Surviving a foolish Dvar Torah

Cheering Vashti and pitying Esther? A foolish misreading of the Megillah story by a woman rabbi in an Open Orthodox congregation tries to make it into a feminist narrative.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer,

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
צילום: PR

The Washington Post  rarely publishes commentaries on Torah. When they do, Orthodox Jews are reminded of how fortunate it is that the paper usually ignores Judaism.  Unfortunately, the paper chose to run a profoundly embarrassing opinion piece on this year’s Fast of Esther, submitted to them by a woman rabbi serving at one of the last four Orthodox Union congregations that still employs one.  The “Open Orthodox” article, while offering no Judaic wisdom into Megillat Esther, nevertheless pries opens a window into the warped thinking of of the feminist-driven “Open Orthodox” movement to ordain women rabbis.

“Open Orthodox” women rabbis — who, by the way, can be found alongside the male rabbis in the “Open Orthodox” rabbinic organization (International Rabbinic Fellowship, or IRF) — go by various and ever-changing sobriquets: “Maharat,” “Rabba,” “Morateinu,” “Rosh Kehillah,” even plain-old “Rabbi.”  A common defining point for “Open Orthodox” women rabbis in their writings and preachings, even in their often-hyphenated surnames, is radical feminist ideology.  That is, theirs is Feminism with some Jewish flavoring; it is not Judaism with some female insight.

According to the first Maharat/Rabba, who also is President of Yeshiva Maharat: “[T]he Orthodox Jewish community is also a male-dominated ‘locker-room’ where women are harassed, demeaned and marginalized.” She actually published that anti-Semitic sentiment in the New York Daily News. And, yes, she is employed as a woman rabbi at an Orthodox Union congregation in Riverdale, NY.

In the Washington Post “Purim Torah” (a colloquial expression for nonsensical writing on Judaism), the Wshington, D.C. Maharat informed the publication’s readers that the “true hero” of Purim is . . .Vashti.

The “Open Orthodox” “Maharat”  writes: “[R]ecent biblical scholarship has suggested that the true hero of the story is not Esther — who submitted to male power in her heroics — but her predecessor, Queen Vashti, who resisted. . . . Thus, Vashti has been deservedly praised by feminists, myself included . . . . . Vashti is an incredible model for standing up and refusing to participate in something degrading.” Therefore, the “Maharat” urges Post readers, inter alia, to “cheer” for Vashti.

In other words, because Vashti refused to be bullied by her husband into displaying herself to the men at a drinking party, she emerges for the “Open Orthodox” as a proud progenitor of the #MeToo movement and thus is the “true hero of the story.” 

One is reminded of Black Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan telling the media that Adolph Hitler was a “very great man.” In other words, yes he was evil, murdered six million Jews, murdered homosexuals and Romanys (better know by an unflattering term, “Gypsies”), unleashed war that led to many tens of millions more deaths. But, hey, he took Germany out of raging inflation, “rose her up from the ashes” of World War I, made her a “great fighting machine,” gave the Germans pride in themselves.  So, yes, there was the evil, but Minister Farrakhan still sees in Hitler a “very great man.”

And this Maharat similarly sees in Vashti the “true hero of the story,” whose “heroics” saw her “resist[],” making Vashti “deservedly praised by feminists, [the “Open Orthodox” woman rabbi] included.” An “incredible model.”

In all this Purim nonsense lies the clearest revelation of why “Open Orthodoxy” fails, why its Chovevei male-rabbi seminary and its Maharat female-rabbi seminary have been rejected outright or otherwise not recognized by each-and-every every normative mainstream Orthodox rabbinic body in the United States, including but not limited to Agudath Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Young Israel Rabbis, and the Rabbinical Alliance.

At its foundational core, “Open Orthodoxy” lies comfortably along the same continuum as Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Humanistic Judaism — all of which discard and excise the centrality of the Oral transmission (Torah she-b’al peh), Mesorah (Oral-transmission-based Tradition), and the defining role of Chazal (Torah Sages through the generations) and contemporary Poskim (Torah authorities of today, as recognized by mainstream normative Orthodoxy). It is for that reason that “Open Orthodox” leaders demand that Israel recognize out-and-out Reform conversions, and regularly identify theologically with the non-Orthodox.

