Of Rabas and Maharats

I’ve held my silence for weeks about the Maharat issue, mostly because I have felt that it is so critical an issue, that it deserved a magisterial treatment by someone in a higher place, not just the late-night musings of another Orthodox blogger. I have also felt frustrated and inadequate, because I realized that if I had to speak out, I did not have a game plan to convince people on the other side of the divide.

A number of things changed. First of all, as one of the editors of Cross-Currents, I read many of the comments that we don’t publish. Sometimes, I see lots of people making the same point. Lots of people have been calling on the Maharat rejectionists to either demonstrate their halachic objections to women rabbis, or cease and desist from their demurral. Secondly, the RCA, the rabbinic organization of centrist Orthodoxy, begins its annual convention today. The big, divisive issue is whether the organization – as a substantial number of its members want – should take stronger measures than it has so far to distance itself from the entire drift of the Rabbi Avi Weiss camp and its move to create Orthodox women rabbis by any other name.

Had John Paul Stevens not resigned his Supreme Court seat, however, I likely would not be writing this piece.

The President must come up with a nominee that will preserve the liberal-conservative balance on the court. The nominee will have to pass muster with Democrats, Republicans, and a slew of interest groups, all concerned with the impact of a new voting member on the nation’s highest tribunal.

What’s all the fuss about? The hoary justices simply use their finely-tuned legal acumen to read the country’s statutes and constitution. Either something is in the law of the land, or it isn’t.

This, however, is simply not true. The law can be read many ways. Many new issues will arise in the lifetime of any appointee to the Court whose legal treatment will depend on the political leanings, the social platform, the general vision of each voting justice.

Some of these decisions will likely affect the well-being of the United States and its citizens for decades to come. Some will impact upon the entire planet. These decisions do not jump out of the texts of established law books, but require interpretation and a game plan for the future.

Klal Yisrael faces decisions like these as well from time to time. Now is one of those times.

Roles for men and women cannot be satisfactorily delineated by looking at black-letter law in Shulchan Aruch and the responsa. Without a Sanhedrin ready to rule authoritatively, too many halachic arguments can be opposed by opposing halachic arguments. Arguing against Maharats and Rabas through halacha alone won’t work.

A decision to allow for women rabbis impacts hugely upon the way we look at ourselves, run our institutions, and structure our schools. It goes beyond law, and requires a sense of what is good for Torah and the Jewish people.

With the exception of the most left-leaning elements within Orthodoxy, there is wall-to-wall agreement that such a decision is not a good idea. Different groups will offer different arguments – and some may say that they cannot put into words why they feel so strongly. What is significant, however, is the near-unanimity on the issue.

Some people would call this process “tradition.” Tradition can and does change, but that change cannot be engineered by fiat or violence, but by acclimation. At times, the process can be sped up if those pushing for change are stellar figures, like the first generations of Chassidic leaders. There are no stellar figures in terms of Torah competence behind this change.

Some of us prefer a different terminology and a different protocol for dealing with the major issues on where to point the Ship of Torah-State. We believe that matters should not be left to counting heads in the community – although in this instance the result is the same: a solid rejection of the Sara Hurwitz idea. We believe that century after century, Klal Yisrael knew where to look in regard to the large issues that loomed beyond halacha. They looked to the individuals of greatest Torah achievement as people to whom the mesorah was entrusted. They did not believe that they were infallible, nor did they believe that these individuals could pass judgment without a proper grasp of the facts. They did believe that the law could be read multiple ways, and that HKBH wished us to take counsel with the greatest ba’alei halacha available. Their saturation with Torah thought, their access to the myriad gifts described in the last perek of Pirkei Avos, would give them a preternatural ability to help the community chart a proper course.

Some people are troubled by this concept (or by its frequent distortion and misuse), but we are proud of it. We call it Daas Torah. If there ever was a decision that requires the input of Torah leadership, it is this one.

I salute those within the RCA who have been calling for the membership to listen to the Torah authorities closest to their own hearts and minds. Rav Hershel Schachter, shlit”a, should not be regarded as simply one voting member of the RCA, but as a cynosure of the organization. The opinion of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlit”a, should be given parallel weight.

Considering what they hold about the propriety of ordaining women, it should become much clearer to the RCA what they need to do, and where they need to draw a line.

May HKBH give them the insight to come to the right decision – and may they have the courage to listen to it.

