web analytics
August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



The Incredibly Shrinking Rabbinate

Front-Page-080913

Yet neither social movement should have had any resonance among religious Jews. Despite the persistent claims of Jewish feminists, Judaism has never perceived itself as a “patriarchy.” We have patriarchs and matriarchs, equally venerated. Jewish identity is transmitted through the mother, not the father. Jewish women frequently worked outside the home, were often the breadwinners, and never suffered the legal disabilities that in other societies limited a woman’s capacity to own property or accumulate wealth. And the very essence of Judaism is the surrender to God’s authority, by assuming the yoke of Torah obligations as conveyed to us through the written and oral law. Traditional Jews revere authority even as modern men (and women) revile it.

To be sure, Jewish law assigns different modes of worship to men and women, as it does to Kohanim, Leviim, and Yisraelim. It even distinguishes between men and women when it comes to the observance of certain mitzvot – although, by far, just a small minority of mitzvot.

The toxic brew of feminism and anti-authoritarianism has caused some women to chafe under these designated roles. This discontent is engendered by the egalitarian obsession of feminism – that men and women are equal, therefore identical, and any distinctions inherently invalid, if not also repugnant – and by the rejection of any objective authority, of the “no one can tell me what I can or can’t do” variety. Both are misplaced, to say the least, as any organization or system can only survive if defined roles are allocated and those roles are carried out faithfully by participants. Obviously, the military could not function if every soldier did as he wished on the battlefield. It is the cohesion of disparate elements that allows the machinery of organization to thrive.

The Reform ordination of Sally Priesand was understandable in the sense that the movement never claimed to adhere to Jewish law and, almost by definition, sought to reform it until it conformed to “modern” values. By the late 1960s, the twin rebellions of feminism and anti-authoritarianism had captured the liberal imagination. It is hard to attribute the reason for the almost four-decade hiatus between the ordinations of Rabbis Jonas and Priesand to anything but sexism. Certainly the Torah was no obstacle in Reform circles. However, it remained absolutely clear to the Torah world, and to the Conservative movement that claimed a nominal fidelity to Jewish law, that ordination of women was impossible.

And then in 1985 the Conservative movement ordained Amy Eilberg as its first female rabbi. Conveniently, the Jewish Theological Seminary waited for its primary scholar, Rabbi Saul Lieberman, to die (1983), as he had adamantly opposed women’s ordination and considered it a nullity. Eilberg’s ordination was the culmination of a series of proclamations – all influenced by the twin cultural forces rampant in American life – that had rejected Jewish law and equalized the role of men and women in worship. Thus, beginning in the 1970s and unfolding in short order, women were first counted in a minyan, first allowed to receive aliyot, first allowed to lead the tefillot and finally allowed to function as rabbis. (More recently, in 2004, women were also allowed to serve as legal witnesses, completing the break with Jewish tradition.)

* * * * *

In the decades since women have begun to serve in the non-Orthodox rabbinate, male attendance at services has declined precipitously and the non-Orthodox rabbinical seminaries have become majority female. But at least those presumably faithful to Torah, its values and traditions, stood firm against this onslaught.

That changed as well in the first decade of the 21st century with the ordination of the first woman, followed most recently by three others. Such was possible not only because of the utter conquest of the left wing of Orthodoxy (by now, neo-Conservatism) by its masters, feminism and anti-authoritarianism, but also by the redefinition of the rabbinate.

Without shrinking the rabbinate and the role of the rabbi – without accentuating certain functions of the rabbinate and minimizing others – such a redefinition would be impossible, or at the very least it would not be possible for its champions to claim with a straight face that they were being faithful to Torah.

About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

4 Responses to “The Incredibly Shrinking Rabbinate”

  1. Ch Hoffman says:

    It's a matter of Jewish honor:
    We send girls to day schools; we send them to Jewish high schools; they then go on to schools in Israel or continue their education well into and past the college level.

    They become versed in Jewish Law; they understand halacha; they can trace the development of complex legal issues through 1500 years of layers of decisions and interpretations. They master the texts to a degree that their male counterparts can't even conceive of because they've trained themselves to think in Hebrew rather than in "yeshivish". And they write and do original work to a degree at least equal to their male counterparts.

