Friends, just

Friendship is a funny thing. Or not so funny. They once had a funny TV show called “Friends.” It was about a group of attractive young men and women who were all “friends,” neighbors, roommates. To no one’s surprise, pretty much everyone ended being “more than friends” with everyone else of the opposite sex, at least briefly, by the time the show’s run was over.

But that was fiction. How do we know? Because despite their beyond-friendship interactions, why, they really were still all great friends again right through the end!

Yeah, right.

One of the changes BT’s have to adjust to is that frum men and women really can’t be friends. Like so many things, the extent of sensitivity, or compliance (depending how you look at it) with this principle may depend on your community’s standards. The terminology, too, is rife with vagueness. There’s friendship, and there’s friendship. It shouldn’t be too controversial to assert that an unmarried couple of opposite sexes who are not dating have no business socializing together outside the company of other people, even if they can do so without actually breaching the requirements of yichud, the prohibitions against seclusion with a member of the opposite sex. But if you’re a man, for example, and you’re on a first-name basis with a rebbetzin close to your age whom you’ve known for 25 years, aren’t you, after all, “friends,” even if you never go bowling together? If not, what are you — acquaintances?

Really, however, that case is not our concern; it’s not a change from the previous way of life that presents some people with a challenge, it’s merely a nomenclature problem. The change I originally referred to is that status of “just friends” between males and females. In observant Jewish life, it is not really an option.

The fact is, however, that by the time we hit adulthood, we recognize that mixed friendships are really, mainly, a myth, no matter your religious persuasion — which is just how halacha views it. Men are always men. Women are always women. Men vis-à-vis women is always something that is usually not limited to the non-romantic, non-physical relationship properly described as friendship.

In fact, last fall (October 2012), Scientific American published an article called “Men and Women Can’t be Just Friends.” Unsurprisingly, researchers concluded that it’s pretty much the men who can’t just be friends with women:

New research suggests that there may be some truth to this possibility—that we may think we’re capable of being “just friends” with members of the opposite sex, but the opportunity (or perceived opportunity) for “romance” is often lurking just around the corner, waiting to pounce at the most inopportune moment. . .

The results suggest large gender differences in how men and women experience opposite-sex friendships. Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them — a clearly misguided belief. In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt — basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.

Men were also more willing to act on this mistakenly perceived mutual attraction.

Some comments on the website question the methodology, but most people — and here, I suppose, I really mean most men, who are the ones who know about the “problematic” side of this equation — will admit that, yes, this is about right.

You can interact with a member of the opposite sex and be helpful, compassionate and even… friendly. But most contexts in can do so inevitably result in what halacha calls k’rivas ha-daas — literally, “convergence of the mind,” or what we would call an emotional bond.

That process, that attraction, is there for a reason, a good one: So that men and women, in the right context, can grow close. Which they will, given half a chance. Given half a chance, too, other things will happen. Interestingly, it appears that “just friends” could work if men and women thought the same way where — as you’d like to think — at least the man was attached to another woman, and she knew this. Women see a man’s “taken” status as meaning, well, “taken.” Men, however, not so much:

Although men were equally as likely to desire “romantic dates” with “taken” friends as with single ones, women were sensitive to their male friends’ relationship status and uninterested in pursuing those who were already involved with someone else.

These results suggest that men, relative to women, have a particularly hard time being “just friends.” . . . This is not just a bit of confirmation for stereotypes about sex-hungry males and naïve females; it is direct proof that two people can experience the exact same relationship in radically different ways. Men seem to see myriad opportunities for romance in their supposedly platonic opposite-sex friendships. The women in these friendships, however, seem to have a completely different orientation — one that is actually platonic.

That’s what I meant by “half a chance” — the male half, mainly.

Orthodox Jewish life, in fact, is pretty much set up to recognize this reality. Some people have trouble understanding levels of sensitivity to the separation of the sexes than they are used to — either before they became religious, or in communities that are more vigilant on this issue than they are. Can’t people just control themselves?, they ask.

People can. They do, mostly. But traditional Judaism says, given the values, and at some point the lives, at stake, why make it harder for people to do so?

“Just friends,” in fact, is a phrase that most of us remember from our dating days as what the girl you like says she wants to be when she doesn’t “like you” in “that way.” And we guys remember what “just friends” meant, and felt like, when we heard those words, don’t we? Did we really want to or expect to be “just friends” with that girl after that?

Did we ever?

75 comments on “Friends, just

  1. Mazal Tov to Mr. and Mrs. Menachem Lipkin on the birth of twin boys yesterday to their children Elisheva and Shloimie Storch!

  2. The MO community has a big strength in their ability to be “normal” in male-female issues. The shift to the extreme right is just not good for anyone. Why should a grown man freak out because a woman says good morning to him?

    On the other hand, I was once at a modern simcha with mixed (very mixed) seating, and there was a married man there, a rav, and there was also a married women there, (meaning married to someone other then the rav if you get my drift) and their way of communicating pashut made me nauseous.

    Perhaps we all need to be a bit more real and in touch with ourselves, our motivations, and our relationship with the Creator.

