A tradition-based ‘No’ to Orthodox female rabbis

As  I mentioned a few days ago, the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents “modern Orthodox” rabbis, has been holding its annual meeting at Young Israel of Scarsdale (which is actually in New Rochelle, for what that’s worth).

The big issue for many was what the RCA would say about the role of women in the Orthodox community. Some have spoken out for female rabbis, others for lesser but significant roles for women in Orthodox life.

In a statement, the RCA describes the process of looking at the issue like this:

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Rather than delineating a specific menu or roadmap of appropriate or inappropriate roles and positions, the resolution sought to articulate the broad dimensions and values that, from an Orthodox perspective, should inform and shape the discussion and implementation of this defining issue in months and years to come. These include the importance of appropriate sensitivity to tradition, communal sensitivities, as well as the desire of both men and women to enhance Torah and mitzvoth, personally and communally. So too, is the need for a thorough foundation in appropriate halachic and communal precedent and process.

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In the end, the RCA passed a resolution, without dissent, that continues the movement’s ban on female rabbis while encouraging, in the most general terms, “appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women.”

Here is the resolution:

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1) The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our chaverim have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.

2) We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah, hashkafah, tradition and historical memory.

3) In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.

4) Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah, yir’at Shamayim, and dikduk be-mitzvot.

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What else did the RCA do in Scarsdale/New Rochelle?

Topics discussed included “Israel, Iran, US-Israel relations, conversion issues, rabbinic boundaries, Orthodox teens, counseling, dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, death and burial, family conflict, and others…”

Orthodox rabbis to discuss role of women, US/Israel relations at local conference

Hundreds of Orthodox rabbis will gather at Young Israel of Scarsdale synagogue on Sunday for a three-day conference that will tackle some high-profile issues.

The occasion will be the national conference of the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents rabbis who come from the world of what’s known as “modern Orthodox” Judaism. The RCA is sort of the rabbinical wing of the Orthodox Union.

tjndc5-5jkqaekps2a10xpg7gda_layoutIt is certain to be a bittersweet gathering in many ways, since Young Israel’s late leader, Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein, was a former president of the RCA. Rubenstein, a prominent figure in the modern Orthodox community, and his wife, Deborah, died in a house fire in 2008.

According to the Jewish Week, the rabbis are expected to adopt some sort of statement on the role of women in modern Orthodox congregations.

Orthodox Judaism does not currently ordain female rabbis, although some would like to see this tradition change. It’s not going to.

But more than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on the RCA to “enable women in positions of communal religious leadership.” There could be some change in this area, but many traditionalists would prefer for things to stay as they are — with synagogue life run by men.

“I believe there is a reservoir of goodwill among our members, and people will be pleasantly impressed with the outcome,” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J., who is expected to be re-elected first vice president, tells the JW.

A recent RCA statement about the role of women included this:

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The RCA reaffirms its commitment to women’s Torah education and scholarship at the highest levels, and to the assumption of appropriate leadership roles within the Jewish community. We strongly maintain that any innovations that impact the community as a whole should be done only with the broad support of the Orthodox rabbinate and a firm grounding in the eternal mesorah of the Jewish people.

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MHsmallIn addition, at a time when many Jews are concerned about President Obama’s tougher than usual stance with Israel on housing/settlement issues, the conference’s featured speaker will be Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

He will speak about “Israel and America: The Defining Challenges, and the Role of the Orthodox Rabbinate.”

Another recent RCA statement included this:

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But none of that can explain the disproportionate, extraordinary, and unwarranted response by some spokesmen of the Obama administration in excoriating, condemning, and publicly lashing out at the duly elected representatives of the sovereign State of Israel.

There is no justification, neither on moral nor on diplomatic grounds, for escalating this policy disagreement into what some in the administration have called (to quote just one such phrase) “an affront to America.”