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Naama Levitz-Applbaum at her ordination

On Tuesday night, according to a report by Ynet, eight women received certificates of Orthodox Jewish ordination in Jerusalem and selected for themselves various equivalents to the commonly used “Rav” or “Rabbi” by males: some picked “Rav,” instantly making the title unisex; others went with “Rabba,” which would be the female conjugation of the male title, although the term is not in everyday use; some went with “Rabbi,” which in the genderless English grammar has been a common title for Reform and Conservative women clergy for decades.

One preferred to go with “Doctor,” possibly recalling the shamanist attributes for which some Jewish scholars were once renowned. Or more simply, because she has a PhD, but no ordination.

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No one went with the prevalent “Rebbetzin,” presumably because to become a Rebbetzin one doesn’t need to study, just marry well.

The ordination was given personally by Rabbi Daniel Landis, a YU graduate who is the head of the Pardes Institute, an open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community, based in Jerusalem and operating programs worldwide. Landis is also a senior member of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC).

In his message to the freshly ordained Orthodox female rabbis, Landis explored the fact that his graduates are different from ordinary ordained Orthodox rabbis not merely because of their sex, but in their emphasis on Jewish studies, and on any studying at all for that matter:

“I very quickly abandoned the ambition to achieve only rabbinic expertise, and moved on to the more important initiative of promoting you as creative scholars, with integrity, sensitivity and courage, who have access to the members of their generation,” Landis said.

“Yes, but can they pasken on a chicken?” you might ask. It appears that ruling on the mundane needs of rank and file Orthodox Jews was not the top priority of this ordination, which is not a comment on the quality of scholarship of the graduates. They simply appear to put a different emphasis on their future roles in the Jewish community:

Rav Avital Campbell-Hochstein, one of the graduates, said at the ordination ceremony: “Receiving the ordination is not merely a score for knowledge. Ordination, or permission, like halakha itself, is focusing on human beings, on the image of God. Human beings must be seen and heard. The halakha and the Torah are sensitive to the slimmest signs of humanness.” And so, she continued, “in order for halakha, which is an emanation of the will of God, to be relevant and applicable, we must first and foremost be attentive. Human dignity is our driving force. Halakha can be a divider and it can be a meeting ground. It can be a wall and it can be a bridge. Choosing between those component depends on the human beings who use it, and who represent it.”

So, basically, no paskening on chickens for now. Instead, there was a lot of talk about advancing the status of women in halakha and in Orthodox society. You may have to rely on someone else for your kashrut decisions, but in areas of marriage, conversion, and burial, these ordained female rabbis will make sure, as Rav Naama Levitz-Applbaum put it, “that women will be counted, in the full meaning of the word, and to feel as full partners along the path.”

Perhaps as the number of ordained Orthodox female rabbis grows and as each ordination ceases to be viewed as a revolution and starts to be more commonplace (as has been the case in every profession women have entered over the past two centuries) we’ll start hearing about women Orthodox rabbis who are not so heavily invested in the feminist politics of their role but in caring for their congregations. At which point we should be able to assess this fledgling but growing movement not based on our political views but instead on the concrete scholarship and the halakhic contribution of these female rabbis. Because, let’s face it, Orthodox Jews need rabbis to interpret halakha for them. They have plenty of social workers doing everything else.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. The proper term for a female Rabbi, is none of the above in this article. It is "rabbit". Israel has nothing to emulate in America. America is on its way out of existence because of its immoral leaders. Laugh if you want. In 50 years, white males will be aborted. Who needs them? Women do everything.

  2. Why are you reporting this under the title "orthodox" when all Torah leaders of any consequence, (who are equipped to pasken on chickens and all other areas of halacha as well), have opposed this initiative? You are legitimizing those who seek to undermine the Torah and Torah leadership.

  3. More reform stuff under the guise of Orthodoxy. Sounds feminist. They could have been ordained as halachic experts for different fields like currently done like in (women's menstrual bedika issues) but the fact they want the same name as Rabbi shows its unfortunately a mixed up Feminist issue gotten from the gentiles where women feel they are second class to men when in reality Judaism shows women are not lower than the men even if they don't wear the pants.

  4. Part I It is hardly a surprise that most of the males who have studied – for years – Talmud, Gemorra, Pirkey Avot and such…have very different views from those who haven’t. And it is also not surprising that ”studying these books” by women have been frowned upon.

    The males who have clung to the words of the “sages” are acclimatized and inured to the derogatory remarks put forth – without questioning…the numerous “interpretations” that attempt to ameliorate harsh and misogynistic views. Statements such as: fortunate is he whose children are males, and woe is he whose children are females.” Any attempt to rephrase or reinterpret this to make this sound more palatable to a daughter, to make it less harsh, less hurtful, is fruitless.

    A saying that occurs on the very last page of Tractate Kiddushin, the group of tractates dealing with laws about women, marriage, and family, also offensive to the women who hear the words. If someone tells you they are offended and hurt…does it make sense for you to tell them, “no, you’re not!! Women are telling you…it is offensive.