  3. I think, potentially lost in the “what is a Torah source tumult” are some very important insights. Aderaba. I think it is wonderful that Menachem and others are comfortable and sufficiently confident socially that they can have friendly associations with women without loosing themselves. However, it needs to be realized that Menachem is coming from a place of yiras shamayim (or even yirat shamayim, just cheppin’) as is the woman that he is speaking too. That creates a certain security that lines won’t be crossed. However, the average American college student turned BT, is coming from a place of emotional and sexual hefkeirus. They need to re-train in communicating with the their brains and not with their… let’s say emotions. And that can create a lot of uncomfortability for both the BT and for the target of the friendly communication.

  4. Shmuel, it’s descriptive with an underlying prescription, i.e. go back to the old ways of doing things.

  5. AMG, I didn’t mean to deny that R/Prof. Haim Soloveitchik is also a rabbi, I just meant that that particular article was written in his capacity as a historian making observations –it’s not meant to say what is right or wrong, which is why I said it cannot disagree (or agree) with a prescrptive statement of the Mesillas Yesharim.

  6. That Reb Moshe says something, makes it MORE of a Torah source than if it were “merely” a pasuk in chumash. There is a “t’shuvah” online from a graduate of a “yeshiva” attempting to be matir homosexuality. In another words, he is trying to learn new p’shat in a very unambiguous pasuk in chumash. About things which are far off and written in short, deep language, it is much easier to offer original interpretations. This is true of Tanach and the statements of Chazal. But the statements of the greatest of modern poskim are based on a very broad understanding of the texts, as well as all the interpretation since those texts were give, and are therefor stronger, in some sense, then older sources.

    I do agree with Menachem’s point that we have to careful to avoid my-way-or the highway thinking

  7. Mark, the article rupture and reconstruction is descriptive, not prescriptive (it is by a history professor, not a rabbi), so by its nature it cannot argue with the Mesillas Yesharim.

  8. I disagree. Does Rabbi Soloveitchik argue with the Mesillas Yesharim about the highest levels. Could he assess the spirituality of the Ramchal, and others who reached the levels described in Mesillas Yesharim. Of course not. Why would he weaken his points with a claim like that? His work was not addressed to the highest levels.

    But it’s not really relevant and distracts from what’s important about his work. Which is how people in our generation might erroneously determine when to be machmir, which is a point on which we might agree.

  9. Mark R&R is about what happened to Judaism, not just average Jews. It partially explains why the behavior of previous generations, average and great, are not “sufficient” for us anymore.

  10. I agree that most people should not be Machmir in all things, in fact I said it explicitly above.

    I’ve read Rupture and Reconstruction a few times and he’s talking about the average Jew, not those at the highest level. It’s a great piece, but not exactly mainstream.

    Jews at the highest level are machmir. Re-read Mesillas Yesharim where the Ramchal is explicit about this. Of course that’s a theoretical point for us, but it does illustrate that path even though we’re at the lower levels.

  11. Mark, most people should not be Machmir in all things. In fact it may not even be possible. (See my response to Shmuel below) We live in an era where there is an extreme emphasis on doing stuff to the “max”, but this is a-historical. I strongly suggest you read Chaim Soloveichik’s “Rupture and Reconstruction” to get an idea of what has happened to us and why.

    Shmuel,said another way, there can be a tension between being Machmir and Mekel on the same issue, ie being “machmir” in mitzah can cause one to be “mekel”, or worse, another. In your example being “machmir” in tea can cause one to be mekel in basic kovod generally or Kibuv Av, if it were his parents, if you need an exact mitzvah. This is especially relevant to BTs (but not only) who take on “Chumrahs” which can be highly disruptive to their relationship with their families. Yes you need a Rav for some guidance, but, where chumrahs are concerned you can use your own Sechel and personal knowledge of your family.

  12. There’s a big difference between spiritual maturity and one’s spiritual journey. Spiritual mature people are more careful about the halacha, by definition. However, a spiritual journey does not imply a spiritual maturity. You might have different definitions, but that’s how I’m using the term spiritual maturity.

    Your issues about inconveniencing, offending or looking down applies even when you follow the normative and sometimes the lenient halacha. A person must develop a maturity to know what to do in each specific situation. Of course consulting a Rav is part of that process.

  13. I think it oversimplifies things to think about being machmir and meikil and becoming more ‘machmir’ as one (hopefully) progresses in one’s spiritual journey. Part of the reason for this is that people tend to associate being machmir or meikil with specific laws (like the tea example we discussed above) and not as much with broader character trait development or interpersonal relationships.

    For example, if I insist on being machmir about xyz (I’ve learned my lesson from the tea discussion not to give a specific example!) and it inconveniences or offends someone else, or if it leads me (even occasionally) to look down at others who take a different approach to that issue, is my being machmir a net gain or a net loss? This is one of the reasons one needs to have a rav’s guidance about these matters. I personally ask my rav for guidance about whether I may be machmir about something as well as whether I may be meikil.

  14. Certainly a person reading this site should not be machmir in all things, however for someone at a very high spiritual level, being machmir all the time might be appropriate.

