Orthodox Women Rabbis: A Response to the Blogosphere and a Hope for the Future

Orthodox Women Rabbis: A Response to the Blogosphere and a Vision for the Future

By Rabbi David Wolkenfeld

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld is the incoming rabbi at Congregation Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel in Lakeview, Chicago. For five years, he and his wife Sara directed the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus at Princeton University.

 

I.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kashrut, has recently published an online essay, “What Part of Mesorah Do You Not Understand”  reacting to an op-ed in the New York Jewish Week written by Zelda Stern and Elana Sztokman celebrating the first graduating class of Yeshivat Maharat.  Rav Gordimer makes two central arguments opposing women rabbis; the first is an assertion that women rabbis offend Orthodoxy’s “traditional communal norms.” The second is that women rabbis are fundamentally forbidden by halakhah itself for three reasons that Rav Hershel Shachter explained in a 2011 essay  published in the journal Hakirah. However, Rav Schachter’s halakhic arguments are unconvincing and an argument based on “traditional communal norms” is more subtle than Rav Gordimer admits.

Rav Shachter has a stellar reputation for the sharpness of his lomdus, and for independent and creative analysis of halakhic topics. In designing an eruv for Princeton University I relied upon some of Rav Shachter’s leniencies in Hilkhot Eiruvin without hesitation – placing my community’s shemirat Shabbat into his hands. Unfortunately, the three arguments that Rav Shachter presents in opposition to women rabbis are weak, perhaps reflecting his well-documented and idiosyncratic antipathy towards Jewish feminism.

 

II.

The first argument that Rav Schachter presents in opposition to women rabbis is that women rabbis violate “serarah” a prohibition found in the midrash halakhah and codified by Rambam, that it is forbidden to appoint women to any position of authority within the Jewish community. There are several responses to this argument:

Rav Schachter presents the halakhic prohibition of women exercising serarh using the words, “the Tanna’im understood the pasuk in Chumash as implying that women may not be appointed to the position of King” as though it were a well attested and universally accepted halakhic position. In fact, this halakhah is found nowhere in the Talmud, is mentioned by Rambam alone among the rishonim, and is not codified by the Shulhan Arukh (Rav Soloveitchik’s hiddush in Hilhot Shechitah notwithstanding). As an added element of irony, the entire profession of the rabbinate is entirely illegitimate according to Rambam, who categorically forbids earning a salary for teaching Torah. Since the entire Orthodox rabbinate rejects Rambam’s position on whether rabbis and Torah teachers can be paid for their work. How can we present Rambam’s purported opposition to women rabbis as though it were the only halakhic voice? Rav Aaron Lichtenstein shlita, has written about the need for rabbis to present halakhah in all of its complexity and nuance. And to not ignore that complexity, even in the interest of a seemingly compelling short-term polemical or policy interest.

Furthermore, Orthodox women do in fact exercise serarah in significant ways including serving as members of legislatures and the judiciary in Israel and elsewhere, serving as principals of Jewish day schools, and supervising staff in professional contexts. The onus is on Rav Schachter to explain why these well accepted and common ways that Orthodox women exercise leadership are different from serving as a rabbi, especially in a modern context where a rabbi is hired by a board, works cooperatively together with congregational lay-leadership, and serves only so long as the congregation retains his services Finally, this argument against women rabbis does not apply in situations where a rabbi does not exercise serarah such as an assistant rabbi, a chaplain, or a teacher in a day school.

 

III.

The second argument that Rav Shachter presents in opposition to women rabbis is rooted in Rav Schachter’s theory of tzniut. According to this theory, one I remember hearing in person from Rav Schachter fifteen years ago, tzniut is an absolute preference for being private and, at least initially as a way to imitate God’s own hiddenness, tzniut applies equally to men and women. However, since someone has to compromise on the value of tzniut for the sake of a community that needs public leadership, it is better, according to Rav Schachter, that men take on public roles so that women can maximize their tzniut.

This argument constructs a theory of tzniut that, however plausible it may be, is entirely irrelevant to the way that contemporary Orthodox Jews live. Do men with prominent communal positions experience their public leadership as though it were a painful but necessary sacrifice? Is it even true that contemporary Orthodox women refrain from speaking in public or serving the community in a visible and public way?

