Rabba no more

The JTA reported yesterday that Sara Hurwitz would no longer have the title of Rabba. Hurwitz was ordained as a Mahara”t (Manhigah Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit, Leader in Law, Spirit, and Torah) by Avi Weiss, the rabbi who leads the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the flagship institutions of left-wing Modern Orthodoxy, or Open Orthodoxy. A few weeks ago her title changed to Rabba, a feminized form of Rabbi. According to Weiss, this was to make it clear that Hurwitz is a full member of HIR’s rabbinical staff.

But now, after having been excommunicated by Agudath Israel, and after an uproar from the Rabbinical Council of America, Weiss has agreed, somewhat reluctantly it seems, that Hurwitz will go back to being Mahara”t.

I’ve met and studied with Rabba Hurwitz personally and she is a tremendous teacher. I have heard her cogent, halachic explanation of why it is okay for women to serve in a rabbinic capacity, and I wish her and her future students at Yechivat Mahara”t the best of luck, whatever their title may be.

Oh, wait. What’s that? Halachah doesn’t matter? The Jewish Star reports:

“Tznius isn’t a mode of dress. It includes the idea that women are demeaned and not honored when they’re put in the public eye and put on a pedestal. The position he [Weiss] has created violated the concept,” [Rabbi Avi] Shafran said. Whether the ordination violates a specific halacha (Torah law), is unimportant, he explained.

Right. So it violates some pre-modern sensibilities about where women belong (the kitchen, duh) therefore, halachah has become irrelevant. What is it that orthodoxy Jews are often claiming about Reform Judaism? That they ignore halachah and just do what feels good? Hmmm…

In the Modern Orthodox world, girls attend school and learn all about Torah, halachah, etc.; they go to college; they are free to work and have careers. But the same man who encourages his daughter to go to college may not be willing to listen to a shiur given by a woman.

So again, good luck to Rabba Mahara”t Hurwitz and her future students. I’m going back to bed.

33 Responses to “Rabba no more”

  1. So just as I predicted, someone else will get to be the next “first Orthodox woman rabbi” someday, and then someone else after her, ad sof ha’olam.


    BZ · March 6th, 2010 at 8:21 pm
  2. So who decides what anyone calls anyone else? What happens if everyone just continues to call her “Rabba”? Can the RCA dictate that?


    DW · March 6th, 2010 at 10:01 pm
  3. @dw-
    no, but the rca can dictate whether or not they call rabbi weiss ‘rabbi’ or not.


    Justin · March 7th, 2010 at 2:15 am
  4. @Justin, but then the question is what benefit does he gain from their recognition? He’s in the media whether they like it or not for all kinds of reasons. His male ordinees from YCT already aren’t recognized by the RCA. And he already has a fiercely loyal congregation. So I wonder what the point of him remaining in the RCA is. Why not just form Open Orthodox Alliance or whatever he wants to call it and call it a day? (Ignoring the obvious complications involved in opening a new organized arm of American Jewry.)


    David A.M. Wilensky · March 7th, 2010 at 5:31 am
  5. Don’t confuse the RCA and the Agudah. Shafran is the spokesman for the Agudah. Just because they’re both organizations of “orthodoxy Jews” doesn’t mean that they agree on halacha, methods, or philosophies. There’s a lot more politics in the RCA decision than the simplistic neanderthal attitude Shafran expresses.


    chillul Who? · March 7th, 2010 at 5:32 am
  6. CW – so the RCA are complicated political neanderthals? Now my mind is at reat.


    Amit · March 7th, 2010 at 8:09 am
  7. @BZ: “So just as I predicted, someone else will get to be the next “first Orthodox woman rabbi” someday, and then someone else after her, ad sof ha’olam.”

    Actually there have already been several Orthodox women rabbis – they just haven’t put themselves in the public eye. Women have been privately receiving Orthodox smichah for about 2 decades now. I know one who worked in chaplaincy back in the 90′s. When asked about her ordination, she would privately give the name of the person who ordained her for her employers to contact. She was one of several in teaching orchaplaincy fields 0-and of course thta’s not including those ordained by Carlebach, who I suppose one could say don’tcount (although I think that’s a version of the Scotsman’s argument).


    KRG · March 7th, 2010 at 10:37 am
  8. Actually, now that I think about it, this whole discussion (on the part of the Orthodox anyway) is a version of the Scotsman’s argument.


    KRG · March 7th, 2010 at 10:39 am
  9. @damw-
    wasn’t defending it, just stating it. i hold your questions as well. nor did i ever understand why she never went with the title “rabbi” to begin with and stop this nonsense of creating a new title for an old job.

    @krg-
    why would a woman ordained by reb shlomo “not count”?

