Modern Orthodox Judaism says ‘no’ to women rabbis

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Orthodox Jewish men in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 1, 2012. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Orthodox Jewish men in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 1, 2012. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Eric Thayer

(RNS) Women who would be Orthodox rabbis were handed a major setback Friday (Oct. 30) when the highest religious body for Modern Orthodox Jews ruled against their ordination.

The Rabbinical Council of America officially prohibited the ordination of women, or the use of the term “rabbi” or “maharat” for women, in what it described as a direct vote of its membership.

The prohibition comes six years after the founding of a yeshiva, or religious school, for women in New York City. The school, Yeshivat Maharat, has ordained less than a dozen women who use the honorific “maharat” instead of rabbi and has placed graduates and interns at 17 Orthodox synagogues in the U.S. and Canada.

The resolution 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” in an Orthodox institution.

The RCA is made up of more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis — all men — in 14 countries in North and South America and Israel. Its members are mostly Modern Orthodox Jews who integrate traditional Jewish practices and beliefs while engaging with the secular world. About 10 percent of American Jews consider themselves Orthodox.

In a statement, Rabbi Shalom Baum, RCA’s president, described the group’s opposition to the ordination of women as “overwhelming.” In a letter to RCA members, he added, “As we move forward, we must ensure that women’s voices are heard and respected.”

Though this is the third time the RCA has addressed women’s ordination, this is the most forceful. In 2010, just after the establishment of Yeshivat Maharat, it issued a statement affirming a role for women in Orthodoxy, but confining that role to already established traditions. In 2013, just after the ordination of Yeshivat Maharat’s first class of women, the RCA reiterated that position and issued a statement regretting “the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.”

Sara Hurwitz, Yeshivat Maharat’s dean and first ordained woman, said she received “overwhelming support,” after the resolution was announced. “We are deeply gratified.”

She also said the school would continue ordaining women. “We continue to change facts on the ground,” she said. “Recruit more students, train more students, place more students all over the country.”

YS/AMB END WINSTON

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  • It seems Orthodox Jews are moving toward the direction of radical Muslims. What was once a beautiful and peaceful religion is no more. After 60 years of this I became a follower of Christ. I will tell any Jew..turn the page. The new testament is what you have waited to come.

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  • Jack

    It’s nice you believe in Jesus, Jonathan, but the Jesus I know and in whom I believe would be offended by your vile and absurd comparison of modern Orthodox Judaism to radical Islamism. And BTW, Jesus never abolished the Law. The heart of the Sermon on the Mount is built around that fact.

  • Bernardo

    And the rest of us say “NO” to modern Orthodox Judaism.

  • Garson Abuita

    This is a mistake for the RCA, as all it does is make them look reactionary. The RCA has been drifting rightward as everyone to its left drifts leftward. The RCA members I know wouldn’t think of hiring a maharat, so what’s the need for this resolution? All it does is create confrontation.
    It should be noted that this was a democratic vote of the membership, not a halachic [Jewish law] decision. Even now, the executive leadership of the RCA is saying that it’s unsure if the vote constitutes a new “rule” or just a “resolution.” It seems that they were opposed to the vote but were steamrolled by people operating out of fear.
    In the end, M’Hurwitz is correct: the Maharat movement and its Open Orthodoxy affiliates are creating facts on the ground. The RCA vote is not going to stop them. It’s also good news for the Conservative movement, which now has a natural ally in those called “beyond the pale” of “Torah Judaism.”

  • Ben in oakland

    So “modern” Orthodox Judaism says no to women rabbis.

    Either they never saw “yentl”, or they are not so modern after all.

  • Good for therm. It’s nice that some religious leaders still try to do what God wants rather than what man is pushing. By the way, the NT says the same thing in several books such as 1 Timothy 2 “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do NOT allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was NOT Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.” From this quote it is clear that this command was not only for “that time” but for all time, as The Spirit of God through Paul goes back to the beginning of the world to establish the basis for this teaching which of course remains in effect to this day despite the rebellion of the many. Turn away from sin and rebellion. Abide in Him through faith in Jesus/Yeshua and know His peace and blessing. Shalom

  • Jack

    Mark, I used to disagree with your position on this, but after having done a fuller study on it, I am in agreement. However, to be fair, there are conservative Biblical scholars who differ with us on the matter. It’s a somewhat complex issue which doesn’t easily fall into a classic liberal vs. conservative disagreement. Some theologically conservative charismatic, holiness, and Pentecostal groups allow women as pastors.

  • Jack

    They’re trying to be faithful to Torah, and I’m sure most of them saw or heard of “Yentl.”

    But in any event, while reasonable people can disagree on these and other issues, it is unreasonable to compare the modern Orthodox to radical Islamism, as an earlier poster did. That’s off-the-charts hyperbole that has zero basis in reality.

  • Jack

    Bernardo, by your own admission in prior posts, you have said “no” not just to Orthodox Judaism, but to any belief that affirms a deity.

  • Jack

    The editor chose the wrong photo to depict modern Orthodox Jewry….he or she chose a group of men in Hasidic garb.

    Someone at RNS should know the difference between Hasidim and modern Orthodox. It’s pretty basic.

  • Jack

    Okay, I’ll amend that…..it’s technically possible that the above people are modern Orthodox but the best way to portray moderate Orthodox is in clothing that is pretty much indistinguishable from what secular society looks like — ie without the distinctive hats, albeit with a smaller yarmulke on the head.

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    I know there are far fewer Orthodox Jews than Catholics in the U.S. so that can be one fair excuse for virtual zero past coverage of this ordination issue in Orthodox Judaism.
    But the media seems to harp on this issue in the Catholic Church as though the Catholic Church were the oddballs alone in this area of women’s ordination, virtually demanding that the Church “get with it” and throw away its Traditions. But between Islamic clergy, Eastern Orthodox Christian clergy, and various branches of Judaism, and even among some fundamentalist Biblical Protestants the Catholic Church is not alone on this issue at all