Orthodox women are scholars and teachers who lecture before crowds of hundreds. They are prominent in the professions and shape the world in all of the ways that men do. Women Torah scholars give lectures each year at the annual convention of the Rabbinic Council of America. Rav Schachter’s theory of tzniut is incompatible with the choices that pious Orthodox Jews, men and women, make each day.

 

IV.

Rav Schachter’s final argument is the most interesting one. Citing Rabbi Dr. Saul Liberman, Rav Schachter explains that the original “Biblical” semikhah implied the eligibility to sit on the Sanhedrin as a dayan. Since women are disqualified from being dayannim, so too they cannot be rabbis since contemporary rabbis serve as a sort of “imitation” or “carryover” to the original form and function of Biblical semikhah.

R. Lieberman’s concern can be overcome with a simple “heker” – a distinguishing feature that makes it easier to separate between two things with different halakhic statuses. Male rabbanim are indeed receiving an imitation semikhah that is a carryover to the original Biblical semikhah, whereas women who serve in positions of spiritual leadership can be given another title to make clear that they are not eligible to serve as dayyanim (or to perform any other ritual role that halakhah limits to men). Indeed, R. Lieberman was opposed to the Conservative Movement ordaining women with the title “rabbi” – but Orthodox women have gravitated towards uniquely female titles (yo’etzet, maharat, hakhamah, rabbah etc.) that do not carry any of the connotations that concerned R. Lieberman.

V.

The most significant barrier to Orthodox women serving as clergy is not purely halakhic but concerns what Rav Gordimer called “traditional communal norms.” This is, presumably, what the RCA had in mind when it referenced the “mesorah” in its public statement condemning Yeshivat Maharat’s graduation. Rav Gidon Rothstein’s criticism of Yeshivat Maharat was based on that same idea. Indeed, being part of Orthodoxy, even its liberal wing, like being part of any family, means respecting the sensitivities and concerns of other members of the broader Orthodox community. Rav Gordimer is undoubtedly correct that most Orthodox Jews remain instinctively uncomfortable with women rabbis. But there are several crucial caveats that cannot be overlooked.

-Over the past fifteen years diverse Orthodox communities have grown increasingly comfortable with women performing rabbinic functions in schools and congregations. Merely avoiding the title “rabbi” seems to be sufficient in many cases to overcome Orthodox discomfort with women clergy.

-Sometimes “traditional communal norms” coalesce in opposition to phantom threats. The Hassidic movement as it spread in Eastern Europe introduced halakhic innovations, liturgical changes, and promulgated an ideology that was reasonably interpreted as undermining the value of Torah study. In turn, many of the greatest rabbinic minds of Europe devoted tremendous energy towards a futile effort to eradicate the movement. And yet, no one today can question the halakhic faithfulness of Hassidim and their communities. Ha-Po’el HaMizrahi, the Mizrahi Workers Party, is another interesting historical example of a fringe group of activists, with little or no support from the rabbinic establishment, who broke off from the Mizrahi, and then established the crucial institutions for Religious Zionism to thrive in Israel (such as B’nai Akiva and the religious moshavim and kibbutzim), leading to the original Mizrahi being eventually absorbed into the one-time splinter group.

-Traditional communal norms can change very rapidly. One does not need to consider the acceptance of rabbinic sermons in the vernacular; congregational singing during tefilot, or clean-shaven men, for there has been a perceptible shift in the Orthodox community about this very issue during the four years that Yeshivat Maharat has been training students. The controversy over women’s ordination swept through the American Orthodox community four years ago with a strength that seems to have surprised Rav Avi Weiss.  In contrast, the first graduation ceremony at Yeshivat Maharat was received with excitement and enthusiasm by hundreds of spectators, bolstered by the news that there were more Orthodox communities seeking to employ graduates than there were graduates of the program seeking positions.

 

VI.

