Women Rabbis: Why We Don’t Need a Gender Revolution (Yet)

Judaism​ ​is​ ​an​ ​innovative​ ​religion.​ ​For​ ​3,000​ ​years,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​sustained​ ​and​ ​thrived​ ​due​ ​to​ ​intuition, commitment,​ ​and​ ​a​ ​motivated​ ​spirit.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​a​ ​people​ ​that​ ​have​ ​survived​ ​pogroms,​ ​inquisitions,​ ​blood libels,​ ​and​ ​more​ ​recently,​ ​the​ ​Shoah.​ ​We​ ​prosper​ ​not​ ​through​ ​luck,​ ​nor​ ​intervention​ ​of​ ​foreign​ ​nations,​ ​but rather​ ​due​ ​to​ ​our​ ​unwavering​ ​belief​ ​and​ ​conviction​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Almighty.​ ​Recently,​ ​we​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Orthodox community​ ​have​ ​been​ ​faced​ ​with​ ​a​ ​different​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​test;​ ​one​ ​that​ ​challenges​ ​our​ ​acceptance​ ​of​ ​secular notions​ ​and​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​cope​ ​with​ ​ever​ ​growing​ ​demands​ ​of​ ​greater​ ​inclusion.​ ​

Modern​ ​Orthodoxy​ ​was founded​ ​and​ ​staunchly​ ​committed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ideals​ ​of​ ​my​ ​great-grandfather’s​ ​grandfather,​ ​Rav​ ​Shimshon Raphael​ ​Hirsch’s​ ​​Torah​ ​im​ ​Derech​ ​Eretz.​ ​​This​ ​strictly​ ​Orthodox​ ​concept,​ ​​ ​maintaining​ ​a​ ​traditionalist Jewish​ ​approach​ ​to​ ​an​ ​increasingly​ ​pervasive​ ​secular​ ​world,​ ​used​ ​to​ ​be​ ​ubiquitous​ ​in​ ​classic Modern-Orthodox​ ​settings.​ ​However,​ ​new​ ​movements​ ​within​ ​Orthodox​ ​circles,​ ​namely​ ​of​ ​the Open-Orthodox​ ​denomination,​ ​have​ ​brought​ ​radical​ ​religious​ ​reforms​ ​and​ ​ideologies​ ​to​ ​full​ ​view. Challenging​ ​specifically​ ​the​ ​way​ ​Synagogues,​ ​Jewish​ ​Institutions,​ ​and​ ​individual​ ​communities​ ​deem Women’s​ ​participation​ ​in​ ​religious​ ​services,​ ​especially​ ​pertaining​ ​to​ ​the​ ​role​ ​of​ ​Rabbi.​ ​

To​ ​be​ ​clear:​ ​This article​ ​seeks​ ​to​ ​present​ ​not​ ​the​ ​halachic​ ​arguments​ ​concerning​ ​the​ ​ordination​ ​of​ ​Women​ ​Rabbis,​ ​nor​ ​am​ ​I in​ ​any​ ​position​ ​to​ ​debate​ ​such​ ​a​ ​topic.​ ​Rather,​ ​the​ ​goal​ ​is​ ​to​ ​view​ ​this​ ​debate​ ​with​ ​a​ ​more​ ​sociological perspective​ ​from​ ​the​ ​standpoint​ ​of​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​has​ ​been​ ​part​ ​of​ ​both​ ​denominational​ ​practices.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​a teenager​ ​with​ ​a​ ​laptop.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​current​ ​student​ ​in​ ​SAR​ ​High​ ​School​ ​in​ ​Riverdale,​ ​a​ ​Modern-Orthodox co-educational​ ​Yeshiva​ ​which​ ​made​ ​headlines​ ​last​ ​year​ ​for​ ​allowing​ ​two​ ​girls​ ​to​ ​don​ ​tefillin,​ ​my​ ​premise is​ ​based​ ​on​ ​observations​ ​and​ ​experience.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​my​ ​right​ ​to​ ​have​ ​an​ ​opinion​ ​on​ ​such​ ​a​ ​contentious​ ​issue, as​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​in​ ​a​ ​position​ ​of​ ​religious​ ​authority.​ ​However,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​my​ ​belief​ ​that​ ​by​ ​presenting​ ​a​ ​fresh viewpoint​ ​from​ ​an​ ​age​ ​group​ ​that​ ​will​ ​be​ ​most​ ​directly​ ​affected​ ​by​ ​these​ ​policy​ ​changes,​ ​or​ ​lack​ ​thereof,​ ​a more​ ​clear​ ​dialogue​ ​can​ ​emerge.