    In middos, the Rambam talks about a “golden mean”, here I would say that each person has to find the right level of halacha to observe, depending on their particular spiritual level. The fact that your spiritual level is hopefully rising as time goes on increases the challenge.

  15. “And sometimes being machmir is the right thing to do for a segment of the population.” But not in all things. One must find the “golden mean”.

  16. “One can always find a reason to be machmir”. But if you’re honest it has to be a good reason. One can always find a another opinion to be mahkel. But here too it has to be a good opinion.

    And sometimes being machmir is the right thing to do for a segment of the population. As poskim like Rabbi Ribiat and Rabbi Welcher declared in this case. I’m not a posek and I don’t think you are, so I feel safe sticking to their opinion in this case.

    I have a post on the difficulties in paskening for BTs going up soon, based on a discussion I had with Rabbi Welcher recently on this topic.

  17. … obviously, that’s not always the case. But certainly when you’re dealing with an English language compendium that’s read by the “masses” the author has to be very “careful”.

  18. “This is in no way any question on Rav Moshe’s psak, but since there is a question of Bishul or Borer, there is a reason to be machmir.”

    But you just did! One can always find a reason to be machmir. Great poskim allow us to live more “normal” lives by allowing us to lean on them. Weaker poskim tend toward “playing it safe”.

  19. Rabbi Ribiat, in the grey 4 volume 39 Melachos suggests using tea essence, but brings down that if you did not make tea essence you can immerse a tea bag in a Kli Shlishi.

    He then ends off with:
    “According to some Poskim, use of tea bags (which are considered Kallel Habishul) is questionable in a Kli Shlishi (and he cites the Orach HaShulchan). Moreover, there is a serious question of Borer (Sorting) and Merakaid (Sifting) when removing the bag, which contains unwanted tea leaves, i.e. P’soles, from the glass of tea.
    One can solve this problem, however by simply removing the tea bag together with some tea by means of a spoon.
    To avoid any shailos of Bishul or Borer, it is best to prepare tea essence before Shabbos”

    So he’s basically recommending to be machmir.

    I asked our Rav and he said he tells people that they can be rely on Rav Moshe (who says there’s no cooking in a Kli Shlishi) and use tea bags in a Kli Shlishi, but that he is personally machmir to only use tea essence.

    This is in no way any question on Rav Moshe’s psak, but since there is a question of Bishul or Borer, there is a reason to be machmir.

  20. Mark Frankel wrote:

    “Steve, some people are stringent even in a Kli Shlishi”

    Ain Haci Nami-the question remains whether such a practice is rooted in Rov Rishonim and Poskim, especially when many Gdolei HaPoskim explictly state there is no Issur Bishul in a Kli Shlishi and thus is a Midas Chasidus- in which case, one could offer the following comment-Hamacmir Tavoh Alav Bracha, Aval Lo Lacherim.

  21. This comment is to give a whole-hearted “right on” to Judy Resnick re comment #12 on the gradual realization on the part of secular cultures that there really is no such thing as a male-female “just friendship.”

    A Los Angeles radio host who is among the crudest of the crude (but thoroughly amusing for those of us who occasionally listen to him for laughs), Tom Leykis, has all sorts of rules for relationships–most of which are categorically incompatible with Torah values. However, he does hit the nail on the head with this one: “There is no such thing as a male-female friendship, there never had been, and there never will be. Real men will not have relationships with women who have ‘guy friends,’ and real women with any self-respect will not have relationships with men who have ‘gal friends’. Period.”

    I think the fact that people who try to be the exception to the rule frequently hurt themselves in the process is a strong example of how G-d will teach His Torah to folks, whether they want it or not. Sometimes people will just learn certain lessons the hard way, rather than by reading the guidebook!

  22. Mark Frankel wrote in relevant part:

    “As for your tea example, since there is a question of a D’Oraisa, most people in the Yeshvish communities will not pour from a Kli Sheni on to the tea and will use tea essence instead. It’s pretty uniform in these communities where there are more uniformly accepted Poskim and practices.”

    That is true-but Kli Shlishi on a tea bag would obviate the entire problem. That being the said, I think that one can note that the issue of whether Kli Sheni Aino Mvashel is a Machlokes Rishonim , Acharonim and Poskim, and that even though there are certainly major Rishonim, Acharonim and Poskim who rule leniently, many have a practice to act Lchumra for a variety of reasons:

    1)perhaps Kli Sheni Mvashel
    2) Perhaps Yesh Zviah ( coloring ) Bochlin even on a Kli Shlishi
    3) fulfilling Kol Hadeos as a means of showing Ahavas HaShem ( see Rashi to RH16b d.H. Larev es HaSatan.)

    As long as someone has valid Psak Lkulah or Lchumra or Hanhagah Lchumrah or Lkulah from a Posek worthy of the name, the issue of what others do really verges on the irrelevant.

  23. Shmuel, I’ve been running this site for seven years, reading thousands of comments, hundreds of emails, and tens of discussions with my Rav in detail about issues BTs face. The simple truth is that not all Rabbis are of equal caliber in giving Psak or Eitzah.

