Shabbat Mishpatim - 5760
"And These are the Laws that You Shall Place Before Them" (Shemot 21:1)
The Parshah we read this Shabbat places a rather large number of Commandments before the Jewish People. They are an interesting mix; some are ethical requirements, such as "Keep far away from a lie " (Shemot 23:7) and "Do not take a bribe " (Shemot 23:8).
Others seem designed to increase the level of holiness in the nation newly freed from slavery, such as "And you shall be a holy People for Me, do not eat torn meat found in the field." (Shemot 22:30) and to prevent immorality among the People, such as "If a man seduces a virgin, who had not been betrothed to any man, and lie with her, he shall immediately arrange to make her his wife." (Shemot 22:15). RASHI cites the Midrash Tanchuma: 3 and Shemot Rabbah 30:3 which say that the reason this Parshah was introduced by the connective "And" was to teach that just as the material in the previous Parshah, Yitro, was taught to the Jewish People at Sinai, so were all these laws. And to all of them, the Jews said, "We will obey all these commands of G-d." (Shemot 24:3)
On Motzaei Shabbat Parshat Yitro, there was a most enlightening community educational program held at a Monsey, N.Y. synagogue, entitled "Right Meets Left;" the title hinting at a certain amount of controlled fireworks. One side was represented by Rabbi Mayer Schiller; the other by Rabbi Saul Berman. The following is a "thumbnail" summary:
Rabbi Saul Berman has served as Rabbi in various pulpits, including Brookline, Berkeley and Lincoln Center, been head of Jewish Studies at Stern College, and is currently Associate Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and Director of "Edah," observed that in many ways, the Orthodox Community is now in a position of "strength," in terms of acceptability in all professions, in the highest levels (well, maybe not yet the highest) levels of government, but in Congress and the halls of the Senate, owners of major sports franchises, etc.
That relative strength has to be seen in the context that where we were formerly "Judaism," now we are only fifteen percent of the Jewish Community. In this context of strength and weakness, it is a good time to deal with fundamental issues.
Rabbi Berman identified what were in his opinion the most important issues for the Orthodox Community to focus on. They are:
We're doing "OK" in areas of Jewish Law such as Shabbat Observance and Kashrut, but we're not doing "OK" when it comes to Torah Laws involving Ethics. Despite a norm of fifteen years of religious education for the typical Modern Orthodox person, it is hard to find someone who knows the correct definition of "Gneivat Daat," the most severe form of stealing. The correct definition involves performance of acts which create false indebtedness, such as inviting somebody to a Simchah only when one knows he or she cannot come. Or "Onaat Devarim," which involves such actions as "pricing" an item at a store with no intention of buying it there.
Role of Women
Sarah Schneur's Revolutionary idea of Broadened Education for women received basically negative response from most Gedolim except for the Chofetz Chayim, who supported it, but only from a "concessionary" point of view, meaning "if we don't allow it, we'll lose them all." However, Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Lichtenstein, for example, argue that even if a woman is not obligated in Talmud Torah per se, she is obligated in "Ahavat Hashem, " love of G-d, which is impossible to achieve without reasonable knowledge of Judaism, including Talmud. The Lubavitcher Rebbe seems to adopt a similar position, but he speaks of "Yirat Hashem," "fear or awe of G-d," as the attitude which must be inculcated, rather than "Ahavat Hashem."
An Important Womans (and Klal Yisraels) Problem
One of the problems that "Edah" addresses is that of the "Agunah," the wife in the case of a marriage that has broken down, who cannot obtain a "Get," a writ of divorce written according to the Laws of the Torah, which would enable her to re-marry, from her recalcitrant former husband.
Historically, various techniques have been tried to try to force the husband to grant the "Get," such as isolating him socially in various ways. Rabbi Berman mentioned a somewhat radical technique used by the rabbi of a community in whose synagogue the community Mikveh was located. The rabbi told the husband, "If you dont grant a "Get" by Thursday, the Mikveh will be closed to all." That worked.
