Synagogue rabbis today are teachers, administrators, and pastors. They give sermons, raise money, teach classes, facilitate Jewish lifecycle events, answer halakhic questions, coordinate meetings, occasionally change lightbulbs, absorb the anger and anxiety of individuals for the sake of the community’s greater health, assist Bar and Bat Mitzvah children with their drashot, comfort the mourner, support the orphan, the widow and the needy, give musar when it is required, and aid in facilitating conversations of leadership, planning, and diplomacy. None of these are forbidden to women and in some of these roles, women may, in fact, be more adept.
The word “ordination,” when used for women in Orthodoxy, feels unorthodox. Not because there is a halachic problem with the ordination of women. In fact, the title of ordination today has few, if no, halachic repercussions. Today semicha, or ordination, is a degree. It means one has studied certain sections of Jewish law and knows how to apply them.
My discomfort with Orthodox women receiving the title Rabbi is that it feels like a blurring of the lines, differences between genders. In Orthodox life, especially within the realm of prayer and mitzvot, gender lines are real and differences between male and female palpable. The Torah itself certainly is interested in the differences between male and female as evidenced by the first chapter of Genesis. Male and female in that first chapter, as Rabbi Soloveitchik points out, are created side by side as equals, made together in the image of God and together commanded to populate and subdue the world. According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, this first chapter is not overshadowed by the second chapter in which Hava is created from Adam but independently stands as its own human paradigm. Read the rest of this entry »