With an African-American President in the White House, and Haredim carrying I-Phones, indeed the world is more open than ever before. Even in Orthodox Judaism changes are necessary in the areas of diversity. Women play a central role in Judaism and there must be a role for orthodox Jewish women leaders. Women indeed are, and must be recognized as spiritual leaders of our community – there shouldn’t be anything groundbreaking (or surprising) about that.
Seemingly ignorant of – and ignoring – this fact the all-male leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) today shamefully condemned the slated mid-June graduation for the three graduates of Yeshiva Maharat as a “violation of our mesorah (tradition).”
Rabbi Avi Weiss’ Yeshiva Maharat is hosting their graduation at the Orthodox Ramaz school – yet RCA reaffirmed their 2010 statement which read: “In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halachically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.”
RCA took offense to Yeshivat Maharat’s statement that they are “..changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders.” Yeshivat Maharat is speaking truth to power to ensure Jewish women can speak to leaders who are their peers – rather than men.
Were not Sarah, Miriam, Deborah and other women ordained prophets in the Torah? Which leadership or moral authority is exclusive to men? Where it that the word of God says the authority of Torah is exclusive to men?
In an era where Jewish assimilation is well-over 60 percent should Orthodox leaders not examine ways to encourage more Jews to be welcomed into – and remain – in the fold?
For those amongst the community who follow “taharas hamishpacha” (family purity) can anyone genuinely believe that a male rabbi is a more appropriate person to handle this than a female Jewish leader? There are very complicated halachic rules for whether a woman is niddah or not. Perhaps in fact even more women would become more observant if indeed they would follow family purity laws – and many would naturally be more comfortable consulting with a women leader. If women may prefer a female gynecologist, perhaps also a woman Maharat?
The RCA shouldn’t ignore the fact that female converts dip NAKED into a mikvah – observed by three rabbis. Is this indeed kosher and appropriate?
The basic reality is that men and women are very different -indeed even for Orthodox Jews, Men Are from Mars and Women are From Venus. In the Orthodox Jewish community many women often have greater faith than men and indeed giving them communal leaders to speak with encourages them to come closer to Am Israel – and all the mitzvot.
Judaism cannot exist without women. It is completely inappropriate that men alone can make the decision of what women should do and whom they should consult Jewish law with. The women graduating Yeshiva Maharat are undoubtedly strong, brave, valiant, learned women who will do wonders for the Jewish community. They can give great dvar Torahs (sermons), teach in a manner different than men and speak to the half of the Jewish community who think of the world differently than we men do.
Many women would find it easier to approach a female maharat about personal issues than they would a male rabbi. This is a great blessing for the Jewish people – and one which we all should celebrate and encourage.
Mazel Tov to the first graduating class of Yeshiva Maharat. Thank you to Rabbi Avi Weiss for his continued love of the Jewish people, and resilience in standing up for what is right.