February 13, 2018: Ban on women as rabbis

Our readers weigh in.

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ban on women as rabbis
Rabbi Gil Student’s “Orthodox Union to enforce ban on women rabbis” (Comment & Features, February 11) is an exercise in muddled thinking, misdirection and both spurious and specious statements.
Rabbi Student writes: “Four years after the 2010 resolution, as Yeshivat Maharat celebrated its first graduation, the RCA reiterated its position and expressed regret over this ‘violation of our mesorah [tradition].’” Saying “our mesorah” is an excuse one uses when no halachic objection can be found. Jewish legal text makes it abundantly clear by saying that “we have not seen this is not a defense.”
Rabbi Student goes on to tell us of a resolution he sponsored in 2015 against women rabbis.
“This was necessary because matters of Jewish law that affect the community need to be decided by experts, not journalists or activists.”
This statement is a cheap shot, with little valence or integrity. Anyone who has earned the title of rabbi is an expert. While we rabbis are not experts in all things, our smicha (ordination) specifically gives us the right to give rulings for our communities.
Saying that the Rabbinical Council of America consulted with expert rabbis is a worthless statement, at best misleading. Those expert rabbis, so-called gadolim, are just one coterie of rabbis. In our religion, we worship sacred text, not latter-day saintly rabbis. When we worship and quote so-called gadolim, we are guilty of the worst sort of gadolitry.
A few minutes before I read Rabbi Gil Student’s piece, I watched on Whatsapp as my daughter and granddaughters practiced the Torah reading of Parashat Shekalim. As I saw the fruits of their many hours of preparation, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to God for all the blessings He has showered on the Jewish people in the past 70 years.
I, an Orthodox Jewish woman living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, experience the joy and beauty of these dreamscome- true each day. Among these wonders is the opportunity for women to participate more fully, in accordance with halachic tradition, in Jewish communal life. So I was shocked and saddened to read Rabbi Student’s defense of the OU’s decision, for it totally ignores differing halachic positions among other modern Orthodox rabbis that encourage women to devote themselves to Torah study in order to serve the Jewish people.
This decision seems to be the beginning of a new da’at Torah – the claim that there is only one valid and acceptable Orthodox halachic position. But that is not our tradition – we never had a pope! “Orthodox” Jews of differing opinions dwelled together within the broad tent of variant “Judaisms,” aware that Jewish law progresses.
In response to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Rabbi Yohanan introduced numerous changes in Jewish observance, as did the Ari HaKodesh after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. The Talmudic sages recorded (and did not suppress) minority opinions in order that later generations might utilize them, as halachic poskim (arbiters) have done throughout the centuries in response to the changing situation of the Jewish people.
I was especially disturbed when Rabbi Student wrote that “we as a community need to allow [women] room to find their paths while avoiding the temptation of adopting secular values of gender neutrality.” I was reminded of the struggle for civil rights in the US against the racist slogan of “separate but equal.” We supported “race neutrality,” well aware that black skin remains black, just as the call for “gender neutrality” in our struggle for women’s rights along with other human rights is cognizant of the biological differences between men and women! Orthodox Jewish women seek such gender neutrality within the existing halachic parameters in accordance with the basic principle of kavod haberiyot, the rights and dignity of every individual human being.
As the wife of a respected Orthodox rabbi and mother of 10 sons and daughters, I believe that the aspirations of Orthodox Jewish women to enhance their commitment to Torah and the Jewish people through greater participation in the synagogue service, Jewish scholarship and communal leadership can only strengthen the role that Jewish women have traditionally played in the perpetuation and safeguarding of Jewish ideals.
Rabbi Gil Student’s propaganda piece for the RCA is both self-serving and deceptive. While indeed, it is a tradition to turn to our rabbis for halachic decisions, the dictum in the Mishneh is asei lekha rav (i.e., designate a rabbi for yourself, in the singular).
I am neither a feminist nor an advocate for female rabbis. In fact, I often suspect the motives of such women as being more ego than spirit (ditto for male rabbis). Having said this, Rabbi Avi Weiss has every right to make decisions of this nature without needing the rubber-stamp of any rabbinical body. The moment he was ordained, he was sanctioned with the right to be a mara d’atra (local decisor) of any community that chose him for that role.
More significantly, Rabbi Weiss was not chosen by a community to be its leader. He created a community from scratch, now numbering some 800 families. Without his initiative, charisma, creativity and effort, most of these families would today be lost to Judaism, as they were when he found them. In this he has achieved more, to the best of my knowledge, than any other member of the RCA and thus has a lot more to teach them than they have to teach him about connecting to people and building the Jewish future.
Whether or not female rabbis are the way to go should be up to each individual community rabbi because it is they, historically, who have had the connectivity to real life needed for making wise decisions in the first place. By contrast, all a committee is able to achieve is turn a horse into a camel, if not kill the horse altogether.
Missing the music
Dvora Waysman evoked wonderful nostalgia with “Missing the music” (Arts & Entertainment, February 8).
Some other names that brought instant recognition, from the very first bar of music played, were Vera Lynn, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard.... The list is endless and remains firmly in our memories – singing and dancing to these wonderful artists.
When Tony Bennett performed in Tel Aviv, the audience consisted not only of octogenarians, but younger people – all reveling in his show! Thank you for bringing a smile to my face and a song to my heart! JOY COLLINS Bnei Dror I think and feel like Ms. Waysman about music and its shaping importance. Yet the great names she mentions are American.
What is there now to compare to Carlos Gardel (Argentina); Félix Leclerc (Canada); Charles Aznavour, Juliette Grecco, Yves Montand and Edith Piaf (France); Maria Farandouri and Melina Mercouri (Greece); and Amália Rodrigues (Portugal)? They sang in a cathedral-like silence. We in the audience had goosebumps.
We stopped breathing and had tears in our eyes.
At today’s show-concerts in sports-stadiums, with audiences of 40,000, there is joy, frenzy and dancing. But there is rarely somebody crying, overwhelmed by the beauty of the music, the voice and deep emotion.