Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, now exhale slowly… That was easy, wasn’t it? Not for everyone…
This does not mean women would or should be called “rabbi.” For reasons ranging from formal authority (serarah) being limited to men, to the title being given only to those who can serve as witnesses or function as chazzanim, to it simply being a matter of tradition, it is reasonable to argue that a different title should be given.
Nor does this does mean training for women in the Orthodox clergy must be identical to the training men receive for the rabbinate. Women sometimes bring different pastoral approaches that require different training. All of this is secondary to the fact that formal institutional training for women who wish to be part of the Orthodox clergy – teaching, preaching and answering questions of halacha and hashgacha – is an improvement over the current lack of any formal training and therefore a good idea. Such programs, granting degrees conferring fitness to be a member of the Orthodox clergy, are a wise idea whose time has come.
Some Objections – and a Reply
Some will no doubt protest that this will all lead down a slippery slope toward egalitarian services. Personally, I think this slope is unlikely to slip. Pastoral and halachic matters undertaken by clergy are quite distinct within Orthodoxy – from the liturgical work of a chazzan to the sexton duties of a gabbai to the rabbinical court responsibilities of a dayan. In England, different members of the clergy (not all of whom even have semicha) go by distinctly different titles, reflecting different roles: reverend, minister, rabbi, and dayan; maybe that is a fine idea worth importing to America.
Others object to this type of training based on their disagreement with the worldview (hashkafat olam) of specific individuals involved in organizing the first training program for Orthodox women clergy. (Let me be honest: I share many of those objections). But the solution to that objection is to open alternate training programs with different faculty, staff, students and worldviews. It would be a shame if a good idea were abandoned merely because some in the Orthodox community think ill of the people who first thought it.
So, yes, certifying people – men and women – as well-trained Orthodox clergy is a good idea, and certainly better than the status quo, which allows essentially untrained women to function in pastoral roles.
In the end, our community can only grow and flourish with well-trained clergy – both men and women – teaching, preaching and counseling God’s Torah. I look forward to all my children – both my sons and my daughters – being scholars and students of God’s living legacy on this planet.
About the Author: Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University and project director at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
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