Communications: Rabbinic Behavior; Rav Hutner and Determinism

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To the Editor:

One line in Dr. Sharon Galper Grossman’s article “Resolving the Debate Over Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination for Cancer Prevention in the Religious World” (Tradition 51:2, Spring 2019) left me flabbergasted.

On page 67, the author listed numerous examples of how sexual promiscuity has unfortunately found its way into the observant Jewish community. All but one of the illustrations presented were expected examples of religious transgressions brought about by sexual temptation to which either the husband or wife succumbed — or was a tragic victim of.

In the midst of listing the moral and religious failings of rape, incest, prostitution, infidelity, and premarital sex, the author nonchalantly included: “rabbis asking divorced women to have sexual relations with men who cannot have relations with their wives.”

Does such an abhorrent abuse of rabbinic power regularly occur? This bizarre example of extreme moral rabbinic turpitude is one which I have never heard of. Even if anecdotal evidence for such a grotesque perversion of rabbinic power could be produced, including such an outrageous example together with cases of sexual assault and promiscuity (which unfortunately do exist to some degree in the observant Jewish community) implies a degree of regularity to such a crime. This results in a terribly distorted and false accusation.

This misjudgment results in maligning and slandering the Orthodox rabbinate and the community it leads. It also does the author a disservice by casting aspersions on the entirety of her otherwise thought-provoking article.

Rabbi Akiva Males, Young Israel of Memphis


Dr. Galper responds:

I thank Rabbi Males for his careful and thoughtful reading of my essay. On page 67, I list several unfortunate anecdotal examples of promiscuity in the religious world through which Torah observant Jews could potentially become infected with HPV. This list was based on an interview with a professional in the field who attested to all of the examples cited including extremely rare cases of rabbis turning to divorcees to have relations with married men. The article presents the interview, uncensored. In retrospect, editing this extreme and admittedly highly unusual and uncommon example would have been more fitting. Its inclusion alongside the other relatively more common, albeit tragic, examples may have painted a skewed and mistaken portrait.

God forbid that any aspect of this article might indirectly undermine or even subtly criticize the Orthodox rabbinate. The purpose of this article was to help prevent avoidable cancers, to save Jewish lives and fulfill the mission set forth in Mishnah Sanhedrin (4:5), “one who saves a single life saves an entire world.” To assume any other implied message from my article would be an unfortunate misinterpretation.

Sharon Galper Grossman, MD, MPH


To the Editor:

I read with great interest the recent article of Dr. Dov Finkelstein, “Rejecting, Embracing and Neutralizing Determinism: Rav Hutner in Dialogue with the Izbitzer and Rav Tzadok” (Tradition 51:3, Summer 2019). I am appreciative of his efforts to bring such important thinkers to the readers of Tradition. Still, for those interested in a more robust presentation of how these schools of thought intersect, there are some additional primary and secondary sources that merit attention within this discussion. Chiefly, Rabbi Hutner addresses the role of repentance for sins that transcend a person’s free-will in his Iggerot u-Ketavim #9. The matter at the center of this letter is one of the core issues and controversies that emerge from Izbician determinism, namely, how does a deterministic worldview necessarily avoid descending into antinomianism. Rabbi Hutner’s approach in that letter merges Izbica and Rabbi Zadok into a practical approach to ensure that sin and repentance remain viable concepts in a deterministic world.

Aside from this important treatment of the issue by Rabbi Hutner there has been a considerable secondary literature which discusses the relationships between these thinkers. Of specific note is Steven S. Schwartzchild’s article “An Introduction to the Thought of R. Isaac Hutner,” (Modern Judaism 5:3, 1985). Schwartzchild was the first to outline the influence of Izbica on Rabbi Hutner’s thought, despite the fact that the Hasidic school is never cited within Pahad Yitzchak. The article was first presented while Rabbi Hutner was still alive, and he reportedly approved and appreciated Schwartzchild’s analysis. Another important study in this field is the Hebrew dissertation of Shlomo Kassierer, “Repentance in the Thought of R. Isaac Hutner” (Bar-Ilan University, 2009).

Given the sensitivity of this issue I urge interested readers to consult these additional sources.

Dovid Bashevkin

The writer is the director of education for NCSY and an instructor at Yeshiva University. His most recent book, Sin·a·gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought, discusses the approach of the Hasidic school of Izbica to sin.


Published Aug 6, 2019

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