The graduation of Yeshivat Maharat’s first class comes in the context of a several programs, some ensconced in the heart of Orthodoxy, others occupying places at its periphery, that are working to open the doors of the beit midrash to women as students and teachers of Torah. These schools have different educational visions, different halakhic orientations, espouse different religious worldviews, and are promoting different visions of leadership. I consider myself very fortunate to have had students from several of these institutions as my teachers and colleagues. Contemplating the diversity of responses to the need for women’s Torah scholarship and religious leadership fills me with optimism for the future of Orthodoxy.

From my vantage point as a supportive spectator, I have deep respect for the determination on the part of Yeshivat Maharat to professionalize their model of women’s religious leadership and link the systematic and supervised study of halakhah to a title. Those unique contributions of Yeshivat Maharat to the movement of women’s Torah education deserve emulation.

The mainstream Orthodox community has created opportunities for women to achieve formidable accomplishments as Torah scholars and has created entry-level positions where those women can use their scholarship and passion for Judaism to the benefit of Klal Yisrael. The examples closest to my heart are the women who, together with their rabbi-husbands, direct the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus programs at sixteen North American universities. These women (a group that included my wife) teach shiurim, provide Jewish mentorship, offer halakhic guidance, and serve as resources for students, faculty, and others on campus who are seeking Torah knowledge or religious support.  But, without a title, their Torah scholarship is not acknowledged and the reliability of their religious guidance is un-credentialed. The many women who have served as interns at Orthodox congregations are another revealing example. For what profession and for which positions are these women interning? When moving beyond entry-level positions, Orthodox women have difficulty competing with ordained rabbis for jobs that they are fully qualified to perform. Orthodox women face this employment discrimination even outside the Orthodox community where professionals have degrees attesting to their training and religious guidance and “Judaic gravitas” is provided by rabbis.

The lack of a defined career path for Orthodox women to serve in positions of spiritual leadership and Jewish education, the lack of a broadly accepted title to honor their commitment and scholarly achievements is both a disgrace to the Torah that women study, and is complicit in a catastrophic waste of talent that the Orthodox community cannot afford. With so many models of Orthodox women’s leadership and so many programs educating and training women, it is too soon to predict what the landscape will look like when the dust settles in ten or twenty years. But all of those on the front-lines have my respect. The Orthodox community, and Klal Yisrael as a whole, needs them to succeed.

42 Responses to Orthodox Women Rabbis: A Response to the Blogosphere and a Hope for the Future

  1. Jeff says:

    Regarding serarah – About 30 years ago, just as JTS was ordaining its first woman, Rabbi Yosef Adler (Teaneck) gave a shiur (I want to say it was to YU Rabbinic Alumni, but I could be wrong) where he discussed the issues involved in giving women semicha (and concluded that from a halachic perspective it would be no big deal). He claimed that according to Rav Soloveitchik, serarah involved being able to make independent financial decisions without the approval of the board. The upshot, he joked, was that in his shul, since the rabbi did not have that right, while the president did, there would be a bigger issue with a woman being the shul’s president than its rabbi.

  2. Anonymous says:

    IV

    Interesting, you give credence to the notion that women are unable to receive the original ‘biblical’ semikah, and this difficulty is overcome by simply using a title other than ‘Rabbi’ but still considering them ‘ordained’.

    Then we acknowledge that judaism limits a woman’s role in Torah authority. That certainly if moshiach comes and the temple is rebuilt, no way any of these ‘ordained’ women are going to be in consideration for the sanhedrin or any other court. That the complaints you see people make about orthodoxy’s sexism and what not will not be remedied by ordaining women. That at a biblical level this exclusion of women applies and always will.

    When the RCA mentions ‘the preservation of tradition’ I think that’s what they are referring to. Not just that people aren’t used to having women rabbis, but that since the times of Moshe Rabbenu rabbis have been men as a matter of law. Now that there is a lack of centralized authority in judaism and only imitation forms of ordination it may not be against halachah strictly speaking to ordain women, however it would not be in line with jewish tradition.

    I really don’t think not calling them ‘Rabbi’ addresses the problem here. The title ‘Rabbi’ was chosen because of what the ordination is referenced to, changing the title does not change what ordination is. All it seems to accomplish is to de legitimize the rabbinate and remove it from it’s original basis.

