Thursday, January 11, 2007

Female Rabbis

First, can I just say that I hate female issues. I mean, I hate the fact that female issues are the big issues out there, that they're the ones that everyone discusses and so forth. It forces me to define myself primarily as a female and it gets the heck on my nerves.

But nonetheless, just one more post about the whole thing. (I can quit any time. Honestly, I can...) I've been rethinking my whole reticence in this post. I mean, everything I said still pertains, and I still hate the idea of being at the forefront of anything, but I am increasingly leaning towards my legal code theory more- that the religion is inherently flexible and formed by those who practice it- so that I sort of have the duty to "be the change I want to see." And all of the anger and rantiness that Miri expresses here are getting to me more and more. Just to clarify- I still don't want to be a rabbi, as such, but my support for those who do is growing, as is my annoyance at those who don't want them to be.

But in this particular case- as decisions may actually have impact on my daily life and practice in some degree- I would really appreciate it if as many readers as possible could attack my position as much as possible- because I think the best way for me to decide if I agree with the whole thing is to have to defend it, redefine it, reconsider it, and so forth, and for once it would be fun to do so without having already committed myself to a certain opinion and a certain manner of defending it. So please do comment- I'm counting on y'all.


e-kvetcher said...

I can't predict whether it will ever happen or not, but one thing I will say, having come from religious movements where women rabbis abound, is that if it ever happened, as soon as it does it would become a total non-issue just as it happened with the Conservatives. I think the reason for this is because people are opposed to the idea on principle and not for any concrete reasons. But the women rabbis would not be concepts, they are physical beings, and so after the initial shock, they will be regarded as just a normal thing. The next generation would not even know any different.

Another point where there is actually a plus to women rabbis is that I'd bet that they are so much better than most men in pastoral care, in terms of empathy and emotions, which is where a lot of a pulpit rabbi's time is devoted to.

Rachel said...

A lot of Christian denominations have found that women take over the ministry pretty fast. After all, women tend to be more religious, and a lot of the ministry jobs are counseling relating - so they're naturally easier for women.
Is it a bad thing for women to take over the ministry? It probably makes a religious more focused on mercy and compromise, and less on judgement and strict. In addition, men get less interested in religion - and women don't get more interested.

dbs said...


I'm not sure what the exact issue is. Is it "should I support female Rabbis?"

Tobie said...

dbs- well...excellent question...I was being unnecessarily friend Miri (to whom I would link if I could put links in comments, but go check out her rant on her blog) really wanted to take an online smicha course, at the end of which, she would want to take the smicha test. I don't think that she's going for the pulpit rabbi bit- just the heter hora'a and smicha certificate. The question is: what do I think of that? And...alright then..whether, ignoring the practical difficulties (the program won't let her and anyway, any online smicha program is a joke), would I want to do something similar?

Pulpit rabbis is another question and one that I'm less in favor of- once you have a start getting into the ritual problems and all that jazz and really, I think it's still a bit far for me. Maybe I'll liberal out to that point over time, but I'm not there quite yet.

Halfnutcase said...

sorry tobie, can't help you. I actualy don't really mind the idea at all.

Certainly I think it's totaly ok for a girl to get that educated, as many women have in the past.

But one thing that certainly does need to be pointed out is that the word "rabbi" or "rav" is inherantly masculine. It don't know my hebrew well enough to reconjugate it, but they wouldn't be a "Rav" maybe a "Ravah" but certainly not "Rav" but I'm sure you know your hebrew well enough to sort that problem out. (It's kind of like calling a waitress a waiter kind of wierd and odd)

Didn't miram lead the women in the wilderness? maybe it's about time to do that again. I dunno.

But certain I just can't get up the requisite level of indignation to start attacking you over this. Infact I can't find any at all.

e-kvetcher said...


Why can't you put links in comments?

It should be a simple as typing

<a href="">link to Google</a>

Tobie said...

Hnc- well, I suppose that Rav would not be the accurate term, but there are plenty of substitutes

E-kvetcher- not a question of computer problems, just personal ignorance. Thank you for your assistance.

dbs said...


In orthodoxy, a s'micha is only as valuable as the one who granted it.

Since rabinical ordination can be bestowed by any rabbi, the question becomes, are there any reputable orthodox rabbis who would ordain a woman.

But, since any rabbi who would ordain a woman would automatically be censored by the orthodox rabbinate, the s'micha given would hardly be worth the paper that it's written on. (It would still be a credential, but would only be recognized by the most radical left fringe of orthodoxy.) It would certainly not allow the recipient to have a voice in psak.

You point out that there are far fewer halachic rationals to oppose female rabbis if all they do is paskin, rather than lead congregations. Once you are advocating that a woman become a pulpit rabbi, it will trigger quite a few problems.

On the other hand, pulpit rabbis are a much better place to start if the goal is to eventually make a difference. Women who hold pulpits will have wide infulence (at least on their own congregations, but probably far beyond). They will have an opportunity to paskin, write, teach, etc..

