Friday, May 05, 2006

Orthodox Feminist Haviva Ner-David: Rabbi

Gil has a post in Hirhurim today where he references the Jerusalem Post story about a recently ordained female Orthodox Rabbi. While this may sound liked an oxymoron since Orthodoxy does not accept female rabbis, it isn’t that simple. In fact this subject is one of my early posts .

In my view the title rabbi in its current usage is somewhat overblown. The Smicha we have today is not the real Smicha handed down from Moshe Rabbenu, but simply a Heter Hora’ah ...permission to Paskin Shailos. What Smicha basically does is it informs people that the rabbi in question is an observant Jew, has done his due diligence in Torah study, has passed an examination on certain portions of the Shulchan Aruch and can be trusted to answer Halachic questions accurately .

Why not a woman? Good question. The answer probably has more to do with Tznius and tradition than the strict letter of Halacha. But one should knock tradition even if it it not the strict letter of the law. This may not be true in all cases but in some, breaching the walls of tradition can have dire consequences. Knowing which tradition is important and which isn’t is not a simple matter.

In the case of female rabbis, keeping the tradtion is important because it has to do with countering a trend which is foreign to Torah Judaism, that of the social feminist agenda (as opposed to economic feminist agenda which I support).To that end it is important to resist the pressure to ordain women, not because they aren’t capable, but because the barriers that separate Torah from foreign influence must not be breached when those influences are detrimental to observance. Once that “horse is out of the barn” you can’t stop it, and what follows could easily become wholesale rejection of Halacha.

Witness the Conservative movement. They were founded because they could not stomach the complete rejection of Mitzvah observance of the Reform. Their intentions were honorable. They wanted to “conserve” Judaism and modernize it to match contemporary American culture so as to make it more relavent to their lives. They therefore eliminated the Mechitza which they said had no real Halachic basis since it was not mentioned anywhere in the Shulchan Aruch. That was it. But, they allowed a foreign influence to breach the sanctity of the synagogue. And now, about a hundred years later the movement that was conceived as the antidote to Reform Judaism is now taking itself out of Halachic observance... on par with Reform.

Several years ago there was the advent of Yoatzot, woman who study family purity laws and were given the title of Yoetzet, advisor. These women had passed an examination on those laws and knew them well. The condition of the title Yoetzet was predicated in their commitment not to Paskin. In other words any difficult question that was not clearly spelled out in clear Halachic practice was to be asked of a Rav. This was roundly rejected by the Charedi world as tantamount to Smicha. They also felt that this phenomenon would lead to female rabbis. While I think it provides a valuable service to women who can now go with a Shaila to another woman without the potential embarrassment of asking a male Rav, I think the concern of the Charedi world is understandable, especially in light of this new development.