Dear Rabbinical Council of America
The RCA is one of the world’s largest organizations of Orthodox rabbis and is the main professional rabbinical association within Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. Recently, the RCA passed a resolution which states, “RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution.”
“This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha (advisers on Jewish law), community scholars, Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Study, and non-rabbinic school teachers,” the resolution concludes. “So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as ‘Maharat’ is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.” … Maharat is an acronym meaning female spiritual, legal and Torah leader. It is a designation granted by Yeshivat Maharat, an institution for women in Riverdale, New York, founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss… In 2010, following the establishment of Yeshivat Maharat, the RCA issued a resolution on women’s communal roles stating that 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 (tradition) of the Jewish people.” … A follow-up 2013 resolution on Yeshivat Maharat, as it ordained its first cohort of maharats, said: “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. The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.”
Some have applauded this new, narrowly approved resolution, while others? Not so much. The commenters on the Cross-Currents blog demonstrate the competing values at play. “DF” wrote:
…it bears repeating – over and over – that feminism should be rejected not merely for halachic reasons, but for social reasons also. (I realize organizational niceties might make it impolitic to make such a statement publicly.) Feminism has been a disaster for this country. Secular society has become completely unmoored from its social underpinnings, and is flailing badly. No one has any clue, or if they do, are afraid to say, of what’s expected of boys and of girls, of men and of women. The evidence and the consequences of it are everywhere. Orthodoxy, for all its ills, is a blessed little island of tranquility in this sea of confusion. An attempt to import this failed ideology into our society would be incredibly foolish. No thank you. Traditional orthodox Judaism has outlasted countless other fads and philosophies (many within the past century alone) and will outlast the current one also. The (relatively few) people supportive of “open orthodoxy” are on the wrong side of history and will look very short-sighted in posterity.
While “dr. bill” noted:
…as the Ben Ish Chai pointed out that the ability of Rabbis to decide between accepted opinions is not as great as the ability to invent, albeit with support of a concurring opinion, new concepts derived from classical principles. From that perspective, those innovators are, in fact, more important exemplars of emunat chachamim; it is they who are reliant on rabbinic authority to pioneer new directions.
Reb Yid added “Our children and grandchildren will laugh at the RCA and the embarrassment of a political document that this is, and wonder what century we were living in.” And “Proud Jew” further added “I can’t wait for my children to read this resolution in 20 years and laugh.”
It’s really odd that the RCA would expend so much effort and political capital on this issue when there are still agunot, chained women who cannot get a divorce and remarry because of douchebag recalcitrant husbands and unequivocally out-dated halachah. Nerd with a voice (aka Talia Lakritz) penned this impressive original song in response to the RCA’s shortsightedness and we think she’s kind of on to something.