“Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.”- Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, 2011
While hardly a fan of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, I accept the above referenced statement from a few years back, which should be obvious to any Torah committed Jew. Hence my disappointment with the Rabbinical Council of America, which has been twiddling their thumbs, ignoring, and appeasing, for several years now, those within orthodoxy who have been campaigning for the ordaining of women rabbis.
For years, I watched with frustration as the radical leaders of what has come to be known as “open orthodoxy” thumbed their noses at normative religious Jewish values by pursuing extremist innovations involving women, previously unknown in any mainstream orthodox institution. The issue of women rabbis gained steam over several years, and while the RCA made statements confirming their disapproval, the people behind this push were never ostracized properly. And the RCA really needed to make a stand, since the leaders of such organizations as the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah are irrelevant to the proponents of open orthodoxy. They are worlds apart.
The RCA initially came out with a vague weak resolution in 2010, and a stronger follow-up statement in 2013, which by their own acknowledgment was deemed sufficient by many of their members who felt the latest resolution was unnecessary. (The problem was that the 2013 statement was a reaction to “Yeshivat Maharat” which lacked the punch of a definitive statement pertaining to the problem as a whole). It was only by a close margin that the RCA decided to come out with yet another resolution this past October. The latest resolution, which though relatively mild in tone, makes it clear that Orthodox Judaism cannot abide the notion of women in the rabbinate.
The RCA should have made a stronger general statement years ago, when the first “Rabbahs” and “Maharats” were ordained by these mavericks. At the time they should have metaphorically hammered the leaders of “open orthodoxy” for their radical departures from tradition regarding the roles of women in the synagogue. This is indeed a crisis, despite the hysterics of radicals who feign shock and outrage. As if any orthodox organization that wished to remain so could ever allow female rabbis!
Nor were these individuals cast out from the organization, as one would have hoped. One prominent individual only relatively recently left the organization. In truth, he should have been thrown out of the RCA long ago.
The Latest RCA Resolution
“I personally join with all of the officers, our poskim and our members whose overwhelming sentiment is in opposition to the ordination of women, no matter what title is used, and am deeply concerned with other innovations that challenge our community. However, I believe that this is a time to be proactive in educating the community about important issues in a more positive manner. This vote – even as it reflects some different viewpoints – is proof that we are a strong organization, unified in purpose, and willing to tackle difficult issues.”-Rabbi Shalom Baum, President of the RCA, 2015
I’m not in love with the RCA’s recent resolution regarding their collective opposition to ordaining women. Nevertheless, it was necessary to do something, and the statement is clear enough in expressing Orthodox Judaism’s opposition to female rabbis. Despite our differences, Torah committed Jews from all ends of the spectrum generally agree upon fundamental tenets of Judaism. And ALL normative “orthodox” Jews oppose the rabbinical ordination of females, in any sense of the term. To do otherwise is to leave the camp of Halacha. No prominent posek would ever approve of such a radical departure from tradition.
Groups such as “Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance” (JOFA), an organization of well-intended but terribly misguided Jews, are eroding the divide between men and women in an attempt to liberate women from what they see as a sexist, patriarchal system. Mind you, this is the sexist system of Halacha/hashkafa that the gaonim, rishonim and acharonim bequeathed to us. Women cantors. Woman reading the Torah. And the latest affront, women rabbis. Fortunately the RCA eventually stood up to the plate.
But I cannot deny that the RCA, as a public voice representing the views of prominent and distinguished rabbonim in America, often disappoint me when it comes to taking a strong position in defense of Torah. It is not, Heaven forbid, that they say things that are false, although there are occasions when their perspective seems contrary to Halacha, such as when they opine on the issue of renting apartments to non-Jews in Israel, castigate Israeli rabbis for strong statements pertaining to the anti-Semitic John Kerry, or jump on the bandwagon and accept the Israeli government’s unproven narrative of Jewish arson/murder against Arabs. (Which resulted in the abusive use of administrative detention against Jews in the continued absence of evidence, charges, or proper legal representation, no less!)
I understand that the RCA is a prominent Jewish-American organization and that they are concerned with their public image. Yet I cannot abide that too often they temper truth with sanitized politically correct statements that fail to present a definitive Torah stance or consider the reality on the ground. They are obsessed with being respectable, and it sometimes comes at the expense of accuracy. Their statements often omit conflicting Jewish positions which might be deemed too provocative or extreme for gentiles.
This is the RCA that so often disappoints. The one which panders, avoids unpleasant issues, and when it does take a stand, does so with calculated moderation. At the end of the day, the RCA did the right thing in this case. A female rabbi is antithetical to what Halacha stands for. The perverse views of a Friedan and a Steinem have no place in Judaism, since feminism (orthodox or otherwise) is as compatible with Torah as a piece of squid on schmurah matzah.
It is a foreign thought, and in that sense it fulfills one of the elementary definitions of avodah zara; those who pursue false beliefs. At the very least, the proponents of “open orthodoxy” should be honest enough to leave “orthodoxy” and latch on to any one of the numerous heresies on the scene which claim to represent Torah.
We will blink and it will be Chanukah once again. We have another contemporary example of Jews turning the profane into something sacred and divine. This is the same path that others who have fallen before once set upon in the name of righteousness and justice. Yet it is the path of Korach, and his unrelenting attempt to redefine the nation and blur the distinction between the perfected and imperfect.
With no patronizing intent, I readily acknowledge that women have much to contribute to Jews and Judaism. Learned women must utilize their gifts and skills to spread Torah with dignity and respect for our forebears, who knew better than any of us, that the survival of Torah is contingent on a modest societal structure which appreciates and perpetuates different roles for men and women. This is not sexism or chauvinism, despite what misguided religious feminists choose to believe. It is the very expression of Judaism’s modest tent, which even Balaam understood was the true strength of our nation.
Those who cannot accept that authentic Orthodox Judaism will never tolerate such deviations, should be mindful if they wish to remain part of halachic Judaism. Other innovators have come before, and where are they now? The proponents of open orthodoxy tread upon this dangerous path at their own peril.