Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A (Former Female Rabbinical Student) Baalas Teshuva on R. Avi's Weiss' "Ordination" of a Woman Rabbi

A reader sent me the guest post below that relates to an orthodox rabbi's recent ordination of the first female orthodox "rabbi," or "rabbah," Sara Hurwitz (pictured right).

This guest poster is a frum woman in a major Jewish community. She would prefer not to have her background become public knowledge so she has chosen to post the following anonymously. It is a very interesting perspective from someone who went from being a reform female rabbinical student to a Baalas Teshuva in a major New York area frum community. Her persepctive on the issue is quite informative.

The View From Behind the Mechitzah.
Sometimes we make decisions consciously, and sometimes they seem to happen. I made a decision to become a women Rabbi, and here I am many years later, a simple Jewish orthodox women sitting behind the mechitzah.

I spent a year at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem studying to become a reform Rabbi, but when I came back I became so disillusioned with the reform movement that I decided to try something else. I did other degrees in Jewish education, but I finally decided that I did not want to be a big shot in the reform or conservative movement, I wanted to be a simple frum Jew.

What led me to this decision? Lots of things, but mainly I was just looking to do, say and believe the same thing.

My fist Shabbos back in America, the Rabbi of my home synagogue gave a long sermon about how inspiring it is for him to do a triple bar mitzvah every week, it showed how many young people are being educated as Jews. As soon as I spoke to him privately he told me how sick he was of the bar mitzvah mill.

I was assigned to teach the history of Reform Judaism in a Hebrew School . While conducting a review, I asked the students to tell me in their own words why the reform movement was started. A student raised his hand and said. “people were looking for an easier way out” Unsure of how to handle it, I consulted the Rabbi of the synagogue. He said to me, “your student is right. isn’t he?”

When the same school served cookies with lard for snack, I complained to the principle, pointing out that the reform movement believes that each person should pick what is meaningful for them, and she said, “no one here keeps kosher so what difference does it make.?”

Slowly I started looking for something else. I tried conservative, reconstructionist, and chavurah synagogues and I felt like there was still too much inconsistency. So finally I took the plunge and tried out an orthodox synagogue.
The first time I sat behind the mechitzah felt really weird. Then suddenly I realized that my ability to really pray was so much better. I continued to look for people who do what they say, and believe what they do. Eventually I found myself davening in a yeshivah with my daughters on one side and my sons and husband on the other side.

I gave up a lot to get here. Instead of being a big shot on the pulpit, now I am just another person behind the mechitzah, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My graduate degrees are wothless. I made a choice to put closeness to Hashem, and doing the Mitzvot before personal glory.

So when I read about an orthodox Rabbi who is trying to ordain a women Rabbi, it really upsets me. Not out of jelousy, but out of fear. Doesn’t he realize how shallow and meaningless his action is. Doesn’t he realize what he is risking doing to the structure of Judaism.

A women does not need to be a Rabbi to be fulfilled, I know, been there done that. A women’s place is behind the mechitzah, that is where the real growth happens.

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Anonymous said...

aww what a heartwarming conclusion !

Frum mommy and mechitzah lover suggested :
"I tried conservative, reconstructionist, and chavurah synagogues and I felt like there was still too much inconsistency. So finally I took the plunge and tried out an orthodox synagogue."

And orthodoxy is where you found consistency ?
On what planet and in which century.

Frum mommy and Mechitzah lover suggested :

"a women's place is behind the mechitzah"

Speak for yourself lady.

Lastly and most importantly, as someone very interested in quick efficient ways to receive a bona fide ordination, i'm having a little trouble following the ordination process and learning schedule.
Where did the frum mechitzah lover graduate from and who did she receive the ordination from.

And where did she serve as a rabbi.

jaded topaz

Anonymous said...

frum mommy and mechitzah lover,

One more quick question,
Can you please describe the semicha you were not so happy with, in the detail.

Was it yoreh yoreh, yadin yadin, or both.

Does HUC have a yadin yadin track.

Thanking you in advance for your responses.

Also, does your orthodox set of consistent rules allow for the generalized disparaging of other denominations.

jaded topaz

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


I had only seen you before at Beyond BT. Welcome and thank you for visiting my humble blog. Isru Chag sameach!

To address your points, of the four points you made between the two comments, the last two were inanely snarky and require no response.

