Not Being Accepted as a Female Rabbi, and #MeToo

In a recent New York Daily News article, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, one of the two female clergy members at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR) and dean of Yeshivat Maharat (the Open Orthodox rabbinical school for women, which is housed at HIR), writes that:

… the Orthodox Jewish community is also a male-dominated “locker-room” where women are harassed, demeaned and marginalized.

When women are shut out of leadership positions, silenced — and, worse, made invisible — it is easy to objectify us…

Some congregants even left the synagogue when I was ordained, despite there being no Jewish law that prohibits women from assuming clergy roles.

Before even getting to the substance of the matter, it is a chillul Hashem and quite damaging for someone to malign the Orthodox community in a secular paper read by a very wide audience of gentiles and non-Orthodox Jews. If the author had a complaint against the Orthodox community, why was that complaint not shared within the Orthodox community, rather than being aired before millions of outside readers, many of whom will now have one more reason to shun Orthodox Judaism and to dislike Orthodox Jews? Not to mention the fact that sharing these blistering accusations against an entire community with those who cannot do anything about the matter constitutes a profound case of lashon ha-ra

Ms. Hurwitz in large part bases her allegations of harassment, marginalization and being shut out on a rejection of female rabbinic status, adding that “my experiences are shared by other ordained Orthodox women in leadership positions, who have told me stories of being marginalized or having crude and insensitive comments directed at them. “

As bad as these insults may have been, they have nothing to do with sexual harassment. And for Ms. Hurwitz to equate rejection of female clergy and concomitant (and unacceptable) personal disparagement with sexual harassment is a grave insult to the problem of sexual harassment. In fact, Ms. Hurwitz’ argument not only demeans sexual harassment, but it further unfairly accuses those who do not agree with her professional religious path (notwithstanding the nasty way that these people may have expressed their feelings) as enabling a culture of sexual harassment.

People need to act with derech eretz, but not every insult is a manifestation of sexual harassment.

Moreover, when people do not accept the concept of female clergy, it is not based on chauvinism, but on broad-based, consensus rulings from the generation’s preeminent halachic authorities, who have stated in no uncertain terms that women may not serve as Jewish clergy. (Please see this RCA resolution, which specifies that women may neither be ordained nor hired by Orthodox institutions as clergy, and this OU rabbinic panel ruling, which states that synagogues should not appoint women to serve as clergy.) Ms. Hurwitz is well aware of these rulings, yet she disingenuously presents the issue of female clergy as clearly permissible, and then proceeds to use rabbinic rejection of female clergy as a basis for claims of harassment. For shame.

This Chanukah season, let us instead take lesson from the Chashmona’im, who fought for Divine truth, adherence to Torah standards and purity in Avodas Hashem.

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37 Responses

  1. Chochom B'mah Nishtaneh says:

    Yet more proof that Sara Hurwitz is not clergy, rather she is a just a smug feminist willing to make all sorts of false innuendo too advance her clearly not Orthodox agenda.

    • lacosta says:

      i disagree. she may very well be a clergy person. what she is not is Orthodox. she can call herself anything she wants, but Orthodox rabbi she is not…but imagine she will go down in jewish history— with many other figures who left their faiths to proffer heterodoxies, as she is a Nachshon, but only in the negative sense….

      • Mottie K.T. says:

        Re not being clergy — you can be clergy and also be a smug feminist, not that I agree that Hurwitz is that, just as a point of fact, the two aren’t contradictory. If you are a religious leader, you are clergy. That’s how that works. Regarding “leaving their faiths to proffer heterodoxies” — cool it, it’s not like she’s embracing Christianity or Paganism.

      • Chochom b'mahnishtaneh says:

        However, there is nothing clerical about what she does. It is only promotion of a radical feminist agenda.

      • SP says:

        I imagine Jesus’s Jewish followers said something along the lines of “cool, it’s not like he is a tzeduki”

  2. dr. bill says:

    are you serious? do you think she let the cat out of the bag on issues of the position/treatment of women in various orthodox streams? when a young woman is told that if she chooses Migdal Oz, she will have difficulty finding a shidduch, is that not a stinging indictment of many orthodox streams? God help us; save us from Torah educated women!

    Want to talk about violations of Law (i.e. halakha) by the existence female clergy? Is the GRASH, who was addressing a DIFFERENT situation the best that one can find? A rabbi has serrarah in a modern orthodox community? some rabbis earn deserved respect; some do not. but serrarah is not stating halakhic positions, but the ability to 1) enforce and 2) in a yet wider domain. I heard the Sefer HaChinuch may be a competing source more attuned to current realities? Violation of tradition, perhaps. new procedures for changed circumstance, perhaps. Women as scholars, before rabbis, perhaps that would be better. but synagogue rabbis do not have a tradition of great or even average scholarship. but in some circles, women have to surpass men to gain an equal chance.

    i would find a new topic; this is a done deal. a possible consequence is that orthodox women will gravitate to the university where the study of talmud and halakha are not gender restricted. that scenario would result in more fundamental issues.