    The RCA does not object to women as educators and advisors as far as I can tell, and there are many prominent leaders and Torah authorities who do not neccesarily have semikah. The chassidim call them ‘Rebbes’. There is a place for female leadership in orthodoxy, however to make this push to challenge the rabbinate is an aggravation which de legitimizes modern orthodoxy. That like the reform and other movements, they seek to change Torah law to conform with contemporary secular notions of morality.

    I think this objection deserves more consideration from you. You should ask yourself why are women excluded from the ‘authentic’ semikah. And if those reasons should apply here. That on top of the idea that ordaining women is not in line with mesorah.

    • Anonymous says:

      also the article writes in section IV:

      “but Orthodox women have gravitated towards uniquely female titles (yo’etzet, maharat, hakhamah, rabbah etc.) that do not carry any of the connotations that concerned R. Lieberman.”

      wouldn’t the title ‘rabbah’ be a concern for R. Lieberman?

      and what is the position of Yeshivat Maharat on women serving on batei dinim in our times?

  3. Noam Stadlan says:

    Welcome to Chicago.
    Rabbis Broyde and Brody covered these issues extensively in their article in Hakirah and agree that Rav Schachter’s position is not the most logical or obvious conclusion from the sources.
    Perhaps the best rebuttal of the Tziut claim is that the Gemara doesn’t bring tzniut as a reason to oppose women performing a very public function- reading the Megilla

    It also is not necessary to accept the linkage of smicha with the Sanhedrin. Historically it is not proven and furthermore geirim are in the same category as women for this purpose and they are given smicha.

  4. Eli L. says:

    Rabbi W.,

    Was it necessary to put down Rabbi Gordimer at the beginning of this article?

    “Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, a cheese specialist at the Orthodox Union, has recently published an online essay . . . ”

    What was intended by labeling him as a cheese specialist? That he’s not qualified to deal with matters outside of cheese? That is a tactic not worthy of this author.

    Rabbis are learned people who find one area or another to make a living. Some find their way to the pulpit, some work with college youth, some involve themselves in Jewish outreach, some labor in Jewish education, others in the field of Kashrut, etc.

    Those are just ways they find to use their study and knowledge of Judaism in order to pay their bills. That job says nothing of an individual’s scholarship, learning, understanding, etc.

    I would never seek to discredit any learned rabbi or his opinion / position based on the manner in which he found a way to make a living.

    (As an illustration: Could one imagine one of the Ba’alei Tosafot preface his argument with Rashi by stating, “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki — a French wine maker — recently published . . . “?!)

  5. jordan says:

    I think there is more to explicate about “traditional communal norms” — namely that said “traditional *communal* norms” take into account only half the community at best. That is to say, an argument that disregards the voices, views, and values of half the community (women) is not, in fact, communal at all. Too many arguments get cut off by deferring to “traditional communal norms” that exclude much of the community who may not actually view those norms as communal.

  6. Chayim says:

    I take umbrage with the very opening of this article. Rav Gordimer is an accomplished and erudite Talmid Chacham, and referring to him as “a cheese specialist” was an obvious cheap shot. What areas of Shulchan Aruch has the author mastered?

    But Rav Gordimer need not worry. In view of the fact that the author follows up by rejecting Rav Schachter’s arguments as “weak, perhaps reflecting his well-documented and idiosyncratic antipathy towards Jewish feminism,” and then dismisses the Rambam and Rav Soloveitchik’s reading of Shulchan Aruch, Rav Gordimer is in very good company.

  7. Ben says:

    “This argument constructs a theory of tzniut that, however plausible it may be, is entirely irrelevant to the way that contemporary Orthodox Jews live. Do men with prominent communal positions experience their public leadership as though it were a painful but necessary sacrifice?”
    Rabbi Wolkenfeld, do you mean to say that because we fail in this area, we should continue satisfying peoples needs to be in the lime light? And Dr. Stadlan, I think we can differentiate between a woman reading meggilah, and performing in the much more communal (and therefore public) role as a rabbi.