As to the first point about consistency: I thought it was her context was clear, but that could just be me as a reader. She was referring to consistency in Yiddishkeit itself, not consistency among its practitioners. I'm keenly aware of how many people in our community don't live up to the proper standards of Yiddishkeit in many areas. But she wasn't talking about that. She's talking about within the religion itself. "Orthodoxy" is consistent in that there is a set of rules that we need to follow that actually mean something and people are expected to live up to those rules. Ma sh'eino kein in the other "streams" of Judaism, which hem and haw in their commitment to halacha based on how well they perceive that halacha fits into the liberal western worldview.

Now, there are certainly arguments that some might make that orthodoxy itself isn't consistent doctrinally, but the more deeply one studies, one will find that different and seemingly inconsistent aspects of Yiddishkeit speak to seemingly inconsistent aspects of the human experience. V'hameivin yavin.

As to your comment saying that you don't feel that a woman belongs behind a mechitza, I certainly can't argue that you indeed feel that way. But it is a bit silly to argue on the author's summarizing, conclusory statement at the end of her post. It was a summary/conclusion about her feelings, not the argument itself.

At any rate, all the best to you!

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

I understood the poster to mean that inconvenient rules aren't bent in pandering response to the unwillingness of the congregants to follow them. Obviously, there are plenty Orthodox Jews who don't play by the rules. But the rules are straightforward, and the response to those who are unwilling to follow them is simple: Tough.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Excellent post. It's funny how the first thing everyone asks me when they discover my area of study is "So you'll become a rabbi?" Hell no. I wouldn't want to be involved in the bureaucratic pulpit politics of the modern rabbi, no thank you.

I do, however, think there is a place for a frum, confident, intelligent woman in professorship. That's what I'm aiming for. It's the best of both worlds, I think.

Akiva Ben Canaan said...

I'm not sure the last line in this post is fair:

"A women does not need to be a Rabbi to be fulfilled, I know, been there done that. A women’s place is behind the mechitzah, that is where the real growth happens."

This may be true for the writer, but how can she be so certain it is true fr all women? We all fall into this trap - reaching general conclusions based upon our own personal experiences...

Very interestng - thanks!

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

A sweetly written post. I thank the writer for sharing her sentiments. But she gave us no insight into why Rav Weiss is particularly wrong. More than just her sentiment, I'd like to know does she have a *rationale* of any sort for why this is inappropriate for anyone other than herself?

Disclaimer: I am not an advocate of women rabbis. I am merely pointing out that this post left us with nothing to actually consider.

As for Chaviva's comment: that's why many men also learn Torah and study Judaism without being pulpit rabbis. At one point, something like 70% of RIETS graduates did not go to the pulpit rabbinate.

Chaim B. said...

"I made a choice to put closeness to Hashem, and doing the Mitzvot before personal glory."

The irony lost on the writer of this essay is that Sarah Hurvitz would obviously also make the same claim, having dedicated herself to actively teaching Torah and helping others in her community rather than merely remaining a passive observer from "behind the mechitza" or pursuing a more lucrative career. OK, so based on the writer's observations there are members of other branches of Judaism who are hypocritical -- what does that have to do with the halachic and public policy question of whether a woman who professes adherence to halacha and serves in a communal role akin to rabbi should or should not be ordained?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

I agree with Chaim, the experiences of this woman aren't at all similar to those of Sara Hurwitz. In that case Orthodox men shouldn't join the Rabbinate either..

post author said...

What I was saying is the the cost to the Jewish People is not worth the gain to the individual women. While my personal spiritual development has been very rewarding, my professional development has not been. As I mentioned in my article, my graduate degree is worthless in the orthodox world. I found that even though I graduated with Honors and a Masters degree in hebrew from a top university, my children learned so much in yeshiva that they knew more hebrew then I did by the time they reached about 7th or 8th grade.

I feel that the cost that comes with eroding the structure of Yidishkeit is way to steep. The results that come with changing Yiddishkeit are not good for the jewish people and I believe based on my experience not good for the individual.

I was also trying to point out that the leaders of the Reform movement are not finding spiritual satisfaction within the Reform movement. They are finding a way of perpetuating Reform Judaism but it is not sustainable.

This is just my opinion but it is based on years of experience and heartache. I was very idealistic and really believed that I was helping the Jewish people. My disillusionment came at a steep emotional cost. It is not easy to admit to yourself that your chosen path is leading down a rode you don't want to travel.

