As anyone who follows Jewish news now knows, last week the Rabbinical Council of America passed a resolution reiterating its position against female rabbis. Immediately the battle lines were drawn. The left-wing “Open Orthodox” crowd immediately dug in the trenches, and their opponents on the right did the same.
I personally have several friends who are either Maharats or Maharats in training. I’ve gone to them for spiritual and emotional guidance, especially since discovering the misdeeds of my former conversion rabbi Barry Freundel. I appreciate their kindness, their friendship and their guidance.
But I have to say, as a relative outsider to the fight, I have been nothing but disappointed with both sides.
When I became Orthodox I did so because I saw it as a way to enrich my life in a positive way. I loved the community aspect of Orthodoxy; being able to break bread with my neighbors once or twice a week on Shabbat and on holidays. I loved the idea that anywhere I went, I could look to Jews for help if I was in trouble or needed a meal. This is what brings people to Orthodoxy, this spiritual home that feels like a home.
Over the last week, I have seen that home desecrated by both sides. Instead of seeing leaders of the Orthodox community — the entire Orthodox community — tackle the serious issues that face our agunot, abused women and children — I have seen the big guns come out against other decent Jews.
I don’t remember seeing a protest song written against get-refusers, nor do I see an RCA resolution about the plight of agunot written since 2006. Both sides have made clear where their priority lies. It’s apparently more important to take swings across the mechitza than it is to take aim at Orthodoxy’s real enemies.
In this month’s issue of Commentary I answer the question “What will be the condition of the Jewish community fifty years from now?” In my response I suggest that if the plight of the abused and agunot are not taken seriously, the religious world will see an exodus. A victim of a Reform rabbi accused of misdeeds explained in the Forward this week how being the victim of sexual misconduct destroyed her love for and trust in Judaism. Being the most public victim of Barry Freundel, I’ve heard from countless other victims of his and of other predatory rabbis that this is a common phenomenon.
To put it bluntly: Why do these rabbinic organizations and groups care more about their own egos than about victimized Jews within their communities?
In the Jewish Standard this week it became clear just how contentious this resolution was even within the RCA itself. They reported,
The vote was closely contested. According to one source familiar with the final result, only 20 percent of the RCA members cast ballots and the resolution passed by fewer than 10 votes. RCA officials, citing the confidentiality of internal proceedings, declined to disclose or discuss the breakdown.
Even within the RCA, it appears this resolution (which was already passed in 2010) was a source of contention. The Orthodox world is embroiled in all of this animosity over a resolution passed by fewer than ten nameless individuals.
I hope the American Jewish community can take this Shabbat to recenter is priorities. While many may believe that this is a necessary fight for the definition of what is Orthodox, at the end of the war, how many will want to be part of this community? Both sides believe they are fighting for the soul of Orthodoxy. But this fight, led by our own religious leaders, is destroying the very essence of what it means to be a righteous and religious Jew.
We are supposed to be a Light to the Nations. Let’s start acting like it.