Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.
The latest round in the broader canvas of debates about the approach of Modern Orthodoxy to the role of women in communal life has focused on the issue of learned Orthodox women receiving some form of rabbinic ordination and serving as rabbis or clergy.
This has been coupled with teasing out the appropriate parameters of women serving as spiritual leaders in synagogues, in some way equivalent to male rabbis (without that actual title being used). Those in favor of pushing the frontiers forward on substance and titles have made it clear they accept the limitations of the restrictions of normative halacha, such as a woman not being able to lead the congregation in chazarat hashatz or serving as a witness for a kiddushin at a marriage ceremony.
The most substantive halachic argument generally put forward against women receiving some form of rabbinic ordination and serving as spiritual leaders in synagogues is the import of the Rambam’s famous ruling on serarah. In Hilchot Melachim 1:5, he maintains that not only are women excluded from serving as king in a halachic state, but all positions of serarah – communal authority – are barred to women.
Many commentators have noted that it is difficult to find an explicit source in our standard texts of midreshei halacha and Talmud for this far reaching position. (Such a view is found in one version of the Sifrei discovered in the Cairo Geniza.)
Indeed, as many halachic scholars of the past and present (e.g., Rav Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, YD II: 44) have noted, the Rambam’s position seems to be rejected by a good number of rishonim and is not cited as normative halacha in subsequent halachic codes such as the Shulchan Aruch.
Even if one is careful to work within the Rambam’s parameters, it is still critical to clarify what exactly is included under the rubric of serarah. Should it be understood broadly to refer to almost any communal position of authority or status, whether it involves an appointment by fiat or an elected position, as well as whether or not it involves coercive power?
Many rabbinic scholars have taken that expansive point of view. They therefore would feel that almost any position of communal authority should be barred to women. In this paradigm a woman serving as president of a shul or as a rabbi of a synagogue (or a principal of a girls school with authority to hire and fire male faculty) would raise halachic problems.
Other rabbinic scholars, however, have taken a much more limited reading of the Rambam and maintain that the definition of communal serarah (and thus the subsequent restriction) should be limited to those communal positions of authority that truly mimic the kingship model. In this paradigm, only positions that are imposed on the populace with some absolute powers would fall under the Rambam’s categories of serarah. Therefore, a rabbi of a synagogue hired by election and fired at the will of the congregation and board would clearly not fall into the category of some inappropriate position of authority, even according to the Rambam.
Other authorities of note have pointed to the concept of kaballah – communal acceptance – as obviating the restriction of the Rambam. This view of kabbalah as trumping the restriction of serarah is a position that is adopted by a number of contemporary rabbinic scholars.
Many significant Modern Orthodox poskim (though not all) have taken the lenient position over the last century on issues such as women’s suffrage and election to serve in high office or as president of a shul or a member of a religious council. Indeed, to my knowledge, a number of women have served as presidents of Orthodox synagogues.
Mori verabi Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in a conversation with former students currently serving in the rabbinate and Jewish education, recently discussed this halachic issue. He noted that it is clear the dati-leumi/Modern Orthodox community and its rabbinic elite have clearly come down in favor of a more narrow reading of the Rambam’s restriction.
He pointed to the fact that for the past two decades religious women have run for Knesset as candidates of dati-leumi religious parties across the board and some have served as members of parliament. In addition, a few have served as ministers in coalition governments with the approval (despite an occasional rumble here and there) of the rabbinic leadership of those parties. These have included scholars such as R. Avraham Shapira zt”l, R. Mordechai Eliyahu, Rav Yaakov Ariel and others.
About the Author: Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot is chair of the departments of Tanach and Jewish Thought at Yeshivat Chovevei Rabbinical School; is on the faculty of SAR High School; and is spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, New Jersey.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Boroujerdi was informed that “the pressures and tortures will increase until he has been destroyed.”
Fatah: Hamas stole relief aid for Gaza and distributed it amongst its followers in mosques.
Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?
Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.
Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.
Shemita is about relating to each other by temporarily eliminating gaps of wealth power & status
David transcended adversity to become a leader; Who are we to make excuses for a lack of greatness?
sympathy: Feeling sorrow or pity for another’s tribulations; Empathy:sharing an emotional experience
Last week the president announced a four-point plan. Unfortunately, there’s little buy-in from our European and Middle Eastern allies. Here’s my own four-point plan that may be more palatable to our allies.
Rosh Hashanah has an obvious connection to God’s Kingship. We constantly refer to Him during the Asseres Yemei Teshuvah as Melech/King. The nusach of the tefillah, referring to Rosh Hashanah as “a remembrance of the first day” (of Creation), implies a certain dimension of divine kingship operating at the time of Creation and replicated every […]
Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.
Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.
Home is Milwaukee where their congregation, Beth Jehudah, and community always await their return.
Many of the talented and motivated individuals who leave the Haredi world could choose Modern Orthodoxy, but they don’t.
As Super Bowl weekend approaches the signs at the local takeout stores in Modern Orthodox neighborhoods (and even some haredi ones as well, but I limit my discussion here to the former as that is my community) abound with signs advertising gigantic food package options with catchy names such as the “Linebacker” or the “Halftimer.”
A few weeks ago I was completing the silent amidah at the morning minyan I attend in my local shul. Suddenly, a cold breeze shot through the room. I headed back to the door of the bet midrash where we pray and saw that a young observant woman I know had propped the door slightly ajar in order to hear the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and the reading of the Torah.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/women-modern-orthodoxy-and-communal-leadership/2010/03/24/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: