the world is coming to end, the end of orthodoxy is nigh” and in a week the world will, surprisingly enough, still be here and Cross-Currents will have moved on to arguing that a convicted murderer should have his life spared solely because he is Jewish.
Moreover, it’s Kabbalas Shabbos people. Kabbalas Shabbos itself is a rather recent innovation, and presumably that too runs afoul of the inane trope “chadash assur min haTorah.” So that innovation is OK, but to have a woman participate more meaningfully in Kabbalas Shabbos is beyond the pale? As Dovbear and Gideon Slifkin have aptly demonstrated—and anyone with a hint of curiosity or desire to understand our religion and our rituals could just as easily discover—the entire composition of Kabbalas Shabbos is an innovation, and some of the same are hymns to Baal, which is more than somewhat noteworthy.
Do the people who write for Cross-Currents (and similar sites) ever go to HIR? If someone came into to one of their shuls and did something that was more halalchically observant but was new and innovative, would they mind and shout and object? Or would they rush to slavishly follow the stringency du jour in order to demonstrate their charedi bonifides, without a care or concern for the all-important, Why? Do the protectors of Orthodox virtue at Cross-Currents remember that each rabbi has the right to govern his shul as he sees fit? (See Shu’t Rivash no. 271). Each rabbi is allowed to make halachic decisions for their own congregation, and that is precisely what happened here. HIR and R. Weiss aren’t telling Lakewood to have a woman lead Kabbalas Shabbos, so why should anyone else care? Of course, the standard argument – “it is a breach in the walls of Orthodoxy; this is merely the first step in allowing gender equality in Judaism.” First, what’s so terrible about gender equality within halalchically permitted bounds? Second, just about everything has been decried using the same argument. Bat Mitzvahs seem to have worked out ok, even though they were started by R. Kaplan. So women participate a bit more. Who cares?
Something that is worth noting is the recent proclamation that demonstrates an attitude shift regarding homosexuals. An incredibly powerful document, it demonstrated a sea change in the approach of orthodoxy towards the issue of homosexuality in our community and demonstrates quite clearly that we can be more accepting of homosexuals while still maintaining the strictures of halacha. Much like Orthopraxy and its adherents, we can be understanding and aware while still being in touch with ourselves, and not shut out our convoluted nature and the ability to change that defines our existence.