Sunday, June 10, 2007

On Expanding the Palace II

Continuing from this post, R. Aryeh Frimer has asked me to post his side of the story.

One side aspect of this issue is that previously this would all have transpired over the course of months or years in the pages of a journal. For some reason, and to my knowledge contrary to the journal BDD's policy, the authors have posted their articles online, one even prior to publication. I only posted about this most recent article (the response by Dr. Ross) after receiving it in a mass e-mail from a third party. The speed of scholarly debate has quickened and journals, certainly annuals, cannot keep up with it.

What follows is R. Frimer's response that he e-mailed to me. On the one hand, I am hesitant to post it because it seems clear to me that no reasonable individual would take seriously the accusations made against him and therefore it is better to just let the accusations be forgotten. However, since there are plenty of unreasonable people out there and I believe that those accused should be able to defend themselves, here it is. I ask that everyone read it charitably and assume the best about all parties involved.

Dear Gil,

On the recent responses to your blog regarding my review of Prof. Tamar Ross's book, I have been charged with acting in a scurrilous and reproachable manner. I believe I should set some of the record straight. Dr. Ross's ad hominum response is uncalled for and unjustified.

I ask you all to remember that I am a full time University Chemistry Professor with a lab of 10 active students, who also gives regular shiurim in shul. If several years ago I said that I didn't have time to go over the MS of Dr. Ross's book, then I really didn't. I never saw the original manuscript. However, last academic year I was on Sabbatical which gave me an opportunity to write about the things I wanted to - and that included reading Dr. Ross's impressive and erudite book over several months. Yes, I read it - several lengthy and critical sections repeatedly. The project was initiated by Prof. Cyril Domb who was then editor of BD"D. He gave me the Book and asked me to review it, which I happily accepted in great anticipation. I have committed 35 years of my life to studying various aspects of Women and Halakha in depth - and this was certainly worth my added efforts. But Prof. Domb specifically asked me to keep the review confidential until it was published. This commitment I kept, despite the fact that I specifically advised to the contrary. But the Editor's decision was final. Hence, I did not divulge to Prof. Ross that I was writing the review - though I made it clear that I was honestly interested in her writing and troubled by her theology.

I opened my piece with nothing but respectful praise for Dr. Ross and her scholarship - read that section again. Yes I am very critical of her theology and halakhic analysis and delineate why. I also document my positions extensively - kach Darki (that's my way), as anyone who reads any of my writings can testify. I never used the word apikorus or kefira - which others have put in my mouth. I turned to several respected colleagues around the globe who are Judaic scholars, philosophers or theologians to check whether my understanding of Dr. Ross's theology was correct - and they assured me that it was (but asked me to maintain their anonymity, for reasons of their own). But despite all this, I tried to be guarded and the most I was willing to say is that her theology is beyond what has normally considered acceptable in Traditional Orthodox circles over the past millenium.

A reviewer cannot possibly focus on everything in the volume, lest he end up writing a book himself. Yes, I believed the theological and halakhic issues to be pivotal and hence I dealt with them. If I erred on some of the minor points or in style, I ask the review be judged on its major thrust - which I believe to be correct. My conclusion that Dr. Ross has not bridged the gap between Orthodoxy and unabashed feminism is therefore, very painful for me personally, and for many others who still consider themselves Orthodox feminists.


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