Response to the Open Letter from Josh Stadlan

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Dear Josh,


I appreciate your response to my recent column and enjoy the opportunity to engage in lively discourse about a topic that is clearly close to your heart.  The passion with which you wrote and the articulateness you bring to your arguments are a testament, I believe, to your family, our Boca schools, and our community.  I can only wish that all of our youth would feel similarly invested in the tradition that we hold so dear and take the time to research a cherished mitzvah and write about it at length, as you did.


In your letter, you wonder why my discussion of mechzei k’yuhara, appearance of religious hubris, was directed at a yeshiva high school's decision to allow its female students to wear tefillin, rather than "other humrot in our community that violate communal norm."  Your question is legitimate, and it gives me the opportunity to perhaps refine my original argument.


Indeed, we live in a time when personal stringencies and custom abound, not all of which conform to typical communal practices.  Some of them are clearly praiseworthy, and some of them, as you suggest, may stray into the territory of "mechzei k’yuhara."  In general, I do not take public stances on them, neither in favor nor against, mostly because I believe these practices are private, delicate issues that are best handled in that realm.


Therefore, I have nothing to say about individual women who have developed a practice of donning tefillin.  I neither endorse them nor condemn them; it is none of my business.  As you effectively point out, I could have been more clear about this in my original column, and I thank you for providing me with the opportunity to clarify now.


I sincerely apologize to the two girls who precipitated this entire discussion for leaving an impression in any way that their motivation or sincerity is in question.  I have no doubt that they are l’sheim shamayim and admire and applaud their enthusiasm for a mitzvah, even if I disagree with the particular observance.  My blog was never directed at them.


Rather, my comments are directed at those who want to make a public endorsement of a particular practice, which, objectively, deviates from the accepted norm for the Orthodox community. It is with the wisdom of this move, and the possibility of "mechzei k’yuhara, appearance of religious hubris" within it, that I took issue.


Josh, despite your carefully reasoned halachic arguments, I maintain my reservations about the need for a new public policy regarding women and tefillin, in the context of the myriad of educational and other communal challenges that currently face us.


Finally, Josh, I have to admit that your letter confused me on one point.  On the one hand, your letter begins with lengthy, impressive segments of deep, Talmudic analysis, including a careful reading of the gemara in Eruvin 96b.  Towards the end of your letter, however, you cite a litany of seemingly embarrassing quotes from the Talmud and other rabbinic literature, including a characterization of Perek "Besula Niseis" that I would rather not repeat here, all of which you clearly distance yourself from.


That leaves me wondering:  Is the Talmud an authoritative text for you or not?  If parts of it are so distasteful to you, then how can you build halachic arguments out of other sections?  If the Talmud and the rabbinic tradition are not authoritative for you, do you derive your conceptions of Judaism from a different source?


I thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this exchange that I know is "for the sake of Heaven."






Rabbi Efrem Goldberg




To read Josh's letter, click here:  Open Letter from Josh Stadlan