Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Orthodox Women Rabbis. Yet.

An important council of Modern Orthodox Rabbis in America has decreed that women may not be ordained as rabbis.

Well, given that 25 years ago it would never have occurred to them to even think of such an option, it's hard to deny that change is in the air. As a codicil to the intense discussion we had last week about American Jewish denominations in Israel, allow me to observe that to the best of my knowledge, this change will eventually happen in Israel before America, because the Jewish world's top-notch Jewish learning is happening here. And Jewish learning is far more important in forming Jewish identity than synagogue practices. Jewish learning is the entire story, the means and the ends, the wherewith-all, the context, the platform and the form itself. In what is definitely the major religious breakthrough of the age, Orthodox women are now learning the Jewish books with an intensity to rival the men. Not that many of them, yet, but ever more, and from early age.

An important halachic authority - a Gadol, in the parlance - takes about 50 (fifty) years of intensive study to acquire the stature, and has to have studied under previous Gedolim. This means that no woman will achieve the stature anytime soon. Conversely, however, it also means that 30 or 40 years from now the Jewish world will see the first women approaching it, and ever more thereafter. This is an unstoppable revolution, and of course, it will strengthen Judaism.


Anonymous said...

Here in the US we already have Orthodox women in Orthodox congregations functioning as "Spiritual Leaders" or other titles. They function for the most part as congregational rabbis - with the noted exception that don't act as shaliach tzibur or read Torah (but not all Rabbis do that, anyway). Are there women functioning in that role in Israel? You have Yo-atzot, as do we, but I don't think we have women in official capacities involved in divorces, as the get, here, is mainly ceremonial, and the nitty-gritty is the venue of civil court.

Is Nechama Leibowitz not considered a "gedolah"?


Yaacov said...

Actually, the Shira Hadasha shuls (there are more than one by now) claim to be orthodox and have women eading and laining, at some sections. But I expect many orthodox wouldn't count Shira Hadasha as one of them.

Nechama Leibowitz, in her time, was a one-off. Had she been born a hundred years later she might indeed have been a gedolah. Note, owever, that she never gave psaks. That's the heart of the matter, I think.