    • DF says:

      >”when a young woman is told that if she chooses Migdal Oz, she will have difficulty finding a shidduch, is that not a stinging indictment of many orthodox streams?”

      Hardly an indictment of anything, this is simple reality. See the statements of chazal concerning the daughters of Tzalfchad in both TB BB and Midrash Rabbah, concerning the difficulties they had getting married. Likewise, Miriam is referred to “Azuvah” (Abandoned) because she had difficulty getting married. Moreover, you may wish to research the lives of Sara Schneier and Nechama Leibowitz, for more recent examples. Indeed, I also vividly recall reading an article in the Jewish Week, some years ago when I still read it, about Nishmat or a comparable women’s learning program where the paper quoted one of the school’s female heads bemoaning the same phenomenon in her school. I may be slightly off, but I believe the quote was, “all this learning is great, but where are the husbands?”

      One can complain about this if she wishes. As well we may complain that we cannot fly, or see through walls, or live without water. One can complain about it, or one can mature and realize that the problem is not in reality, but in the person imagining she can change it.

      • dr. bill says:

        do you really believe reality is not a reason not to complain? if our tradition explains the reason why Jews are hated, does that provide a justification of anti-semitism? while it is true that various woman including those living today, trailblazers from the past and historical figures were not ideal marriage material for a variety of reasons from men threatened by their level of accomplishment to their own propensities, discrimination by those who are not intimidated is still an issue. while women with such proclivities should expect such behavior during the period of change we are experiencing, it is nonetheless unacceptable. intimidated by, OK; a character flaw, not OK. by the young man, perhaps; by his society, not so much.

        realities ought not to be denied, but they are not necessarily ethical behavior or the desired state of affairs.

      • DF says:

        True, realities are not necessarily the desired state of affairs, but nor are they also necessarily an undesired state of affairs.
        Also, you use the phrase of “men threatened by their level of accomplishment”, but recognize that this is just a left wing trope often used by feminists themselves as a form of denial, to assuage themselves into thinking the problem isn’t them, rather its “the men.” What exactly are the men “threatened” by, dr bill? A man who wants a normal family and knows he’ll never have it married to a woman who wants to make Kiddush – is he “threatened” or does he have his eyes firmly in front of him?

      • dr. bill says:

        nonsense beno shel nonsense. i know plenty of very educated and liberated women who are part of very normal families. men threatened by educated women is an element more often stressed by the left. but you prove it correct and not necessarily trope by your yet more outlandish claim that women who want to make kiddush, who i have not yet encountered among women from Migdal Oz or with Ph.D.’s in Jewish studies, do not raise normal well-adjusted families in any way different from other traditionally Jewish families. if you have a study that demonstrates otherwise, i am all ears. if not, lo matzasi la’guf tov mi’shitikah.

      • DF says:

        I’m having a tough time following your syntax dr, nor do I know why you keep repeatedly bringing up Migdal Oz again and again, but whatever. If you think men should want to marry a rabbah, or whatever the current name is, that’s your right. I’ve lost interest.

      • dr. bill says:

        migdal Oz has a unique provenance, making it a bit harder to attack by our appointed guardians of the mesorah

      • Mycroft says:

        According to Wikipedia Sara Hurwitz is married and mother of three boys

      • Chavah says:

        I cannot tell what you guys are saying. Is there a point? If so, I don’t see it. It sounds like a lot about nothing. There is definitely something to be said here. This doesn’t say it.

    • Mycroft says:

      Any Rav who is ministering to a MO crowd who believes he has serarah should not be a Rav because he would be delusional? A Rav must be followed when he is asked a Sheila. There is no ne Rav who anyone is required to follow. We ask sheilas to different Rabbonim.
      BTW the legal structure at least in America is that non profits are controlled by a Board of Trustees not clergymen. Left over cash in a synagogue does not go to Rabbis. The position is not inheritable. It is very much different than assumptions made in Middle Ages.

      • dr. bill says:

        Mycroft, what is wrong with you? invoking a historical/fact based argument to justify changed halakhic practice? are you not aware that permission to do such is restricted to chareidi gedolim? others who attempt to do so begin that slippery slope to God knows where.

        and are not aware that this meta-halakhic principle is explicitly written in ……. never mind, i cannot seem to recall where!

    • Nachum says:

      Women who study at Migdal Oz are rarely the type who need to “find a shidduch,” particularly from a pool of people who reject them, and more power to them.

      • dr. bill says:

        i just had breakfast in yerushalayim with my grandniece who studied there and her husband to be who is in hesder at shalavim, both recent olim. i congratulated them on their intermarriage. 🙂

  3. Chochom B'mah Nishtaneh says:

    Dr. Bill and Mycroft are being disingenuous.