I am not a passive observer from behind the mechitzah. I have done a lot to help others in many different ways. Three years ago I made a career change that meant earning much less but helping people more. There are many ways to help the Jewish people.

The decision to bend halachah and create a position for a women to serve as a leader akin to a Rabbi has many ramifications beyond the immediate community that she is practicing in. The minute that we question the authority of Halachah we are opening the door to tragedy. Hashem created the world for the Jewish people to reach sheimus. He created the Torah and halachah as a guide to help us accomplish this. When we think that we know better and we try to create our own rules we wind up with a system that takes us further and further from the truth.

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Yes, Chaim, there are women who can offer a great deal to Yiddishkeit. But what did Chazal mean when they made the comment about Chuldah and Devora (Megilla 14b)? I think they meant that the Torah was meant to be a masculine pursuit. Women can excel at learning and teaching Torah, obviously. But institutionalizing a feminine Torah track will lead to change in how Torah is learned: like the difference between Bavli and Yerushalmi magnified (Sanhedrin 24a, Rashi). Torah is a battlefield, and that's how it's always been. To feminize it would be to change it.

Akiva Ben Canaan said...

I'll pose this question:

Assuming you believe in a dynamic Judaism and do not believe that "everything new is forbidden", why is this particular innovation problematic, but others are not? There are just as many sources out there condeming women's learning, but much of the Orthodox world celebrates women's learning today.

I think many people are upset simply because the greatest Rabbis of the modern Orthodox world have not signed on. If Rav Lichtenstien or Rav Schechter supported this, I think many more of us would too.

Barzilai's idea is interesting, but that's just it - its a nice idea. My wife is a battler; is she not feminine as well? Is this really a a proof that a woman should not be a Rabbi?

When every opponent has a different reason for attacking something, its probably a sign that there isn't any one, powerful argument that can be mustered.

Chaim B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaim B. said...

>>>The decision to bend halachah

Ikkar chaseir min hasefer -- nowhere in your essay do you make the case that ordination of woman runs contrary to halacha. If it does, then the issue is moot and your or my personal feelings are irrelevant. If it does not, then again, your or my anecdotal evidence and personal feelings have little bearing on the question. I think its fair to say that Sarah Hurvitz feels equally strongly that it is not halacha but the patriarchical social system which is unfairly the source of woman being repressed, and she and others I am sure could also offer anecodtal evidence as well to bolster their case. Why shortchange the legitimacy of their feelings?

Let halacha decide the issue and then case closed.

Chaim B. said...

>>>I think they meant that the Torah was meant to be a masculine pursuit.

"Only our sacred studies can satisfy the soul. I very much doubt if any student is as happy as I am when I read Sifrei Kodesh (sacred literature)!"

Barzilai, you are about 75 years too late. Complain to Sarah Schenirer who penned the line above.

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

First, I'm not responsible for Sara Schenirer.

Second, there's a difference between studying as an outsider and participating as an insider.

Third, her work fell under the rubric of eis la'asos.

Fourth, what would your Reb Tzadok and Shem Mishmuel say about her?

Fifth, would you not agree that toras nashim is fundamentally different than toras anashim, as indicated by the Gemara in Megilla on 14b where a question was submitted to Devora, fishing for a more merciful attitude? Anyway, ein le'hakchish es hamuchash.

Sixth, this has been the experience of many reform and conservative temples: men have begun to stay away even more, feeling that the institution has been feminized.

Look, I know there are women whose yedias hatorah and seichel and pikchus and havana far outshine many gedolim. Every time my mother and Reb Chaim Stein disagree about something, eventually Reb Chaim calls up and says he thought it over, and she's right. I used to go over my chaburos with my wife, (and Moshe Brown was in the Chabura, among others,) and she still remembers the Tosfos in Yevamos about bittul better than me, thirty years later. And bizchus nashim tzidkanios and so forth. But sitting in a beis medrash and learning, taking an official position, creating a women's track in Gemara and Psak? I say no and no and no. It'll change them, and it'll change the Torah, and neither will be the better for it.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


The issue of having a woman rabbi is not merely an issue of an isolated activity and whether it is appropriate for women to do or not. It goes to a fundamental issue about the role of men versus women existentially. While individual men or women may find more or less fulfillment in various activities, the establishment of a communal rabbinic role for women represents a change in the definition of what the tafkid of men and women are fundamentally. It takes both mens and womens eyes away from the attention that they must focus on the spectrum of roles relevant to them.

