The RCA and Rabbi Avi Weiss

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Upon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement today:

The leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Avi Weiss have apparently reached agreement that Rabbi Weiss would no longer confer the title of “Rabba” upon graduates of his women’s seminary, but rather the title “Maharat.”

This superficial move does not in any way change the position of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah that placing women in traditional rabbinic positions departs from the Jewish mesorah, and that any congregation with a woman in such a position cannot call itself Orthodox.

That the leadership of a respected rabbinical organization seems to have capitulated to Rabbi Weiss’ enterprise is deeply dismaying. We trust that this capitulation does not represent the perspective of the principled majority of the organization’s member rabbis.

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26 Responses

  1. Simcha Younger says:

    Michael Makovi: A shul rabbi would be the same. Anyone who is in the shul probably accepts the rabbi, and if he doesn’t, he’ll find a new shul.

    Popular acceptance would not help for the problem of having a woman in a position of authority over the community.

    Devora was not considered as being in a position of authority since she had no ongoing, official, or binding role. She was accepted by the litigants on a case-by-case basis (according to those who explain her position by saying she was ‘accepted by the people’), for the immediate issue. The problem with having a woman in a position of ongoing authority assumes that she is accepted by the people, and would not change because of that acceptance.

  2. Miriam says:

    Does this mean that Lincoln Square and the Jewish Center are not Orthodox synagogues. As I understand it they both have or have had women on staff in roles that might be considered para-rabbinic.

    It is not clear if Agudah’s Moetzet is coming out against Yoetzet for Taharas Hamishpachah.

    My interpretation is, that while the above positions might be outside the boundaries of the formal roles for women in the Agudah community, the Agudah does not see its role as meddling in every affair outside its community. Its main interest is achdus within the confines of Orthodoxy.

    Which makes the statement against Avi Weiss granting a Rabbinic title and position granted all the more meaningful. It must be beyond the pale.

  3. Miriam says:

    Does this mean that Lincoln Square and the Jewish Center are not Orthodox synagogues. As I understand it they both have or have had women on staff in roles that might be considered para-rabbinic.

    It is not clear if Agudah’s Moetzet is coming out against Yoetzet for Taharas Hamishpachah.

    Why not take Agudah at face value? This is the first time they saw fit to make a statement. Avi Weiss has given a woman an actual Rabbinic title and a more Rabbinic role within his synagogue. Now that the JPost piece is out we understand there was an underlying incident.

    And while Agudah likely does not recommend the ideas mentioned above, they weren’t a political statement or as “innovative”. The positions that were created in the past (a) didn’t confer a Rabbinic title, and the roles were carefully defined to address needs in the women’s realm. Also, the Toanot Din and Yoatzot were taught in a system that emphasized the role of Poskim (i.e. male Rabbis) at the top of the hierarchy.

  4. Mark says:

    Menachem,

    “With all due respect. Is this really the most pressing issue the orthodox community is facing that the Agudah had to rush out with not one, but two public statements?”

    Since when does the Agudah respond only to the most pressing issue facing the orthodox community? Where have they stated that this is their mission and when have they demonstrated that they will only respond to the most pressing issues?

    Of course they never have. Your comment was simply a means of trying to score debating points against an organization with which you theologically disagree but in this case either agree with their position or can’t articulate why you don’t. Do as you wish, but don’t preface you statement with “With all due respect” when you’ve shown none.

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    What is considered a flagrant violation of modesty is very much dependent on time and place. Years ago, everyone sat mixed, now it is not considered modest in yeshivish circles. On the other hand, years ago there was mixed dancing at frum weddings, today , it is no longer on the radar in most of the frum world. The two are not identical, mixed seating vs mixed dancing, but that nuance is just not recognized by those who seek to forbid more and more.For this we can thank the chassidim who outnumbered the Litvaks and basicly re-populated the frum world.They won the argument because they were much less willing to compromise. The “reasonable” people always lose to those who won’t brook any deviation. Today, it is now considered immodest to show a females picture in a Torah magazine. Maybe, it is a reaction to the lack of tzniyus in the regular world. I don’t know where it will end, but those who are intolerant fight harder than those who believe in live and let live.Avi Weiss may yet win more than his opposition thinks. Only time will tell. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