    There are Rabbi’s who go from Aleph-Beis to Smicha and giving Psak in less than 8 years and there are Rabbi’s who did in-depth learning for 25 years before they would even consider taking responsibility for somebody else’s question.

    There are Rabbis who rarely consult with others, and there are Rabbis who clearly know their limitations and make calls to greater Rabbis when appropriate. On numerous occasions my Rav has suggested calling someone with “broader shoulders” for a decision and he’s known as a Rav’s Rav, i.e. a Rabbi who is often called by other Rabbis for questions.

    There are Rabbis who usually lean towards leniency, and Rabbi’s who know when to be lenient and when to be stringent.

    And BT issues are known to be very difficult, because of the additional factors involved.

    There are plenty of great Rebbeim around, but my experience has shown that many people don’t have a Rav adequately guiding their spiritual growth.

    To make a blanket statement, implying all Orthodox Rabbis are equal or even close to equal is incorrect and irresponsible.

    I would however agree with the general statement that a person should follow his Rav’s psak.

  24. Mark, you are right that my question to you about my own practice was purely rhetorical. But I’d like to explain why your approach, which appears to work for you, doesn’t work for me.

    I asked you rhetorically whether a person (it was me, but I’ll depersonalize it) is doing the right thing who scrupulously follows a psak given to him by his rabbi, and which position is in keeping with a well-known teshuva of one of the great poskim of recent generations (in this case, a person whom you referred to as “the undisputed ashkenazi posek hador”). So this person is following the correct procedure by asking his rabbi, and the rabbi’s position shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone since they can look up and find the idea in Igeros Moshe Orach Chaim Chelek 4 –it’s not as though someone told us that his rabbi said he may cook a beef stew on shabbos (i.e. an idea we’ve never seen or heard).

    You said that you couldn’t answer for several reasons. I am going to go through your reasons and explain why my outlook wouldn’t let me answer someone who asked me a similar question that way.

    1. “I don’t know your Rav and I don’t know on what basis he gave you that Psak.”

    I wouldn’t answer that way because I don’t regard myself as qualified to pasel or certify rabbis (the most I can do is choose my own rabbi or rabbis) or to evaluate whether their psak has a strong enough basis to be “valid” according to me. No psak has to be valid according to me, my opinion doesn’t carry any weight in the matter.

    2. “I also don’t know in what situations he would advise you or anybody else to follow a more stringent opinion. I’m assuming he doesn’t recommend always following the lenient opinion.”

    I wouldn’t answer that way because I wouldn’t substitute my judgment for a rabbi’s (if I felt I could or should, why should I go to a rabbi for psak in the first place?) and I wouldn’t assume that a rabbi must take one position or the other on an issue that is a debate between great poskim. If I did, I would be expressing a grand lack of respect for the rabbi in question as well as the great posek whose opinion I assumed he shouldn’t follow.

    So for reasons of respect for talmidei chachamim and trying to avoid falling into the trap of personal arrogance (as well as simple awareness of my own limitations), I would never answer that way.

    My answer would have been “a person who follows his rabbi’s psak is doing the right thing.” (and I hope you won’t object along the lines of “but there are reform rabbis who call themselves rabbis,” because that’s clearly not what we’re talking about here).

  25. Menachem, I’m glad we agree. I see it more as a personal responsibility issue, rather than a use your brains issue. I believe people are always using their brains, except that sometimes we make mistakes.

    I do want to highlight that finding a good knowledgeable Rav to help you make your decisions is very important. I also think it’s important to ask questions and understand why their Rav decided a certain way where applicable.

    As far as leniencies and stringencies, I have seen much more movement towards being more stringent as people become better versed in Torah and mitzvos. The cases of moving towards leniencies usually involve when a stringency was initially taken on incorrectly.

  26. “I believe every person at some point in their spiritual maturity is personally responsible for their own observance of Torah. That includes finding his own Rav and determining when he should be lenient and when he should be more stringent. And it changes as you grow in Torah and observance.”

    Well said Mark! It’s very important that people understand that they are allowed to use their brains and think for themselves. One understands from their own learning and their Rabbi(s) general outlook and then applies that to their own specific life and circumstances. It’s also important to understand the balance between leniency and stringency and that sometimes, as you move through life, they change, in both directions.

  27. Menachem and Mark-the most important issue is that a BT must find a rav and rebbe who is a Baal Mesorah with Gdolei Talmidei Chachamim of prior generations. I would hope that the failure to mention either RYBS ZL, the Satmar Rav ZL,or the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZL as world class Gdolim who served as the Poskim, and leaders of their communities was inadvertent inasmuch all of the other Gdolim listed were Gdolim whose views certainly influenced their communities first and foremost, while also influencing other communities-even on issues where one can see obvious differences -such as between the MB and the CI, and RSZA and the CI, for example. The idea that Psak is vertical as opposed to being horizontal is IMO correct. Yet, the notion that Psak is monolithic cannot be sustained by anyone familiar with the various schools of Psak ( German, Litvishe, Hungarian, Sefardic).

