Tag: Feminism

Current Jewish Questions

The paradox of JOFA is not “Orthodox Feminist” but “Jewish Alliance” A few weeks ago I received an email from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) promoting their upcoming conference.…

Jewish Culture

YUTOPIA's 10 Year Anniversary SpecialWhen my parents made aliyah this past summer I had to clean boxes of papers, articles, and documents I had collected over the years. One of the gems I dug up was the following letter my father wrote Robert Gordis in resigning from the Rabbinical Assembly and leaving Conservative Judaism.

This letter may be of academic interest to a historian, religious sociologist, or even fans of my father. Others may find useful comparisons or contrasts with the current state of liberal Orthodox Judaisms. For myself, it represents a salient moment in the life of the person who has imparted to me most of my Torah and approach to Judaism and life. I would also venture to say that this letter is so indicative of my father’s hadracha that if one keeps the essence of the logical argument while substituting names and institutions, this letter could be reprinted by him today. My father has told me privately that he patterned his letter after Abraham Joshua Heschel’s own letter of resignation.

With my father’s permission I am publishing his letter of resignation from the Rabbinical Assembly and his disaffiliation from Conservative Judaism.

YUTOPIA's 10th Year Anniversary

Current Jewish Questions

The opinions expressed here are my own and are not intended to reflect those of any individual or organization.

Introduction

This past week the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), voted on whether or not women ought to be admitted to the organization. This was not the first time the IRF considered such a proposition. In 2008, before the advent of “Maharat” or “Rabba“, the IRF recognized that women have been functioning as religious leaders within Orthodox Judaism. In Israel women serve as “To’anot Beit Din” – advocates for women in religious courts and “Yoatzot Halakha” – halakhic consultants regarding family purity. Even without formal titles women serve as Torah educators alongside men and several synagogues employ women in some religious capacity. In fact the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), under Orthodox Union (OU), sends married couples to college campuses across the country with the expectation that the wife serves the campus Jewish community alongside her rabbinic husband. Regardless of the semantics of titles – or lack thereof – Jewish women assume professional roles similar to those performed by male rabbinic counterparts and thus should not be excluded from conversations affecting the Jewish community at large based solely on gender.

When I was first confronted with this question I supported the theoretical inclusion of women into the group, even if it meant removing “Rabbinic” adjective from the organization’s name. I even submitted to a subcommittee my own proposal defining criteria for women to be treated as rabbinic colleagues given that no comparable title existed at the time.1 And yet despite my earlier positions and after hearing passionate arguments in favor of admitting women, when the IRF finally voted on including women, I voted “no”. My decision may appear at first glance to be inconsistent, dishonest, or indicative of intimidation from opposition. On the contrary, as I will explain in this essay my principles remain intact. My position is not based on the identity politics of gender but on what I perceive to be the role and function of rabbinic leadership in Judaism.

Jewish Law / Halakha Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava

Jewish Law / Halakha Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava

The recent controversy surrounding orthodox women rabbis has reignited the general debates of gender discrimination in Orthodox Judaism. Jewish law precludes women from participating in many communal functions such as counting in a minyan or serving as witnesses. Since no such law or statute prohibits women from being ordained as rabbis or rabbinic figures – either in the classical or modern sense of the term – it is understandable if some women view their exclusion from leadership positions as a form of institutional misogyny.

However Jewish society has discriminated against both men and women in leadership positions for generations, often with the communal complicity of self-identified feminists. I am referring here to the expectations and demands of the Rabbi’s wife, better known as The Rebbitzen.

Jewish Culture

The classic cliche of Jews arguing has recently been joined in with a new cliche of calls for dialogue and conversation. Too often these “conversations” turn into venting sessions for individuals to speak their mind for the indulgent purpose of “putting things out there” and rarely are participants interested in an exchange of ideas.
Given how these forums usually turn out, Sunday’s Town Hall meeting at Mt. Sinai was a welcome departure from the norm, largely due to the rational and emotional sincerity of all the participants.

Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools (Kohelet 9:17)

Like all Jewish communities Washington Heights has its share of internal controversies, but rarely do they become publicized. Most discussions on the Maalotwashington message board did not get circulated and at times they were moderated when the discussion happened to get out of hand. In the rare instances that a significant problem arose, we have usually been able to achieve some resolution or at least mutual understanding and do so with minimal fanfare.
But as the community continues to grow and the transient community constantly changes, the internal dynamics will naturally have to adapt. Having more people in the community means more ideas and opinions among the congregation, but fewer outlets for an individual to express them. In Washington Heights this can be particularly frustrating since the community is ideologically diverse (relatively) there are more opinions and perspectives which would be ignored or in some cases suppressed. From the other point of view, it is likely that an established community would have confronted many of the “new” issues at some point and would not wish to repeatedly revisit old arguments every few years given the high turnover of members. The mutual question at hand then becomes how can individuals express themselves, and in turn, how does the community respond.
The past few weeks have been unusually eventful with a heated debate over women speaking in the synagogue and the formation of a new “progressive” minyan. While both could be considered controversial to varying degrees, the discussions surrounding them demonstrate different examples of expression within a religious community.

Jewish Culture Jewish Law / Halakha Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava