When the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) passed a resolution a little more than a week ago, in a very close vote, to ban the hiring of women in clergy positions struck a raw nerve. The actual resolution reads: “RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution, or allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution.”
It is not surprising that the RCA is taking such a hard line. The new resolution closely resembles the resolution they passed in 2010 following the ordination of Rabba Sarah Hurwitz in 2009. Hurwitz was ordained at Yeshivat Maharat, the seminary that was founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss to train women in community leadership roles; including women clergy. To date, 11 women have been ordained by the seminary and 22 women are currently studying in the rabbinical track.
There is a seminary in Jerusalem, founded by Rabbi Shlomo Rishkin that also ordains Orthodox women. Rishkin’s synagogue in Efrat recently hired an American/Israeli woman to co-officiate. The idea of women fulfilling what was traditionally a male role is gaining wider acceptance.
But, many modern Orthodox leaders (male leaders) fear that this will cause a split in Orthodoxy between hardline traditionalists and the new grass roots reformists. These leaders believed that they needed to draw a line in the sand. Hence the RCA resolution.
This resolution, was against more than just the ordination of women as clergy members, it was a vote against Weiss’s open Orthodoxy movement with its’ increased leadership roles for women and the partnership minyans that allow women to lead sections of services and to have aliyot and leyn Torah.
I have been very pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the resolution. There have been so many Orthodox and non-Orthodox, clergy, institutions, and organizations that have rallied together to condemn the resolution. Women rabbis from across the religious divide have expressed their support of their Orthodox sisters. There have been internet petitions and numerous opinion pieces in American and Israeli publications.
In an Op Ed in Monday’s Haaretz, Raba Sarah Hurwitz, the dean of Yeshivat Maharat and rabbinical staff at the Bayit - Hebrew Institute of Riverdale said, “The story of Orthodox women in our clergy today has already been written. Trying to write us out of the narrative is no longer an option.”
So, why does this matter to me?
I have been a professional leader, lay leader and Jewish educator in the Conservative/Masorti movement and my ideology has been firmly in that camp. But my movement is moving leftward at a time when my Jewish journey is leading me to greater observance. Finding my place in Judaism has been difficult. I am a feminist activist and fully egalitarian and Orthodoxy was not an option for me; at least, not before I made aliyah.
My experiences davening with Women of the Wall, a pluralistic women’s prayer group that has been praying at the Kotel for 27 years (our anniversary is rapidly approaching); and in davening with partnership minyans in Jerusalem and Beer Sheva have showed me that Feminism and Orthodoxy are not mutually exclusive. There is another path opened to me.
The RCA hardline resolution wants to close that path and put modern Orthodoxy back on the road that leans sharply to the right. The same road that the Israeli religious establishment has been following for years. And this road only leads to divisiveness and strife.
If you believe in Jewish unity, in Klal Yisrael, then the RCA resolution should matter to you, too.