On Ordaining Orthodox Women Rabbis

The Jerusalem Post has a long article up now about the issue of women receiving Orthodox smicha.

According to the administration of the rabbinic courts in Jerusalem, 68 women since 1993 have been authorized by the state as rabbinic court advocates, all of whom studied at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, a center of Jewish studies for women.
“The knowledge one requires to become a court advocate is more than a regular ordination, and now to pass certification is much more difficult than to get ordination,” admits Strikovski.

Full article here.

33 thoughts on “On Ordaining Orthodox Women Rabbis

  1. It’s about time people started paying attention to this. If Orthodox rabbis want to discriminate against women, they should just come out and say it – it’s not like anyone believes this “separate but equal” business any more, so don’t pretend there’s some intrinsic reason why a qualified woman can’t be a rabbi too. Heck, look at all of the men who get to be rabbis despite being socially and empathically unsuited for the job – maybe we need to be more selective about the men, not the women.

  2. Abie, there in fact several intrinsic reason why a woman, no matter how much she knows can’t be a rabbi, and it has nothing to do with All orthodox rabbis discriminating against women.

  3. Despite the length of the article, I felt it went a long way around several of those issues. It glanced over all the “in-the-shul” issues, and focused mostly on education.
    I think that focusing on both education and shul, and figuring out where Rabbi as teacher meets Rabbi as congregation leader, would be a more constructive dialogue for everyone.

  4. abie,
    you have no idea how many more women everyday are realizing that the sexes are “separate but equal”.

  5. Fun fact from outer space: american feminism grew out of protestant evangelical christianity’s sexual dichotomies. Women horrified their husbands during a revival, not with a heretical bible reading, but with the fact that they were reading [the bible]. The women in turn got pissed and their response grew within a generation to the struggle for suffrage. It diodn’t come from some outside source (socialists of that era were generally soundly patriarchal) but from everyday honest frustration at stupid policies that confound even the loyal.
    Advice to any people desperately trying to keep their hos in their (five thousand year old) place: watch out rebbe, women are a bitch.

  6. Because they don’t have beards.
    Because the men just don’t like it.
    Because the men will be so overcome by lust that they’ll lose all control.

  7. My Muslim friends tell me that a woman led prayers and read from the Koran yesterday in a New York mosque. The arguments against it were about the same.

  8. Re: “intrinsic reasons” – I think the original poster meant reasons intrinsic to the structure of Halacha, not reasons intrinsic to womanhood. I know people just love to sound off about “those rabbis” – but the system limits even the ability of the rabbis to change some things.
    One big example relevant to the issue of female rabbis: One who is not obligated to perform a mitzvah it limited in their ability to help another who is obligated in fulfilling the mitzvah.
    Since women are exempt from many Torah commandments, they would be unable to sit in judgement over men who are obligated by these commandments – at least not in cases involving mitzvot to which women themselves are not obligated.

  9. abie: You make some serious allegations:
    If Orthodox rabbis want to discriminate against women, they should just come out and say it – it’s not like anyone believes this “separate but equal” business any more . . .
    First off, as opposed to asking others to explain why Othodox Rabbis are not sexist, maybe you can offer an explanation as to why they are.
    Now my two cents. Judaism does not see women as inferior. In fact Judaism is the first religion to actually provide women’s rights. The Ketubah is the oldest known document that addresses and assures the rights of a woman.
    I recently took a course at the Jewish Learning Institute (www.myjli.com) called ‘Men, Women and Kabbala’ and in one of the courses this topic was discussed.
    Men and women have two different roles. This is plainly evident from the fact that the male and female are two biologicaly unique creatures. Furthermore research has shown that the male and female minds work differently. For example females tend to do better at numerical mathematical problems while males tend to be better at theoretical mathematical equations.
    Women are not permitted to play in the NBA, is that because they are inferior? No, this is not their thing. They have other things.
    Are you aware that Judaism considers the woman to be of a greater spiritual level that man? In fact many mitzvot obligated to man are not obligated to women simply because women are already at the spiritual level attained by man through these particular mitzvot?
    A woman performing these mitzvot is basicaly tantamount to sitting face to face with a king and calling him on your cell phone.
    Abie, you are angry but are you informed? Speak from your brain – not your misinformed emotions and you migh learn something enlightening.

