Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ordaining of Orthodox woman rabbi or not?

So, it seems that R. Weiss has finally ordained Sara Hurwitz which is something that has been in the rumor mill as being in the works. Also, previously in the rumor mill, is the idea that Rabbi Weiss might be asked to leave the RCA for this. So, I'm not really sure if these are more rumors but, the word on the cyberstreet is that this has happened. Of course, the question has been asked as to WHY she can't be. The best answer was that the Torah says only men can be judges. Well, I have pasted in a comment from the VIN article.

While, I'm packing up and moving to Riverdale, I haven't heard a good Torah argument against her smicha.

Pashuteh Yid Says: Because I feel sorry for the fellow who complained about all the negatives on Jewish blogs, maybe one should be dan Rabbi Avi Weiss lchaf zchus, as gemara says that if a beis din unanimously convicts somebody, he goes free because they were not mehapech bzchuso.

1) So far, we have not heard that the woman will be doing anything against halacha. I.e., if she was going to serve as an eid kiddushin, that would not be allowed. Merely giving speeches in shul and visiting the sick in a hospital does not seem to be a major issue.

2) She is not paskening halacha, only teaching existing halacha, as women teachers in Bais Yaakov do all the time.

3) Many thought Sara Schnirer broke with the mesorah as well, for initiating the idea that girls should go to school.

4) Women have now in general become more educated. Whereas at one point there were no women doctors, now it is commonplace. Should we tell our daughters that secular careers are open to you, but religious ones are not?

5) Is this woman trying to become less religiously committed or more? I could understand if she wanted to go to a baseball game on Shabbos and eat a treifeh hotdog, she should be roundly condemned. However, she is trying to learn and teach Torah and help others. Is that a terrible crime?

6) As far as mesorah goes, we have women Neviim and Shoftim such as Devorah and Chuldah and Miriam and Sara, etc.

7) The gemara says that at one point, women used to get aliyos and lein.

8) In the time of the gemara, people were not allowed to read by candle on Shabbos. However, times changed, and because we now have bulbs that don't need adjusting, everybody accepts that they can be used. Do you ever hear a complaint that we are violating our holy mesorah of not reading?

9) When Moshiach comes and we abolish Tisha B'av will that constitute a breach of our mesorah?

10) Rashi's daughters put on tefilin. Women are not obligated in Shofar or Sukkah, but universally do them anyway. They can take on additional mitzvos if they are sincere. I personally don't judge people's sincerity. I leave that to the RBSH.

This debate ought to center around specific halachic issues, as to what she can and cannot do with each point being brought from a source. Merely throwing around vague terms like yes Orthodox, not Orthodox, yes Mesorah, not Mesora have very little meaning. Our Mesorah is to follow halacha, so that is where the debate must center.

I am not saying I agree with this new idea, as I don't know enough about what she does and the whole arrangement. I am just suggesting we analyze it without letting our emotions run wild and instead focus on the intellectual and halachic ramifications. Rabbi Weiss has done much good for the klal in the course of his career, and he deserves to be given a fair hearing.


  1. 2. My understanding is that she only poskins existing halachah.

    6. I think it should be untnzius for men to have their pictures in the papers, too. Fair's fair, is it not?

    10. I pasted this from the comments of the VIN article linked above. I say so in my intro. Aftter I hit the return a bunch of times I pasted the comment in.

  2. 2. There is nothing to posken with regard to existing halacha. For this, you either look it up in a sefer yourself or ask a rav, who will give you an existing psak (not his own). This is a bit different from Beis Yaakov teachers, who simply read down a list at times when there is no particular shylah.

    6. I 100% agree that people who pose for pictures knowing that it will be used to further their own reputation and to show their supposed humility is not very tniusdik, regardless of the gender.

  3. But, for those who are becoming BT, they usually ask because you have no idea where to look for it. When I found a rabbi, I mauled him with shailas but, soon enough, I had run into most of the shailas that I would run into or I knew the answers to questions because it WAS something I learned. So, R. Weiss wanted to give her the authority to answer questions. Without a title, people won't take her seriously. Personally, though, I like the idea of male rabbis. However, I haven't seen any good quotes to support this which I haven't seen refuted. I really do think that it's all about men wanting to keep their current position. I have gotten comfortable with the religious laziness permitted, even encouraged by many, to me as a Jewish woman.

  4. The whole issue is silly in my opinion.
    So, they are calling her a Rabba or a Rabbi. Big deal. If you like how she delivers a speech, go to her shul. If you don't, stay away. Does the title really matter? It's just controversy because Jews always need something to argue over. ;)

  5. How did she get Smicha if she didn't attend YCT, I don't really get that.

    Also the word Rabbah? Why? Rabbi means "My Rav" that doesn't change with gender

  6. traditionally smicha didnt come from classroom learning.

  7. Outside of modern places, smicha still doesn't come from classroom learning. The whole importance placed on having "smicha" to determine some sort of ability or level of authority within the Jewish community is also a modern thing, and isn't really found in more rightist segments of the frum world. In my yeshiva, while most people learned to the point of being able to get smicha, we simply didn't care to, as it doesn't make much of a difference. Not everyone qualified to be called a rabbi (in the real sense of the word) has smicha, and not everyone that has smicha is qualified to be a rabbi.

  8. Hi Michal! 2 things... there is an ortho women's sem in Israel that is teaching women to the point of smicha with a focus on taharas mispacha so they can be female advocates and a person in the community for women to talk to without the ordination. Pretty cool alternative for people who aren't into women rabbis... I don't really think it's that big of a deal. In Boulder there has been a ortho woman who has lead services for years before they could get a rabbi. She is one of the smartest people I know.

    Anyway, other topic - can you email me? tdavis @ I am interested in getting your opinion for an article.

  9. I really don't care one way or the other. Why? Because ordaining women is hardly the most important of issues the Jewish community faces.

    Until more really pressing issues are addressed, I can only be amused by the self righteous frenzy of those on either side of the issue.

    Are we a community of fiddling Neros?