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32 Responses

  1. Garnel Ironheart says:

    The problem comes from both sides. For the rejectionists, the reasoning: “Well it’s just not right!” is meaningless. Judaism is not governed by hunches, feelings and opinions based on gut instinct. Halacha is a result of analyzing the extant body of law and coming to educated conclusions based on fact and experience. If a Rav can stand up and say “Well this is why the Rabba idea is wrong” and then give a good discourse on it, well and good. If the best he can say is “Well it’s not something we’ve ever done before!” his argument can be safely ignored. If someting we’ve never done before carried weight, we’d be living wihtout electricity like the Amish or even in more primitive circumstance and still handwriting all our seforim.
    For the approvalists, the reasoning: “Well there’s nothing in the halacha against it!” is also meaningless. So are the other worn arguments about inclusiveness, adjusting to 21st century realities, etc. Again, if someone from the YCT side can stand up and show in a halachic fashion how the Rabba is a good idea, using the same depth and breadth of halachic knowledge that a leader like Rav Schachter applies, then there would be ground for an argument. But so far, the best I’ve heard applies the “pick a posek” methodology that RYA himself effectively deconstructed several months back.
    It will be interesting to see how the left leaning crowd responds to the expected eloquence of Ravs Schachter, Lichtenstein, et al.

    [YA – I don’t think that any of the rejectionists resort to an argument as facile as “It’s not something we’ve ever done before.” The argument is that we believe that the laws that dictate different halachic practices for men and women are not chukim. They say something about preserving different roles and identities. Greater opportunity and involvement should not be allowed to erase those divisions. We have always preserved distinctions by putting up mechitzos – not just the one in shul. Those mechitzos serve as public reminders, even when they are taken down for most of our day. ]

  2. jr says:

    So basically you are saying there is no halachik prohibition, but those you consider to be “stellar figures” don’t think it’s a good idea? This is the reason Orthodoxy rings hollow to 95% of Jews. They see it as not being about what G-d wants but rather about what a small group of men decide. It becomes just another man made religion, much like the Jewish argument against Christianity and Islam.
    And if you agree that there are multiple ways of looking at the law, ala Supreme Court, why not eilu v’eilu here? or for that matter any other issue discussed on CC? Why must it always be a very conservative interpretation or the highway? No disrespect meant but that is the appearance.

    [YA – We must inhabit different universes. Orthodoxy is rejected by about 90% of Jews (not 95. And with the percentage shrinks as the younger cohort of the Jewish community lists heavily to the Orthodox side) for all kinds of reasons. I’ve listened to them for decades. I have yet to hear anyone claim that he/she can’t accept it because the extra-legal thinking that suffuses the Gemara and halachic literature convinces them that the halachic material is manmade.

    Get real. Those who reject do so for a variety of reasons. Some, perhaps the largest group, don’t want to accept the yoke of mitzvos, which gets in the way of what they want to do, and of their sense of autonomy. They don’t want to believe in a G-d Who micromanages their lives. Some just don’t believe in Him, plain and simple. Some can’t believe in a halachic system that takes seriously the notion that G-d spoke to Man in a manner that has normative significance. Or they believe that the text that supposedly records that conversation was a forgery by multiple R’s who put together J and E and burnt the revered originals. (Multiple, because the first R was followed by R2 who merged JE with P, and then a third, who got away with it once again and added D. Maybe we could call him R2D2.)

    I wasn’t talking to them. That would take a different piece. I wasn’t talking to those on the far left. I can’t think of a piece that would work for them. I was addressing those within the Orthodox mainstream, who I believe have been looking in the wrong place for the answer.

    I wonder if you understood my piece. The Supreme Court does not decide that there are competing views of the law. Those views stop at the door. The Court has to decide between those view, often reshaping major parts of society in the process. Since the decline of the Bablylonian Gaonate, we have no such court. We may have lost it even earlier. We are not, however, a ship adrift at sea. There are other ways in which we find captains. I mentioned two of them: tradition, and Daas Torah as perhaps a subset of the first. The readers to whom I addressed my essay believe in one or both of these. They just need to be reminded.

    For the absolutely stubborn black-letter law enthusiasts who just don’t have those terms in their vocabulary, two things. First, my regrets. Second – take a look at the way the Mechaber began Choshen Mishpat. He starts in a perfectly logical manner by delineating the powers of beis din to adjudicate different kinds of cases. He will continue with the procedures of dayanim and witnesses for some thirty-eight simanim.

    The second siman seems to be an asterisk. It tells us what beis din can do in violation of its own formal rules. It tells us about wide extra-legal powers, when times call for them. It tells us not to expect that black letter law will solve all problems. It won’t. When it can’t, it establishes the authority of the talmidei chachamim of the day and age to do what is best, not citing chapter and verse. Forgive me for using the A word, but it is unavoidable. Read my lips. Authority. It is given to beis din.

    Those who can’t live with it might consider finding a different system for themselves. In the case at hand, we deal not with the authority of a single beis din, but the collective judgment of the entire community of talmidei chachamim. With expanded roles for women an accepted reality in most parts of the Orthodox world, there is a real need to reinforce the traditional idea that we will never part with – that some differences between the genders are important and need to be maintained. The ban on women rabbis, minimally, is needed le-megdar milsa.]

  3. BobF says:

    You make a basic statement “With the exception of the most left-leaning elements within Orthodoxy, there is wall-to-wall agreement that such a decision is not a good idea” and tailor your argument around this. I see no proof of this; I don’t know if its true or not.

