Rabbi Ethan Tucker at Davar

A variety of Shabbat conversations and statements.

Conversation #1
Person #1 to me- We were discussing at lunch your opinion that Orthodoxy is about to change rapidly. Some of the people did not see it.
Me- Here we are at an event where an egalitarian rabbi is invited to teach in an Orthodox Teaneck institution and the people in this room are encouraging their kids to go to Hadar.
Person #1 – Oh, I see.

Conversation #2
Person #2 (educator in Beit Shemesh) You cant believe how Haredi Beit Shemesh has become. And it is amazing that the American Olim are going along with it.
Me- Is that what everyone expected when they moved there 20 years?
Person #2 – I don’t know, actually no they did not. They came as YU orthodoxy and now they are all Haredi, send their kids to Haredi schools and even the “modern” ones steer toward haredi. It seems they really just drifted and did not know what was going on.
Me- Why?
Person #2 It seems they did not realize how much they were new immigrants in a foreign country. They did not know the ideologies, they were out of the loop, and they lived in their expectation of presenting Yu of the 1980’s not israeli reality. Now their kids are either dat’lash or Haredi. They did not realize how much their kids would see them as immigrant foreigners who have little to teach. The system corrected the kids despite the deviance of the parents.

Ethan Tucker
If you are keeping mizvot only as an act of submission then they don’t trust the values of the Talmud and it is no different than someone who rejects the halakhah. If someone says the Talmud is against modern values and rejects the halakhah they are saying the halakhah rubs against human moral sense. But if you have an orthodoxy that emphasizes “teleological suspension of the ethical” or submission even if the halakhah feels intuitively wrong they are also showing that the Halakhah violates their natural feelings and their natural ethical sensibility. Both sides are the same, only that one side choices ethics over halakhah while the other side choices halakhah over ethics. We need a reading of Hazal that makes sense to us and the world. “For this is your wisdom, and understanding in the sight of nations.” The approach of submission shows that orthodoxy is alienated from the values of the halakhah, they can only be cynical, skeptical, estranged. (AB- ironic also)

Rabbi Tucker recounted that he was at Gush for five weeks and while there he hear a story praising the role of submission in the case of a couple where they discover one is a kohen and the other is a convert. The magid shiur emphasized repeatedly the need for submission to the halakhah. Then I knew this place is not for me. … Instead it could have been presented as the importance of preserving zera kohen as a sign of true lineage of Israel; it could have been a discussion of what is a kohen today to let me know Hazal’s values. Instead the story assumed that the listener is alienated from Hazal and can only submit despite his better sense.
For more on Rabbi Tucker- see this prior post.

Found at Mincha
When I went to get my stashed copy of the new Sifri Zuta, I found a full printout of the orthopraxrabbiblog. This group usually buys books hardcover and does not have web printouts lying around. They also dont keep up on the Orthodox blogs.

18 responses to “Rabbi Ethan Tucker at Davar

  1. I assume Tucker would be even more hostile to the theology of Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz.

  2. were u convicned by this presentation?

    it seems like classic liberal populism to me. after all, r. tucker and his collegues will never apply a rabbinic value that goes against there egalitarian ethoc…

  3. David,

    It sounded more Hirschian Horeb, everything has a reason and it all raises a person to do God’s will. In addition, he also seems very much tosfot “today, we do this” Since he was so tosafistic I asked him if he would accept the kulot of the tashbetz or some of Rav Frimer’s and he said that they may not be in the spirit of the mizvah. Some else asked hum about Steve Greenberg and sexual orientation. He answered that we dont have a halakhic analysis yet and it would hinge on whether it was biologically determined and whether the majority of Jews already feel that there is a problem in the meaning of God’s will. He pointed out that a solid plurality dont feel discomfort.

