The Mesorah Blogcast
The term Mesorah, or tradition, is regularly used within Orthodoxy to both include and exclude. Halakhic and hashkafic positions that might seem insufficiently grounded in texts may be deemed acceptable because they are “part of the mesorah”; positions that reasonably interpret texts may be rejected because they are “not part of the mesorah”. While “the mesorah” seems like an inherently exclusionary term, Orthodoxy also recognizes the legitimacy of multiple mesorot, and the right of those who bear even a minority mesorah to maintain their distinctive ways.
The concept of mesorah resembles the concept of “canon” in the humanities; and the Orthodox mesorah is prima facie even more subject than Western culture to the critique that it excludes the thoughts and experiences of women, LGBTQ people, and others. Because the Judaism conveyed through mesorah is so powerful however, both intellectually and experientially, serious Jews increasingly seek to participate in rather than repudiate that tradition, while at the same time maintaining their identities and voices as members of communities they see as marginalized by the masoretic past. Some of them focus on the Masoretic future, while others seek to create a “usable past”, a mesorah (re)constructed rather than transmitted.
This online panel is meant to explore the extent to which those efforts can and should succeed. There are no predetermined outcomes. Each participant is taking a risk by entering the dialogue; there is a chance that things precious to them will be appropriated or devalued by their interlocutors in painful ways. But there is also a chance that the conversation will increase mutual understanding in ways that will enable mesorah/bearers to be inclusive of more Jews, and more Jews to be open to identifying with mesorah. JOFA sponsors it in that hope.
Leah Vincent is the author of Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood and the co-author of Legends of the Talmud, a collection of illustrated children’s stories. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, Unpious, ZEEK, the Daily Beast and the Jewish Daily Forward. Leah was a Pforzheimer Fellow at Harvard University, where she earned a master’s degree in public policy. She has organized a number of radical initiatives to address issues of reform in the ultra-Orthodox community, including a multi-denominational discussion panel, the first summit between ex-ultra-Orthodox activists and ultra-Orthodox leaders, and a Footsteps-based program to aid parents leaving ultra-Orthodoxy.
Leah co-produced the It Gets Besser Project. She has been named to the Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 and the Jewish Daily Forward’s Forward 50. In 2015, Leah taught a course on female sexuality in Judaism as the Marvin & Edward Kaplan Lecturer in Jewish Studies at City College. She lives with her family in New York City.
R. Aviva Richman is a faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar where she teaches Talmud and Halakhah and directs the Manger Winter Learning Seminar. A graduate of Oberlin College, Aviva studied in the Drisha Scholars' Circle and the Pardes Kollel in Jerusalem. She received ordination from Rabbi Daniel Landes. Particular interests include Halakhah, gender and sexuality in Judaism and niggunim. A Wexner fellow, Aviva is currently pursuing a doctorate in Rabbinics at NYU. She lives in Riverdale.
R. Aryeh Klapper is Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, which develops present and future Modern Orthodox leaders through unique programs of intense Talmud Torah that catalyze intellectual creativity and educational innovation. CMTL brings rigorous traditional scholarship, interdisciplinary openness, and a deeply humanist understanding of halakhah to every aspect of Jewish and public life. For more of Rabbi Klapper's Torah, please browse www.torahleadership.org, like the CMTL Facebook page, or sign up here for his weekly Torah essay.
Noah Gradofsky is a rabbi, cantor, and attorney. He received a BA Cum Laude in Political Science/Economics from Columbia University and a BA with honors and distinction in Talmud from the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies (JTS) in 1998. He received a JD with honors from Rutgers University School of Law - Newark in 2002 and smikhah (rabbinic ordination) from the Union For Traditional Judaism's (UTJ’s) Institute of Traditional Judaism in 2004.
Noah has practiced as an attorney with Law Offices of Jan Meyer and Associates, P.C. in Teaneck, NJ, since 2002 and served as a full-time rabbi for 6 years. Since then, he has served a number of synagogues on a contract basis in both a rabbinic and cantorial capacity.
Noah serves on the Executive Board of the UTJ, the board of Morashah (UTJ's rabbinic fellowship) and as chairman of the UTJ conference committee. He also moderates the UTJ's Facebook discussion group. Finally, Noah serves on the board of Lechu Neranena, the partnership minyan of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
To access Rabbi Gradofsky's Torah writings, including sermons, source sheets, and more, see here.
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- How to Prevent a Modern Day Agunah
- Women's Aliyyot
- Equal in Faith
- Purim: Beyond the Costume
- The Future of Women's Tefillah Groups
For a full list of our previous blogcasts click here.