  6. Jay says:

    Let’s call a spade a spade. The issue at hand is not halachic, it just isn’t. From the vantage point of pure Halacha, having an eruvin bizman hazeh (see for example the Aruch HaShulchan’s attempt to justify it) or mechirat chametz are significantly more problematic than conferring semicha on women (unless the Moetzes is convinced by Shaul Leiberman’s claim that it is assur because of dayanut, based on Sefer HaShtarot, which I doubt for a host of reasons.) In terms of serara, R’ Moshe in the Teshuva mentioned above points out that the prohibition seems to be unique to the Rambam, and rejected by many major Rishonim. There are many times that we rule against the Rambam in favor of the Baalei HaTosfos, especially Ashkenazim. The issue at hand seems to be the percieved break in the mesorah and rebellion against that community. The RCA and R. Avi Weiss seem to have understood this and have therefore attempted to reach conciliation, and kol hakavod to them. For some reason, the Moetzes has decided that they were rather promote machloket under the pretense of Halacha. That’s a shame. Lo Taaseh Aggudot Aggudot is actually assur. No doubt they are relying on the Chinuch’s assumption that this does not apply when those being argued on are not of the caliber as those arguing, or did they not think about this point at all…

  7. Joe Hill says:

    “however nobody objects to male converts becoming rabbis.”

    That isn’t correct.

  8. R’ Scher: Where does Rabbi Avraham ben ha-Rambam say this? Is it is own opinion, or his father’s? (It goes against what I know of the Rambam, but then again, maybe I don’t know the Rambam so well.)

    Simcha Younger: A shul rabbi would be the same. Anyone who is in the shul probably accepts the rabbi, and if he doesn’t, he’ll find a new shul.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    There has long been a concerted effort to undermine aspects of our Mesorah through arguments based on (or at least supported by) cherry-picking from the halachic literature. This is an outgrowth of the adoption of modern ideas from general society that create personal discomfort with the Mesorah. Historically, those engaged in this effort have adopted various labels, in some cases “Orthodox”. I suppose we should be flattered that “Orthodox” has so much appeal as a label.

  10. Simcha Younger says:

    I think there is a certain unclarity in Devora being accepted by the people. Almost all leaders are in some way accepted by the people, definitely all the Judges were popularly accepted since they were not appointed by the Prophets and they were not tyrants.
    The acceptance of a woman leader, as in the case of Devora, required an acceptance of all litigating parties in each individual case which she dealt with, consistent with the general halacha for accepting judges who are not allowed to judge without the explicit consent of the parties.

  11. Dr. Bill, add Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam to your list. Says that D’vora could lead because she was elected/accepted by the people, so it didn’t violate issues of s’rarah.

  12. a reader says:

    Shmuel says “…a woman principal is not in any way a departure from Mesorah…”

    i suppose it depends on how narrowly (or broadly) you define “Mesorah”. It certainly is not a departure from the mesorah of the last 20-30 years. but the idea of women principals (not to mention formal jewish schooling for women, by women, in general) is certainly a significant departure from the mesorah that existed less than 100 years ago and likely going back as far as you possibly could.

    ultimately, it seems to me that the question here boils down to whether the fact that something (within the realm of halacha) was not done before creates a ‘mesorah’ that it should not be done. the moetzes’ statement(s) seem to answer this question in the affirmative.

  13. Charles B. Hall says:

    Male converts face similar halachic restrictions to women regarding the serarah issue, however nobody objects to male converts becoming rabbis.

  14. Shmuel says:

    Michael et. al:

    With respect, I believe an anlysis as to whether or not a woman can possess serarah is missing the point. The Moetzes’ position as I understand it is simply that “placing women in traditional rabbinic positions departs from the Jewish mesorah.” Whether or not a woamn can be in a position of serarah is a purely Halachic issue; the Moetzes’ statement extends beyond that, namely, that such referred to practice is a flagrant (my word) departure from our mesorah. In a similar respect, answering “Why”‘s question, a woman principal is not in any way a departure from Mesorah, which was the very point of the Moetzes’ statement.