  8. Noam Stadlan says:

    Ben- R Schachter’s doctrine of tzniut requires women to avoid publicity and public notice. Reading the Megilla is a very public act. The fact that tzniut is not mentioned in opposition means that this very public act was not considered a violation if tzniut and this casts serious doubt on the validity of Rabbi Schachter’s definition of the concept- it does not fit with the gemara. Furthermore, I have not seem him object to women giving public speeches, recieving advanced degrees, and many other community functions of a rabbi. So the question remains: how does recieving smicha violate tzniut? This has not been explained in detail- just the claim that it does without specific justification. Furthermore, R Schachter allows smicha for geirim with understood restrictions. Therefore it would be possible for him to allow smicha for women with specific restrictions to follow his concept of tzniut. However he does not seem to consider that. The conclusion is that he is using this vague concept of tzniut to oppose smicha, even though he cannot articulate or identify exactly what about smicha violates his concept of tzniut. I think you would have to admit that it is not a very strong argument.

  9. Ben says:

    Dr. Stadlan, I would say the issue is not as much the smicha itself, but rather what these woman plan on doing with it. The thrust of this argument I think, is that the concept of “kol vevod bas melech pneemah” does not accord with the functions of a communal rabbi.

  10. Adam says:

    Noam, a woman reading the megillah for men IS prohibited by normative halacha and by all poskim for centuries! Prohibited by shulchan aruch in a yesh omrim (which is viewed as his authoritative view by all sefardic poskim) as well as by Rema. One reason given is kvod hatzibur, and one of the major interpretations of kvod hatzibur is that it is based in tsniut (see R. Aryeh Frimer’s many articles on the subject). You can’t just quote “the gemara” as allowing women to read megillah, without mentioning that this gemara is universally interpreted to not apply to women actually reading publicly for men le’maaseh (except maybe in cases of shaat hadechak, but not in cases of all things being equal).

    • m says:

      I would take a look at Hazon Ovadiah Purim, pp. 57-8. I think he might disagree with you over what the ikar hahalcha despite his deferring to the strict opinion. He asserts that woman can read for men. The debate is also laid out well in Pniei Halacha Zemanim, pp. 313-4.

  11. Adam says:

    Noam, as for Geirim, there are two separate issues here: receiving semicha, and actually serving as a rabbi. RHS says women can’t even receive semicha not because of tsniut issues, but because as R. S. Lieberman rules, real semicha can only be conferred on men, and our semicha is based on Biblical semicha. Geirim actually can receive semicha, they are just limited in serving on a bet din for non gerim.

    In terms of actually serving as a rabbi, RHS says that violates tsniut, which does not apply to male geirim.

  12. Adam says:

    R. Wolkenfeld, your attempt to interpret R. Lieberman’s opposition to women’s ordination as being only about the title rabbi seems forced. Any superficial reading of his responsum shows that he was opposed to women being ordained as such. He primarily addressed semicha itself, not the title rabbi. You also attempt to portray his opposition as stemming from a mere practical concern that giving women semicha might lead to women serving as dayanim. In fact, his responsum articulates an objective CONCEPTUAL opposition to women’s ordination.

    “Merely avoiding the title “rabbi” seems to be sufficient in many cases to overcome Orthodox discomfort with women clergy.”

    This is very easily proven demonstratively false, as both the RCA and Agudah have explicitly declared that a woman can’t be a member of the clergy, regardless of her title. You include yoetzet as an example of a title the community is comfortable with, but a yoetzet is not a member of the clergy.

    In general, this article sets up a straw man in describing traditional opposition to women rabbis as being based on keeping the traditional status quo for arbitrary reasons of emotional comfort. R. Gordimer’s article actually addressed at length a definition of mesorah based not in comfort or arbitrary opposition to any change, but rather in objective notions of Torah based axiomatic truths. Similar to the notion of the spirit of the law. I didn’t really see that argument seriously addressed in this piece.

  13. Noam Stadlan says:

    Adam- you missed the point completely. If this overblown concept of tzniut existed in the Gemara, it would have been employed to oppose women reading Megilla- a very public act. The opposition of later poskim doesn’t affect what is or specifically isn’t in the Gemara (and there are those that allow women to read Megilla- see Rav Henkin’s articles).
    Adam and Ben- please identify which particular rabbinical fiction that women can’t fulfill due to tzniut issues. Just saying that they cannot be rabbis without identifying the exact problem really has little to no meaning.
    Adam- please read the article by R Broyde and Brody and you will see that the historical connection claimed by R Schachter is not a very good argument.

