web analytics
July 6, 2015 / 19 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


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 spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and author, most recently, of “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2014). 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.

Current Top Story
Seder at the White House. The one without the kippa is President Obama.
Obama Trying to Make US Leftist Jews “Mainstream’
Latest Indepth Stories
Seder at the White House. The one without the kippa is President Obama.

  A recent meeting between National Security Council officials and the left-wing Breaking the Silence group barely made headlines but was a significant move in President Barack Obama’s agenda to justify his view that Israel is an “occupier.” It was President Obama who succeeded in removing AIPAC as the default representative of what is called […]

peace in our time iran

Those who suggest further capitulation to Iran are wrongly harming the interests of the West.

Haneen Zoabi (L) and Basel Ghattas (R), Arab members of Israel's parliament, both participated in flotillas attempting to break Israel's legal naval blockade of the Gaza strip.

Few Arab Israelis found anything positive in the decision of its MKS to join any Gaza flotilla.

Obama was all smiles for Israel's Ambassador Oren when they met in the White House.

US Jews prefer to be like their non-Jewish liberal friends complaining about “settlements” and Bibi

New Israel Fund & its supporters must be countered; Israel’s in the midst of an unprecedented storm

PM Netanyahu this week identified ISIS and Iran as Israel’s primary threat. It is a planetary threat that carries the promise of peace.

Haym Solomon, overlooked hero of the Revolutionary War, was America’s “Funding Father.”

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

More Articles from Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Pruzansky-Steven-NEW

Pesach is a Torah-based holiday whose fundamental observances are rooted in Torah law; Purim is a rabbinic holiday whose laws and customs are grounded in the rabbinic tradition.

Torah-Hakehillah-121914

The travail of Yosef was undoubtedly the greatest trauma of Yaakov’s life, which certainly knew its share of hardships.

The brilliance of Yaakov’s approach – and by extension, any type of individual or group effort – is that it appealed to three different modes of salvation.

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

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.

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: