Lila Kagedan is the kind of person that should be a role model for all Jewish women. This may surprise many people since I am opposed to the ordination of women. And Maharat Kagedan’s notoriety is precisely for that - giving herself the title ‘rabbi’. She explains that even though she was not given that title upon her ordination, she was advised by her mentors that she may use it if it served a useful purpose. What was her useful purpose? In her own words - from a CNN article:
"I knew that I wanted my title to be the most accurate description of my training," Kagedan says. "I didn't want to walk into a room or a space and have there be any ambiguity of what it is that I was there to do. What my training was. What my skill set was."
This should put to rest any thoughts that the title Maharat or Rabba is any different from Rabbi. I therefore continue to challenge Yeshivat Maharat to dispense with these silly titles and call their graduates rabbis.
Just to be clear, this does not change my views. I remain opposed to it for the same reason all other mainstream Orthodox organizations are. To put it the way the RCA did:
It is "a violation of our mesorah [tradition]" and saying the school's decision to do so was "a path that contradicts the norms of our community."
So why am I so eager to call Rabbi Kagedan a role model? How can you not, after watching the video in the CNN article? Just look at her commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people. She wants to use her knowledge and ‘skill set’ for good. There is nothing fake or misleading about her desires. Her sincerity and commitment are palpable. Would that all of us would be as committed to serving Klal Yisroel as she is.
At the same time, I think she has taken the wrong path in trying to express that commitment. Especially since she says that her primary focus will be on teaching. You do not need to be a rabbi to teach Torah. The Chafetz Chaim famously did not get Semicha until near the end of his life. Long after he wrote his magun opus, the Mishna Berurah. There are not too many teachers greater than he was. Even today, there are many skilled and talented Machanchim teaching Torah that never bothered to get Semicha. Getting Semicha is not what makes you a great Torah teacher. This is true for both men and women.
To quote RCA Executive Director, Rabbi Mark Dratch:
…the (RCA) "encourages a diversity of [sanctioned] and communally appropriate opportunities for learned, committed women," but it does not accept the ordination or recognition of women as Orthodox rabbis.
The question remains, why the need to label herself as a rabbi if her primary focuss will be on teaching? Here is what she said:
"I hope to normalize women in leadership roles," she says. "When I look out at the community and I see ... young girls, I hope that they get a sense that anything is possible. That nothing is out of their reach. And that it might be a tremendous struggle and it might come with tremendous sadness and frustration but that if they want something badly enough it's their responsibility to create a mood where this can come about."
Once you read this, you realize that this part of her motivation is not in service to Judaism. It is in service to egalitarianism. It becomes even more apparent when she implies that misogyny is the reason for the opposition.
Rabbi Kagedan is wrong. It is not about misogyny. And anything is NOT possible in Judaism. A Yisroel cannot become a Levi or a Cohen no matter how much he tries to be. Wanting something badly enough is not a reason to seek it.
As I have said in the past, breaking with this tradition has not been accepted. It has been rejected by all of mainstream Orthodoxy all over the world. I do not see this changing, especially in the Charedi world – which comprises the largest and fastest growing segment of Orthodoxy. You can not marginalize so large a segment. What they say matters whether one agrees with them or not.
So no… change will not come about no matter what mood is created. No matter how many women are ordained. This is just a fact of life. If any Orthodox groups are marginalized it will be the ones which accept women as rabbis.
Rabbi Kagedan mostly has the best of intentions. I actually admire her resolve and commitment. But insisting on a title as a means of breaking yet another barrier for women will serve only to divide us further. How ironic it is when someone so sincere… someone so committed to Judaism and so eager to teach Torah is - by her actions - the one driving the wedge even further between the mainstream and the left.