Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Orthodox Union Has Spoken

Logo of the Orthodox Union (OU)
It was a wise and fair decision. The OU has decided to fully implement the recommendation of its Halachic advisory board to reject any synagogue that hires a woman to serve in the capacity of rabbi under any guise. Whether it be Rabbi, Rabba, or Maharat. 

This decision has been in response to the current trend by the far Left of Orthodoxy to tinker with tradition based on the spirit of our time. The Left has maintained that in our world today women are fully integrated into society and have taken up roles that were traditionally those of men and have excelled. They also see heterodox denominations allowing women to serve as clergy equal in status to  men. It was with that in mind that the Left decided that it was more than time to reevaluate Orthodox opposition to woman serving as rabbis in Orthodox Shuls.  

To that end they began ordaining women and allowing them to serve in that capacity. Provided they stay behind the Mechitza during actual prayer services in the Shul itself. (I’m not sure how they can say that they have in any way equalized the role of men and women as rabbis. But I digress.) This was done despite near universal condemnation by all mainstream Orthodox Poskim. Including those that Paskin for the Centrist OU.

I have always maintained that if a controversial move is not accepted - it cannot be considered a legitimate expression of Orthodoxy. Nor can the people and institutions involved be considered Orthodox themselves. Despite any protest to the contrary – no matter how vehement.

This does not mean to say that the far Left is not well intended. They are simply responding to the times in order to accommodate those who feel left out by what they believe to be Orthodoxy’s archaic ways.  That does not, however, constitute a valid argument for change.

So no new Shuls with a woman serving in the capacity of rabbi will be allowed to become member Shuls of the OU. That said, there are some current OU member Shuls on the Left that had actually hired female rabbis before the rules were formulated by OU Poskim. 

What to do about them…

The OU has wisely decided to not expel them. Yet. They will instead continue to work with these Shuls to see if there is a way they can comply with these rules set up by the OUs Poskim while allowing women to perform many of the duties that women serving as rabbis do. They have been given a three year window to try and accomplish that.

How – one may ask – is that possible? How can a Shul continue to have a woman serving as a rabbi in an OU Shul and still comply with the new rules? Well technically they can’t. But what is also true and not focused upon so much is another part of those new rules. Which state that women can have important roles in Orthodoxy outside of being a rabbi. Much of which falls into the job description that women functioning as rabbis already do: From the original OU statement: 
(The Rabbinic) Panel has also proclaimed – and celebrated – the important, and fundamentally successful roles that women can and must play within our communal and synagogue structures, including as educators and scholars. Women must be encouraged to share their Torah knowledge, and their enthusiasm and wisdom, with the broader community.
We therefore urge all segments of our community to recognize and focus upon what unites us. As articulated by the Rabbinic Panel, women can and should teach Torah, including at advanced and sophisticated levels; give shiurim and divrei torah; assume communally significant roles in pastoral counseling, in bikkur cholim, in community outreach to the affiliated and unaffiliated, in youth and teen programming; and in advising on issues of taharas hamishpacha, in conjunction with local rabbinic authority, when found by a community’s local rabbinic and lay leadership to be appropriate.
Let us focus our energy and communal creativity on increasing and enhancing the contributions that women make to our shuls and communities, rather than being consumed with limitations…
The Rabbinic Panel recognized that Yoatzot Halacha have strengthened religious observance in many segments of our community. In these communities, the introduction of Yoatzot Halacha trained and certified by Nishmat, has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of hilchot nidda and related sheelot posed by women, who are asking far more sheelot than ever before, and receiving responses from a cadre of dedicated, knowledgeable and committed women. 
Clearly this is what many of women hired as rabbis already do.So what’s the problem? Again, it is simply the fact that virtually all Poskim from across the board of mainstream Orthodoxy have determined that based on a long tradition of Mesorah handed down throughout Jewish history, a woman may not be in a position of rabbinic authority. She may therefore not have the title of  rabbi or any other title that implies it.

The women currently at the Shuls under discussion all have such a title. One might argue that if this is only about an honorific… the idea that someone be honored by being called a rabbi but in every other sense  they are well within acceptable limits of Halacha, what is the big deal? Let them be called rabbi! Who cares what they are called?

The problem is that it is more than an honorific. By definition that title confers upon a woman the role of a rabbinic authority. And that is unacceptable. 

I understand why some people might object to that reality. Why not give them that authority if they studied, passed the same exam as men to become rabbis? But one cannot debate the wisdom of virtually all Orthodox Poskim  who say there is no leeway for us to do that based on a long history of tradition in that regard. It will therefore be considered a violation if a woman still serves in that capacity after 3 years. Which - sadly - may come to an expulsion from the OU. This will not be a victory for the Left but a defeat. 

It is my hope and prayer that there will one day be a time when all of Orthodoxy can be on the same page and allow both men women contribute to Judaism to the best of their abilities within the framework of what the rabbinic leaders of the time determine to be the best and most acceptable way to do it.