There is truth in much of Rabba Sara Hurwitz’s article in the New York Daily News. I have actually discussed these issues myself in sympathy with her feelings.
As she notes, we are indeed living through an important moment in the history of confronting gender inequality. One of the results of which is the current spate of men in positions of power that have been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.
I agree that men are far more likely to exploit an unequal power relationship and take advantage of it sexually. My only quibble is that as an old fashioned feminist myself I wouldn’t limit it to men. I instead rely on the old adage: ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’
I also fully agree with her valid observation that women are often made to be invisible. At least in some of the more extreme segments of Orthodoxy.
However when Rabba Hurwitz begins using language of 21st century feminism and applies it to Orthodoxy, I have to part company with her. Not only that but I reject completely her characterization that mainstream Orthodoxy is an extension of the #MeToo phenomenon of sexual harassment.
It takes quite of bit of imagination and hubris to make that kind of comparison. It refuses to take into account mainstream Orthodoxy’s understanding of how Jewish law operates. The claim that women are being held back from leadership positions because of a system that is patriarchal has nothing at all to do with reality.
First, I doubt that there is one mainstream Orthodox rabbi who would ever deny a woman the right to pursue leadership positions in any field imaginable. Any individual that meets the criteria for a leadership position should have an equal opportunity at the job regardless of gender. That this is not universally the case in society, is something I would fight for. As I do for equal pay for equal work.
Clearly the motives for seeing Judaisms differently have zero to do with any kind of nefarious motive. And yet she blames that for her own negative experiences:
When I began working at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale as a congregational intern in 2003, some people were more concerned with the way I dressed than with the way I spoke or taught.My male colleagues had to adjust to sharing a pulpit with a woman. Some congregants even left the synagogue when I was ordained, despite there being no Jewish law that prohibits women from assuming clergy roles.
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.
I unequivocally condemn any crude or insensitive remarks made by anyone. No one deserves to be berated for their beliefs. Even someone who may be wrong in their ideas about the role of women in the Rabbinate – as I believe she is.
Rabba Hurwtiz is also probably right that:
(T)he more men are atop organizational pyramids, surrounded by women vulnerable to their decisions and their whims, the more likely that those men will take liberties with social mores and rules.
But she is wrong in blaming opposition to women being in the Rabbinate on a pre-existing male power structure. She should understand that even though the way she was reacted to is terrible – it still does not justify the role she chose as her calling.
It has been made clear by the leading rabbis of virtually every single mainstream Orthodox organization – including the Agudah, the RCA, the OU, Young Israel, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and the European Orthodox Rabbinate – that women cannot be rabbis and serve in that capacity regardless of what title they choose for themselves. That she has backing from a few left wing rabbis does not make it any more permissible. Those rabbis hardly have the stature of any of the entire wide array of mainstream rabbis that forbid it.
Which is why the OU for example has made it clear that their member shuls may not hire a woman as a rabbi and still remain a member in good standing. The member shuls that have defied this rule and continue to do so may very soon be expelled from membership. Not because the OU consists of men in power in a patriarchal system. But because the OU is guided by the Poskim of our time. Which has been the case thought Jewish history. Those rabbis that have historically found their own paths in defiance of the mainstream have all ended up in the ash-bin of history.
What about Rabba Hurwitz’s charge that a woman’s voice is needed and has been shown to be quite valuable when utilized:
(O)ver the years, there have been countless times when a woman — or man — has thanked me profusely for being present for them, whether it was to discuss intimate topics of sexuality and mikvah use or more mundane topics of Jewish law and mourning and shabbat.
I actually agree with her. And so too does the OU. They have spelled out several areas where women can – and even should contribute in ways they have been barred from doing in the past.
The laws of sexuality and Mikva that she uses as an example is a case in point. That’s why I am a huge supporter of Yoatzot – Orthodox women that have been trained to deal with exactly those issues. Even though there is controversy and dissent by some Poskim about the propriety of Yoatzot, to the best of my knowledge none of them have forbidden it on pain of expulsion from Orthodoxy.
Finally Rabba Hurwitz suggests that Orthodox women that have been denied positions of leadership in Orthodoxy should be seen as part of the #MeToo movement because:
(T)hough it hasn’t yet been subjected to the same white-hot spotlight, at least not yet, 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.
I agree that women are often objectified – and have discussed the subject myself. But that is the case in society in general and not specific only to Orthodoxy.
Rabba Hurwitz is either being disingenuous — or is choosing to be willfully blind in attributing nefarious ‘male chauvinist’ motives to people who have never tried to hinder the progress women. And in many cases have encouraged and helped them to achieve it. Her accusations are right out of the 21st century feminist playbook. They are untrue, hurtful, and wrong.