    Personally, I don’t understand why RCA should just say “We have no opinion on this- let everybody listen to their own Rabbis ” and try to focus on where they can help Klal Yisrael, not where they can cause more problems.

  4. Simcha Younger says:

    It seems that there is an interesting twist here in the ongoing debate between the modern and chareidi-leanings camps over how to approach Halacha. The `ultra-orthodox` camp is often seen as understanding Halacha with a dry, rigid interpretation, while the modern-orthodox prefer to appreciate the spirit and meaning, and mostly the relevance, behind the Halacha. Here everyone seems to have switched sides. The modern-orthodox people want us to go with the letter of the law, without allowing any room for understanding it as a social commentary. The ultra-orthodox respond that even if Halachacially some positions may be allowed for women, we should realize that the Halacha is teaching us about proper social roles, and should be applied in all contexts.

    Perhaps part of the debate – or even the main part of the debate – should be an effort to understand why the Halacha prohibits women from various social roles. A parallel question is what social change is reflected or anticipated by moving women into leadership roles.

    It seems that many who support this change want us to believe that it is nothing more than freeing women from the chains of the past, and there is no inherent reason why women should have different social roles than men. If this was true then even the minimal Halacha cannot be justified, and the argument for allowing women to serve as much as can possibly be fit into the Halacha essentially becomes a statement that the Halacha is itself illegitimate (though for whatever reason it is still being accepted). Conversely, since the Halacha is clearly limited, there should also be an explanation from the ultra-orthodox side of when it is legitimate for a women to be in a position of leadership. (The Midrashim concerning Devora seem to say that this possibility is left open for when there are no men fit for the position, and the women is not given a position of binding authority.)

  5. Baruch Pelta says:

    I’m going to send off a query that — in my ignorance — I’m not sure is a wise one, but I feel should be asked: The implication of R’ Adlerstein’s piece seems to be that RAL and RHS should be considered the RCA’s Daas Torah, but despite the argument that halachic arguments won’t do it, isn’t this the realm of the Vaad Halacha?

    [YA – My feeling is that the Vaad Halacha should be spending more time listening to those at the top of the pyramid of Torah acheivement.]

  6. dr. bill says:

    i do not disagree in principle; your language cleaves to Prof. Katz’s ztl religious versus halakhic distinction rather closely. that said, on such major religious issues, prof. Katz has demonstated conclusively that communities (including their Rabbis) lead but rabbis always control the process and guide it away from committing halakhic missteps. (the analogy of a blind man (the community) walking with the aid of a stick(the Rabbi) has been suggested.)

    The job of the rca, imho, is to judge this premature and adopt language along the lines of R. Lamm’s essay a year ago. In many such situations, rabbinic leaders steeped in the reality of (different) community, should have greater weight than our leading scholars.

    As you noted, there is hardly clamoring from this change outside a few parts of a few communities. Generalizing local situations and local decisions on how to deal with them into universal policy is a mistake in judgment and in practice that originated with R. Weiss; what could have happened “shileheit” turned into a mega-issue. Halevi only bloggers got caught up in the unnecessary hysteria!

  7. Harry Maryles says:

    I think the question is eminently more complex then that of even your perspective. It isn’t about whether we should be ordaining Orthodox female rabbis. I think you’re right. The vast consensus is that we should not be.

    But there is a bigger issue upon which I touched on my own blog: What does one do in our day when there are women who study the saem material that men do and are equal in their Yiras Shomayim? Do they not deserve some recognition for their achievements? There was a time in history where women had zero in the way of a formal Jewish education. Today even the most RW seminaries teach their women very high levels of Torah scholarship in certain Torah subjects.

    And for Centrists like myself – we need only look at RYBS’s example. He taught the first Talmud class for women at YU’s SCW . It is not an illogical next step to see those women who are motivated to do so – go on to study all the subject material that Semicha students study and do quite well. What do we do with them? How should we treat them? What will they do with all that knowledge? Is it right to just ignore it? …or simply pat them on the back say “Very nice” and then ask, “What’s for supper”? Isn’t it right that we give them some form of recognition that is in some way parallel to men who have studied the same material?

    I don’t think anyone outside of the extreme left wing of Orthodoxy would advocate a woman for a position as a Shul Rav. But what about the fact that many women already contribute in so many other ways to Orthodoxy in a religious leadership capacity – such as teachers or principals? Can a woman be a pastoral counselor? Why? …or why not? Same question about whether they can be chaplains in a hospital or in a prison.

    These are not simple questions that can be dealt with by a simple blanket condemnation by the Agudah Moetzes of female Orthodox rabbis. Nor will a simple policy statement about that by the RCA properly deal with it. They miss the larger existing issues I raise here… and which I think the RCA is going to grapple with at their conference.

    [YA – I am tempted to respond, but will resist, because I don’t want the thread to be lost, and turn to the issues you raise. They are very important ones, but – briefly – I think far easier to resolve.

