Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Orthodox Women Rabbis: threat or menace?

The idea of Orthodox Women Rabbis is in the news once again, with the Yoreh Yoreh "ordination" of Ms. Sara Hurwitz as a Mahara"t (note, not a "Rabbi"). As far as I can tell, there are no premodern sources that forbid it, and a few premodern sources (Rishonim and Acharonim) who permit, listed in the Pit'chei Teshuvah to Choshen Mishpat 7:2:5. So technically, halachically, there's no bar that I can see to women becoming at least Yoreh Yoreh rabbis, if not Yadin Yadin - since there's a halacha that women can't serve as judges (more on that later, perhaps).

Someone on Hirhurim raised the issue of "Davar tmuah lerabbim", something that is startling to the masses should not be done.

Davar tmuah lerabbim is indeed a consideration in psak, but it cuts both ways - sometimes it's necessary to pasken even if the result will be surprising. You have to take into account who the rabbim is, and how they may be affected.

See SA YD 245:10, and Shach there, and Birchei Yosef in Shiurei Yoreh Deah s"k 6. The Shach has no problem as long as the posek presents clear reasoning for doing something that looks surprising. The Birchei Yosef, similarly, says what my correspondent seems to imply, but has no real problem with it if a rav wants to permit something which is technically OK, even if most people don't do it. So it's a consideration, but much less of one than the poster would like.

In this case, my wife agrees with the poster (who is, naturally, opposed to Orthodox women rabbis) on a sociological basis. If we start having women rabbis, it will denigrate the field in the eyes of men, and men will stop becoming rabbis. It happened with bank clerks 100 years ago. Bank clerk used to be a high-status job, high-trust, etc., when it was done by men. Now that it is done by women, it is a low-status, low-pay job.

And it is happening in the heterodox seminaries - more women than men are signing up for the rabbinical programs in recent years. Once women start doing it, it becomes women's work, and infra-dig for men.

IOW, it may not be technically assur for a woman to have yoreh-yoreh smicha and function in a pulpit or in a school, especially since, as my mother points out, in the Orthodox world the rabbi doesn't have to lead services and witness weddings. Thus, the Shach and Birchei Yosef should have no problem with this Rabbi Hurwitz, on a technical level. But as a policy question, it may not be the best thing for Orthodoxy.


Mikewind Dale said...

We're going to forbid certain areas to women, just because it'll denigrate that area in the mens' eyes?

Obviously, the men are just plain misogynistic then. If men will turn out certain clerical jobs and seminary enrollment because women are involved, then the men are just plain sexist, period. And why should we rule halakhah based on something so disgusting?

Besides, why should the women suffer due to the mens' ignorance? If the men want to shoot themselves in the foot, let them. Why should women suffer for this?

Mikewind Dale said...

And wait a second - your problem is that by admitting women, the men will all leave.

Let's suppose that EVERY man abandons seminary because of women. Not a single man will be left to get smiha.

So how will we be any worse off? As it stands, to oversimplify, we have all men and no women. Instead, we'll have all women and no men. How is this any worse?

Similarly, imagine that if women can go to shul, all the men will leave. Again, how is this any worse? As it currently stands, again, to oversimplify, we have shuls full of men and devoid of women. If, instead, we have shuls full of women and devoid of men, is this any worse?

I fail to understand why women are any less legitimate a part of the tzibur than men. If women are a part of the tzibur, then they are interchangeable with men as regards counting attendance and participation.

If 100 men leave seminary and are replaced by 100 women, what's the difference?

Mikewind Dale said...

And given that the men will leave due to their misogyny, and not due to discrimination against them, this is superior in my eyes.

I'd rather have women attend and men stay home due to their own sexism, rather than men attend and women stay home because they're forced to.

thanbo said...

well, it's not equal opportunity any more, then, izzit?

I think we have to realize that despite women's movements and men's sexism, there is some kind of group psychological difference between the sexes. And this transcends religions, and maybe transcends cultures. There's a certain amount of the 10-year-old in all of us, where the other is icky gurlz or icky boyz. Especially in a system like Orthodox Judaism, where there are socially-defined, nay, semi-halachically defined separate customary roles for men and women, whatever equal-opportunity thing you do will eventually run into this kind of unconscious acceptance of, nay, celebration of, the difference between the sexes.

Even women's prayer groups and Shira Chadasha minyanim are not equal opportunity. They both separate the sexes, and the one or the other always governs. But here, it would be a true equality of opportunity, and there the social psychological truth expresses itself.

