Misguided Ideals – Opting Out of Orthodoxy

It appears that the OU (Orthodox Union) is following up on its directive to their member synagogues. Which was that they may not hire women to serve as rabbis. Last February, a group of distinguished rabbis released a Teshuva (responsa) that outlined what a woman may – and may not do – in the broad spectrum of professional roles in a Shul.

The short version is that a woman may not be a rabbi in the traditional sense of the word. She may not lead a Shul in that capacity. However she may be heavily involved in many of the services usually reserved for a rabbi.

For example a woman may be a mentor, an educator, teach, give lectures, serve as a visiting scholar in residence, serve as a director of various synagogue programs, or serve as a spiritual or pastoral counselor. And although there was some disagreement about the legitimacy of Yoatzot – female Halachic advisers to women on matters of Taharas HaMishpacha – it was agreed that Yoetzet can be a valuable resource in furtherance of that Mitzvah… and that employing a woman trained as a Yoetzet would certainly not disqualify a Shul from membership in the OU.

At the time this responsa was released, I made note of the fact that virtually the entire Orthodox establishment had rejected the legitimacy of a woman as a rabbi.  And yet some modern Orthodox Shuls that were otherwise members in good standing of the OU hired women to serve as rabbis or assistant rabbis. In some cases even using the title rabbi.

These women were ordained by Yeshivat Marahat – a seminary created by Rabbi Avi Weiss for that purpose of ordaining women. These women study the material traditionally studied by male students for the rabbinate, tested the same way, and if they pass the exams, they are awarded Semicha.

I have no problem with women studying the material and being tested on it. Nor do I have a problem rewarding them with some sort title recognizing their achievements. But I do have a problem with flouting the repsonsa of virtually all rabbinic authorities, from the Charedi authorities of organizations like Agudah; to the  rabbinic authorities of Centrist organizations like the RCA and the OU; to the rabbinic authorities of the  European rabbinate; to the Israeli rabbinate. All of whom all consider female rabbis to be violating tradition and possibly even Halacha.

I am not aware of a single recognized Posek from any Orthodox stream that approves of it. Those who are pushing it are nowhere near the stature of those who disapprove. But that hasn’t stopped some synagogue rabbis from asserting themselves in this regard. These rabbis may be pretty intelligent. and knowledgeable. And they may indeed have their heart in the right place – feeling that the time has come to recognize that women can do anything as well men. But that does not give them the right to overturn the Teshuvos of men far wiser than them who have rejected it.

Which is why the  OU is now backing up its Teshuva with action. From VIN:

(T)he Orthodox Union is pressuring synagogues that have hired the women to change their titles… (They sent) a three-member delegation to meet with the four synagogues to discuss compliance with the ruling — including requesting that at least two of the women clergy change their titles.


The delegation met with Thomas-Newborn and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky at Bnai David-Judea earlier this month….  But Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom told JTA that the delegation did not exclude the possibility of expulsion from the O.U. over the issue.


“It felt like a threat because they sent three men to our congregation and interrogated us about our practices,” he told JTA. “And they said everything is on the table, and they said we’re not in compliance. I took that as a threat, that there’s a possibility of expulsion from the O.U.


They did not deny that.”Both Friedman and Kanefsky said they would not compromise on the title.

It seems to be finally happening. There is going to be yet another split in Judaism. There will be Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, and this new (yet to be named) breakaway movement, that will no longer be considered part of Orthodoxy. Now it’s true that the OU has not yet decided whether these Shuls will be expelled. But based on the above I don’t think the OU will have a choice. If there is no change, these Shuls will no longer be able to call themselves Orthodox since they will no longer have the imprimatur of any Orthodox institutional body.

How sad it is when one places an ideal – even one as worthy as egalitarianism – above the principles of the Torah as expressed by virtually all Poskim of stature. This is not about what I or anyone else thinks is fair or just. It’s not about any kind of hierarchical structure dictating  policy from on high based on the misogyny of the past.

It’s about the right of virtually all contemporary Poskim…  Poskim that are not in any way misogynistic… Poskim that have  just as much compassion and sense of fairness as those supporting it – rejecting it for idealistic reasons based on  their superior knowledge, understanding of the Halachic process. And respect for tradition which they believe should rarely be altered except in the most dire of circumstances. Of which this is not one.

As I’ve said many times in the past, none of this makes me happy. Because despite my profound disagreement with them, I realize that it is their own sense of idealism that motivates them (misguided though I believe it to be).  I hate to lose bright, idealistic, and highly motivated Jews from Orthodoxy. Which these women and their supporters surely are.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.
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