    The positions you describe are pretty much already acceptable for women in Centrist institutions, and the RW ones are not that far behind. I detect little resistance. I don’t share your concern about recognition. Jobs and people can be recognized for what they are without the conferring of new titles. The quest for the Raba title by RAW et al is an issue of attempted social engineering, not rachmanus on underrecognized public servants.

    I take sharp issue with any suggestion that women are studying the same material as men are. (Estie Rosenberg, RAL’s daughter, spoke recently in NY. It will be several months before the transcript will be released, from what I am told. Someone in attendance, however, pointed out the gulf that separated her and her presentation from Sara Hurwitz. The former spent her life as the daughter of a major talmid chacham, living in the shadow of a vigorous beis medrash. It showed in her demeanor, her tzniyus, her content. Most memorable to me, however, was her concession at the end of a long presentation on the advances in Israel in opportunities for quality learning for women. She said that learning four days a week until 3:30, as women do in the most advanced programs in Israel, is no match for a real beis medrash experience.

    She knows the difference. I doubt if Sara Hurwitz does. Her core learning occurred at Drisha, which is not even Orthodox. From there, she did not exactly go to the Mir or the RIETS beis medrash. Part of what is really warped here can be seen in stark relief in the recent WSJ article:

    [Said] Rabbi Marc Angel. “The reality has changed. We have to open doors for highly trained and educated women.” Blu Greenberg, a prominent Orthodox feminist, has long advocated the ordination of women. In a 1984 essay she presciently wrote: “It seems but a matter of time that a woman, who is as well-versed in rabbinic sources as a male . . . will say to herself: ‘Why not me?'”

    Rabba Hurwitz, a soft-spoken 33-year-old, is that woman. After graduating from Barnard College, she spent three years at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in New York, followed by five years of private study with Rabbi Weiss. She mastered rabbinic texts and halacha, or Jewish law. She passed the relevant tests.

    This is the real problem. There are people ignorant enough to believe that she “mastered rabbinic texts.” She likely mastered them as well as many of the men she was around. If you can become enough of a talmid chacham to master texts in the amount of time she spent, then we have a serious problem with the dumbing down of the rabbinate. And we do, of course. We should be just as concerned with YCT ordaining men as ordaining women.

    But we digress, Reb Harry. We’re going to keep the comments focused on the main issue, and not the excellent ones you’ve raised. You can continue them on your blog!]

  8. robert says:

    Being that the stature that RAW enjoys in the mainstream orthodox community is not very high ( to say the least) why not just relegate his ordination of a woman as a left wing meshuga’as? Treat it with silence, ignore it. there is no need to react. If she were to apply for membership in the RCA, her application would simply be rejected as per the policy of the RCA. By reacting to the ordination, the mainstream orthodox are assigning a chashivus to it which is unwarranted.

    [YA – Unless, that is, I am correct. If this is one of those forks in the road for the Torah community, people have to take a stand and say that this is not another of a myriad of points that reasonable people within Orthodoxy can disagree about. We love you as brothers and sisters, but this ain’t Orthodoxy!]

  9. E. Fink says:


    Do you see this as an evolving issue? Or is the “case closed”?

    [YA – Are you kidding? This is where it begins!]

  10. E. Fink says:

    So, if there is an “acclimation” to the idea of orthodox women with some sort of ordination this blog post would be different?

    If you think the answer to that question is yes, do you think the public opinion will change?

    If you think the answer to that question is yes, how long do you give it?

    [YA – Yes; somewhat; no clue. A prophet, I’m not. Especially after what the Gemara says about later-day prophets.]

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    For those interested in the stance of the leader of HIR and YCT even after meeting with the heads of the RCA, see this week’s Jewish Week. I think that it is clear that he views the same as a mere slap on the wrist and that he is the suffering martyr for his views, etc. It would be easy to allow the head of HIR/YCT to appear as if he is the victim of a Charedi influenced lynch mob, but I think that the RCA can and reiterate its committment to Mesorah, Emunas Chachamim and let those who would cause a schism move on and work for their misguided notions of what Halacha and Orthodoxy mean for them, as opposed to the overwhelming majority of the committed MO world which views the RY of RIETS as their address for issues of Halacha, Hashkafa and Mesorah.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    Except maybe in the most traditional communities, just saying “this is foreign to Orthodoxy” is not enough. Many sincere Jews who want to be Orthodox are confused today by secularized ideologies offered to them as “Orthodox Judaism”. In this and similar cases, the rabbinic organizations should concentrate on explaining their point of view and its basis in detail to both constituent rabbis and lay people.

  13. Garnel Ironheart says:

    The underlying problem is the lack of patents on terms.
    Once upon a time, a religious Jew was defined as one who observed halacha in daily life. Today, many amongst the Reformatives call themselves religious because they hold by the tenets of their faiths.
    Once upon a time, traditional meant following in the paths of your forbears. Today the Conservatives say they have a tradition of change so by altering the halacha they are being traditional.
    This meshugas has now come to the word “Orthodoxy”. RAW and the YCT gang wish to continue to label themselves as “Orthodox” even as they make one unOrthodox move after another.
    Therefore the solution to the problem is not a heartfelt plea to the RCA to do “the right thing” or to talk about tradition and Daas Torah. It’s to immediately go to some authoritative court and take out a patent on the word so it can’t be abused like the others.

