Friday, May 05, 2006

Women as "rabbis" in the Orthodox community--a few words by Gil Student and Godol Hador

Here's GH's post, including a nice quote from a post by Rabbi Gil Student on his blog, Hirhirim:

"Rather than ordaining women as rabbis, the most viable suggestion is to create a new title that reflects advanced scholarship but lacks the history of the title rabbi. This title will designate women as scholars who are qualified to teach. There might even be differing levels, including a teacher and an halakhic scholar. I see no reason why a woman cannot rule on halakhic matters to those who ask her,[9] even if others will ignore her rulings. If institutions start offering programs to grant women the titles of melamedet (instructor) and poseket (halakhic decisor), I suspect that they will be somewhat successful."

Well, that part of Rabbi Student's quote is pretty nice. It's a reasonable accommodation for a community that's not prepared to go further.

But I have a problem with this part:

"I. Serarah

To my surprise, I did not see any Conservative scholar raise the issue of serarah. As we discussed in regard to converts, neither they nor women may be appointed to positions of communal authority. The majority of contemporary posekim rule that women may not be appointed to such positions.[2] Therefore, it would seem to follow that women may not serve as pulpit rabbis which, presumably, is the quintessential communal position. R. Moshe Shternbuch[3] addresses the question of whether a convert may serve as a pulpit rabbi and ruled that he may not but, R. Shternbuch suggests, someone else should be appointed to that position and the convert can have a different title while fulfilling the role but not the position of the rabbi. While this is informing, it is not a viable model to be used on a large scale."

In other words, a woman can be a justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, but she can't be president of a synagogue. It may be obvious to Rabbi Student that this is an issue, but it's obvious to me why no non-Orthodox rabbi in his/her right mind would even consider it. With due respect to my more traditional readers, I find it just flat-out insulting that it's automatically assumed and rabbinically affirmed that a woman is not permitted to hold a position of leadership in the Jewish community. What is this, kavod hatzibbur redux?


A further consideration that I initially neglected to raise, but which I consider to be of primary concern, is that of tzeni'us. Should women be rising to roles of public leadership, not to mention speaking publicly in front of large gatherings of men? This is one that is mixed with both halakhic and meta-halakhic issues. Because I assume that those on "the left" will automatically reject such considerations and those on "the right" will consider them decisive, I will leave the discussion of this matter for a later date."

The term kol isha ("a woman's voice") refers to the prohibition observed by many Orthodox Jews against a woman singing in the presence of a man. There's absolutely no prohibition regarding a man singing in the presence of a woman. Apparently, t'zenius (tzniut, modesty) is yet another consideration that's an issue for women only.

Rabbi Student is a Centrist. I don't even want to think about what the Chareidim (ultra-Orthodox) are saying about women's ordination.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

while I agree with much that Gil wrote (and he's as much a rabbi as you are), but not everything, I wouldn't even think of calling him a centrist. He's pretty far right wing. Just because he defends YU from time to time doesn't make him a centrist.

Don't get me wrong, I disagree with much of your post, and I'm on the LW of MO, but to call Gil "centrist" borders on the ludicrous.

Mon May 08, 12:35:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

speaking of which, why is the prohibition on women singing? Shouldn't it be on men listening? ;)

oh, stirring up trouble again...

Mon May 08, 05:16:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, you're right. To quote Dilbert on my *first* attempt at discussing kol isha
, "the restriction is not on the woman singing, its on the man listening. The woman can sing all she wants(of course, some may take steps to silence her, but that is another concern.)"

Dilbert politely but rightly handed my head to me on a silver platter for my second attempt, on the entirely reasonable grounds that I tarred the entire Orthodox community with a Chareidi (right-wing or "fervently" Orthodox) brush. But if you're interested in reading what I had to say about the Chareidi perspective, and the gentle rebuttals I got from my Modern Orthodox readers, see here.

Tue May 09, 09:10:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., sorry about the misunderstanding. Not being from an Orthodox background, and not having been blessed with a Jewish day school education, I don't always get things right in trying to ascertain where a person stands on the "Orthodox observance spectrum," which I define, in probably oversimplified fashion, as consisting of Modern, Centrist, Yeshivish, and Chareidi. I put Rabbi Student in the Centrist camp because of his defense of Rabbi Slifkin's views on Torah and science. (For those unacquainted with this controversy, see here. On the plus side, it's encouraging to think that someone who might be described as Yeshivish would defend the "Zoo Rabbi."

