Just a quick idea to shed perhaps some new light on Smicha for Women – whether we call it Mahara”t or Rabbi or Rabbanit – and other new phenomena that we haven’t seen in Orthodox Judaism. There is a classic machloket about whether not having seen something is a proof that it should not exist – such as women shochtot – or whether it doesn’t mean anything. Most poskim say that a new phenomenon does have an extra burden of proof, but it is only invalid if we can find a good reason why it did not exist in the past. I would like to add a new status to these kind of things: probation – a lack of “chazaka” or presumption that it is proper, but the right to earn a place as a legitimate new Jewish minhag. The status of Yoatzot might have been such a phenomenon – but in the brief period that they have been around they have proven themselves invaluable to the halachik process. I would argue that they now have a presumption of legitimacy in the Orthodox Jewish world. Let’s wait and see with Mahara”t(s): For now we know that the first Mahara”t is an incredibly committed, frum and righteous religious leader. A great start. Let’s see in ten years whether Orthodox women musmachot get us closer to Torah and halachah, or take us farther away. My guess is much closer. For now, Mahara”t is a great experiment and is on Torah probabation – it needs to prove itself. But it is an exciting experiment, and we need to have confidence in Torah and Tradition to be able to withstand this test, and either embrace women musmachot or turn away from them. Let’s pray that this experiment works – and I, for one, am going to do whatever I can to help ensure that it becomes a new part of the accepted, legitimate, Jewish tradition.
Give New Minhagim a Chance, Rabbi Asher Lopatin