  4. From CG via email:

    CG writes

    What Ethan Tucker heard at the Gush is a classic old Rov Torah, printed in famous article, (context of his allusion here might’ve been psychological,if memory serves – again no time to look)
    amazing how stuff gets watered and misused
    ThisGush quote comes across as something straight out of a right wing madrassa – hope the Gush is not experiencing a severe slide right!
    Yesterday saw Hartman explaining the Rov quoted in Sperber’s new book, on why we are incapable of innovation in nusach hatefillah, yet quite a number of the Rov’s own actions were diametrically opposed to that eloquently expressed notion. Hartman elaborated the Rov’s point that we cannot innovate and then heartily disagreed (Sperber p 14ff is quoting A Living Covenant p145-7)
    What’s ironic (for what Sperber is trying to illustrate)is that the Rov created legions of talmidim who wish to daven his nusach
    I remember someone trying to convince his minyan to add selichos in each YK tefilloh, rather than following usual mahzorim which skip straight to zachor (the pesukim etc which follow the piyutim)- the claim is the printers expected each khal to use its local minhag piyut many actually have such an instruction –
    This is all of a piece with the centrality of repentance in the Rov’s philosophy though he integrated it with halakhic nature of tef. on YK. He used ready-made piyut. …but he added and corrected words;
    …contrast w/ what I read of communities that refuss to recite any selichos in tefilloh because it would constitute a hefsek! exactly what the yeshiva world, now ‘n’ then even the Rov, would usually say(he quoted piyut to study them, but did not use many in davening)
    Apropos using piyut, I am reading Schipper’s intro to the Taoist Canon- where he states that the plurality is not philosophy but liturgical texts -and wondering whether they are as rich a source of preserved ideas etc as our piyutim.

  5. I have often wondered what the source of Tucker et al’s apparent optimism/faith that everything hazal-ic can, with enough study, be redeemed in conversation with our deeply felt values.

    If the/a flagship issue is gender, am i really supposed to believe that they can redeem marginalization and/or objectification (sorry to say it that way) of women in so many areas of halachic discussion? Take the cohen example: I am skeptical that there is a plausible reading in which the psul kehunah of “zonah,” with all of its asymmetrical implications for baalei teshuvah and their youthful indiscretions, is explainable without reference to very problematic views of women. So then what? We are back with the alienation and choice of rejection vs. teleological suspension.

    I am probably on board with trying to minimize such choices, I just don’t see them really going away entirely, and I am not sure what their persistence, even at the margins, does to the whole model.

  6. moshe shoshan

    The notion of submission to the divine will as expressed in halacha is central to the thought of both R. Lichtenstein and R. Amital z”l. I dont see the fact that such a shiur was given at Gush some ten years ago as been indicative on any change going on there.

  7. i think MBG really hits the nail on the head and this is what i referring too when i called the hadar rhetoric liberal populisim. again, trying to pretend that chazal’s values are always consistent with the world view of the liberal elite is just silly.
    not to mention the fact that tuckers arguements are often superficial.
    take the tosafot approach that dr. brill mentioned. i have heard tucker mention this as well. its sounds nice particularly to non-orthodox ears. however, there is one fundamental difference which is that tosafot (as dr. soloveitchik has noted) were dealing with a deeply committed community nothing like the community hadar services.
    in one lecture i heard tucker speaks about paradigm shifts and he tried to make an arguement that just like some rishonim said that the washing today is not the washing of old (and therefore laundering during the nine days could be OK) so too the women today are not the women of old and therefore the categories of the talmud dont apply to them. he substantiates his claim by citing r. yoel bin nun. to the non-orthodox ear this sound great since he quotes and orthodox rabbis to support his claim. however, he makes no reference to other views, gives no context to r. bin nun’s arguement and simply assumes since a bearded rabbi seems to say what he thinks then in his reading of texts the problems fall away.

    i was excited when hadar came on the scene but i have been very disappointed with what i heard so far

  8. Daivd (David?), I think I heard the same lecture and I think you give too little credit. For example, the point abt R. Bin-Nun is not an argument from authority (which would make it weak in the ways you discuss) but an example of the way that shifts in thought and language can go together to change halachic outcomes. I don’t think anyone is claiming that all the work has already been done by orthodox rabbis to get to where egalitarians want to be, just that the work need not be different in kind than what orthodox rabbis do. I am not sure whether even that limited claim is correct but I think it is at least reasonable. (The people who I find do make these ridiculously naive statements about how innovations are not innovations but just in line with mainstream halachah as always understood tend to be “left-wing” orthodox rabbis.)

    Two other things:
    1 – at the jofa conference (and probably elsewhere) ronit ir shai strongly criticized the “akedah model” of halachic observance, responsibility for which she traces to the Rav. Instead she advocates a “brit” model of observance. It sounded an awful lot like R. Tucker to me, but I assume it’s more convergent evolution than any direct influence. So where is this meme coming from?