Tue May 09, 09:38:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Um, "he's as much a rabbi as you are"???!!! Good heavens, do I really give the appearance of being that arrogant, that I would ever claim to be a rabbi???!!! If that's the case, then my readers have my sincerest apology. I have never claimed to be anything more than the am ha-aretz (Jewishly-illiterate person) of the J-blogosphere, and, while that's not a description in which I take any pride, it is, unfortunately, still pretty accurate. I'm hoping that a few more years of Ulpan will give me the tools to tackle some serious learning. But, for the time being, I don't know even Chumash Rashi, much less Gemara.

Tue May 09, 09:44:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Okay, now that I've cleared up any misunderstandings (I hope), I'd like to discuss the substance of your comment.

Though it's not something that I, personally, can accept, I understood the logic behind the halachic prohibition against a woman leading services. One who is not obligated to perform a certain ritual is not permitted to represent another person in performing that ritual. A person who leads a service represents other persons by saying a prayer and having the other persons respond "amen," thereby fulfilling those persons own obligation to say that prayer. Therefore, women, who, by rabbinic ruling, are not obligated to say most time-bound prayers, are not permitted to lead a service for men, who *are* obligated to say time-bound prayers. That makes sense, within the system.

But just how far does this go? Just because a woman is not permitted to lead a man in prayer, does that mean that she's also forbidden to be president of a synagogue, a position which has nothing whatsover to do with ritual? Does that mean that she may not be executive director of the local Jewish Federation or the Jewish Community Center?

According to rabbinic ruling, a woman may not have an aliyah because of kavod hatzibbur, the honor of the community. How, exactly, does it benefit the Jewish community to treat a woman's intelligence, education, and leadership abilities as an insult to men, which is, essentially, what the "kavod hatzibbur" regulations do, in my opinion? And do the regulations concerning tznuit, modesty, require women to confine themselves to positions behind the mechitzah (partition separating men and women in synagogue) even when they're not in synagogue? Again, how does it benefit the Jewish community to prevent half its members from making the most of their abilities? Some will say that a woman can express her abilities and shine in the home. But not all abilities are tailor-made for and/or restricted to home use. Why should a woman's talent for accounting be confined to balancing the family budget when she could also be running a program funding a kosher meal delivery service for thousands of homebound seniors? Why should a woman's talent for teaching be restricted to elementary-school children when she could be delivering lectures to Jewish Studies doctoral students? Why can't a home cook also present the results of her own research on ecologically-sound ways to improve food production in the Negev at a convention of JNF?

Perhaps I exaggerate the magnitude of the restrictions against women in public leadership positions, but I honestly don't know how far these restrictions go. If I'm way off base, kindly enlighten me. I'm sorry if my opinion is not in accordance with a traditional hashkafah (religious point of view), but I can't help wondering whether the rabbinate, with what I see as its obsession with ensuring proper behavior between men and women, hasn't shot the Jewish community as a whole in its collective foot.

Wed May 10, 12:05:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Gil is not a rabbi. He's got "smicha" from some guy he knows for business purposes. He openly admits he's not really a rabbi, although he plays one on the internet. That was my point.

As to the issue of women in leadership roles, it boils down to one of authority. It's clear from the Rambam (Maimonides) and other sources that a woman is not permitted to hold certain leadership positions (emphasis on certain). I don't think this is wise as a matter of policy, but it is halacha, or at least, a halachic position.

In my LW MO shul, a woman could be president. Hasn't happened yet, but it could. The Mikvah society doesn't permit a woman to be pres, which, IMO, is the height of stupidity.

BTW, the divisions you set forth do make some sense. But read Gil carefully. He's basically pretty far right wing. He's a member of the Agudah, which is at the right wing of Orthodoxy. That he went to YU and worships Rav Soloveitchik doesn't affect that his basic lifestyle and hashkafa is UO, not centrist.

Wed May 10, 02:30:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"It's clear from the Rambam (Maimonides) and other sources that a woman is not permitted to hold certain leadership positions (emphasis on certain). I don't think this is wise as a matter of policy, but it is halacha, or at least, a halachic position."

It's rules such as these that I find particularly troubling. Didn't Maimonides also rule that a woman was only supposed to leave her home once or twice a month? That may have been perfectly standard in his time and place, but in the 21st century, such an attitude toward one's wife could result in charges of wife abuse. So why do some still accept as binding his prohibition against women holding certain positions of power, as if there were no connection whatsover between the prevailing attitudes in general toward woman in his era and the attitude toward women in leadership roles? If *one* attitude has changed radically, does it not stand to reason that the other attitude should change to match?

I'm happy to know that your own synagogue would accept a woman as president. I wish I could say the same about the prohibition against a woman being president of the Mikvah Society. I agree with you that that rule is "the height of stupidity." Since, if my understanding is correct, the use of a mikvah is required of women but not of men, we ought to run the whole place!

Wed May 10, 10:23:00 PM 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>