  10. Fundamentaly the article is wrong as Ms. Feldinger says “At the debate’s core is the question: does Jewish law sanction women obtaining the same level of knowledge as rabbis, and if so, why would it dispute ordination?”
    I dont think the debate is about the education of women it is about women being rabbis – very different.
    I also find it interesting that all Orthodox Rabbi’s condoning this are ‘anonymous’ or behind closed doors. I would add ‘non-existent’ to that list.
    It reminds me of an article in Haddasa interviewing a Gay Orthodox Rabbi. Yo no comprende

  11. This discussion reminds me why I am not Orthodox. Normally, I look to the Orthodox for guidance. Women are sufficiently underrepresented as Rabbis in Conservative synagogues. I don’t need to hear crap like, “Women are not permitted to play in the NBA, is that because they are inferior? No, this is not their thing. They have other things.” As if that were remotely similar to being a Rabbi. Women do have a hard time providing guidance/judgment to men, but men have a hard time providing guidance/judgment to women. Synagogues and congregations are for men and women, and most of the arguments here suggest atleast a male focus, if not an outright male bias. That’s sad.

  12. Yisrael,
    I have to say that I agree with you, the Basketball analogy I used is stupid.
    If your concern is that women don’t have someone who can properly guide them, as Rabbis are men, you have never been introduced to a Rebetzin.
    I frequent a Chabad and the Rebbetzin runs most of the show. She delivers countless classes (not just on baking challah) and does provide counseling for the women.
    Often times, if not every week the women outnumber the men at services. (I think this is because women are more prone to spirituality than men, and Chabad presents a spiritual, as well as basic Jewish experience)
    To provide guidance and advice you dont have to be a Rabbi.
    To me this entire argument is really bull sh*t. It is all about symantecs. It is all about the title Rabbi. The reality is that a woman can and often does perform many responsibilities of a Rabbi.
    A good topic for discussion is the priests in the temple, why didnt women perform. (there are plenty of reasons but this would be a more logical topic)

  13. Merliner, you realize that your statement that: “Men and women have two different roles. This is plainly evident from the fact that the male and female are two biologicaly unique creatures,” contains statements that do not really follow from one another, and has been used to justify all kinds of terrible injustices.
    Let’s take your statement that men and women are “biologically unique” (you mean distinct) creatures. Why does it necessarily follow that they have different roles? Do all people who are biologically distinct from one another have different roles? How do we determine what biological characteristics map onto specific roles? So, if we say that members of race X are distinct from race Y, should only members of race X be allowed to work as nuclear physicists and race Y as sanitation workers?

  14. Habibi my friend, you miss the point and apparently didn’t read evrything I wrote. Aside from being biologically distinct (thanks for the correction you can see that I am trying) Males and Females also have different brain functions. Not better not worse just different. As you can read in my earlier post. (The source for this reserach is http://www.sciam.com/article.c
    Of course this information must not and in my view does not give a green light to sexism etc.
    In order to live a healthy and productive life it is important to know who you are. To think that men and women are the same is stupid. We are different physically, emotionally and spiritually. Identifying with who we (he or she) are is a pre-requisite to having this debate. Because if we see Men and Women as the same being with some minor sexual variations, you are bound to be offended by the injustice directed at ‘people with boobs and ovaries’ who cannot be Rabbis!
    So my point is that there is a trancendent reality which must be reckoned with while approaching this subject.

  15. Yisrael,
    You are right Deborah was a judge AND a prophetess! Which makes my point in an earlier post that just because they can’t take on a particular title does not preclude them from taking on active leadership roles in Judaism.

