Acting on its Torah-informed conscience in its Torah framed response to modernity, Modern Orthodoxy has recently endorsed what are taken in other Orthodox quarters to be really radical changes:
1. The first out-of-the-closet Orthodox female Orthodox rabbi was ordained, and is now serving as a Rabbah,
2. Women are permitted to read Megillah, not only for women, but in the presence of and for men, [at B’nai Israel of Baltimore, the Orthodox synagogue I serve, we do allow women to read Megillah],
3. Some within Modern Orthodoxy support secular policies that protect gay and lesbian civil rights, [I signed on to this policy and was criticized roundly and soundly for doing so],
4. in some Modern Orthodox quarters, partnership prayer groups have been endorsed, [these are Orthodox gender egalitarian services, stretching Judaism to but not beyond a reasonable reading of the letter of the law–I believe that partnership prayers violate no law but I do not permit these rites in practice because of B’nai Israel’s Orthodox Union charter that requires that we follow Rabbinical Council policy]. The arguments against partnership prayers do reflect legitimate policy concerns but do not convince me that the partnership prayers themselves violate any explicit normative Oral Torah rule or statute. As will be shown below, historical Orthodox precedent has allowed for far more radical changes than those put into practice at partnership prayers.
5. Many Modern Orthodox rabbis allow double-ring Orthodox marriage services, [I also permit modified double ring ceremonies, to be discussed below, for those who want them as I am convinced they are permitted and a marriage is a private ceremony which not subject to public policy discipline or rulings],
6. and some Modern Orthodox rabbis have been known to object to the Orthodox “blessing” that mandates men to praise God for “not being created a female.” [Following the letter of the law and the spirit of our times, this rabbinically mandated blessing in my view was not originally intended to be said in women’s presence and perhaps not be said out loud when women are present. My practice is to say this blessing, following the Oral Torah mandate.]
These modernity inspired changes have been challenged by other Orthodox rabbis who see themselves as “traditional” and who believe that Tradition is to be mediated by their inherited and conditioned sense of propriety.
1. Consider the Agudath Israel statement:
Rabbi Avi Weiss has conferred “semikha” upon a woman, has made her an Assistant Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale where she carries out certain traditional rabbinical functions, and has now given her the title of “Rabbah” (formerly “Maharat”). He has stated that the change in title is designed to “make it clear that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff, a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”
These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.
After accurately describing what was done using detached, restrained, objective, and descriptive narrative, Agudath Israel’s statement then makes value judgments that tell the attentive reader much more about Agudath Israel’s own world view than it does about the Modern Orthodox target of its animosity:
- It is the social radicality of the change and dislocative dissonance and not the real, actual laws of Jewish Tradition that determines what
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