​In​ ​economics,​ ​the​ ​term​ Perverse​ ​Incentives denotes​ ​the​ ​process​ ​in​ ​which​ ​a​ ​good​ ​intention ultimately​ ​leads​ ​to​ ​bad​ ​outcomes​ ​due​ ​to​ ​unforeseen​ ​incentives.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​my​ ​firm​ ​belief​ ​as​ ​one​ ​who​ ​has​ ​been active​ ​in​ ​both​ ​​Modern​ ​​and​ ​​Open​ ​​Orthodox​ ​shuls,​ ​schools,​ ​and​ ​communities,​ ​that​ ​Women​ ​who​ ​study​ ​to​ ​be Maharts​ ​or​ ​receive​ ​rabbinic​ ​ordination​ ​do​ ​see​ ​out​ ​of​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​religious​ ​duty​ ​and​ ​purpose.​ ​I wholeheartedly​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​the​ ​girls​ ​in​ ​my​ ​grade​ ​who​ ​openly​ ​talk​ ​about​ ​their​ ​aspirations​ ​to​ ​change​ ​the status-quo​ ​of​ ​Male-only​ ​Rabbis​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Orthodox​ ​community​ ​are​ ​coming​ ​from​ ​the​ ​purest​ ​motivations,​ ​and their​ ​holy​ ​intentions​ ​should​ ​be​ ​noted.​ ​In​ ​fact,​ ​their​ ​passion​ ​to​ ​Judaism,​ ​especially​ ​at​ ​a​ ​time​ ​when synagogue​ ​attendance​ ​and​ ​religious​ ​affiliation​ ​has​ ​been​ ​a​ ​challenge,​ ​surpasses​ ​most​ ​men​ ​in​ ​my​ ​school​ ​and their​ ​level​ ​of​ ​enthusiasm​ ​for​ ​the​ ​future​ ​of​ ​Judaism​ ​should​ ​inspire​ ​us​ ​all​ ​to​ ​better​ ​ourselves​ ​in​ ​leading​ ​the next​ ​generation​ ​of​ ​Torah​ ​learners.​ ​Furthermore,​ ​any​ ​and​ ​all​ ​barriers​ ​or​ ​obstacles​ ​to​ ​a​ ​Woman’s​ ​Jewish education​ ​need​ ​be​ ​removed,​ ​as​ ​it​ ​is​ ​every​ ​Jewish​ ​person’s​ ​right​ ​to​ ​obtain​ ​a​ ​Yeshiva​ ​education​ ​regardless of​ ​observance​ ​or​ ​religiousness.​ ​Given​ ​all​ ​that,​ ​the​ ​issue​ ​still​ ​remains​ ​how​ ​far​ ​a​ ​Women’s’​ ​rabbinic​ ​studies may​ ​actually​ ​go,​ ​along​ ​with​ ​any​ ​subsequent​ ​title​ ​that​ ​comes​ ​with​ ​it.