  16. WHAT ABOUT HERMAPHRODITES? They are neither men, nor women. Would’nt that make them the best Rabbi’s?

  17. Also, what don’t you comprehende about Gay Rabbis. THERE ARE GAY ORTHODOX JEWS AND SOME OF THEM ARE RABBIS. THere happens to be one who is Out, but for ever person out of the closet, you can expect there to be many more in the closet.
    Also, I’d like you to think about that Orthodox Aunt, Sister, Uncle, Cousin, Nephew who never got married. Just a thought….

  18. Merliner, I actually agree that men and women are different, and consequently, men may be better suited on average for certain work. However, most work can be done by either men or women and it is rare that no women can do any given job. The responsibility of a Rabbi can generally be fulfilled by a woman. Can you point to any one job function of a Rabbi that no woman could fulfill?

  19. Merliner – you are right, of course, men and women are different in all sorts of ways. Like Yisrael, however, I don’t think that these differences would prevent women from being good rabbis.

  20. Women are not permitted to play in the NBA, is that because they are inferior? No, this is not their thing. They have other things.
    Actually, when it comes to the NBA, women are inferior. The best woman basketball player (Chamique Holdsclaw?) would not last in the NBA. She is not strong enough or quick enough. That’s not misogyny, that’s reality. Not really sure what I am trying to say here, just thought it was interesting that Merliner drew a very wrong conclusion from a very real fact.
    Nor do I have any idea what “good Rabbis” means either. A reform or conservative rabbi serves different purposes in their respective communities than does an Ortho one. Note Yisrael’s earnest but naive post. Gotta get that boy out of Iowa and drop him in Boro Park for a couple weeks. There’s a big Jewish world outside of the reform and conservative movements. Regardless, the issues dealing with not allowing women to be Rabbis in Orthodoxy are not due to issues of “good/bad.” It’s interesting to watch folks talk right past each other when the conversation is clearly on different planes and each side is operating from a different frame of reference. And while I am at it, why do people on the internet always assume they are experts? Merliner, a little less internet kabbalah and a little more gemarrah please. Is there a real bocher in the house?
    Layla tov.

  21. Gotta agree with an earlier poster: it’s about status, not anything real. Ninety percent of such articles in the Jewish media are driven by some mix of 2 basic motives:
    1) Non-ortho Jews attempting to justify their position, and confirm the backwardness of Orthodoxy.
    2) Misapplication of feminist theory to interpret all gender differences as issues of power and status.
    Sorry folks, if a MAN would sue to be a Rabbi/lead the services because of “status” concerns – we all would sense that something wrong, that the purpose of public prayer is not about power and status. But many of the feminist/egalitarian arguments against Halachic Judaism make this mistake, applying a totally inappropriate yardstick to what should be a religious path of humility and service. We are talking about a system where everyone – including men – is supposed to concern themselves with things other than seeking their own recognition/advancement . It’s a system that defines humans by their obligations more than by their rights – and defines success as transcendence of self, for men AND women. The feminist tendency to everything as a power play is simply irrelevant to such a community.
    There is no longer any issue of women’s education – Orthodox institutions in Israel and elsewhere teach women Talmud and any other branches of Jewish thought, depending on a woman’s interest and intellectual abilities.
    There is no issue of women being “kept in their place” – even in the most Haredi circles, women are part of the workforce, are getting professional training. And yes, they wield more power socially because of it.
    Any woman who truly wants to counsel or educate their fellow Jews – without being hung up on status or titles – has ample venues to do so.
    But non-Orthos prefer to maintain a blind spot about O’s because it is convenient for them to paint them as primitives.
    I have met women who sincerely want to serve G-d with the full extent of their intellects and abilities. Every such woman I have met has, over time, distanced herself from the axe-grinding blowhards. These women, instead of writing broadsides about how BAD those Rabbis are, actually attend the Talmud classes, toil in obscurity to become knowledgable in Halacha and work in the court system. They are the ones who press for, and participate in, Halachically structured women’s prayer groups. They are bringing about the real, lasting change, and building the future, within the reality of a multifaceted Orthodoxy. Their sincere desire to serve G-d will change Judaism for the better – and will stand long after the politically correct blowards and their externalized agendas have vanished from the Jewish scene.

