Leaders, Be Careful with Your Words
Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University, has published an article on Torahweb.org entitled “Can Women Be Rabbis?”. The title is misleading, since the article hardly touches on the question at all. Mostly it mocks and derides women who seek to expand their activity in Jewish ritual. Here is what the article has to say about the practice of women reading the ketubbah (marriage contract) at orthodox Jewish weddingsa practice which R. Schachter admits is permitted in Jewish law:
Yes, even if a parrot or a monkey would read the kesuba, the marriage would be one hundred percent valid.
I could have a whole discussion here about differentiating between the legal, social and emotional aspects of women reading the ketubbah aloud at orthodox Jewish weddings. But that’s not my point. Rather, the issue here is the insulting, offensive language and tone that R. Schachter allowed himself to use.
Jewish teaching states clearly that lashon ha-ra, evil speech, is unacceptable. So it is all the more disturbing when someone like R. Schachter, a leader of the Jewish community whose opinions people value, resorts to it. It also destroys the trust that should exist between leaders and their constituents. After all, if a leader mocks one group now, who knows who the next target may be? Those who laugh at the current insult won’t be smiling when they find the next one directed at them.
Also, R. Schachter seems to have forgotten that the Jewish people’s deadliest enemy at present delights in referring to us as the offspring of pigs and monkeysbeasts that deserve to die. This makes his comparison all the more troubling.
Our Torah says: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” while our basic ethics text, Pirke Avot, admonishes, “Judge every person favorably.” Neither text goes on to add, “Unless you disagree with them, in which case you are free to mock and insult them as much as you like.”
Or perhaps R. Schachter holds a different opinion?