    But for the sake of intellectual conversation: as to your apparent position that a woman can in fact assume positions of serarah at times, please see Rambam Hilchos Milachim 1:5 (Melech V’lo Malka) followed by Iggros Moshe, YD II:44; Iggros Moshe CM II:19 where I believe it is clear that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l would disagree with your analysis.

  15. a reader says:

    dr. bill – see tosfos nidah 50a (top tosfos on the amud)

  16. Shmilda says:

    Also, why the need to pick a fight? Firstly, Rabbi Avi Weiss and his followers are beyond the Agudah’s sphere of influence, so why wade into the controversy at all? Secondly, the third paragraph of the statement above serves no purpose other than to mock the RCA leadership. The first two paragraphs respectfully disagree, but the tenor of third paragraph detracts from the message.

  17. moshe shoshan says:

    Does this mean that Lincoln Square and the Jewish Center are not Orthodox synagogues. As I understand it they both have or have had women on staff in roles that might be considered para-rabbinic.

  18. joel rich says:

    Might I add R’ A Lichtenstein’s closing lines from his recent review of The Eye of the Storm: A Calm View of Raging Issues
    By Rabbi Aharon Feldman:

    Finally, if I may, I close as I opened– on a personal note. Dear Reb Aharon: That pair of juvenile prattling sledders is now well past seventy-five. Each has, besiyata diShmaya, in successive contexts, respectively, learned much Torah and has been blessed with the ability and the circumstances to enable reaching out and personally transmitting to others that which we have been endowed. It stands to reason and is, presumably, mandated by joint mission, that our worlds meet and attain mutual fruition. As we both painfully know, however, this occurs all too rarely.

    Must the walls that separate our communities and our institutions soar quite so high, the interposing moat plunge quite so deep? Shall we never sled again?

    —————
    To which I can only add: Rosebud

    KT

  19. why says:

    S:

    They’re in charge of other girls and women, not boys and men.

    First, the women principals are in charge of men, the fathers of their charges who must take advice and guidance from the principal in the raising of their children.

    Second, naneeach that you are right, they only are in charge of women, then the statement should say women can have a position where they minister to women and girls, which by the way is the role of Sara Hurwitz. She is not there for the men, she is an advisor and teacher for the women. Why is the statement so broad that it basically makes no sense?

  20. Dr. Bill,

    If I recall correctly, the Hida and Rashba both say that Devorah was “like a king”, which implies that a woman may indeed wield authority (serarah). Tosafot regarding Devorah explains that a woman may wield serarah if either (a) the people accept her authority (her wielding serarah is forbidden only when the people don’t accept her rule), or (b) she makes rulings and teaches Torah (like a pulpit rabbi) but doesn’t actually have the ability to compel obedience (like a king or dayan). See the teshuva of Rabbi Uziel and the teshuvot solicited by Rabbi Avi Weiss from other authorities, linked by me here, s. v. “However, Rabbi Benzion Uziel permitted …”. These authorities also all cite the same Sefer ha-Hinukh you have.

  21. dr. bill says:

    It does not get any clearer! Compare this statement with that of Rabbi Dr. Lamm about a year ago on this issue. Compare as well the review article by Rabbi Dr. Lichtenstein with R. Feldman’s essay on women wearing tefillin. Note all are in practice opposed; but their opposition is reasoned and expressed quite differently.

    BTW, I am curious if there is another clear source from a Rishon on this topic beyond the Sefer haChinuch. When discussing the prohibition on drinking wine extending from a kohen’s avodah to a baal horaah’s abilty to pasken, it would seem he is addressing the issue at hand, almost matter of factly.

  22. S. says:

    >How is this different from a woman as a principal of a school? Or a seminary?

    They’re in charge of other girls and women, not boys and men.

  23. I think we need a definition of “traditional rabbinic positions” and a psak on which positions violate what mesorah. For example we have a modern mesorah of women heading girls yeshivot. It is not clear if Agudah’s Moetzet is coming out against Yoetzet for Taharas Hamishpachah.

  24. Menachem Lipkin says:

    With all due respect. Is this really the most pressing issue the orthodox community is facing that the Agudah had to rush out with not one, but two public statements?

  25. Bob Miller says:

    Someone should ask the Maharishi about patent infringement.

  26. Why? says:

    How is this different from a woman as a principal of a school? Or a seminary?