  14. Tal Benschar says:

    As I see it, this issue is just about where the issue of mechitzas was circa 1950. At that time there was a great deal of overlap between Conservative and Orthodox groups, they were almost interchangeable. Over the following 20 years, the issue of mechitza created a sharp delineation between the two — and there is now a clear schism.

    The same thing is happening in “Orthodoxy” today. In 20 years, there will be two separate groups, just as today Orthodox and Conservative are separate.

  15. lacosta says:

    see also gil student’s blog at hirhurim.blogspot.com as to the fork-in-the-road issue soon to be upon us will be the use of women to be motzi men on mitzvot derabbannan..,
    how soon till the slippery slope avalanches… and remember , there is another sociological MO issue starting up: the use of public school education as a solution to perpetual financial crisis that is torah education. we can anticipate the beginning of a next generation of MO LESS educated religiously than their parents were, with more liberal socio-political leanings and its trappings, with less halachic groundwork , and more YCT rabbonim on the ground………

  16. Raymond says:

    As is my usual practice, I am going to put my two cents in here before I read other people’s comments, just because I want to think for myself rather than simply react to what other people have to say on this.

    To me, this matter seems so simple, that maybe I am missing something here. One of the sources of pride among Torah Jews is that we have had no need to change it for thousands of years. I realize there are innovations here and there, but they tend to be minor adjustments such as not eating fish and meat with the same utensils, not major overhauls, as would be the case if women were suddenly allowed to become Rabbis. I do not like such revolutionary change in just about any field of endeavor, but particularly not in Torah Judaism. For if things are not perfect exactly as they are, what does it say about its present state of authenticity, or lack of it? Remember, we are not talking science here, or some man-made political system, both of which can and should improve with time; we are talking about living out G-d’s Word to Man, as spelled out in our Torah. Either it is perfect as it is, or it is not G-d’s Will.

    And why is this even an issue in the first place? It reminds me of that Women at the Western Wall thing. Obviously what is going on here, is that a modern secular ism, in this case feminism, has crept into Orthodox Jewish life. I think this is a terrible idea. What happens when feminism, like so many other isms, becomes a thing of the past, something future generations laugh at, just as today we laugh at the hoola hoop and the hippie era? Should our traditional way of life be left with that permanent stain called feminism?

    My understanding as to why women have never been allowed to become rabbis, are basically two reasons. One is, that women prefer to be in the background, to play roles in our society that are hidden and modest, yet have huge impact on things, such as raising children. And that brings up the other reason for not having women become Rabbis: Rabbis have to spend many long and endless hours studying the intricacies of the Talmud and Jewish Law, but bearing and raising children requires at least as much attention. By not having women ordained, we are actually saving women from having to carry two major burdens, that of being a Rabbi, and that of raising children.

    And now I will go read what other people have said here on this issue.

  17. Charlie Hall says:

    “too many halachic arguments can be opposed by opposing halachic arguments”

    Several years ago, there was a widely distributed essay by Rabbi Mendel Shapiro that argued for women receiving aliyot. Since then, there have been essays by Rabbis Henkin, Riskin, Broyde, and Rothstein that pointed out the many halachic difficulties with Rabbi Shapiro’s approach. It has now been over a year since we have seen the carefully reasoned and sourced arguments in favor of semichah for women by Rabbis Maroof, Bin-Nun, and Sperber. Why have there been no convincing “opposing halachic arguments” regarding semichah?

  18. tzippi says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein does’t want to go off on the tangent of RW scholarship in young women’s institutions. (And I would love to see the transcripts of Mrs. Rosenberg’s talk on the subject.) I’ll give a quick two cents: my personal experience, and that of the many I’ve observed during and after my time, was limited to Torah shebiksav (i.e. the texts and commentaries of Tanach); halacha for direct practice as learned through straightforward texts or the teacher’s distillation; and Jewish thought, from Ramchal to Rav Hirsch and beyond.

    Our background was not one to prepare us for Talmudic study; check out the preparation given to elementary boys in the forms of flashcards, etc. Though one could argue that we had the (far superior to many of the young men our age) Tanach backgroud that enhances Talmudic study. And frankly, many women would not find such study at all satisfying had our curricula foisted it on us. As such, I try to have some sympathy for women who do find such scholarship satisfying and feel like the proverbial square peg. I think there are a few displaced women who don’t have agendas out there. I don’t see this situation as one of them.