Currently,​ ​the​ ​main​ ​organization​ ​of​ ​orthodox​ ​rabbis,​ ​the​ ​Rabbinical​ ​Council​ ​of​ ​America,​ ​or​ ​“RCA,”​ ​has repeatedly​ ​maintained​ ​their​ ​valued​ ​belief​ ​in​ ​which​ ​the​ ​title​ ​“Rabbi”​ ​be​ ​reserved​ ​for​ ​a​ ​man.​ ​For​ ​Modern Orthodoxy,​ ​the​ ​RCA​ ​is​ ​the​ ​authoritative​ ​rabbinic​ ​body​ ​that​ ​among​ ​other​ ​things,​ ​implements​ ​how​ ​halacha should​ ​be​ ​practiced​ ​in​ ​a​ ​modern​ ​setting​ ​while​ ​keeping​ ​close​ ​to​ ​original​ ​religious​ ​source.​ ​Thus,​ ​their discourse​ ​should​ ​not​ ​be​ ​seen​ ​as​ ​political​ ​ideology,​ ​but​ ​rather​ ​religious​ ​declarations.​ ​For​ ​many​ ​halachic objections​ ​to​ ​which​ ​this​ ​article​ ​will​ ​not​ ​get​ ​into,​ ​they​ ​have​ ​made​ ​it​ ​clear​ ​that​ ​they​ ​do​ ​not​ ​support​ ​this​ ​new movement.​ ​While​ ​I​ ​can​ ​not​ ​disagree​ ​with​ ​such​ ​a​ ​statement​ ​for​ ​I​ ​am​ ​in​ ​no​ ​position​ ​to,​ ​I​ ​still​ ​empathize with​ ​so​ ​many​ ​close​ ​friends,​ ​classmates,​ ​and​ ​family​ ​members​ ​who​ ​feel​ ​as​ ​though​ ​they​ ​are​ ​not​ ​treated​ ​as equals​ ​under​ ​Jewish​ ​law​ ​in​ ​today’s​ ​modern​ ​world.

Western-feminist​ ​thought​ ​has​ ​reached​ ​the​ ​minds​ ​of​ ​bright,​ ​young​ ​Jewish​ ​Women​ ​and​ ​while​ ​their concerns​ ​must​ ​be​ ​addressed-the​ ​repeated​ ​beliefs​ ​of​ ​our​ ​Modern​ ​Orthodox​ ​leaders,​ ​Rabbis,​ ​and​ ​institutions must​ ​be​ ​followed​ ​at​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​the​ ​day.​ ​I​ ​heed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​core​ ​principal​ ​that​ ​Judaism​ ​must​ ​not​ ​conform​ ​to​ ​the individual’s​ ​expectations​ ​of​ ​what​ ​their​ ​religion​ ​should​ ​be.​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​my​ ​friends​ ​and​ ​classmates:​ ​Please​ ​do​ ​not push​ ​your​ ​agenda,​ ​as​ ​righteous​ ​as​ ​it​ ​may​ ​be,​ ​to​ ​a​ ​community​ ​that​ ​has​ ​repeatedly​ ​told​ ​you​ ​it’s​ ​against.​ ​Do not​ ​rebel​ ​against​ ​respected​ ​Rabbis​ ​to​ ​prove​ ​a​ ​point​ ​to​ ​a​ ​denomination​ ​that​ ​is​ ​not​ ​ready​ ​for​ ​such​ ​drastic changes.​ ​One​ ​day,​ ​the​ ​RCA​ ​might​ ​reverse​ ​its​ ​current​ ​positions,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​they​ ​welcome​ ​Women​ ​Rabbis​ ​to our​ ​communities​ ​and​ ​shuls-so​ ​be​ ​it.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​for​ ​them​ ​and​ ​our​ ​noble​ ​institutions,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Gadoli​ ​Hador to​ ​make​ ​such​ ​a​ ​decision.​ ​But​ ​as​ ​for​ ​today,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​name​ ​of​ ​badly​ ​needed​ ​Achdus,​ ​do​ ​not​ ​fracture​ ​our community’s​ ​long​ ​held​ ​unity​ ​and​ ​togetherness.​ ​

The​ ​Gadoli​ ​Hador​ ​do​ ​not​ ​in​ ​fact​ ​approve​ ​of​ ​your​ ​requests, so​ ​I​ ​must​ ​insist​ ​you​ ​acknowledge​ ​the​ ​answers​ ​that​ ​have​ ​been​ ​given​ ​to​ ​your​ ​movement.​ ​​ ​If​ ​one​ ​so desperately​ ​feels​ ​that​ ​rejection​ ​and​ ​exclusion​ ​by​ ​the​ ​current​ ​refusal​ ​to​ ​amend​ ​standard​ ​practices,​ ​the Conservative,​ ​Reform,​ ​and​ ​Reconstructionist​ ​communities​ ​will​ ​welcome​ ​you​ ​with​ ​open​ ​arms,​ ​but​ ​as​ ​for Orthodoxy-please​ ​acknowledge​ ​and​ ​respect​ ​what​ ​tradition​ ​and​ ​rabbinical​ ​decree​ ​tells​ ​you.

