Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two Shorts - Slippery Slope of Organ Donation; A Defense of Rav Ovadiah Yosef

Rather than developing them as separate posts.

1) This is an example of the slippery slope in action. You declare some arbitrary point in the death process "brain death," and give doctors the ability to terminate life at that point -- and in other contexts, give doctors to consider the quality of life rather than the value of human life, and a case like this is just waiting to happen: an attempt to hasten death of someone whose quality of life is low, and short-lived, in order to harvest the organs to save someone whose life is worth saving.

Of course there are procedures in place to try to prevent things like this. From the article:
The case came under scrutiny by medical and law enforcement authorities after the operating room staff expressed concerns about the actions of the doctor and of the nurse who was administering the drugs. Under state law, transplant doctors cannot direct the care of organ donors before they are declared dead.
And I am not making any definitive statements here about the merits of organ donation. Just pointing out that the slippery slope argument is not without its own merit.

2) In defense of Rav Ovadiah Yosef:

Sure, he does not speak PC by anyone's conception of it. And his words were somewhat misogynistic. He speaks to his audience, which is Sefardi and different culturally that us.

And I don't know the exact context of his remarks, which would clarify. The article is making it more controversial than perhaps it should be.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef's knowledge is literally encyclopedic. He knows so much, so many sources, so comprehensively. And it takes someone in the know somewhat in order to appreciate it. I recall a while back, when I was criticizing YULA over some other issue, that there was another issue. Some high school student there had written an article criticizing Rav Ovadiah Yosef over some position he had taken, where that student had trouble even teitching a Rashi. As such, he had no idea who he was going up against -- like some kid taking AP physics challenging Einstein.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef is convinced that the halacha should be X -- that women should say the blessing over Shabbat candles before lighting them. Meanwhile, many are apparently doing Y -- lighting the candles, then saying the blessing. (Note: My mom's custom and wife's custom is Y - light the candles, cover the eyes and say the blessing, then uncover the eyes and look at the candles.) On the side of practice Y are many Ashkenazic rabbis and a few Sefardic sources.

Meanwhile, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who is a great and extremely knowledgeable posek, declares that X is the halacha. If he were saying this to men for some halachic practice, of course they would all follow. Because they recognize that this is halacha and he is a posek haDor. But when it comes to this practice of women -- for women are the ones who light the candles -- he is facing off against a mimetic tradition. And this is how their mothers did it, and how their grandmothers did it, in many cases. But this mimetic tradition, he holds, should give way to paskened halacha. It might be that these women can even muster an halachic argument or two why their way should be correct. And so, these women, in stonewalling and arguing, are entering into a halachic fray against someone who knows so much about it that they are nothing. They don;t realize the heavyweight that they are up against, and this can be quite frustrating. In such a case, indeed, they should stick to cooking the chulent, which is what they in fact usually do, and not enter halachic debates that they are entirely unqualified to enter.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef was not saying that if their was a yoetzet halacha, who taught herself the halacha and the relevant sources, thought about it, and gave a pesak or opinion, that she should not do so, because of a misogynistic belief that a woman's place is in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. (Though of course that woman should realize who she was waging battle against.) He was arguing against this mimetic tradition and an unwillingness of women to abandon custom when he, a posek, opposed it, something that would likely not happen if he declared the same to men. Your Bubbe, he is saying, is not a posek, and this issue of when to say the bracha is a halachic matter.

In fact, the article says this directly:

In addition, he admonished women for following in the steps of their mothers in the order of the recitation of the blessing instead of adhering to his opinion.

"It has to be announced that women should not listen to the voice of their mothers or grandmothers not to continue with this mistake," he warned.

He should do better to realize that what he says to this audience, where such language is acceptable, will be taken and misunderstood by the public at large. Of course, it might be that he knows this and does not care, because always having to pay heed to this stands in the way of greatness.

The responses of the women who responded shows that they entirely misunderstood what he was saying:

"The statements of Rabbi Ovadia that are meant to leave women in a state of ignorance, endanger the continued existence of the Jewish nation and therefore I condemn his words," she added.

Liora Minka, head of Emunah, an organization that promotes women's Torah study, also strongly disagreed with Yosef.

"Torah learning for women is very important," she said. "It is only a natural development, even in the ultra-orthodox community, that women will be integrated in Torah study."

He was not saying here that women should remain ignorant. He was not saying that women shouldn't learn. He was saying that mimetic traditions from Bubbes does not have bearing in the Beit Midrash -- at least in this instance.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

you expect that in a parallel situation, men would give up their mimetic tradition, also supported by many halakhic heavyweights, in response to some other halakhic heavyweight telling them that their ancestors [and their rabbis!] don't know squat?

joshwaxman said...

especially since he is speaking to a sefardic audience, and it seems to be primarily Ashkenazic rabbis supporting Y rather than X.

For example, if the Chazon Ish ruled for a group who considered him their prime posek that the shiurim needed to be doubled, despite a mimetic tradition of smaller cups of wine, I would expect that men would follow him. If the highest posek of some group ruled that the nusach haTefillah should be X, and that saying Y instead was wrong and should be avoided, they would listen to their posek despite the mimetic tradition of saying Y.


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