    2 – Perhaps in partial answer, it seems to me that the idea that religion/God is not about sacrifice makes a lot more sense to the socio-economic elite (cf where hadar founders went to college) than to people who experience real external constraints on their lives. By which I mean, I guess, what would this all have sounded like to the old-timers who had to keep quitting menial jobs because they wouldn’t work half-a-day satruday?

  9. We all heard the same lecture word for word.
    Here is the audio and video along with the source sheet.
    It is his lecture on law of march 18.
    http://www.mechonhadar.org/web/guest/online-learning/tucker.

    The rejection of the akadah model is convergence- it is in almost everything of the last decade- in all faiths. Kierkegaard has fallen on hard times.

  10. “The rejection of the akadah model is convergence- it is in almost everything of the last decade- in all faiths. Kierkegaard has fallen on hard times.”

    Rabbi Brill, are there examples from firmly within “Orthodoxy” too?

    • I am not sure what “firmly” means. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues not to give up our moral compass. Most general moral theory does not entertain it anymore. The journals in Israel like Amudim, Akdamot, and Deot reject it. You may want to see my post on Rav Lubitz or the articles by Rav Gilad of Maaleh Gilboa (Rav Amital’s son-in-law). The later was certainly a possible influence on Rabbi Tucker.

      • “Most general moral theory [ nowadays, does not have a] … moral compass”?

        Could you possibly explain?

  11. dont mean to belabore the point (this is actually the first time i have ever commented on a blog) but i have been thinking about r. tuckers lectures for a while and unfortunately, most of my friends/collegues havent even heard of him.
    to me it seems so “off” to move from a paradigm shift involving laundering pratices to one where an entire group of PEOPLE are redefined making the earlier category irrelevant. i couldnt understand how someone as learned and bright as rabbi tucker could take his own arguement seriously and therefore i could only make sense of his presentation if i interpreted his point as an appeal to authority. MBG sees this as “an example of the way that shifts in thought and language can go together to change halachic outcomes.” i agree but again the conceptual model makes so little sense that it seems to me to reflect tuckers own style of finding a rabbi to substantiiate his position thus alligning his values with the traiditonal system.

    • Well if you are deeply committed to a set of texts, plus the idea that ethical commitments of a covenantal community can result in legitimate reconstructive readings of those texts, and you believe that prior engagements to the texts are important but not the authoritative final word, then the conceptual model makes sense, and the Tosafists are a token of that model, but do not represent the limits of its application.

  12. moshe shoshan

    WRT Beit Shemesh, the statement you quote is misleading.
    first, when people talk about the chareidization of Beit Shemesh, they refer to the increasing power of the extremest chareidim who have the support of the chareidi mayor. I know of no American olim who even vaguely identify with this sector.

    The statement about americans in beit shemesh applies only to a certain segment of the community in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The vast majority of Anglos in BS and a large proportion of those in RBS are solidly Dati leumi. There exists however a population of “american yeshivish” Jews, a lot of whom are right wing YU grads. These people instictively identify with people who wear black hats and tend to send their kids to chareidi schools. This is too bad, because if they could doff their hats, many of these people would find that their values and practices are far more similar to the Chardal or even the “Torani” Dati Leumi than they are to Israeli chareidim.

  13. The emphasis on submission is interesting. Know where the word Islam comes from? Aslama – meaning to submit to God. Where did that conversation on submission take place? In the West Bank? If so, that shows yet another level of irony in this turn to haridiut. But the idea that haridi Judaism is more authentic Judaism is also ironic, and not particularly original, given the global turn towards fundamentalism. If I’m not mistaken the Hazara betshuva movement started in Israel after 1967 and really took off after 1973. And this gave a shot in the arm to those who were never secular because it validated their communities and increased the ranks of religious relative to secular exponentially. There was also a corresponding shift to the right politically. The collapse of the welfare state had a major effect. Already in the 1980s secular and masorti Mizrahim in the skhunot were sending their kids to schools run by Shas even though they were masorti in their observance – (a la Tami). Mizrahim when they arrived in Israel were automatically send to schools run by the religious parties that were dominated culturally by Ashkenazim. Shas rose after the destruction of Tami as an answer to Ashkenazi domination in Agudat Yisrael. This turn towards religiosity divorced from ethics has a history going back decades and developed under specific social and political circumstances, including the willingness of the Labor Party from the 1950s to indulge the religious parties, including Agudat Yisrael, and give them carte blanche in the running of their schools and in the running of the religious schools of the state, not to mention control over the Ministry of Interior.

  14. as Pogo said:We have seen the enemy…

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