Lastly,​ ​rabbinic​ ​ordination​ ​is​ ​not​ ​the​ ​only​ ​way​ ​in​ ​which​ ​Women​ ​can​ ​become​ ​important​ ​in​ ​a religious​ ​community.​ ​My​ ​Tanach,​ ​Gemara,​ ​Halacha,​ ​Chumash,​ ​Navi,​ ​and​ ​Hebrew​ ​teachers​ ​are​ ​and​ ​have all​ ​been​ ​Women.​ ​They​ ​have​ ​impacted​ ​my​ ​life​ ​and​ ​furthered​ ​my​ ​education​ ​in​ ​immeasurable​ ​ways,​ ​more​ ​so than​ ​any​ ​man​ ​for​ ​that​ ​matter.​ ​Emasculating​ ​Women​ ​should​ ​not​ ​be​ ​consistent​ ​comparisons​ ​of​ ​equality between​ ​both​ ​genders,​ ​but​ ​rather​ ​Women​ ​should​ ​be​ ​proud​ ​of​ ​who​ ​they​ ​are​ ​and​ ​what​ ​they​ ​stand​ ​for.​ ​The reality​ ​is,​ ​no​ ​one​ ​can​ ​perform​ ​all​ ​613​ ​mitzvot.​ ​Much​ ​like​ ​my​ ​Cohen​ ​friend​ ​who​ ​can’t​ ​attend​ ​funerals, certain​ ​things​ ​apply​ ​to​ ​certain​ ​people.​ ​I,​ ​as​ ​a​ ​man​ ​will​ ​never​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​child​ ​and​ ​say​ ​that​ ​he’s 100%​ ​a​ ​Jew.​ ​The​ ​​mother​​ ​is​ ​responsible​ ​for​ ​the​ ​affirmation​ ​of​ ​a​ ​child’s​ ​Jewishness,​ ​and​ ​continuing​ ​Jewish lineage.​ ​Rather​ ​than​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​what​ ​limits​ ​you,​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​what​ ​attributes​ ​and​ ​obligations​ ​are​ ​​incumbent upon​ ​you.​ ​If​ ​your​ ​passion​ ​for​ ​Orthodox​ ​Judaism​ ​is​ ​as​ ​great​ ​as​ ​I​ ​know​ ​it​ ​is,​ ​this​ ​particular​ ​issue​ ​should​ ​not be​ ​of​ ​such​ ​concern​ ​that​ ​would​ ​motivate​ ​you​ ​to​ ​leave​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​altogether!​ ​It​ ​is​ ​my​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​see​ ​an​ ​era​ ​of unprecedented​ ​learning​ ​and​ ​dialogue,​ ​further​ ​pushing​ ​spiritual​ ​prosperity,​ ​and​ ​seeing​ ​the​ ​passion​ ​in​ ​my friends​ ​eyes,​ ​I​ ​know​ ​it’s​ ​possible,​ ​with​ ​or​ ​without​ ​the​ ​title​ ​“Rabbi.”​ ​Maybe​ ​one​ ​day​ ​the​ ​status-quo​ ​will​ ​be of​ ​distant​ ​memory,​ ​but​ ​for​ ​now,​ ​let​ ​all​ ​women​ ​and​ ​men​ ​come​ ​together​ ​and​ ​strive​ ​for​ ​greater​ ​unity, learning,​ ​and​ ​peace.

About the Author
A former Senate and Congressional intern, Shabbos is passionate about politics and history, and helped install the Israeli flag at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. A graduate of SAR High School, Shabbos currently studies at Aish Hatorah of Jerusalem.
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