Wednesday, November 04, 2015

I Want, I Want, Want…

Students studying religious texts at CESJDS
I had hoped to move on to a different subject today. But as Michael Corleone once said, ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in’.

Obviously the condemnation of Open Orthodoxy and its affiliate organizations by the Agudah and the nearly simultaneous rejection by the RCA of female rabbis has raised more than a few hackles. It’s almost as though there has been little else of Jewish import discussed in the Jewish media and online since then.

There is an open letter to the RCA published in the Forward that I think needs to be addressed. It was written by 17 year old Rana Bickel, a senior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS). She begins with a shocking ultimatum:  
Do you want me to leave? Do you want 17-year-old girls who care about Judaism to leave Orthodoxy? Do you want them to leave Judaism altogether? Because that is what is going to happen if you don’t give us a seat at your table. 
She goes on to describe herself as strictly observant and declares her desire to devote her life to the Orthodox Jewish community. And she wonders how she could possibly do that without being ordained.

Adding that if not for Yeshivat Maharat, there would not be an outlet for female voices in the Orthodox world. Without which she feels lost in a religion that is so dominated by men. Additionally she says the sight of women at Yeshivat Maharat learning, davening, their devotion to Judaism, and interacting with the world inspires her.  

From there she argues that if the RCA accepts the fact that women can learn the same material as men and on the same level as men, then why can’t we have the title?  And then there is what I would call the money quote: “Only when I was introduced to feminism did I start to question that.”  By ‘that’ she means how she saw her role in Judaism up until that point.

The first thing I noticed about her letter is that the words ‘I want’ permeated it. And that it was feminism that motivated her.

I suspect that egalitarianism is high on the agenda at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School is. (I guess serving God comes in at a very close second.) This pluralistic school seems to fit in quite well with Open Orthodoxy.

I’m sure that Ms. Bickel is a sincere young lady. And that she truly wants to serve God. But I can’t help but feel that serving God is secondary to her goal of egalitarianism. She believes that if she doesn’t get to be a rabbi - a leader in the Jewish community – that she will somehow be denied her ultimate ability to best serve God. And denying women that option will result in motivated young women leaving not only Orthodoxy but Judaism altogether.

Really? If not for Yeshivat Maharat there would not be an outlet for female voices in the Orthodox world?!  Is the commitment to Judaism by young women in her community so shallow that if they don’t get what they want, they will leave?!

These are not the words of women dedicated to God. One does not threaten to abandon one’s faith if they don’t get their way. This is pure unadulterated 21st century feminism talking. Feminism has taken the place of Orthodoxy. It is the new religion of the left.  They have bought into the feminist argument that egalitarianism trumps all. That if Judaism prevents women’s equality with men even in the religious sphere, then Judaism is worthless. 

This is apparently how Ms. Bickel sees it. Give me the rabbinate – or I will leave – claiming that it is only Yeshivat Maharat that inspires her to remain Orthodox. If not for them, the RCA’s attitude would have driven her and her peers out of Orthodoxy – or even Judaism.

The problem is that succumbing to an ultimatum is not how Judaism works. Judaism will get along just fine if she is not there. Nor will they lose their young women if that ultimatum is not followed. The mainstream Charedi and Centrist world is filled with women who reject what passes for feminism today. And they comprise the vast majority of women in Orthodox Jewry. By orders of magnitude.

This does not mean that I want Ms. Bickel to leave Orthodoxy or Judaism, God forbid. That is the last thing I want. She seems to be a bright, sincere young lady that wants to serve God in ways she sees fit. But threats like hers will not change the values of tradition that have been passed on generationally for centuries. Nor will it change the minds of virtually all the rabbinic leaders of both the Charedi and Modern Orthodox world that - based on tradition - have rejected the institution of female rabbis.

Feminism has indoctrinated Ms. Bickel to see fit only a Judaism that approaches egalitarianism. Service to God comes only after that. The very idea that in Judaism the role of a woman is different that the role of a man does not seem to occur to her. To the extent that it does, she sees it as sexist.

I don’t blame her for her views. I blame it on a Chinuch that places a higher value on feminism than it does on Judaism.