  28. Shmuel, I don’t know your Rav and I don’t know on what basis he gave you that Psak. I also don’t know in what situations he would advise you or anybody else to follow a more stringent opinion. I’m assuming he doesn’t recommend always following the lenient opinion.

    I believe every person at some point in their spiritual maturity is personally responsible for their own observance of Torah. That includes finding his own Rav and determining when he should be lenient and when he should be more stringent. And it changes as you grow in Torah and observance.

    I may have an opinion based on my Torah knowledge (or lack of same), but in terms of whether you’re following Torah, that’s ultimately up to you, with the consultations of your qualified Rebbeim, and nobody else. If you want to ask me a question as a friend privately, you can email me, but I don’t think that’s how you’re asking your question here.

    My personal broad approach to following the Torah is understanding the normative halachos, the stringencies, and the leniencies, and to try and understand why my Rav recommends a particular course in a particular situation.

  29. Ok, well I make tea using a kli shlishi (let’s leave aside whether that means putting the tea or the water in first –I phrased it the way I did earlier in terms of pouring from a kli sheini because I wanted to draw a contrast to a specific statement in the Aruch HaShulchan that isn’t germane right now). I make tea using a kli shlishi (and I do it every shabbos unless it’s also yom kippur) because my rav gave me a psak to that effect. To you, am I not following the Torah by doing what I am doing? If I am not, what should I have done differently in order to follow the Torah?

  30. Shmuel,

    You said in #24:
    “But in most areas there are multiple approaches.”
    Which is what I disagreed with.

    As for your tea example, since there is a question of a D’Oraisa, most people in the Yeshvish communities will not pour from a Kli Sheni on to the tea and will use tea essence instead. It’s pretty uniform in these communities where there are more uniformly accepted Poskim and practices.

    As far as your common BT mistake, I think the real mistake is not learning and understanding Torah enough. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.

  31. Mark,

    I am wondering if the concept of an Askenazi Poseik Hador can be fleshed out more.

    I believe Menachem Lipkin has a link to the shiur given in Israel by Rav Hershel Schachter about “Making of A Gadol” and Daas Torah, as I don’t have the link, only the MP3.

    One needs to listen to the entire shiur, but as I recall, R Schachter says that there is a halachic concept of “Gedolei Hador”.

    He also says based on the Tanya who quotes “V’asei le Matamim” by Yitzchak, that diversity in Halachic practices amongst communites is good(not a contradiction to the quote from R. Aryeh Kaplan about “a certain degree of uniformity in Jewish practices”).

    Towards the end of the shiur he says:

    “I don’t think there is only one Gadol Hador…everybody agrees it’s one person? Lubavticher Chasidim say it’s only the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Satmar Chasidm say it’s only the Satmar Rebbe…”

    “[R. Elyashiv] hasn’t been yet elected as the one and only Gadol Hador…”

    As I said, one has to listen to the entire shiur, which perhaps someone could provide a link to, to understand his exact opinion.

    It’s possible that the issue depends on:

    A) Nature of the question

    B) Whether it was presented to other Poskim first

    C) Whether the greatest Poseik issued his psak for every community.

    For example, the Halachic questions of worms in fish, or issues of Gittin or Geirus, there is an informal hierachy where Poskim might evetually submit to R. Elyashiv’s opinion. On Hilchos Berachos, R. Elyashiv’s opinion would not necessarily be the only one, even if one says that R. Elyashiv was the “Poseik Hador”, just as the Supreme Court doesn’t rule on everything.

  32. Mark–

    I didn’t imply that the practice of Torah is open ended at all –in fact I stated explicitly in #33 that one needs to follow his family’s custom if he has one or the instructions of his rav, and I stated explicitly in #24 that I assume that is what readers/interlocutors are doing. Look, and you’ll see.

    Do you have any response to the actual points I made –either to dispute a specific claim I made, or to explain why one or more claims is not relevant (I mean this sincerely –I would be interested in hearing it if you do)?

  33. We should also restrain ourselves from using phrases like “the Gedolim say” or “Chassidus says” in cases where there really are multiple known approaches of equal standing. That’s not to say (and nobody here did!!) that there isn’t a broad, deep core of agreed-upon beliefs, values, and halachic positions.

  34. Shmuel, I would suggest buying R’Kaplan’s book with the sources.

    I think it’s important to find a qualified Rav who will be able to Pasken for you when there is a disagreement between various recognized major authorities. And as a BT matures spiritually, the Psak may in fact change.

    Of course, no one source is “the Torah”, but I don’t think the practice of Torah is as open ended as you imply in your comment.

  35. I posted the above #33 before I saw Mark’s #32, but Mark, it sounds to me like you are replying to a straw man –what you wrote doesn’t really relate to the point I was making.

    Of course in some cases it’s clear that some Rabbis are greater than others (in others its not so clear). I don’t know what that has to do with what I wrote above about tea, which is just one example.

    As to which is the more common mistake, I have no idea, but they are both mistakes. I hope we can agree on that. In a sense they are the same mistake –thinking you know more than you do.