A more conventional technique, strongly supported by Rabbi Berman and "Edah," is use of a Pre-Nuptial Agreement, of which various Halachically acceptable versions exist, at all weddings. The function of the agreement is basically to nullify the marriage if it has broken down and the husband refuses to grant a "Get."
Rabbi Berman said that he couldnt understand why couples and their parents wanted artistically illuminated "Ketuvot," which would proudly be displayed in the young couples new home, and yet felt uncomfortable about using a Pre-Nuptial Agreement because it related to the eventuality of divorce. Because what is the function of a "Ketuvah" if not to serve as a Post-Nuptial Agreement as to the responsibilities of the husband to the wife in the event of death or divorce?!
Of course we can't say that Conservative and Reform Judaism have equal claim to truth; we know that is not so. But we don't want a situation where we claim that only one and a half million Orthodox Jews are the only Jews in the world; we must work for "One Nation," giving and receiving constructive criticism, for we are not so perfect as to be above criticism.
Rabbi Mayer Schiller, author of "The Road Back" and of numerous articles printed world-wide, eclectic thinker, frequent lecturer and teacher of Talmud at Yeshiva University H.S., who in his spare time has been the coach of the hockey teams both at YUHS and formerly at RAMAZ (compiling a 66-5 Won-Lost Record), made an interesting observation:
The Rabbi observed that in Williamsburg, Bklyn, the Hisachdus publishes many "Kol Kore's" (posters and pamphlets urging greater modesty in women's dress, etc.), while "Edah" concerns itself with matters of honesty and ethics. We would really have a renaissance, according to Rabbi Schiller, if Hisachdus would produce "Kol Kore's" about matters of ethics and "Edah" would concern itself with matters of modesty, etc. For then, each group might not just be preaching to the believers, but would be opening themselves and their followers to aspects of Judaism which they may heretofore perhaps have been missing.
In his first contact with the Modern Orthodox world, as a teacher of varied subjects at a Queens High School geared for that community, he noticed a tremendous gap between the actions and attitudes of the youth and the literature put forth by the Modern Orthodox Movement. In particular, there was a great lackadaisical attitude towards Torah and Mitzvot. When he brought this to the attention of the Principal, he was told that his job was to inspire his students to go to Israel, because that is where "it happens!" He later came to understand that Israel is the first place that an American student comes face-to-face with an all-day and all-out commitment to Torah and Mitzvot.
Meanwhile, back at the American ranch, Modern Orthodoxy needs a massive and firm "filtering system" to screen out the harmful effects of the negative culture, piped in by popular music, television, movies and the INTERNET, etc.
Also we should abandon "parochial politics;" if we're concerned about fair treatment for our ethnic group, we must be equally concerned about the other party's. Judaism has much to say to, and much to hear from, the non-Jewish world.
He said that he is somewhat disillusioned with the Women's Movement, since many halachot exist defining a special role for women; that is, out of positions of public leadership, based on the verse "kol kevudah bas melech penima," "All glorious is the King's daughter in the palace," ("Tehilim"/Psalme 45:14) stressing the required inwardness of the Jewish woman, allowing careers outside but with her life centered in the home and family.
Orthodoxy must apply Torah norms even if it pains us socially. This refers to such issues as women covering their hair and business people observing greater standards of honesty.
The Orthodox Jewish Community needs to commit to and adopt a sea-change in mundane, everyday behavior - courtesy in shopping, such as not to enter an "express" line at the market reserved for customers with ten items while you've got twenty, and not to drive in parts of the highway with hatched lines indicating an exit, only for the purpose of passing other cars - simple matters, really, but very important in the eyes of Hashem.
In the end, no fireworks; rather, "Emmet V'Shalom Nashaku," "Truth" and "Peace" (hard to say which was which) kissed. The audience was given much to think about, and hopefully to act upon. The "Right Arm" of Hashem was raised, and Tefilin were on His "Left Arm" - in the opinion of this author, a true Kiddush Hashem!
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU