Friday, December 30, 2005

Female Rabbis in Orthodoxy

In a commentary to my essay on the Move to the Left, I advanced the notion that much of that movement’s concern deals with Feminist issues. Mr."Steg" asks the following question: “What exactly is the halakhic objection to female rabbis again?”

Well that is an excellent question. I asked it publicly myself about 35 years ago when I was a student at HTC. In an article in what was at the time Chicago’s Jewish newspaper of record, “The Sentinel” Rabbi Chaim D. Keller, Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe, excoriated the then fledgling movement by some to try and ordain female rabbis. His primary argument was centered on the idea that women could not function in Orthodox synagogues where the sexes required separation. A female rabbi would violate the sanctity of the synagogue by violating that separation.

I had written a response stating that I saw no Halachic problems with a female Rabbi. A rabbi as defined in modern times is nothing more than an individual who has studied the applicable laws pertaining to certain observances in Judaism, taken tests an passed them. This entitled them to become a teacher and preacher in Israel. As such, coffering the title “rabbi” on a woman seemed permissible. Her duties of course would be a bit more limited then that of a male rabbi since she would be prevented from serving as a pulpit rabbi. But she could certainly serve as a teacher, chaplain, Mashgiach of Kashrus organizations and any other functions of the rabbinate.

I was a bit young and impetuous then. Now I am just impetuous. In any case I had not thought about other issues which might preclude a woman becoming a rabbi. First there is theproblem of Heter Hora’ah. Women are Halachicly forbidden to Paskin Shailos. I’m not exactly sure why, but that is Halacha. That seems to me the biggest problem and if a condition precluding Psak were inserted in the Smicha document, that would eliminate that problem and women could then be called rabbis. Of course there might still be a Maaras Ayin problem.

But there are other problems. How serious an obstacle those problems are is a matter of open debate in my mind. Rabbi Herschel Schachter, wrote an article on this subject a while back and states the following:

The non-Orthodox movements have whole-heartedly approved of women rabbis. We read in the papers that a certain "Orthodox rabbi" has stated publicly that "the stupidest thing about Orthodoxy is that they don't approve of women rabbis."

In Pashas Dvorim we read that Moshe Rabbeinu appointed many rabbis to serve the community. The expression used by the chumash is (Dvorim1:13), "let us appoint anoshim". Rashi quotes from the Sifre a fascinating comment: what is the meaning of the term "anoshim"? Was there even a "salka daitach" to appoint women rabbis?? The expression must certainly mean "anoshim tzadikim". Why was it so obvious to the tanaim that we can not have women rabbis? After all, Tosfos (Bava Kama 15a) raises the possibility of giving semicha to women, and and having them serve on a beth din. So if women can possibly receive semicha, why can't they serve the community as rabbis?

The answer is obvious. Although we must sometimes compromise on our midas hatznius and do certain mitzvos befarhesia (in public), this is not required of women. Women are not being discriminated against. They alone, unlike men, are given the opportunity to maintain their midas hahistatrus at all times.

Our generation is so much into publicity that this midas hahistatrus is totally unappreciated. We live in a generation in which there is no sense of shame. People will do the most intimate and the most private acts in a most explicit and most demonstrative fashion. Their arrogant attitude has led them to believe that if they were G-d they would always be bragging, boasting, and showing off, always "making a statement". They don't have the slightest notion that G-d exists, is a "Kel Mistater", and has created all of us with a tzelem Elokim, which also includes this midas hatznius.