As to your point about the greater opposition stemming from the fact that no accepted poskim, even from the "modern orthodox" world like Rav Willig, Rav Schechter, or Rav Lichtenstein, I agree that a big part of the opposition comes from that. But that point also begs the question. If making a woman a rabbi were just another kula or run of the mill innovation like women learning Rashi or Shulchan Aruch, or Chassidus, why have no Gedolim, Roshei Yeshiva or Poskim, even from the "MO" world, endorsed the idea?

I think the reason is that it is a fundamental break with what Yiddishkeit can allow and still be called Yiddishkeit. It must bve that it's not one of the areas that can be bent even in cases where an individuals nature is different from the usual.

And as to your point about there not being one main clincher argument because so many people oppose ordaining women as rabbis for so many reasons, that may indeed be true. But that points toward the opposite of the conclusion that there is no strong reason to oppose the idea. It shows that the concept is so foreign, so innappropriate, and so antithetical to what can be termed Yiddishkeit, that the concept offends a wide variety of Jewish values and halachos, rather than just one.

It is *analagous* (not the *same as*, people shouldn't get their knickers in a twist) to the shita that doesn't count "Anochi Hashem Elokecha" as one of the 613 mitzvos. It undergirds *all* of the other 613 mitzvos to such an extent that it can't be limited to one single mitzva or one single prohibition. Similarly (not that it's the same thing), the roles of men and women in Judaism are so fundamental to the fulfillment of our respective purposes in life, that the idea of changing the concept of men's & women's roles so much that many different areas of Judaism are offended by that "innovation," rather than just one primarily.

Hope that explains the opposition a bit more.

Kol tuv!

Chaim B. said...

>>>It takes both mens and womens eyes away from the attention that they must focus on the spectrum of roles relevant to them.

But women being doctors and lawyers, investment bankers and real estate brokers, doesn't?

Barzilai said...

Akiva's comment about the cascade of disparate reasons being brought to bear, and Dixie's response, is fascinating. Is Akiva right, that it's just a symptom of unreasoned prejudice and intellectual inertia? Is Dixie right, that it's a sign of an instinctive revulsion concommitant with the gestalt of of Orthdox Judaism?

Who knows. It would make a topic for a formal debate at Oxford. What I do know is that, as Dixie pointed out, Orthodoxy, by definition, is not decided by grassroot poll. Saying "If I were a Gadol, I would come out and take a stand!" just means that you're not.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


People also used to offering that kind of disparate argument point against RAv Herschel Schechter's "B'Ikvei Hatzon" tshuva against women's tefillah groups.

Chaim B. said...

>>>First, I'm not responsible for Sara Schenirer

Are you going on record as opposing Beis Ya'akov too?

Given your arguments, I'm not sure what to make of a woman who has the audacity to pursue a PhD in Talmud, at a secular institution like Columbia University to boot, (it figures that her first name is Bruria), and then compounds her sin by using her knowledge to teach other girls and woman sacred torah texts in a formal institution of higher education. Would Rav Tzadok approve?
So where do I sign the cheirem against (Dr.) Rebbetzin David and BJJ?

I don't disagree with your conclusion regarding the particular case of Sarah Hurvitz; I would just prefer a more narrow formulation of the argument. Why use a hacksaw when a scalpal will do? Secondly, I don't see why this issue is anyone's business except that of the Riverdale community. Call them Orthodox, Reform, or anything you want (why the need for a label in the first place?), but sof kol sof, it's their community, not mine or yours.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Orthodoxy, by definition, is not decided by grassroot poll.

"In the same framework, all those who hold to Orthodoxy contend that "new Halakha," which emerges constantly from the wellspring of the halakhic process, must always be based on the highest caliber of religio-legal authority. There must be an ***exceptional halakhic personality*** who affirms the new ruling on the grounds of sound halakhic reasoning."
--Rabbi Avi Weiss, Judaism 1997

Barzilai said...

The relationship of most PHDs to their field of expertise is famously akin to that of Catholic priests to marrital counseling. (Except in the sciences, of course.)

As for the hacksaw, I use it because zohi darko shel Torah. When a snake raises its head, you don't kler chkiros. If I were subtle and nuanced, I would probably be blonde and married to someone named Bippy.

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