Let’s face it. “Maharats” (women rabbis in all but name) are here to stay. It’s a done deal.
The only question is where “here” is. Orthodoxy? Conservatism? Neo-Conservatism?
Many on the left have tried to discredit the recent RCA resolution against ordaining women into the Orthodox rabbinate.
First, full disclosure: I have been a member of the RCA for close to thirty years and am currently serving my third term as a member of its Executive Committee. But I do not write here on behalf of the RCA or any group of supporters of the resolution.
I was not involved in the drafting of the resolution. I did vote for it. The reason I voted for it is that certain RCA members have ignored previous resolutions against ordaining women, and certain OU shuls have hired women to serve as members of their clergy staff.
This practice, according to previously stated RCA policy – and, more important, to mainstream halachic authorities – is inconsistent with Orthodox Judaism.
The resolution has raised considerable ire among those who prefer to advance a feminist “rabbinical” agenda. And so the claim has been made that only 20 percent of RCA members participated in the vote. While the numbers are confidential and may not be released, I can tell you that figure is false.
The RCA has acknowledged it was a close vote. The spinners claim this proves a significant minority of RCA members support ordaining women. It has been reported that a number of RCA officers voted against the resolution and that certain respected Yeshiva University leaders reached out to RCA members in opposition to the resolution.
But the close vote should not be misinterpreted as meaning that almost half of RCA members support female ordination.
In 2010 the RCA voted unanimously on a resolution against female ordination. That opinion has not changed. Most of the members who voted against the current resolution agree with earlier RCA bans on women’s ordination. Their “no” vote was because they disagreed with the methodology of the resolution.
RCA president Rabbi Shalom Baum said that while he and most of the officers did not support the resolution, “… the overwhelming sentiment of the organization is against rabbinic ordination…” and that he believes hiring woman rabbis “…is contrary to halacha.”
So why the opposition to the resolution if they agree the practice is prohibited?
Some RCA members saw it mostly as a repetition of the unanimous resolution that passed 5 years ago. Others felt that rather than repeating that which had already been stated, the RCA should be putting more effort into educating the Jewish community as to why it is halachically prohibited to ordain women. (A valid point, and we definitely need to do more.) Still others were concerned it would generate the media frenzy it indeed has.
So those who flex their feminist muscles and sing “I am maharat, hear me roar” are not being listened to by the majority of Orthodox leadership – not even the majority of Modern Orthodox leadership.
The RCA’s leaders and most of its members oppose ordaining women. So does YU leadership. Young Israel disapproves as well.
The “Open Orthodox” movement, which pushes female ordination as an acceptable practice, is finding itself on increasingly thin ice. If movement leaders can’t convince the world’s largest Modern Orthodox rabbinical organization, they certainly can’t expect to find acceptance from the rest of the Orthodox world.
Agudath Israel and the Council of European Rabbis have both proclaimed that Open Orthodoxy is not a legitimate expression of Orthodox Judaism. Clearly, those who promote women’s ordination have chosen to distance themselves from normative Orthodox practice.
Which is why it is so important for Orthodox rabbis to educate their communities and for people to understand that, as Rav Soloveitchik famously taught, religious life is about surrendering one’s personal desires and political ambitions to the will of God, as defined by halacha.
Those who argue that Orthodoxy needs to catch up with the times are asking the Orthodox to stop being Orthodox. Yet there are many who think they are more qualified than our halachic authorities to define Orthodoxy. And so we will continue to see maharats all over the landscape. And they will continue to be rejected by the mainstream Orthodoxy.
As such, their “halachic” services will be challenged. Their kashrut supervision, marriages, divorces, and conversions will be questioned, and often rejected, by the greater Orthodox world.
Consider the following. An Orthodox rabbi in a major Jewish community has hired a woman rabbi to help lead his congregation. He conducts women’s megillah readings in his shul. He has criticized the Orthodox establishment in the secular press. He has called for conversion standards that do not meet those of the RCA, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, or any other accepted mainstream poskim.
This rabbi has now set up his own Open Orthodox Vaad Hakashrut. Does he expect the OU and other mainstream kashrut organizations to rely on his standards? Would you?
Does he expect the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and other Orthodox rabbinic organizations to accept his conversions? Would you?
Meanwhile the Modern Orthodox, chassidic, and yeshiva worlds will continue to follow the lead of our poskim that it is a violation of halacha to ordain women.
I just wish that maharats and their supporters would demonstrate the intellectual honesty to drop the misleading word “Orthodox” from their self-description.