  14. Gavi says:

    I don’t understand. Even if it were the case that we didn’t pasken like the Rambam in terms of the acceptability of the Rabbinate because we use various loopholes and tricks to get around it (which seems about as true as saying we don’t pasken like the Chumash on owning chametz), what connection does that have to serarah? If the Rambam had come to the conclusion the the Rabbinate was permissible would he then have also permitted women in authority positions or vice versa? Are the reasonings behind the two gala hot somehow connected? If not then why is paskening like the Rambam in one and not the other a problem? Unless not holding like the Rambam by rabbinic salaries means we can’t hold like him in anywhere, which would be an extremely strong claim to say the least.

    • Rabbi David Wolkenfeld says:

      Shalom Gavi,
      Very briefly – there is no necessary connection – just an irony. Perhaps it’s a bit more than an irony: Rambam seems not to be the dominant halakhic voice when it comes to the rabbinate as a profession as can be seen by the ways that we all take salaries. If so, why feel beholden to his shittah on serarah in contrast to other rishonim who did not posken like that midrash-halakhah?

      kol tuv,
      David

  15. Rabbi David Wolkenfeld says:

    Shalom,
    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. This blog post was written several weeks ago; it took a long time to revise, edit, and post, because of other priorities and constraints on my time. It may take me another two weeks to respond to the substantive claims that commenters raised. Please be patient! I hope to get back to everyone.

    However, in the meantime, there is one piece of clarification that I can make right now: I meant nothing derogatory when referring to R. Gordimer as a “cheese specialist.” I tried to present his opinions fairly (also providing a link to his own words), and treat him and his opinions with respect. Furthermore:

    1. I have tremendous respect for the importance and complexity of cheese kashrut. R. Gordimer himself may remember that I’ve asked his expert opinion on matters of cheese kashrut in the past and members of my community know how important I feel it is to only eat cheese with a reliable hekhsher. Just this week, I encouraged a Princeton alumnus to hold fast to the kashrut standards that I had taught him regarding reliable cheese hekhsherim even if that created additional hardships in finding a roommate.

    2. I think it can be helpful to understand the context in which rabbis and talmidei hakhamim work. Mashgichim and kashrut experts at industrial kashrut agencies, such as the OU, tend to have other talmidei hakhamim and mashgichim at other kashrut agencies as their main constituents. I think that can have an impact on ideas they find credible and ideas they find it appropriate to share.

    3. Rav Gordimer is a prolific writer, both in closed forums and in public, and someone whom I experience as being a fairly aggressive polemicist. I would be stunned if he took offense at my phrasing but would immediately change the opening words of this essay if he, or someone close to him, requested it.

    Thank you, again, for commenting. I hope to reply to your comments in the coming weeks.

    kol tuv,
    David

  16. Ben says:

    Dr. Stadlan, being a shul rabbi entails having a daily public role in your communities life.if you think that that comports with the historic jewish ideal of a woman, we will have to agree to disagree.

  17. Noam Stadlan says:

    Ben- there are many other modern professions where there is a daily public role in community life and tzniut has not been raised as an objection to them. If you are going to have a principle, you cant just pick and choose where to apply it. Furthermore, you still have not identified exactly what function is a violation of tzniut. I understand you want women rabbis to be a violation of your concept of tzniut, but you can’t just claim it, you have to explain specifically why it is a violation, and why all the other community roles that women fill without objection are not a violation of tzniut. Otherwise your claim is not supported.

  18. yOni says:

    Great halachic proof for those who need it and great moral reasons for those who do not understand the need for female leadership. If only we could do away with titles all together and just have leaders maybe these issues wouldn’t be such a big deal.
    Welcome to chicago rabbi! See you in shul.

  19. Ben says:

    Dr. Stadlan, all I want to know is whether you think that being a community rabbi which entails being the center of attention at various community events conforms with judaism’s ideal conception of a jewish woman. I would also be interested in hearing what equivalent professions you are talking about.