  22. Ben-David, I dont agree with everything you say but you make some excellent points.
    Sausage, you are right, this discussion is all over the place and no-one is really on the same page.
    You have to be kidding me: “There are Orthodox Gay Rabbis” is ludacris, Moment and Haddasa magazines love a story of some Ortho who comes out of the closet. They may be people who received ordination. They do not have congregations, folowers and generaly are considered heretics for living one life and claiming to preace a life of Torah
    Peace and Love

  23. I did’nt say that they were living by HALACHA. I said they were gay. I also did’nt say that gay rabbi’s were out of the closet. I just suggested that becuase gay people exist in the Orthodox Jewish Community, just like there are other orthodox people who break halacha living in the orthodox world, that maybe, just maybe, there are Gay Rabbi’s out there. You might not know they are gay, but that doesn’t make them any less gay.

  24. ok, so what’s in a title? status? yes, but it’s also closely tied to respect. ok, so if a woman who sincerely wants to serve G-d could do so without a title. but why shouldn’t she command the same respect if she’s fulfilling the same responsibilities? do her decisions not carry the same weight as those of a (man) rabbi?

  25. Vee: Are you familiar with Rebbetzin Jungreis, one of the most sought after speakers in the Orthodox world? She is no less respected than any other Rabbi. How about Rivkah Slonim, she does the speaking circuit too and fills up Orthodox Shuls and Chabad houses around the world? The list goes on.
    So basically you are mistaken.
    (By the way, Orthodox Rabbis I have seen dont get too much respect – but that is not necessarily a good thing)

  26. On a side note, is this a cyclical issue? ie does it only get real media air time around Purim? Just wondering because the Boston Jewish Advocate has a front page article this week as well.

  27. It is unfortunate to see a fundamentally religious discussion using such terms as “discrimination” and scientific or biological terms. It is a very complicated issue, why the sexes were created as they were, but it mostly has do with the design of the world from its creation. Using secular yardsticks or terms will not be helpful in understanding these issues.
    The torah explains that women have a higher level of “binah” (understanding) than men. There is no pretense or desire of equality from the outset. Men need to cover their heads to remember that G-d is above them; women do not need such a reminder.
    The original humanoid creature, the Adom, was made both male and female, and then separated into male and female parts. A marriage is the (re)unity of these parts, with individual mitzvos of the man and woman helping both halves of this whole.
    With their higher level of understanding and intuition, women require less “fixing” than men. Woman are also exempt from all positive commandments that must be performed at a specific time.
    Is it “wrong” for a non-Jew to build a sukkah? Not really, but it is not “activated,” since this non-Jew is not participating in a relationship with G-d that he was commanded to. There are plenty of other paths for the other nations (we don’t really know what they are – that’s their business), but this will not be fulfilling what they are supposed to be doing, and so is something different altogether. Fulfilling the commandments that G-d specifically asked you to do is what is important – that’s the relationship.
    The fact that there are different roles that we all have (kohen, levi, yisroel, for example) has no bearing on our importance. Every Jew matters, and every Jew counts.
    Regarding the persistent question of Devorah the judge, I believe that she only judged in cases where the litigants agreed to accept her opinion in advance. This, however, is not something that is a useful precedent- a judge’s opinion must stand by virtue of his being a rabbi. This requires being bound by those many commandments that do not bind women, and so this is not really a good precedent.
    Women are obliged to study torah, to pray, and many, many other things. They can give counsel, advice, and help in many other ways in the community.
    The extent of one piece of a public role, as we might think of it from our contact with the secular world, should not be confused with worth, which women in Judaism have, unquestionably.

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