    And then, the orthodox community tells them – go to the secular world for recognition – get a PhD or a Doc of Heb Letters; but we – the rabbinic establishment – can do nothing to acknowledge your expertise and accomplishments.

    Why? Tradition!
    Tradition?
    Yep; your bubba couldn't do it so you can't.

    That's the only reason left.

  2. Ch Hoffman says:

    It's a matter of Jewish honor:
    We send girls to day schools; we send them to Jewish high schools; they then go on to schools in Israel or continue their education well into and past the college level.

    They become versed in Jewish Law; they understand halacha; they can trace the development of complex legal issues through 1500 years of layers of decisions and interpretations. They master the texts to a degree that their male counterparts can't even conceive of because they've trained themselves to think in Hebrew rather than in "yeshivish". And they write and do original work to a degree at least equal to their male counterparts.

    And then, the orthodox community tells them – go to the secular world for recognition – get a PhD or a Doc of Heb Letters; but we – the rabbinic establishment – can do nothing to acknowledge your expertise and accomplishments.

    Why? Tradition!
    Tradition?
    Yep; your bubba couldn't do it so you can't.

    That's the only reason left.

  3. Well, truthfully, what you have described is a level of learning expected of every intelligent Jew. That does not make someone a rabbi. "Recognition" is not a spiritual goal to be desired at all – so why is there a need for it? Halacha 'recognizes' the merit of learned people, but that does not appoint them as rabbis. When a person comes and says: can you recognize my spiritual accomplishment? – we can answer:
    A. I am not G-d, so what difference does my recognition make?
    B. If you wish honor and respect – a doubtful request in itself – by all means.
    C. If you wish an appoinment as rabbi then I doubt your study has much to do with spirituality.

    Or…. I could say to you as the wizard of Oz said to the scarecrow….

  4. Charlie Hall says:

    David Ben Meir

    Neither you nor Rabbi Pruzansky have addressed the basic question: What does halachah say about women being rabbis? The problem for Rabbi Pruzansky is that there isn't any real source that prohibits it. The gemara itself contains examples of women fulfilling the role of what we now call a Yoetzet Halachah, and there were of course female prophets, a female judge (Devorah) and a female Tanna (Beruriah).

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS in Quneitra
Updates from Kuneitra, Syria [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

TorahScroll AoT17

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

Troodler-082914

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

Eisenstock-082914

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

We risk our lives to help those who do what they can to kill to our people .

Twain grasped amazingly well the pulse of the Jewish people.

The entertainment industry appears divided about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

More Articles from Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Rolling out the Red Carpet for the Pope's visit to Israel.

There is a certain unwordliness to the pope’s call for a two-state solution, an obliviousness to the reality on the ground.

A modern-day Jewish warrior in the tradition of Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David.

One can’t only take; one must give as well. Giving – not taking – is the essence of the righteous person.

Much of what we know about 19th century Orthodoxy is false, including the provenance of the term Orthodox.

A president who today used the language of FDR or JFK would be derided. If he were a candidate, the media elites would bury his chances of winning the election. He would be a laughing stock to the aimless young people whose uninformed opinions on public affairs seem to matter more than they should.

With the constant drumbeat of articles about “Orthodox” female rabbis appearing in the media almost weekly – essentially the same articles making the same points to the same eager audience, all to make the phenomenon of such “rabbis” seem commonplace – it is important to take a step back and examine how we arrived at this destination.

The Wall Street Journal last month featured a front-page article titled “After These Jewish Prayer Services, Things Come ‘To Life’ at Open Bar,” with the sub-heading, “To Woo Worshippers, Synagogues Compete with Food and Booze.”

In the wake of the presidential election, American Jews must once again ask a fundamental question that seems to defy both societal trends and a clear resolution: why do Jews overwhelmingly support the Democratic candidate, year after year, election after election?

The notion of the “Reagan Democrat” is one cliché that should be permanently retired.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/the-incredibly-shrinking-rabbinate/2013/08/07/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: