Tuesday, July 26, 2022



Weinberg was a talmudic scholar of the first order, and his published volumes quickly assumed canonical status in the eyes of the Orthodox rabbinic elite. His halakhic rulings were closely attended to by all sectors of Orthodox Jewry, and as such played an important role in the evolution of Jewish law in the twentieth century. Weinberg’s death in 1966 was mourned by Orthodox Jews around the world as the loss of an exemplary religious personality. How is it then that this rabbinic giant penned a series of letters that give voice, as Schacter describes it, to a “lonely, frustrated, bitter, and tragic life?” How is it that this pillar of the Orthodox establishment wrote letter after letter in which, to quote Schacter again, he lashed out against the “hypocrisy, extremism, and unethical behavior he found within Orthodoxy”? Clearly there is a puzzle here, one that badly needs solving.

The conservative component in Weinberg’s stance as a rabbinic decisor is strikingly evident in his refusal, as late as 1960, to issue an unambiguous ruling permitting women’s suffrage. Here was an instance of rank discrimination against women. Here also was a situation in which Weinberg saw no direct halakhic impediment to a permissive ruling. Still, when he took up the issue in a published responsum, he waffled, taking note of those decisors who opposed suffrage for women on grounds of “female modesty.” Under the circumstances, Weinberg was only willing to suggest, as Shapiro puts it, that the “matter be left alone as it would eventually be worked out by itself.”

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