US rabbi leaves conversion court over women's role

RCA’s move to appoint mixed gender conversion commission came as the orthodox community is taking flak for abuses of aspiring converts by DC Rabbi Barry Freundel.

Tallit (prayer shawl) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Tallit (prayer shawl)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Rabbinical Council of America Executive Committee member Rabbi Steven Pruzansky stepped down as head of the rabbinical conversion court of Bergen County New Jersey last week in protest of an RCA decision to appoint a mixed gender commission to oversee the body’s conversion standards.
The RCA’s move came as the orthodox community is taking flak for abuses of aspiring converts by DC Rabbi Barry Freundel, who pushed the female aspirants into performing clerical work for him and spied on women immersing in the synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath. Following Freundel’s arrest, the RCA appointed a commission composed of six men and five women to look into standards and practices and recommend any necessary procedural reforms.
The move angered Pruzansky, a former Vice President of the body, who asserted in a blog post that the “system did not fail in DC; a person failed” and that the appointment of women to the commission is “bolstering the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical functions for women.”
Asking what role woman can play in reviewing the conversion process, Pruzansky asserted that such an overview is an exercise in “halacha [Jewish law], minhag [custom], psak [legal decisions]– a purely rabbinical role” that excludes women.
A body so composed, he accused, “will have to water down the standards” and “we will not be far from the old days of quickie conversions with little true commitment.”
Decrying the “agenda of feminists” and other groups critical of current conversion norms, Pruzansky said that critics of the orthodox rabbinate had “taken a sublime and pure moment and made it prurient and ugly.”
The RCA decision to push ahead with a mixed commission drew praise from orthodox feminists.