Friday, May 11, 2018

Feminism Can Never Trump Judaism

Rabba Dina Brower and Rabbi Daniel Sperber (VIN)
There’s definitely no limitation for women when it comes to Jewish studies and religious studies. This is the sentiment expressed by Rabba Dina Brower, a recent ordainee of Yeshivat Maharat - a Yeshiva on the far Left of Orthodoxy that ordains women for the rabbinate.  Rabba Brower, who was raised in Chabad, made it in response to those who claim women are limited as to what they are permitted to study.

I actually agree with her about that. It is my belief that women are both capable and permitted to study any Torah subject they wish as deeply as they are individually capable of. Same as men.  Rav Soloveitchik had  made that clear many years ago. He said that in our day when women are getting PhDs in all manner of difficult fields, it is ludicrous to say they are incapable of studying Gemarah in depth. He put that belief into action by giving the first Gemarah Shiur to women at Stern College.  

But that is where my agreement ends as does Rav Soloveitchik’s. Rabba Brower’s primary goal is about advancing the cause of feminism. Serving God may be a part of her motive. But she said nothing about that in a recent interview as reported by VIN.  This founder of the United Kingdom’s  branch of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) made perfectly clear what her goal was:
“I wanted to be a role model to women and girls in the community, to show this is not something only possible as a man, but definitely possible as a woman and something women should aspire to,” she told the Jewish News. “Young girls should become anything they want.
In other words it’s about what women want. Not about what God wants.

I have often been accused of attributing feminist motives to women that want to become rabbis when in fact I really have no clue about what their real motives are. I don’t however think there can be any question about Rabba Brower’s motives. She proudly proclaims,
“I will describe myself as a rabbi, that’s what I’ve trained to do and that’s what I’m qualified to serve as,” 
Well if this story doesn’t make absolutely clear what her motives are, I don’t know what would.

I will grant that she can contribute to our people in the variety of ways via her education. There is nothing wrong - and everything right - with wanting to do that. No fair minded person should deny any human being, man or woman, the chance to be a scholar in residence or perform some of the duties usually reserved for rabbis – such as pastoral counseling. 

No one should deny her an opportunity to give a Drasha (Torah based lecture) to both men and women. That would be serving God in ways that are acceptable to many Orthodox Poskim. If she felt that this was the best way she could serve God, more power to her. It is her desire to equalize Judaism  to conform to her feminist perspective that is wrong. 

Some have challenged the notion that feminism is an illegitimate motive. But it is. That’s because ultimately feminism as defined today is an ideal of equality that outweighs all else. So when in conflict with a religious ideal, it must give way to the feminist ideal.  

That is an obvious contradiction to the idea that what God wants is the higher value. Not feminism. While the two value systems collide religion must give way to feminism. 

This is clearly anathema to Orthodox Judaism. Even someone like YCT’s Chair of Talmud, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz - who supports ordaining women has acknowledged that simple fact. Ultimately in Judaism, feminism has its limits. 

To illustrate that simple fact, women can never be counted as part of a Minyan - the minimum number where a Davar ShebeKedusha (such as Kaddish) may be recited. 100 women and 9 men cannot suffice. Even if all all 100 woman are Maharats. If on the other hand the ten most ignorant Jews on the planet are together in a room - it is a legitimate Minyan. Fair? No. Equal? Certainly not. Halacha? Absolutley! - even according to the most left wing interpretations of Jewish law. 

I’m sorry to see this phenomenon continue - when virtually every single Orthodox institution has rejected it. Including the movement in which she was raised, Chabad. It is a shame that someone with Dina’s obvious talent, intelligence, and Jewish education has chosen to make feminism a priority.

What an asset she would be if she didn’t insist on making herself a role model for her movement. She really could make a difference that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews could support. There are a lot of Jews that would benefit from her knowledge. It’s too bad that, by her choices, she will never get support form the Orthodox mainstream rabbinate. The only support she will ever get is from Left wing  rabbinic outliers.