Thursday, January 10, 2008

Co-Ed or not Co-Ed

Apparently, Rav Aviner has come out with some exceptionally stringent (link) rules for strict separation between the sexes amongst the faculties of schools in National-Religious schools system.

Thankfully, Rav Yigal Ariel (link) has come out with a response which is so imbued with simple common sense, it is a pleasure to read. (And an unfortunate comment on the state of the times when we have to praise simple moderate common sense!)

He complains that Rav Aviner has simply adopted a Haredi standard. Moreover he suggests that amongst the faculties of schools in the Dati-Leumi camp, problems of flirting and harassment are basically non-existent.

But I loved this paragraph:

בציבור החרדי השתרשה נורמה חדשה לפיה קובעים כללים חדשים, מחוץ להלכה, ומטילים אותם באופן גורף על כל הציבור. בכל הדורות נזקק האדם הדתי לרבנים כדי ללמוד את ההלכה ולהכריע בשאלות מסופקות, אבל בתחום האפור סמכו הכל על כך שיש לו ראש ישר, והוא בדרכיו שלו יתאים את המציאות בכל מקום לרוח ההלכה.
"In the Haredi community, a norm has taken root of new rules and standards, beyond the lines of "Halakha" and these rules are imposed on the entire community. Throughout the generations, religious people had Rabbis with whom they would consult in questionable circumstances, however in certain grey areas, they relied upon the fact that people had common sense and that straight thinking would apply the given situation to the spirit of Halakha."

I remember talking to Rav Lichtenstein some years ago about co-ed situations (in connection to Bnei Akiva.) He told me a story about his mother z"l . She frequently visited a certain European city and stayed with a particular family with whom she was friendly. However one Shabbat, there was a conference of the Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah in the city and many of the European Torah leaders were hosted by families. When she asked to stay at her friends, they informed here that they were hosting a certain Hassidish Rebbe and that he didn't have women present at the Shabbat table. If this bothered her, they suggested that she might prefer to stay elsewhere. And so, she stayed with a different family, a home where the Rogatchover was eating. He did have women at the Shabbat table, and that was fine.

Rav Lichtenstein was telling me that there have always been differing traditions in this context and we should not imagine that one approach or another is more "correct."


rebecca m said...

I get that the story is a mashal for the education situation, but it's a disturbing story.

No, I don't think that a man barring women from his shabbat table is equally correct; in fact, I can't think of a moderately polite word to describe such a person, rebbe, or no. And even more so when a guest.

Also disturbing that the hosts saw this as an equally valid and enabled it.

Alex Israel said...

My understanding is that it was well known, and still is, that Hassidic Rebbes had strict seperation at their tables. I think that the host family were doing the polite thing in the given circumstances. And I guess they could have declined to host the Rebbe if it were a problem for them.

Rav Lichtenstein was acknowledging the fact that different communities have different standards when it comes to man-women seperation.

I do admit that the problems come when the communities interact i.e When I arrive with my standards and another person with a very different set of assumptions, then insult and offense can easily occur.

And yet, in the name of pluralism, why is it incorrect to decide that the meal will be "seperate seating" this Shabbat, with men and women in seperate rooms (that was the situation Rav Lichtenstein described) especially if everyone is informed in advance and given a choice. That is the epitome of pluralism. Allowing everyone to follow their truth as they see it. If you don't like it , don't participate!

rebecca m said...

I'd feel better about it if it sounded more like "separate shabbat tables" and less like "women in a corner, out of sight"

The majority of times that women are separated, things aren't equal.