R. Avi Weiss on Women Rabbis

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Rabbi Avi Weiss

“I think the call for women rabbis is unhelpful, because there are roles that rabbis play that women, by Jewish law, are prohibited from doing. That’s very clear. In the same breath, there are many other roles that women can perform.” – R. Avi Weiss (source)

I came across this 1998 quote in a google search for something entirely unrelated. But I  think it’s very interesting, to say the least.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks vs. The Atheists

In 2010, R. Jonathan Sacks made a pre-Rosh Hashana for-TV program called “The Case for God” in which he discussed religion with 4 atheists. I don’t remember too much of what went on in that program, but I remember that anti-Sacks Youtube commenters said things like “Let’s see him do this with Dawkins.”

He did:

(In case you’re interested, I’m embedding the 2010 program in 2 parts below.)

Explaining “Do Not Consider it a Sin” 2

Part 1

Previously, we analyzed the words “אל נא תשת עלינו חטאת אשר נואלנו ואשר חטאנו” which are found in selichos and found that, if we are to assume that the selichos usage of the phrase is similar to its original usage (Bamidbar 12:11), then – at least according to R. Samson Raphael Hirsch – the phrase is both an admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness.

In the Artscroll Edition of the selichos, the commentary on the words “ואשר חטאנו” says:

Though we cannot deny that we have committed sins, we beg God not to reckon them against us, for we have been motivated more by foolishness than by a desire to do evil.

While this is, perhaps, open to interpretation, the wording of the the commentary seems to imply a more limited request for forgiveness than that which we attributed to R. Hirsch. While our interpretation of R. Hirsch has the plea asking for forgiveness categorically, Artscroll – by specifying the rationale by which we ask for forgiveness (i.e. we were motivated foolishly without desiring to do evil) – limits the scope of the request.

The limited request would include, presumably, sins of laziness (skipping tefila), sins of convenience (i.e. partaking of non-kosher food when kosher food is unavailable) and sins of lust. On the other hand, more significant sins – i.e. those of a rebellious nature – would be excluded from this particular request for pardon.

Explaining “Do Not Consider it a Sin”

As part of the selichos prayers, we recite the words “אל נא תשת עלינו חטאת אשר נואלנו ואשר חטאנו.” Artscroll translates these words as “Please do not reckon for us a sin, what we have done foolishly and what we have sinned.” This plea, though understandable when coming from someone who has sinned and fears retribution, is a bit peculiar.

Frankly, what is it asking? Is it asking for forgiveness for “foolishly done” sins or for all sins? And what – if anything – distinguishes between a “foolishly done” sin and one that is not done foolishly?

The text of this plea  is first found in Beha’aloscha (Numbers 12:11). After Aharon and Miriam have been informed by G-d of Moshe’s special prophetic role (special even when compared with other prophets, such as themselves), Aharon asks his younger brother for forgiveness.

R. Samson R. Hirsch’s Commentary on the Torah deals with this pasuk. He asks what the plea means: Aharon stated explicitly that he sinned – how could he ask for it not to be considered a sin? R. Hirsch suggests that Aharon was simply asking for a pardon from retribution – perhaps specifically a pardon from the tzara’as described in the immediately preceding verse.

If we are to assume that the plea for forgiveness we say in selichos is similar to that of Aharon, according to R. Hirsch we are not distinguishing between “foolishly done” sins and other ones. The request is, instead, a broad acknowledgement of guilt as well as request for pardon.