    • Rivka says:

      What exactly is Judaism’s “ideal conception of a Jewish woman”? I wasn’t aware that we had one. I’m interested in hearing what you think it is and where you’re deriving that from.

  20. anon says:

    BS”D
    Perhaps the greatest reason why we should not ‘change’ the current practice, and begin ordaining women, is because it would be no change – rather a deep insult to all women past.
    As an example, I feel strongly that Hillary Clinton cannot serve as president. Not because there is a ‘lesser’ value or capability to women, but the opposite: I believe she already maxed out her two terms.
    Regardless of how her husband disrespected her, to believe that William Clinton led this country and not Hillary, is an immature understanding of human nature and a disrespectful view of woman that must be changed. The lessons gleaned from the Torah teach that life is multi-faceted and the women’s capacity is such that she is not an ‘assistant’ but rather, that without her there is nothing. Many crucial leadership roles “cannot” be done by an unmarried man.
    We would be more a ‘light onto the nations’ if we teach the world to respect the true foundation that women are and to value the elements that they truly represent, vs. following the valueless trend of raising girls to believe that success = imitating men and succeeding in masculine roles…
    I can only really speak for myself. I am a rabbi and to the outside I am the one with the title and the one who speaks publicly etc. however I, and any mature member of my community knows that anything that I have, as well as any meaningful effect on the community is from and because of my wife.

  21. Ben says:

    Rivka, I am going to be as general as possible here, but I would say that chazal believed that woman should shun the spotlight. I derive this from numerous statements of chazal the most famous being kol kevod bas melech pneemah. Would you disagree?

  22. […] – the rabbinic organization comprised primarily of graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah), posted an article that attempts to justify Orthodox ordination of women and to refute the many halachic arguments […]

  23. noam stadlan says:

    Ben- pick pretty much any function of a rabbi and you will find Orthodox women doing it or something equivalently public- all without any opposition. I note you still have not been able to identify a single rabbinical function that violates tzniut.

    In my community there is a orthodox woman who is much more public than my shul rabbi. She speaks more in public, is mentioned more often in the weekly announcements, and in fact heads a right wing educational institution and therefore has much more power than most if not all shul rabbis. But there doesn’t seem to be any concern about her from either a tzniut or serarah point of view. As I have mentioned, if you are going to have a principle, you have to apply it to all situations.

    two side points: even if you think the tzniut argument is a strong one(which it clearly isn’t), just as geirim get smicha with the understanding that they wont serve on a beit din, you could give smicha to women with the understanding that they wouldn’t do the non-tzniut stuff, whatever that may be. tzniut doesn’t have to be a reason to oppose women rabbis, at most some particular roles.

    second side point: the role of Jewish women has changed over time, some might say with some justification that it has mirrored the role of women in the general culture. The Rambam thought women should only leave the house once a month. women are not supposed to teach male children. There are a lot of rules once thought pretty important regarding women that have fallen by the wayside, even among the chareidim. I suggest reading Eliezer Berkovits Jewish Women in Time and Torah for a better understanding of the background.

    • Adam says:

      Noam, R. Gordimer and others have mentioned repeatedly that the concept of tsniut being invoked here is not a pragmatic concern, such that men might stare at her etc., but a sublime/philosophical norm of tsniut, expressed as an abstract ideal. For a woman to assume the official ROLE of a rabbi in and of itself violates the gender roles built into halacha, in a philosophical sense, not in a practical sense; it has nothing to do with any of the specific functions of a rabbi. This does not come from nowhere, it derives, according to RHS, from all the other halachot relating to women. Such as: women not counting in a minyan or women not serving as witnesses. This is all based in abstract norms of tsniut. How else do YOU explain the underlying philosophy behind these halachot? Furthermore, pointing out that Orthodox women regularly assume roles in the secular world that conflict with this idea is not relevant, since the religious realm is governed by higher/stricter standards. Orthodox men and women regularly sit together at social events, but they must sit separately in shul. The religious sphere has different standards than the secular sphere.