You can call it sexism, and probably it is, but it is not something that we have been able to train out of ourselves. Roles in general society are still male or female, predominantly. Nurses are mostly female, pediatricians are mostly female, other specialties are mostly male. There are more women flute players and violinists than, say, brass players or percussionists, because these instruments are more "ladylike" or something.

Anyway, it's late.

thanbo said...

You're young & idealistic. Wait until you see a bit more of how the world works. Obama may be president, but the presidency is still closed to a) women and b) non-Christians.

thanbo said...

Change comes, when it does, by inches, by dint of hard work by many people. Changing attitudes is not easy, takes dedication and mesiras nefesh. As in, accepting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for something in which one believes.

I know people who have done this, who do this for a living, and it can really grind you down.

I don't mean to discourage you, but do remember to bear up, be of good cheer, illegitimi non carborundum, et cetera.

micha said...

RARakeffetR recently discussed this issue. Not because of current events, but because he is currently discussing feminism. (I think the topic ends before Pesach.)

R' Baqshi-Doron distinguishes between a yo'eitz and a shofeit, as in (his nusach's version of) "hashivah shofeteinu kevarishonah veyo'atzeinu kevatkhilah". Advice should be taken by anyone, based on knowledge. But the leadership of a shofeit... You get into questions like how were Shemaya veAvtalyon zugos if it means that at least one of these prominent geirim were heading the Sanhedrin?

RARR then quotes RYBS as saying the parallel thing.

And recall the maggid shir is the proud father of the first formal to'enet.

There are halakhos on the books about women and "kol asher yorukha". You can argue about the definition of hora'ah, and it can irritate your sensibilities, but it's not all about misogyny and hatred of change.

And then ironically, RAW gives a document with the word hora'ah on it and a title that explicitly talks about leadership. It's as though he /wants/ to encounter every possible objection.

Last, this discussion reeks of historical school attitudes toward halakhah. Pasqen like rabbis X, Y and Z, because that is in line with the zeitgeist and the political needs our day. If you want to argue that we should pasqen like the Pischei Teshuvah - make /halachic/ grounds for doing so. Not "they must be misogynist" garbage.


Mikewind Dale said...

R' Micha,

I never said the traditional halakhah was misogynistic; rather, my objection was to R' Jonathan's concern of (to paraphrase), "If we let women in, the men will all leave". I'm following Golda Meir's wit on this one.

Now, I recognize the legitimacy of the halakhic system. In fact, this is why I haven't previously raised this whole topic. However, on the other hand, I *do* have an ideological agenda here. But until a prominent authority finds the legal means to change the law, I will not act on my ideology.

The law says that women cannot hold certain roles; these laws trouble me. But until a halakhist finds a way around them, these laws are like any other law which offends our sensibilities. Was Judaism ever up-to-date, as Rav Hirsch asks? Was monotheism a popular and sensible law for the Biblical Jews?

But once a halakhist finds a way around these laws, then no longer must these laws stymie me.

As quoted by Professor Shapiro recently (,

Kitvei ha-Gaon Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, vol. 1, p. 60: ואגלה להדר"ג [הגרא"י אונטרמן] מה שבלבי: שמקום שיש מחלוקת הראשונים צריכים הרבנים להכריע נגד אותה הדעה, שהיא רחוקה מדעת הבריות וגורמת לזלזול וללעג נגד תוה"ק

Iggerot ha-Reiyah, vol. 1, p. 103: ואם תפול שאלה על איזה משפט שבתורה, שלפי מושגי המוסר יהיה נראה שצריך להיות מובן באופן אחר, אז אם באמת ע"פ ב"ד הגדול יוחלט שזה המשפט לא נאמר כ"א באותם התנאים שכבר אינם, ודאי ימצא ע"ז מקור בתורה.

Kevatzim mi-Ketav Yad Kodsho [Rav Kook], vol. 2, p. 121 [4:16]: כשהמוסר הטבעי מתגבר בעולם, באיזה צורה שתהיה, חייב כל אדם לקבל לתוכו אותו מממקורו, דהיינו מהתגלותו בעולם, ואת פרטיו יפלס על פי ארחות התורה. אז יעלה בידו המוסר הטהור אמיץ ומזוקק.

thanbo said...

I started a short-ish thread on Avodah trying to understand "isha psulah ladun". Since the server is having problems, I've posted the thread here.

During the thread, I realized that while there wasn't any explicit psul in the Gemara until Tosfos, it was implicit in the language of the mishna on Niddah 49b, as a logical consequence of the universally accepted idea that women cannot be eidim.