    I also want to point out that if a rabbi is a teacher of the mesora, well, there was at least one woman in 16th c. Baghdad who taught Torah, Midrash and Talmud. So, yeah…


    Justin · March 7th, 2010 at 11:39 am
  10. I was so very hoping that you wouldn’t post about this on this site. This issue has been going on for months. Where the hell were all of you before? Where was your outrage when the entire orthodox blogosphere blew up, when Avi Weiss looked left and right and could find no one (credible) to support him? Even Rabbi Sperber, who in my mind is a Gadol, didn’t speak publicly in his defense even as he signed the Rabba document.

    Of course, it wouldn’t be Jewschool if your post wasn’t factually wrong. While it is clear that Weiss will have no more rabbas, it is not at all clear that Sara Hurwitz will have to change her title. As has been pointed out before, there ARE in fact orthodox women rabbis- one lives in my neighborhood and goes to my shul…

    What has gone unnoticed (since it’s a positive development for Orthodoxy, which of course you wouldn’t want to dwell on) is that at this stage the RCA has effectively OK’ed the Maharat school and therefore the highest possible level of women’s education (which is no small matter for a movement that have many on the right that would disagree with this). Not to mention that the RCA is pleased with Avi Weiss in any capacity, a man who’s YCT is bringing out rabbis of the most neccessary sort that are still not (yet?) recognized by the RCA, which is a BIG deal.

    I also have to tell you (and I go to a shul where many revere Avi Weiss) that the vast majority of people around me were against the notion of Rabba. We are orthodox, which means that unlike other movements we are concerned with Halacha- if nothing else, change does not come easy. Maharat was done last year. Most people thought that changing the title (and critically, not the function) of Sara Hurwitz was just needlessly stepping over a line so soon after the Maharat school and the IRF. Only a small handful of people at my shul are actually upset by this at all. We’ll get where we need to get to. On our terms.


    Josh · March 7th, 2010 at 12:52 pm
  11. Ah, in fact she will remain a rabba. Please get your facts straight.
    hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/03/rca-and-r-avi-weiss-ii.html


    Josh · March 7th, 2010 at 12:59 pm
  12. @David A.M. Wilensky

    He’s already part of a new organization, the IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship). Many YCT grads are members.


    Yaakov · March 7th, 2010 at 3:07 pm
  13. @chillul or course you’re right! Sorry for confusing the two in my rush to post.

    @Yaakov. Great, so why bother futzing with the RCA at all?


    David A.M. Wilensky · March 7th, 2010 at 4:32 pm
  14. The fact that Hurwitz would rather make a point than actually serve a (reform) congregation shows that she does not have the heart of a rabbi or rabba


    Dave · March 7th, 2010 at 4:38 pm
  15. Dave, does that mean that all rabbis who work in yeshivas, rabbinical schools, non pulpit organizations don’t have “the heart of a rabbi or rabba?”


    Ruby K · March 7th, 2010 at 5:08 pm
  16. @David A.M. Wilensky

    There are a few things to consider. Though I am a member of the IRF and not a member of the RCA, so I’m probably a bit biased. Also, I have had no conversations about these specific issues with the parties involved, so I guess this is all the conjecture of a biased third party.

    That being said, I interpret as among R’ Weiss’s goals, the penetration of female rabbinic leadership into modern orthodox shuls aside from his own, regardless of their official titles. I know of only one other shul that has a woman in such a position (though there may be more of which I am simply unaware). The IRF is well and good, but for the time being it pales in comparison to the RCA in terms of resources, membership, and job placement. I don’t think anyone thought that a Rabbah would become a member of the RCA, but so long as R’ Weiss is a member and leader there, there is the potential for women who graduate the Maharat program to be hired in more mainstream Modern Orthodox shuls. If he’s out of the RCA, then only shuls who look solely to YCT and the IRF for rabbis will have any chance of hiring Maharat grads. That would have a terrible impact.

    We’re talking extremely small numbers here, but if he’s out of the RCA, maybe one or two more maharats will get jobs at shuls in the next few years. If he’s still in, maybe it will be three or four. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. I think that was his primary concern.

    But then I could be entirely off base.


    Yaakov · March 7th, 2010 at 6:22 pm
  17. Dave – she’s not reform. In fact, I’m willing to wager she would have nothing to offer a reform congregation and that the congregation would have no reason to take her. She’s Orthodox. That’s her religious outlook and her community. She’s not making a point, she’s just trying to do her job, which is be an Orthodox rabbi.


    Amit · March 7th, 2010 at 6:30 pm
  18. יהא שמה רבה מבורך


    Meir Eynaim · March 7th, 2010 at 6:35 pm
  19. When you say ‘she’s not reform’ you’re comparing the branches of Judaism to the various forms of Xianity. There are lots of rabbis of reform congregations who received their rabbinical training at non-reform institutions.

    And I’m sure there are small reform congregations in out of the way places who would love to have her as their rabbi.