    Sara Hurwitz was making claims that issues with her being a Rabbit is an harassment and abuse issue. She has said just that in a disgusting tabloid of all venues.

    Her point is an utter fabrication. Fabrications such as this prove that she is not expressing a religious point, but rather a feminist point. She is not a religious leader and not attempting to be one, rather she is attempting to be a feminist.

    She does appear rather unknowledgeable at both.

    • dr. bill says:

      thank you for your revealing observation. calling her a rabbit is ample proof of the existence of what she described. she owes you a thank-you as well.

      • Chochom B'mah Nishtaneh says:


        I guess the auto correct is more attuned to the truth than you are. Apparently it realized that there is no such thing as a Rabba. And that something thus called is certainly unkosher.

        You too prove you mental midgetry, if you would call that “harassment and abuse”. Certainly of the kind the #metoo crowd alleged talks about.

        Any competent parent knows how to respond to the childish whines of Me Too.

      • dr. bill says:

        see what auto-correct tries with other words in a foreign language. i am sure you are aware that harassment and abuse covers a wide spectrum of less than desirable behavior. i doubt she meant to compare her treatment to that of some children by their teachers and counselors or that of the peeping rabbi in dc.

      • Chochom b'mahnishtaneh says:

        She called it a locker room mentality.

        She is dishonest, and that clearly has no interest in being accepted by Orthodox Judaism.

        Let her stay in her locker room.

      • Mottie K.T. says:

        chochom bmah nishtaneh, how do you know her allegations are false? Like, seriously, how do you know?

      • dr. bill says:

        Mottie K.T, how unreasonable. if knowing was required before commenting, comments would become a tad more scarce. comments often reflect bias, not knowledge.

  4. “If the author had a complaint against the Orthodox community, why was that complaint not shared within the Orthodox community…”?
    I’m curious. Would Cross-Currents have published such an article by her?

    • Chochom B'mah Nishtaneh says:

      “I’m curious. Would Cross-Currents have published such an article by her?”

      So it is either Cross-Currents or the Daily Znus ? (Remembering how my Rebbi of many years ago referred to that publication.)

      Seems pretty clear that you agree that Ms. Hurwitz is so far out the Orthodox Community that there is no outlet that is Orthodox that she could relay her “concerns” to.

  5. Reb Yid says:

    Curious—have any of you critics out there actually seen Rabba Sara perform her pastoral duties at HI? Learn Torah with her? Have Shabbat lunch with her and her family?

    I have, and then some. Spend some time with her and I bet you’ll be singing a different tune

    All too easy to castigate the “other” when he or she remains just that.

    Until then

    • lacosta says:

      but that argument could be extended to much of non-orthodox clergy of either gender… her knowledge doesn’t grant her legitimacy. no matter how great a foreign born american is he can NEVER become president….

  6. Mycroft says:

    She was a guest speaker for Shabbos at a schul in my neighborhood, sort of forced on Rabbi. I went to hear her. If she wasn’t a woman no one would pay any attention to her one way or the other. After schul gave a standard Dvar Torah.

  7. Chochom b'mahnishtaneh says:

    “And then some”

    So now we know where the locker room comment comes from.

  8. MS says:

    While agreeing with Rabbi Gordimer I can’t help but think about a particular writer on Cross Currents (one who currently writes about 75% of its articles) who has written articles in secular newspapers maligning entire segments of Orthodox Jews for going up to the Har Habayis (based on the psak of serious Talmidei Chachamim) and accusing them of being responsible for Arab terrorism against Jews. Not much better.

    • tzippi says:

      Forgive my ignorance, but is he writing in, say, The Jerusalem Post, where he will reach a lot of Jews?

  9. Bob Miller says:

    What exactly is this clergyperson’s cap for?

  10. Ralph Suiskind says:

    Interesting.. Publicizing this controversy in other than within legitimate halachic context, belies its faulty questionable legitimacy.

    If G-d himself created a male and a female does not one not understand that there exist inherent basic differences between man and female and therefore each has their respective role to play in G-d’s world.

    Just because women have been given greater opportunities in today’s society outside the home doesn’t negate their basic nature or primary role they need to accomplish as a true bas yisroel including covering ones hair and being clothed properly.

    G-d’s laws including rabbinical safeguards are not subject to human emotions and current fades but are binding on all Jews for eternity.

    What lasting positive accomplishments has been achieved through the appointment of WOMEN RABBIS ????
    None other than their ultra ego’s !!!!!!

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Me think that the lady doth protest too much. No evidence on rhe ground that most frum toung or middle aged women have rabbinate envy or what is more actually an obvious case of intellectual self gratification. Some may be impressed by Migdal Oz, but there are other seminaries where young women experience the full range iof both committed RZ MO and Charedi thinking such as Michlala.

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