    And a P.S. From what I’ve heard, the scholarship necessary to truly carry out the job may be lacking in this situation as well.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    Raymond wrote,
    “My understanding as to why women have never been allowed to become rabbis, are basically two reasons. One is, that women prefer to be in the background, to play roles in our society that are hidden and modest, yet have huge impact on things, such as raising children. And that brings up the other reason…Rabbis have to spend many long and endless hours studying the intricacies of the Talmud and Jewish Law, but bearing and raising children requires at least as much attention. By not having women ordained, we are actually saving women from having to carry two major burdens, that of being a Rabbi, and that of raising children.”

    Raymond, one problem with your “two reasons” is that it makes the rule seem to depend on women’s subjective preferences and perceptions. This opens up the question, “what if some large group of women, or even a majority, decided to enter the limelight and/or take on extra burdens?” This question is avoided if the rule is seen to reflect the intrinsic or objectively ideal characteristics of women.

  20. Jon says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, Although you may be privy to information that is not available to the public, R’ Lichtenstein appears much more ambivalent about this issue than R’ Schachter. In one of the QA sessions he held at Yeshivat Har Etzion this year (that is available on YUTorah), his response about this topic was (in classic R’ Lichtenstein form) very nuanced – and not nearly simplified enought to just take his ‘view’ and turn that into votable measures by the RCA membership. (In my very humble opinion, his nuanced view regarding issues that so many of us have knee-jerk reactions to is part of the hashgafic endowment of R’ Lichtenstein that more of us must learn.)

  21. joel rich says:

    From Alice in Wonderland:
    “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
    “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
    “I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
    “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat

    The question for R’YA, R’AW and anyone else is what model/model(s) [for those who believe there can be more than one derech to serve HKB”H] will be acceptable for orthodoxy. Will there be expanded roles for women or will they be asked to maintain their traditional roles? how will that work where secular society has changed? where orthodox society has changed?…. and as Dr. Bill points out, who really answers this question (other than HKB”H through history)

    IMHO there is some hoisting on/by their own petard of folks who argue “what can I do my hands are tied by (micro) halacha” on certain issues but then say “well, there is no clear (micro) halacha prohibition but we shouldn’t do it anyway” on others.

    [YA – There will be more of what we have seen till now: expanding roles for women, all the while checking to see that quintessential values are not being lost. The only thing that can stop this is a backlash against RAW and YCT.]

  22. Bob Miller says:

    Charlie Hall wrote above, “It has now been over a year since we have seen the carefully reasoned and sourced arguments in favor of semichah for women by Rabbis Maroof, Bin-Nun, and Sperber. Why have there been no convincing ‘opposing halachic arguments’ regarding semichah?”

    Let’s say, as a possibility, that the matter is regarded as long-settled, and arguments to upset the status quo are considered to be liberal-agenda-based and specious and not worth the effort of a response.

  23. Meir Shinnar says:

    I think RYA misunderstands the position of those who are against the RCA acting – it is not merely that there is no halachic basis (although, for such a major action as acting (and embarassing…) others in the halachic community, one would think that there should be a halachic imperative).

    Rather, we understand the issue of the different roles for men and women mandated by halacha and tradition. WHowever, wat has happened is that there has been broad acceptance within the Centrist (and, as some of his points show, RW) community of fundamentally different roles for women than had been traditional

    His statement

    A decision to allow for women rabbis impacts hugely upon the way we look at ourselves, run our institutions, and structure our schools. It goes beyond law, and requires a sense of what is good for Torah and the Jewish people.

    is wrong because how we look at ourselves, run our institutions and structure our schools has already changed – and the use of a title or one more job description does not change that.

    Whether this change is a good thing or bad for knesset yisrael can be argued, but the facts that it has changed – and at least for the Centrist community with the acceptance of its rabbinic leaders (and not just Rav Weiss..). The change include public communal roles, administrative roles, teaching roles, chaplaincy, counseling, etc (essentially every single component role of a shul rav….)

    What has also changed is the role of being a rav in the community – the majority of rabbanim do not serve in the role that would be recognized as the communal rav (mara d’asra) in Europe – but, even those serving as shul rabbanim, far more in chaplaincy and teaching roles and administrative roles.

    Therefore, the role that many women serve today in the Centrist community (as well as the RW, although the list of roles there is not quite as extensive) is essentially the same as the roles that many rabbis play – and indeed, 40 years ago, for these roles, smicha was considered a job requirement (although the relationship between passing an exam in yore deah and chaplaincy or high school teaching was always tenuous…). Furthermore, there is available for women training that,while at least for now, might not correspond to higher level bet midrash learning, has a relatively high level textual mastery.