  36. Just so we’re clear, you won’t throw the phrase “The Torah Says” around so lightly anymore? I think you’ll be more clear if you say “according to the halahca” or better “my understanding of the halahca”.

    Rav Kaplan’s piece is halachic process 101. Very simplistic and certainly not the only word on the subject.

  37. Mark, I read the R’ Kaplan article and all I can say about it is that it is undoubtedly much more edifying if one has the footnotes. This is a topic to be learned, not read about. If I were to undertake to learn and fully understand this area, secondary sources are not where I would start unless it is to find the sources I want to learn.

    I am not sure if you were planning a substantive response to what I wrote above –i.e. that there are multiple poskim whose views are legitimately followed by different segments of Jewry today who have different views on the subject I used as an example and many more. And until we have a sanhedrin, there won’t be a unified practice on many issues.

    I don’t agree with Menachem Lipkin’s choice of words when he says what is and is not a “Torah source.” I would say that R’ Moshe Feinstein is certainly a “Torah source,” but that neither he nor anyone else is “the Torah”!

    To return to my example of making tea, does the view of the Mishna Brura represent “the Torah”? (There is no doubt in my mind that his writings and ideas make up part of the broader body of Torah, I am saying that the Torah includes multiple approaches –obviously within limits.) If so, what do we do with R’ Moshe Feinstein’s view (which permits that which the Mishna Brura forbids)?

    The answer is, that both these views are part of the broader body of Torah, and neither one is excluded by the other. Our responsibility in this area is twofold: Talmud Torah and behavior.

    Talmud Torah will encompass understanding the different opinions and their implications, their underlying sources and the arguments for and against each. Behavior will consist of following one’s family practice (if one has one), the instructions of one’s rav, etc.

  38. Shmuel, if EY Yid said “according to many major recognized Torah Authorities…absolutely under no circumstance does the Torah allow…” would you have a problem with his statement?

    It was obvious to me, that is what he meant. And our Torah practices do need to be in line with what how the major recognized Torah Authorities understand what the Torah Says.

    Disagreements are poskened in the halacha and it’s important to understand in the Ashkenazi world, the difference between a major Torah authority like Rav Moshe and other Poskim. To say that Rav Moshe is just another Posek is a distortion of Torah.

    My Rav, who is a recognized Posek, pointed out that with the passing of Rav Elyashiv, it’s the first time in the current era that there is not a recognized ashkenaz Posuk HaDor. The five of the past 100 years were, Rav Chaim Ozer, the Chazon Ish, Rav Moshe Feinsten, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

    I think the more common BT mistake is not realizing how halacha is determined and that you have to constantly learn halacha and find a Rav who is extremely well versed in recognized halachic sources. The alternative is the role-your-own variety of Torah, which is unfortunately prevalent among BTs, but in the end may in fact be a distortion of the very Torah that we’ve made major lifestyle changes to uphold.

  39. Menachem wrote:

    “I think it will be obvious to him that by Torah source, nobody is suggesting that Rav Moshe Feinstein’s writings have the status of pesukim in the Torah.” That’s really all you needed to say and as long as we’re clear on it then there’s not much more to discuss here.

    All I can say is wow, I’m sorry you misunderstood that.

    Please read Rav Kaplan’s piece

  40. While we may strive for a “certain degree” (highly flexible phrase) of uniformity, within in the microcosm that is “orthodox” Judaism you could drive a truck through the wiggle room that provides. And, of course, the reality is just that. And in fact, psak, true Psak on the level of Rav Moshe, often breaks new ground and in so doing creates greater variation of observance. In many areas Rav Moshe was a renegade and blazed new trails that one could hardly say were keeping in line with the idea of uniformity.

    And as for those “disagreements” they actually, on the ground, create variations in practice from place to place and from time to time.

    Rabbi Karlinsky is not my Rav, but feel free to ask him. However, you need to internalize the words you just wrote: “I think it will be obvious to him that by Torah source, nobody is suggesting that Rav Moshe Feinstein’s writings have the status of pesukim in the Torah.” That’s really all you needed to say and as long as we’re clear on it then there’s not much more to discuss here.

  41. Menachem, there really aren’t that many different ways to understand and practice Torah, as R’ Kaplan clearly spells out:

    “It is God’s will that there exist a certain degree of uniformity in Jewish practices, as well as in the interpretation of the Law. It is thus written, “There shall be one Torah and one law for you” (Numbers 15:16)

    We understand and practice what the Torah says through the eyes of the Tannaim, Amoraim, Savoraim, Geonim, Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim. There are disagreements and there are agreed upon rules on how to act when there are such disagreements. See R’ Kaplan.

    I’ll try to contact Rabbi Karlinsky to get his views on the subject and whether he considers Rav Moshe Feinstein a Torah source. I think it will be obvious to him that by Torah source, nobody is suggesting that Rav Moshe Feinstein’s writings have the status of pesukim in the Torah.

  42. R. Benjamin Yudin relates what he heard to be a purported discussion between R. Drukman of Bnei Akiva and the Lubavitcher Rebbe(Torah Web, “Talking to Our Kids About the Birds and the Bees: Sanctifying the Intimate”, December 3, 2006, 35 minutes into the MP3):

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe questioned R. Drukman about the procedure of Bnei Akivah, where in a controlled environment boys and girls would take walks together, and that there is an interaction on a teenage level between boys and girls.