  24. Adam says:

    Rabbi Wolkenfeld, your interpretation of R. Lieberman’s opposition to women’s ordination as being only about the title rabbi seems forced. His responsum primarily addresses semicha itself, not just the title rabbi. You portray his opposition as stemming from a mere practical concern that giving women semicha might lead to women serving as dayanim. In fact, his responsum articulates an objective CONCEPTUAL opposition to women’s ordination based on the fact that Biblical dayanut is the MODEL for all forms of rabanut.

    “Merely avoiding the title “rabbi” seems to be sufficient in many cases to overcome Orthodox discomfort with women clergy.”

    Maybe “in many cases”, but not in most. Both the RCA and Agudah have explicitly declared that a woman can’t be a member of the clergy regardless of her title. You include yoetzet as an example of a title the community is comfortable with, but a yoetzet is not a member of the clergy.

    In general, this article sets up a straw man in describing traditional opposition to women rabbis as being based on keeping the traditional status quo for arbitrary reasons of emotional comfort. R. Gordimer’s article actually addressed at length a definition of mesorah based not in comfort or arbitrary opposition to any change, but rather in objective notions of Torah based axiomatic truths. Similar to the notion of the spirit of the law. I didn’t see that argument seriously addressed in this piece.

  25. Adam says:

    (my previous attempt at posting the above comment has not been cleared for moderation, while other later postings I wrote have been. Not sure why, so I re-posted and made the language more respectful, if that’s the issue. Morethodoxy should not be afraid of some lively strident debate! All leshem shamayim and out of respect)

    • Rabbi David Wolkenfeld says:

      Shalom,
      I don’t know why your earlier version was not approved. I think it probably just fell through the cracks – my apologies. Thank you for reading my blog post with such seriousness. I hope to write a reply in the coming two weeks.
      Best wishes,
      David

  26. Ben says:

    Dr. Stadlan, I second Adam’s comments at 3:44, and would suggest the concept of “kol kevod bas melech pneemah” as the philosophical basis for these haachos.I am also waiting for you to explain to me that concept and what it means to you.

  27. The overriding point keeps getting missed. If it’s about women learning then let them learn. If it’s about women having more of an understanding of how to run a Jewish community then let them understand. But why the necessity for a title? Well from the various supportive blogs and facebook pages it’s quite clear what many supporters think, it’s a “Step in the right direction”. not “Wow, this increases our kedushah” but “the right direction” as if those who oppose are in the wrong one. Presumptive arrogance.
    In other words, just like Shmuel criticized our ancestors for wanting a king despite it being a mitzvah from the Torah since their reason was to imitate the nations around them, the desire for female rabbis is based on a desire to imitate those religions around us that allow female clergy and egalitarianism. For this reason along the initiative should be abandoned.

    • IH says:

      ” But why the necessity for a title?”

      Why are academics who earn PhD’s called Doctor?

      • That wasn’t my point. My point was that if a woman wants to give a scholarly religious presentation of a Jewish topic she doesn’t need a title to do so. Neither does a man for that matter. The Vilna Gaon, ztk”l, did just fine without a formal semicha, you know.

  28. Garnel, it’s called making a living–in the 21st century, you can’t get a job as a physics professor without a Ph.D. Being a “Community Scholar” has its limitations–what happens when you have to move and leave that community? If you don’t have a title, the acknowledgement of your learning isn’t “portable.”

  29. Ryan Schneider says:

    An excellent analysis of this topic people should consider reading is “Responsa Regarding Women’s Roles in Religious Leadership” by Rabbis Yoel Bin Nun, Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber and Rabbi Joshua Maroof. I think it demonstrates that a credible case can be made that women can in fact be officially recognized as halachic decision makers. Here is the link: http://www.ise.bgu.ac.il/faculty/kalech/judaism/Sara_Hurwitz.pdf

  30. j says:

    Im sorry to say it, man but you were utterly destroyed by the cheese specialist in that matzav link above.

  31. zabramow says:

    I had this conversation with an administrator at Yeshivat Maharat about this very topic. My favorite quote “Maharat offers a model of a viable future for women who want to dedicate their lives and careers to serving the Jewish people. I do not think that mesorah has been broken.”

    http://bit.ly/10VPbm5

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