    The question therefore is what is the problem with the use of the term rabba or the roles that the rabba is and will play – this is NOT a major expansion or dramatic change from well accepted, and even encouraged facts on the ground. Again, outside of saying it is obvious or generally accepted, I haven’t seen any argument (either halachic or “tradition”) that would differentiate why yoetzet/high school principal/high school teacher/chaplain is acceptable, and rabba isn’t…

    I would add that there is a religious rationale for the ACCEPTED expansion of roles for women – the dramatic changes in their general social status and activities, and the desire that their religious activity have some correspondence to their actual world (as rav soloveichik said about torah studies for women – you can’t give women a graduate secular education and a kindergarten Jewish education). That religious rational does not justify everything – and is not a mandate for egalitarianism – but does seem to justify the term rabba (one RW rav I know, who is opposed to the term rabba, and is opposed to women serving as shul rabbanim, told me that he thinks that every large shul that has more than one assistant rabbi should have as that third person a woman…)

    I do think that the issue of gender based roles is a major issue – and acceptance of rabba does NOT mean an egalitarian ethos. However, the opposition of Aguda (and some within the RCA) to the rabba without any clearly formulated rationale of what the problem is – either halachic or traditional – is highly problematic.
    Your essay is further proof – outside of stating generally accepted, you accept that there is no halachic issue – but do not provide any basis for differentiating between the rabba and currently accepted roles – except the fact that it is accepted in your circles. ( have a leeriness of saying that something is obvious – because it normally means that one is unable to actually formulate the reason…)

    I would agree that halachic gender roles are not hukkim – and reflect a certain understanding of roles. The question is what that understanding actually is – and how it squares with currently normative practice. By arguing for a dividing line between currently accepted practice and the term rabba – where no such dividing line naturally or halachically exists – you actually are proposing that the basis for such a line is not divine law but human desire – and that, unfortunately, cheapens the argument – and sounds like misogyny – different roles are only justifiable on the basis of divine law and ontology.

    I would add that we both agree that halachic gender roles are not hukkim, and there is a clear movement in a segment of LW orthodoxy towards egalitarianism. However, the fact that some wish full egalitarianism is not a license to prohibit what is permitted. By prohibiting the permitted, you lose all credibility when you will try to prohibit what is truly assur.

    [YA – My response to this can be found here]

  24. Menachem Lipkin says:

    If you follow the logic of the Chofetz Chaim and the Rav to its logical conclusion wouldn’t eventually, there will have to be some sort of advanced Rabbinic-type certification for women?

    How can we continue to tell women who now, apparently, receive the majority of advanced degrees in several areas, that their efforts and achievements in Torah study cannot be recognized without driving many of them away? Certainly many women, like their male counterparts will continue to study completely L’Shma. Yet others, like their male counterparts, will seek to utilize their acquired knowledge to help others. And, for better or worse, in the outside world certifications count for something, not the least of which is financial compensation.

    Furthermore, there’s an inherent condescension built into this discussion. It’s being assumed that an orthodox women who learns the full gamut of of our body of traditional law will not follow the edicts of what she’s learned and operate outside its framework. I know it’s more complicated, but Rabbi Weiss is not the one who opened this box of Pandora.

    [YA – I will address only part of this. I don’t see any place for semicha for women, and am gratified that the RCA saw things the same way. I have come around to the call of my friend R Michael Broyde to come up with some sort of oversight over the qualifications of women who are undertaking important roles – perhaps degree granting programs in different aspects of communal life. For example, we have some idea of the training we want for people doing kiruv. Many of them are hired on the assumption that their wives will be taking a place besides them in the work of outreach. Yet, we don’t monitor how well prepared spouses are in basic mekoros, hashkafa, articulation, and counseling skills. Shouldn’t we develop such programs?]

  25. Tzvi says:

    Rabbi Adlerstien,

    I may be the only person in the world (currently) to have the zchus to say that they have 2 children concurrently attending the Mir & Migdal Oz (Estie Rosenberg’s midrasha), and I have to say that given the lack of intense gemara background that a majority of Migdal Oz students have relative to those in the Mir, the students in Migdal Oz compare quite favorably.

  26. dr. bill says:

    bob miller, you are completely correct; the matter is settled. see the chinuch discussing the prohibition of a Kohen serving while intoxicated. His language “lehorot” is a close approximation to what is popularly called semicha. IMHO, the issue is really not about semicha, but serving as a rabbi – a religious issue more than a halakhic one.

  27. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    To Raymond’s reasons for why women are not suited to be rabbis I would like to add two points. First, there are indeed plenty of women in today’s generation who are not interested in staying in the background. This is in tension with the principles of tsniyus (modesty) and much to the detriment of modern society. It contributes to mixed messages to children, fractured families and rampant divorce. Second, women do not think the same way as men. There are always exceptions, and they should be allowed to fulfill themselves in learning without public censure, but there is a general trend. Women tend largely to think more synthetically than analytically, seeing unity rather than division. Many women, when confronted by real argument over principles, simply ask, “why do you boys have to fight?” The War of Torah is not for them. A woman who is a trial lawyer or something similar should certainly learn Gemara. She has nothing to lose. But we want to two roles to be maintained and the differences not to be glossed over, for the sake of us and our children.

  28. S. says:

    >With the exception of the most left-leaning elements within Orthodoxy, there is wall-to-wall agreement that such a decision is not a good idea. Different groups will offer different arguments – and some may say that they cannot put into words why they feel so strongly. What is significant, however, is the near-unanimity on the issue.