    R. Drukman told the Rebbe that “given the society with which we’re living in and given that they have so coming to them from the street, it’s better that it should be in a kosher way”.

    The Rebbe didn’t agree.

    R. Drukman further argued , “after all, when the time will come when they are chasanim and kallos they will be able to simply talk to one another with a great deal more ease than perhaps the other way. The Rebbe said that perhaps the nervous and awkwardness that comes with that kind of an upbringing is indeed part of the beauty of it.

    See also on Torah Web, Rav Hershel Schachter, “Gender Separation in Halach”a: Al Cheit…B’siach Sifsoseinu”, October 5, 2008.

  43. Thanks Shmuel you pretty much got it. Mark I think it’s below you to degrade the discussion by throwing out flip comments like that. Rav Moshe’s Psak is not a “Torah source” in any way that I, or the people I respect understand “Torah”. He may very well be basing his Psak on HIS understanding of various Torah sources, but that doesn’t make it “Torah”.

    However, this does help me understand something that’s bothered me for a while. You often use the phrase “The Torah Says” when it’s very clear that the Torah does not “say”. You’ve carved out a hugely broad definition of “Torah”, which is fine, and I guess you have whom to rely on for that. But it’s quite non-standard to turn Psak into “Torah”. It is also potentially very dangerous. You’re a nice, level headed guy, but there are some, many, who in broadening Psak into “Torah” take something should be human-based and variable and turn into the “Word of God”. Some of the worst behavior in our (and other) religious community comes from people who run around believing that have THE truth directly from God.

    I think it’s important, especially on this site, for people to understand that there really are so many different ways to understand so many different aspects of our religion. And that mosaic is great, as long as we respect each other. Let’s not lose sight of that please.

  44. Mark, I’ll try to read it when I have a chance, but it sounds like you disagree with some or all of what I wrote and are trying to “educate” me (which effort I appreciate –thank you!). If that is true, can you state which part of what I wrote you disagree with and why?


  45. I can’t speak for Menachem, but I didn’t think he was denying that the various sources are part of the body of Torah broadly defined. I understood from his use of the term “Torah source” that he was replying to EY Yid’s use of the phrase “absolutely under no circumstance does the Torah allow…” which is too broad to use here and in many other circumstances.

    Even where one or more poskim say that something is a Torah prohibition, not all poskim will necessarily agree, so it’s not always accurate to say that the Torah forbids something. An example might be pouring hot water from a kli sheini onto tea leaves, which some poskim believe is bishul min haTorah and some believe is totally permissible. You can’t say “the Torah forbids pouring hot water onto tea leaves from a kli sheini,” although you can say “this or that posek forbids pouring water from a kli sheini onto tea leaves as a Torah prohiibition.” And one who acts in accordance with that psak will treat it as such. But in most areas there are multiple approaches. [I chose this as an example because it’s a familiar issue where it’s easy to see there are different approaches among the poskim –I don’t mean to advocate one position or another, I assume everyone has their own community standard practice/family tradition/hora’ah they have received.]

    But to apply this to the discussion here, to make a blanket statement that the Torah forbids this or that about intepersonal relationships, one has to be pretty general and allow for exceptions, or keep the prohibition narrow.

    As an aside, it’s a common BT mistake (I have made it in the past and probably will continue to make it) to think that what one has learned so far is the full scope of Torah thought on a certain subject –not out of arrogance, but because one has natural confidence in one’s teachers and feels good about having understood a certain issue. By mistake, I mean a mistake in understanding Torah (broadly defined) rather than a faux pas.

  46. Actually EY is the one who said “absolutely under no circumstance does the Torah allow men and women to freely interact in a friendly aspect.” It’s mostly problematic when people speak in such absolute terms. There’s very little in Judaism that is so absolute.

    For the last time… I didn’t totally disagree, ie there are limits which vary by community. But that’s about interaction not “friendship”.

    Modern poskim, achronim and rishomim are NOT Torah sources. Gemorah can be depending on what you’re talking about.

    All I’m trying to point out is that there is no absolute way to approach this issue. There are many variables and different poskim have different approaches. While there’s much validity in what Ron wrote, the approach to dealing with it is certainly not “one size fits all”.

  47. Now I’m confused on your definition of Torah Source.

    Did you mean a posuk/sentence from the Torah, when you said Torah Source?
    Do you consider the Gemora a Torah source?
    Do you consider Rishonim a Torah Source?

    Do you think that a disagreement on a decision disqualifies something from being a Torah Source?

  48. Rav Moshe is not a “Torah source”, he’s a posek, a great posek, but a posek. There were many poskim who disagreed with him on many issues.

    By behavior-based I mean, what I’ve been saying, that, depending on the community, different behaviors between men and women are proscribed. However, that does not necessarily prevent them from being friends.

  49. Rav Moshe did not make a community by community distinction and if you read this responsa, you’ll be hard pressed to say it’s not Torah based.