Consider what Christianity did with the Torah, which they call the “Old Testament,” by reading it without the benefit of the accompanying Oral Law. Without the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, why not sound a trumpet or saxophone on Rosh Hashanah, a “day of sounding a blown instrument”? Nowhere does the Chumash specify that the Rosh Hashanah sound must come from a shofar (ram’s horn). On Sukkot, you could save the sixty dollars or 250 shekels and use a lemon after all, instead of an etrog (citron). Without the Oral law discussions in Talmudic Tractate Baba Kama, the batei din (courts of Judaic law) literally would extract an eye for a lost eye, and amputate a leg for a leg — like the Muslims’ Koranic chopping off thieves’ hands.  Without the Oral transmission, like the Karaites people would sit in the dark all of Shabbat.  Jews would eat cheeseburgers because the Bible seems only to forbid seething a kid in its mother’s milk.

And consider how the Torah narrative — the “Bible stories” — would read without Chazal (the Sages), the Tannaim (Sages of the Mishnah), the Amoraim (Sages of the Talmud), and the subsequent Poskim through the generations.

Suddenly, Sarah our Matriarch is a victim of Avraham’s “misogyny.”  (Yes, “Open Orthodox” woman rabbis have taught that to their mesmerized sheep.)

Suddenly, Yitzchak our Patriarch becomes incomprehensible at age 37, as he accompanies his father to Mount Moriah.

Suddenly, it is the poor, persecuted, innocent Esau who is the hero, victimized by the scheming, corrupt mother-and-son team who cheat him out of his blessing while he blissfully is doing his father’s request. 

How could Yehudah be the progenitor of kings, given the narrative of his encounter with Tamar — and how could a woman who dresses like that on the roadway be the progenitor of kings, too? 

And what about poor Cozbi, the daughter of a powerful governmental ruler, who just wants a little bit of love with a Jewish man, just like Chelsea Clinton?  And what did Zimri do wrong by taking Cozbi into his tent?  No #MeToo rules were broken by the romantic couple: the whole incident was consensual. Indeed, suddenly Pinchas becomes the criminal under that analysis. Surely, Ashley Judd has a poem to read.

The Tanakh (Jewish Bible) absolutely cannot be comprehended, not in its laws and not in its narratives, without the accompanying Mesorah (Traditions) of Chazal, as related in the Talmud and other Midrashic accounts.  Those authoritative Divine and Rabbinic sources not only serve as the defining difference individuating the Reform/”Open Orthodox”/Conservative/Humanistic “Judaisms” from Orthodoxy, but also distinguishing Torah Judaism — actually, just-plain Judaism — from Christianity. 

In Judaism, Vashti is no hero.  Rather, she is a proto-Nazi.  Like the women prison guards at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Dachau, and Mauthausen, the Midrash tells us that Vashti enslaved and tortured Jewish women.  She forced them to serve her and grovel while dehumanizing them and subjecting them to public humiliation, forcing them to serve while disrobed.  She worked them extra viciously on the day of the Jewish Sabbath. The daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who destroyed the first Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), Vashti was evil to the core.  Only in an alternate-reality that can see a Farrakhan calling Hitler a “very great man” can we grasp how an “Open Orthodox” Maharat can publish that she “cheers” for Vashti, the “true hero of the story . . . deservedly praised by feminists, myself included.”

For those of us whose Judaism is rooted in authentic roots of Mesorah, in deference to Chazal, and in adherence to P’sak (Judaic rulings issued by Torah authorities recognized by mainstream normative rabbinic circles) — not Reform Judaism, not Hebrew Christianity, not “Open Orthodoxy,” not Maharat Judaism, not Chovevei Judaism, not Conservative Judaism, not Humanistic Judaism — we see Vashti as a cruel and evil proto-Nazi. Vashti saw how others for centuries had hated, oppressed, and persecuted Jews under their control in the most horrific and cruelly inhuman ways, and she rose up to say: Persecute the Jews?   #Me Too!

It is particularly painful for those who grew up associating the name of “Orthodox Union” with the highest standard of everything kosher to watch the OU symbol dragged lower and lower by “Open Orthodox” male rabbis and female rabbis who preach from OU congregational pulpits — and even more so when communicating their shameful nonsense in a vehicle of mass-readership like the Washington Post. Perhaps one should have a grogger (Purim noisemaker) nearby when one of them arises..