Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 14 January 2008

We Should Have Taken Out A Patent on the Term

One of the interesting problems with free speech and thought is that people can take and misuse titles pretty in much any way to want to. For example, a couple of years ago a group called the Toronto Environmental Coalition was going around touting the benefits of insecticides on suburban lawns, not exactly the propaganda you'd expect from a group with a name like that.

Rabbi David Hartman joins the group with this article from The Jerusalem Post. Now I am not drawing any conclusions about Hartman's level of scholarship, his personal piety or the amount of observance he commits to. However, I am questioning whether or not he's truly Orthodox if he goes ahead with the plans in the article which, basically, are to start ordaining women as rabbis.

This is where the problem mentioned in the first paragraph comes in. Consider the secular example of the title "doctor". Far from being restricted to PhD's and physicians, many para-medical professions can claim the title as well, such as chiropractors, naturopaths and chiropodist. "Doctor" has even made into the popular culture with such forgettable terms as "spin doctor" and "doctor of love". Far from improving the image of the term, this trend has devalued the title. As the villian in The Incredibles aptly noted, "when everyone's super, no one will be super."

The term "rabbi" has undergone a similar devaluation over the last few decades. Time was that to earn the title one had to know the Talmud almost completely by heart as well as be fluent in the major legal codes like the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishneh Torah. With the advent of the Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, one can now enter and complete educational programs that result in the title "rabbi" without having to live an observant lifestyle, learn much of the Talmud or even crack open one of the Codes. Heck, one can live a lifestyle that the Torah explicitly prohibits and still earn the title.

As such, calling oneself a rabbi in this day and age is not very meaningful. Like "doctor", it's just another title earned after a specific educational program.

So what's the problem with women rabbis in the first place? If you're not Torah observant and therefore have no real standards that are unchangeable, then there is no problem. The difficulties with Hartman's approach are
(a) he is accepting women into the program that don't even pretend to be Torah obsevant. It's one thing to take women who claim to be Torah-observant and say they want to go one step further and become rabbis. But to enrol women who, ab initio reject much of what the Torah defines as Judaism shows that this program has nothing to do with increasing holiness in the world but rather is about soothing bruised feminist egos.
(b) he justifies his radical idea by using classic Reform/Conservative thinking:

"The classic distinctions between men and women are no longer relevant. People who come to the Hartman Institute to study are committed to making gender equality in Judaism a reality."

Real Judaism embraces and glorifies the classic distinctions between men and women because in Torah law these differences are the strengths and special virtues of each gender. Hence the modesty and nurturing abilities of women, far from designating them as "the weaker sex" elevate them to a special place of importance in the Jewish home.

Rather, it is modern day feminism which denigrates anything traditionally associated with the role of women as being lowly and enslaving while envying all the jobs men have typically performed in society. A woman who rejects all that makes her holy and special as a woman would, without doubt, seek out those things that are usual for men to do. After all, what else other than a non-identity is left to her?

And this, in the end, is why women in Torah Judaism don't need to become rabbis. Rabbis must deal with public appearances, large scale audiences, and political fighting that the Torah says is out of character for women who are far too civilized for such things. For a woman to desire to be a rabbi means she rejects that which makes her special as a woman. And so on this count the Hartman Institute is completely wrong.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

could you bring some traditional sources to back up your description of the Torah Judaism approach to gender differences?

Ahavah said...

Explain, exactly, how Devra could ever have obtained her place of leadership and "judge-hood" - making rules for everyone, not just women - in your version of Judaism?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Let's start with Shabbos 33 where the Gemara tells us that women have special responsibility for (a) the preservation of the sanctity of Shabbos by kindling the lights (b) preservation of the sanctity of the family by observing the laws of Niddah and (c) preservation of the Kashrus of the home (as mentioned by the observance of the mitzvah of Challah. All these are linked to the story of Adam and Chavah and the aftermath of their eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.

Lets look at primal physical factors. It is the woman whose body is built to give birth and who has the emotional and physical strength to succeed with the process. (I always say that if men had to give birth, the human race would have ended with Adam!). It is the woman's body which is designed to give the best nourishment to the newborn (remember that commercial formulas have not always existed). Women's innate natures are more attunded to nurturing and teaching (if you don't believe me, go read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus).
The Gemara also notes certain differences, such as a woman's increased sensitivity and the need for men to take care not to offend their wives because of that (Bava Metzia 59a). We are also told that when God wanted to give the Torah to our ancestors he spoke to Beis Yaakov (the women) before Bnai Yisarael (the men) because it is through the woman's role as the foundation of the Jewish home and the educator of its children that the importance of the Torah is established and because God knew that they were more inclined to accept the mitzvos (Shemos Rabbah 28:2 on Shmos 19:3). Indeed we see later that when the men sinned with the Golden Calf and the spies, that the women did not involve themselves with this and avoided punishment as a result.

As for Devorah, there is a difference between being in a place of leadership or judging, and being a rabbi. Devorah was the supreme political authority in Israel and even recent poskim (chief amongst them the Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztk"l) have no problem with women being shul presidents or holding other positions of authority. Devorah did not innovate new halachos but rather she relied on the sages of her generation to guide her in her decision making. So in any version of Judaism other than the extreme right-wing twisted versions, there is no problem with this issue.

SJ said...

I think that female rabbis are necessary for returning normalcy to Judaism ... I went to this orthodox beit midrash once and this orthodox kid in his early twenties told me how he thinks that that the shmah forbids looking at girls. When you have religious nuts sayin that, you KNOW somethings too strict. I also heard a rabbi there say that looking at girls is wrong, and another rabbi say that dating for marriage is "not the torah way."

It would seem that legitimizing woman rabbis is the only way to normalize (take away insane stringencies) the way men interacts with women in the orthodox community.