    The Talmud’s whole attitude toward women is degrading. And, if you are a male, don’t even begin to believe you are in a positio0n to tell a woman she is wrong about what she is feeling. When there is a pervasive and underlying basic assumption of female inferiority – fences have been created to prevent our escape…but made to look totally legitimate and rational. Realize – those very males who embrace the misogynistic writings and ideals….are the very ones who believe women should not be called rabbi.

    Since nothing in the written Torah from Hashem suggests women cannot be rabbis – cannot learn, cannot study, have no common sense, are of ljght mind…the entire backlash has to do with the sexism and misogyny as promoted in rabbinical writings and the male ego that apparently needs to put others down to feel superior.

  5. PART II
    Several pages of chapter 4 of Kiddushin are devoted to the various precautions that should be taken to keep men away from women, lest they be driven wild by their sexual urges. So while the rabbis in the wisdom insinuate that every male has absolutely no control over their actions…rather than stress teaching males self-control and restraint they put the onus of THEIR lack of self discipline onto the shoulders of the target of their insecurities. What a defense…If YOU can’t control yourself….it is now HER obligation to keep YOU in line. HUH!! If a person waves a million dollars in the air – perhaps close to your face…do you have the right to take the money from him? But you NEED the money. But you WANT the money. BUT, If you STEAL his money….who is the criminal?
    In Mishna Kiddushin 80b – as the Gemara states, “women are of light mind”.
    And you are surprised that when women read statements like this they are offended??? Not some women, not specific women…but in general…women. One does not have to be feminist to take issue with being offended.
    I doubt when males are reading these lines in an all-male environment…with males who have heard it a million times before….that they are the least bit are moved, or even struck by the misogyny being espoused. But, one can only presume that these sexist ideas are implanted deeply and thereby cannot be easily uprooted.
    When a child misbehaves in the classroom, it could be expected that the misbehaving child is punished – possibly kept from going out to recess…
    Would it not sound ludicrous to allow the misbehaving child to go out for recess… but hold the rest of the class in as punishment for NOT misbehaving – but being held responsible for the misbehavior stemming from lack of self-discipline. ???
    Who, in their interpretation of justice, determined that an innocent person should be deemed guilty for merely existing”? Why girls are dressed, as if in Alaska when the temp is in the 90’s, when their male counterparts are in white t shirts and light cotton pants…. Who is being punished…and why? If the fathers and rabbonim, and teachers, and mothers, spent as much time teaching the boys self-control…as they do stressing to girls the rabbinic man made laws of tzenius…perhaps everyone would be treated fairly.
    Isn’t it bizarre that the person who is not deviating from acceptable behavior is the one to be forced into a secluded life while the perpetrators of behaviors that are negative get a free pass to roam about freely??? Interesting way to twist justice. HE can nullify MY words and oaths??
    Of course – the section of the Talmud that discusses marriage is another insulting blow to females. Discussing HOW to ACQUIRE a wife………..”Acquire”??? How many men have studied and read these words and felt the anger that women feel being bought like a field or livestock. The references to slaves in kiddushin may not necessarily be equated to marriage in the minds of most men…but, this “marriage” relationship is similarly based on acquiring.
    Talmud, Gemorah, Pirkey Avot, all reduce women to that of being less than equal partners…no matter how a male wants to make their point to the contrary…and use the word feminism as if it does not enter the discussion. When OUR sages can state: fortunate is he whose children are males, and woe is he whose children are females.” “last page of Tractate Kiddushin”, why and how can it be beyond the understanding of such wise, bright, educated men to NOT see the insult?
    Sexism and misogyny are deeply embedded in these works…and the altruistic interpretations are thin and weak.
    And to think that the very men who uphold these misogynistic views
    1) continue to make the ruls
    2) cannot get past their learning to accept or believe woman can, should, ought to be rabbis……..
    3) Would be capable of seeing women in a different light than they have been exposed to
    4) Believe that women need to continue to kowtow to your misogynistic views…
    5) And can’t stand the idea that with or without your approval……women will leave you behind as they move forward.
    6) Slave masters never want to lose their slaves….and male (rabbis) will never want to lose a pulpit position to a female rabbi…who may just outshine him…G-D forbid!!
    7) Since nowhere in written torah does it say women cannot be rabbis…and the rabbis of oral torah put forth so many misogynistic views….it should not come as a surprise that women – after so many years…are finding their rightful place. Yasher Koach to each and every woman who has the strength, the wherewithal, the spirit, the desire to use all the gifts that HASHEM has bestowed upon them. Where is it written in the written Torah that it is a blessing to NOT utilize G-D’s gifts in a meaningful and positive way??
    Laurie

  6. This post proves the truth of the adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I think that a person who to use your example "waves a million dollars in the air" is a fool. That does not excuse a thief. But it also does not excuse the fool.

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