    If the opposition can’t be put into black-and-white, convincing halachic terms consensuses can change.

    I’m actually reminded of a passage in the recent book about Rabbi Moshe Sherer. Some ten years after the famous Synagogue Council issur, the RCA was called upon once again to affirm the issur as binding upon them. Rabbi Sherer recounted that someone from the RCA had requested the halachic reasons of the roshei yeshiva who signed the issur, so that the RCA could review it. Rabbi Sherer refused, citing something R. Aharon Kotler had told him to the effect that the issur is Da’as Torah. Sources can be marshaled for opposing positions, and it wasn’t about sources, it was about rabbinic authority.

    This is a very good public policy for the wing of Orthodoxy which falls in line behind it’s rabbinic leaders, but really doesn’t do it for the other wing or wings.

    As far as the reference to Chassidic leaders of the first generation, they were who they were and they didn’t change. The misnagdim certainly didn’t agree that they were stellar anything. All that changed was that the teenagers they had influenced grew up and the consensus about who they were changed. Perhaps that will yet happen with those who’ve created this issue in our time. After all, as you write, tradition can and does change.

    [YA – But the first generation of Chassidishe gedolim did include stellar individuals, whether the misnagdim recognized that at the time or not. They had the background and the learning. This is simply not the case with the far left today.]

  29. A Woman says:

    I am disgusted by the women who are advocating for leadership roles. Did Rav Shach advocate to become a Jewish leader or was he pushed into it when there was no other alternative? Did Rav Moshe demand the use of titles? Were Dovid or Shaul chosen as kings because they were the ones who most aggressively sought the title? If any man came to a rabbinic search committee and had the gall to state that one of his demands was kavod, he would be run out of town because he lacks basic Jewish values.

    The fact that the honor seeker is a woman is a red herring. One of my yardsticks for a Jewish leader is humility and altruism. If the only way you will do chesed for others is as a paid professional, you can stay home. Rabbis do take salaries. One would hope, though, that if they won the lottery they would still be doing basically the same thing – learning Torah and doing chesed. The rabbis we respect are the ones who act from of a sense of obligation to their Creator, not because of political expediency and power.

    People whose lives stem from a sense of religious purpose do not need other people to acknowledge and laud their actions. The truly righteous try to act privately and not receive recognition for their accomplishments. Why are we even giving the time of day to people who are demanding acknowledgement of their spiritual state?

    There was an individual in history who demanded that everyone should have the right to lead the Jewish people. “If the Jewish people are all holy and learned, why can’t we all lead”, he said. Last time I checked he was on shaky footing with that argument and had the ground pulled out from beneath him.

    There have always been and will always be women who lead the community. We should stay far away from anyone, man or woman, who is so open about their thirst for power and leadership.

  30. Charlie Hall says:

    Is the fact that my wife is a respected family physician “in tension with the principles of tsniyus (modesty) and much to the detriment of modern society”?

  31. Raymond says:

    One thing I neglected to elaborate on in my previous post is the subject of being in the limelight. I could see a secular woman being appalled at what I wrote. After all, why must women stay in the background? Is their humanity worth any less than that of a man?

    But such thinking is exactly the kind of thing I wrote about in my previous post: for Judaism to stay Judaism, it must not surrender to the latest trends in secular thought. Fame and being in the limelight are not Jewish values; they are Hollywood values. Recall individuals such as the Holy Ba’al Shem Tov, or the Chovetz Chaim, and how they avoided the public eye as much as possible. Men are given the public role not for their egos, but out of necessity. A Jewish leader who is a true Torah Jew, would not relish playing an overtly public role in society. How much moreso is this true for women, whose nature is usually a more private one than that of men.

    And now I am going to say something that may anger some people, but I will state it anyway because I value the truth above all else and would not say what I am about to say if I did not think it to be true. I think that in general, men are head centered, and women are heart centered. There, I said it. Being heart centered, where mercy is more often called for then not, works perfectly when raising children, being an elementary school teacher, or, for example, being a doctor. I have often thought that women naturally make better doctors than men for this reason.

    But when it comes to deciding Jewish law, or holding public positions, the head really does have to rule the heart. I will admit that sometimes things are not as black and white as I am portraying things here: I think of women like Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, and/or Margaret Thatcher. Nobody could accuse these women of being heart-centered. Indeed, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady.

  32. S. says:

    >[YA – But the first generation of Chassidishe gedolim did include stellar individuals, whether the misnagdim recognized that at the time or not. They had the background and the learning. This is simply not the case with the far left today.]

    You’re saying it’s an objective fact that the Gra et al. were actually mistaken, but I suspect it’s more of the victors write the history books. (The Besht had the background and the learning?) I suppose it will take another 200 years to know if a future you will tell a future me that in truth really the far left of the early 21st century included stellar individuals with the background and the learning. 😉

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