I have said this in the past and still strongly believe it. People who achieve proficiency in any area of study deserve to be recognized for it. Gender does not matter. Women who for example become experts in the field of theoretical physics via study, examination, and fulfilling all requirements of a Ph.D. are entitled to called Doctor – with all its rights and privileges. This is true of any field of study. Including Jewish study. But the title rabbi is more than about being recognized for that achievement. A woman cannot possibly be entitled to all the rights and privileges that a rabbi gets. Not to mention the Serara issue and the perception issues.
I have always maintained that achievement should be formally recognized. But the title rabbi (or its equivalent) is more than about recognition of achievement. I’m sure that the three graduates of Yeshivat Maharat know more than some of my fellow musmachim (ordained rabbis). But this isn’t about knowledge. It is about breaking with tradition.
Tradition is not the only concern. There are also collateral issues that should not be over-looked. It is a rather well known phenomenon that women have become a dominant factor in Conservative shuls. If I am not mistaken Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, JTS has more women currently studying for the rabbinate than they do men. And Shuls are increasingly being attended by more women than men.
This is not a good result. It’s one thing to want to attract more women to Shul. Even though a Shul is primarily designed for men to pray with a Minyan, there are definitely spiritual benefits for women praying there too. But when equality becomes the goal it seems that there is a natural disinclination for men to be there. That undermines the very equality that is so sought after by feminists.
I don’t know if the proliferation of the maharat will do the same to left wing Orthodoxy, the natural home of the maharat. But it should certainly be a concern.
That said, I definitely think there is a place for Jewish women that are highly educated in Judaism. They can – and already do – serve the Jewish community as teachers, principals, counselors and even as Halachic consultants (yoatzot). The more they know Jewishly, the better. And as I said they deserve recognition for it. But not as rabbi.
Even though I have much admiration for him, I disagree with Rabbi Asher Lopatin who was quoted in the Forward article. He said that a “maharat” is no different than a “rebbetzin” other than the fact that a maharat has more formal and professional training. Yes they have more of that. And they can function in the way a rebbetzin has always functioned. But to grant them the title of rabbi or any other version of that appellation makes it an entirely different enterprise than that of rebbetzin. And in my view opens a Pandora’s box that may never be able to be closed again.
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