    Dave · March 7th, 2010 at 8:44 pm
  20. “There are lots of rabbis of reform congregations who received their rabbinical training at non-reform institutions.”

    define lots…


    Justin · March 7th, 2010 at 9:41 pm
  21. @Justin:
    1. Check the link on “Scotsman’s fallacy” for why Rabbi Carlebach “wouldn’t count” (by the way, “Reb” is a yiddish term for “Mr.” so using it for a rabbi is not an honorific term for “Rabbi.” When used by the rabbi about himself, it’s him being modest).

    2. “also want to point out that if a rabbi is a teacher of the mesora, well, there was at least one woman in 16th c. Baghdad who taught Torah, Midrash and Talmud. So, yeah…”

    Yes, and she isn’t the only one, but none of them are Orthodox, which is a modern movement formed in reaction to the Reform. Jews that practiced Judaism prior to the Reform movement weren’t Orthodox, and the Judaism they practiced may have *looked* somewhat like Orthodoxy, but its underpinnings were very different theoretically and practically.


    KRG · March 7th, 2010 at 10:25 pm
  22. KRG writes:
    Actually, now that I think about it, this whole discussion (on the part of the Orthodox anyway) is a version of the Scotsman’s argument.

    Right, that’s what I was trying to say.


    BZ · March 7th, 2010 at 11:40 pm
  23. Dave-
    She’s not looking for a job. She already has one.


    BZ · March 7th, 2010 at 11:46 pm
  24. @Dave

    She couldn’t take a pulpit at a Reform synagogue–she’s an Orthodox Jew, and therefore will not be a prayerleader for (at the very least) the statutory Shaharit, Minha, and Ma’ariv prayers (Kabbalat Shabbat and Torah reading may be another story). Moreover she will not pray a reform liturgy, or accept an egalitarian minyan. For these reasons alone she could not possibly be a good fit at a Reform Temple, even a ‘small one.’


    Jacob · March 8th, 2010 at 6:22 pm
  25. Let alone longstanding opinions that Orthodox Jews should not lead services in places that lack a mechitzah, not to mention the question of liturgy (or full keriah!). Rav Soleveitchik says that if you’re in Rosh Hashanah and the only place to hear shofar is to go to a non Orthodox minyan to hear it, stay home. How is this a serious discussion?


    Josh · March 8th, 2010 at 7:02 pm
  26. sorry, i meant if you’re in a town for RH that has no Orthodox minyan…


    Josh · March 8th, 2010 at 7:03 pm
  27. “Of course, it wouldn’t be Jewschool if your post wasn’t factually wrong.”
    “(since it’s a positive development for Orthodoxy, which of course you wouldn’t want to dwell on)”
    “We are orthodox, which means that unlike other movements we are concerned with Halacha”

    The face of “Open” Orthodoxy, people!


    B.BarNavi · March 8th, 2010 at 7:25 pm
  28. “Let alone longstanding opinions that Orthodox Jews should not lead services in places that lack a mechitzah”

    How long standing? Surely not before 1967, when the mechitza was erected at the Kotel.


    B.BarNavi · March 8th, 2010 at 7:29 pm
  29. Furthermore, plenty of Orthodox synagogues don’t have a mechitzah. (They also don’t have women.)


    BZ · March 8th, 2010 at 8:04 pm
  30. [...] number of people, including one Jewschool commenter have asked, “If the orthodox world won’t fully accept her and other women as rabbis, why [...]


    Why the Rabba isn’t Reform | Jewschool · March 8th, 2010 at 9:11 pm
  31. Hah, nice BZ :) So sad, though… I used to go to a minyan in town that I loved, but I brought my wife, she wasn’t comfortable with the way the mechitza was set up,… and haven’t been back there since. Ah well…

    In terms of Mechitza, this is a nonissue in this generation of Orthodox Jews. The opinions of Rabbis Soleveitchik and Feinstein are basically viewed as, well, gospel.


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 12:23 am
  32. @Josh: OTOH, some of the more liberal opinions of R’s Feinstein and Soloveitchik are now beinbg treated as though they didn’t say -”couldn’t have said” such things because they are too liberal. This is part of the rightward movement of Orthodoxy -Feinstein on milk is one example (albeit a sort of silly one)


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · March 9th, 2010 at 9:00 am
  33. Hi KRG,
    On RYBS, I completely agree, though it’s partly his fault because he wrote nothing down – on purpose. For RMF, I don’t know. Around where I am, for instance, everyone recognizes that RMF was OK if unhappy with not keeping cholov yisrael. At the same time, everyone knows that the Rav was totally OK with it without reservations, so in MO communities around me it’s kind of a nonissue.
    The thing is that RMF wrote it down, so it’s not so easy to corrupt what he said (I’ve heard people talking about disregarding the last volume of igros moshe, but that’s about it).

    Do you have any examples of RMF being ignored? At the same time, ignoring someone isn’t the same as recognizing his position and not holding that way…


    Josh · March 9th, 2010 at 4:33 pm

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