So here is what may work: Try to find an orthodox rabbi who will grant s'micha with the following limitations; The recipient can only accept a position where there is a co-rabbi (either an assistant or senior) who is male. (A s'micha can have whatever conditions the grantor wants.)

There are congregations which may be receptive to a woman, though they would certainly be out of the mainstream.

Okay, now since all of that is a complete fantasy, here are some more practical steps:

1. Demand that YU, and the Yeshivote Hezdair open all shiurim to women (including the s'micha shiurim, even if they do not grant s'micha).
2. Demand that all OU synagoges allow women to participate in any shiur and to be allowed to deliver any shiur given by a lay person. 3. Demand that the OU officially sanction women rabinical assitants.
4. Demand that the Rabanute create halachic opinion panels which include women, even if they themselves can not paskin. Etc...

And, I guess as I write this, if figure, lots of luck. This is an uphill battle.

Tobie said...

Well, first of all, dbs, thank you for a far more coherent answer than the ill-phrased, unthought-out question deserved. And your practical suggestions sound awesome. Unfortunately, they sound like far more of a revolution than I really think I can even think of participating in, let alone leading. I mean, push comes to shove, I'm a 20 year old college student. I have finals in a couple of weeks. Any demands that I make are going to be severely limited; at best, I could nag my university to let me come to the Daf Yomi shiur, but even that would probably be so awkward that I'd chicken out. On the other hand, your outlined revolution is one I might really want to see happen. Someday. I just don't think that I'm going to be its prophet. I think that I will limit my ambitions to knowing everything, or other modest goals more easily within my reach.

Halfnutcase said...

tobie, the other option is simply to learn and learn and learn and start publishing your thoughts and chiddushim on the matter under a pseudonym.


imagine the reaction of the rabbis when they found out that a sefer they really liked was written by a woman? Let your thoughts speak for themselves, and if you need a pseudonym to let that happen, then by all means, go for it!

dbs said...


I also was never a good at public protest, and either you are or you aren't. In my case I think that I'm a little too fatalistic about 'making a difference'.

I'm very surprised that your university doesn't allow women to attend the daf shiur. (I was thinking that it was Bar Illan?) Are you sure this is really a policy, or is it that girls just don't go?

If you can get one or two others to go with you, it may be fun to crash. You could learn the sugya in advance and go shlug up the magid shiur.

Tobie said...

hnc- it would be fun, but it would feel like cheating. I mean, who wants a revolution by sneakiness? Besides, frankly, my chiddushim are never going to be all that great or all that appealing the more right wing.

dbs- I'm not entirely sure. I asked a secretary and she gave me a look as if to say "are you mad? Daf yomi for women?" and I haven't had to guts to go check. The shiur is inside the Kollel builing, which makes it awkward, and I don't know any other girls who are doing daf yomi, which makes it awkwarder.

Halfnutcase said...

... So what do you want to do, march up bunker hill in a bright red uniform with 50 soldiers ready to shoot you?

besides, don't put down your own creative power. I often write papers certain that they're going to get a just barely passing grade, sitting their railing on their fluffiness and their total lack of argumentation and they always get "A"s. Don't be so critical of your self. When you learn, make notes for your self. When you come up with something novel in the notes collect it and eventualy publish them under a pseudonym. Then when you hear people talking about them you can see how they reacted. For all you know the right wing could find them so illumitating and forcefull in the clarity of their rationals that as to command their assent. (paraphrased from good 'ol Mr Tom J.) you write quite well, and you seem intellegent, so why not try it?

Heres a real kicker of an Idea. Write little shiurim in gemorah in clear and lucid english for people, and use that to combat the violation of judaism that the wingnuts are doing. Why not try something like that, and all under a pseudonym so that you wont even have to take the flak!

Cummon, doesn't it sound like fun?!

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woodow said...

Just to follow up on Rachel's comments: is it really a good thing to get men less interested in religion (which they will be if they can't take over?)

Probably not. Men are basically more predisposed to antisocial behavior anyhow (for example, the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are men). So one way to socialize men is to make them religious, and one way to make them religious is to give them control of the religion.

Furthermore, if you cut out men you are losing 50% of your congregants.

By contrast, women are naturally more religious and will go for religion no matter how little power they have.

So if you go egalitarian you risk having a nice religion that's 100% female.

If you have a male-dominated religion you lose almost none of the females, and you keep the males, so you are better off (in terms of having a prosperous religion).

So a rational religion should be sexist.

Is that unfair? Hell, yes.
Is that necessary? Maybe.

(PS My C shul just became egal and I am struggling with the issue myself!)

Tobie said...

Woodow- while the analysis is rational in terms of creating a religion, I think that nowadays, a lot of people are getting turned off of religion- especially Orthodoxy- because of perceived sexism. Thus, if it's all about an economic analysis of the path that will net the most worshippers, I'm not sure the egalitarianism isn't the best way to go.