    You wanted a Torah source. I hope Rav Moshe fits your criteria.

    I’m also not understanding what you mean by behavior-based.

  50. Mark, again, behavior-based. And that, again, varies by community standards. Rav Henken counters some of what’s said here with the idea of habituation. What doesn’t cause problems for someone in my community, could be highly problematic for someone from a more strict environment.

    I don’t have to jettison someone I’ve been friends with all my life, I just have to behave in a manner that is in line with the halachic standards of my community.

  51. EY, I never said “freely interact”, in fact I pretty much said the opposite. However, you’ll have to show me where the “Torah” proscribes friendship (not limits on interaction) between men and women.

  52. Shmuel, here is one place I was able to find a reference to the specific terminology of kiruv da’as.

    Tesyaa, I could and would have written the same piece without the Scientific American part. I would stand behind it, and would engage in a challenge to my thesis based on the same level of empirical rigor that exists in the post now — approximately zero. If someone wants to tell me about perfectly healthy friendships between members of the opposite sex that they know implicate no sexual overtones or tension, and are prepared to assert that based on their observations in life that these are not the exception but are the rule, I don’t think the fact that I quoted from this article would make much of a difference.

    Anyway, you may be an exception, but as is well known, most people who object to citation of science journals on blogs are doing so in order to resist a challenge to their own preconceived ideas. Maybe you have read the study in full and understand how the study was constructed and have examined the statistical analysis used to come up with the conclusion, which is why you raised your point. If so I hope you will share your conclusion with us. But most people objecting to a quotation from Scientific American are — and I think this point is a scientific fact itself — just hiding behind a sophisticated-sounding sort of generalized skepticism to bolster their own point of view from challenge.

  53. The problem with “Platonic friendship” with members of the opposite gender is obvious-such friendships have the inherent potential, even under the best of circumstances, to developing well beyond the same, even if there is no intent to do so. Some charedi yeshivos discourage young couples from having other young couples over for Shabbos meals presumably for that and other reasons.

  54. Menachem,
    I think you’re mistaken in your assertion that “the basic halachot, such as Yichud, provide a framework specifically for men and women to interact with each other in a “kosher” way”.

    These halachos were talking about cases in day-to-day life, where men and women interact (such as a store, or mothers bringing their children to school to a male rebbi), and the Torah wanted to make sure that nothing wrong will happen.

    But absolutely under no circumstance does the Torah allow men and women to freely interact in a friendly aspect.

  55. It’s interesting nowadays that even non-Jewish and non-observant Jewish professionals who have never heard of the word “yichud” still scrupulously avoid being alone with a client or patient of the other gender (or even a young vulnerable person of the same gender) to prevent any future accusations. If there is a confidentiality issue and they must be alone together, the sessions are all machine audio recorded and contemporaneously transcribed so that everything which goes on behind closed doors is recorded and written down. This would have helped in the recent case of a therapist accused of abusing a young female patient, to prove what happened (or did not happen) during the therapy sessions.

  56. Obviously the “separation of the sexes” rules are highly community dependent. And many, if not most, are extra-halachic. Actually, and ironically, the basic halahcot, such as Yichud, provide a framework specifically for men and women to interact with each other in a “kosher” way. This also helps us to have friendships with people of the opposite sex in a way that is less risky.

  57. This post reminds me of an insightful and hilarious shiur by Rabbi Orlofsky. I think it’s entitled “Platonic Friendships?” and it’s available at Simple to Remember.

    Not only does he discuss the topic in a relevant way, it’s just so, so funny. Like stand-up funny. It helps you remember what he has to say.

    Thanks for the post. I’m a woman, and looking back on my pre-frum platonic friendships, I can identify that there was something more there on one side or the other in almost all of them, at least for a few months at a time.

  58. Using outside evidence is OK as long as it is used within one’s proper conceptual framework based in Torah, or at least compatible with Torah.

  59. Tesyaa, it’s pretty standard procedure to support a thesis from outside sources. How do you back up your opinions?

  60. Ron may be an exception, but most people quoting science journals on blogs are doing so in order to show validation of their own preconceived ideas. Maybe Ron has read the study in full and understands how the study was constructed and has examined the statistical analysis used to come up with the conclusion. But most people quoting Scientific American aren’t doing that; they’re just using the name to bolster their point.

  61. Tesyaa, are you saying that you either have to accept all science or no science? There are different aspects of science and different types of evidence and acceptance of theories of science, even among scientist.

  62. Science may indicate that men and women can’t be friends, but science also indicates the truth of many other concepts that are anathema to Orthodox Judaism. It’s disingenuous to quote Scientific American when you reject science in so many other ways.

  63. Ron, what is the source for “what halacha calls k’rivas ha-daas?”

    (I am interested in learning more about the terminology based on source and context.)

  64. That’s one of the problems in Kiruv. When the mentor-mentee relationship involves an older man and a young, attractive single woman, it’s far too easy for it to turn into something else. That’s why Kiruv frequently utilizes married couples: the husband does outreach to men, and the wife does outreach to women.

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