Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Be Vewy Ca'hful, I'm Hunting Wabbits!

A year ago or so Rabbi Avi Weiss of YCT decided that the Jewish world needed something new, a female rabbi.  Unwilling to simply go ahead and ordain women straight out, he took his protege, Sara Hurwitz, and gave her the title "Maharat", an acronym which stands for “manhiga,” “hilchatit,” “ruchanit,” “toranit". 
Over the course of the year, Weiss and Hurwitz rebutted or ignored the widespread criticism they received not from the Chareidim (who, to be honest, couldn't care less) but from the rest of the Modern Orthodox world.  Unlike everyone else, they refused to see that a significant line had been crossed in the name of combining Torah observance with secular liberal ethics in an attempt to minimize the conflict the former has with the latter.  The effors included the founding of a "yeshivah" to train new Maharats.
However, a year later Weiss has decided to be more bold.  Although apparently still unwilling to call Hurwitz a rabbi, he has created yet another new title: Rabba.  Sara Hurwitz will now be known by this title since Rabbi Weiss has, along with Rabbi Daniel Sperber, signed a piece of parchment saying so.  Once again Weiss has made clear that he considers her a rabbi with all the authority he ascribes to that position.
This time, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky has decided to take up the challenge of defending this position.  In an article that draws its style from Rav Avi Shafran, he sets up several arguments against the position and knocks them all down.  (Like Rav Avi Shafran, he also will not publish my comments on his position, but I digress...):
(1) Women don’t have the intellectual capacity to actually master the Orthodox Semicha curriculum.
(2) Women are halachikly barred from teaching Torah publicly, or from tending to the pastoral needs of fellow Jews, or from responding to the common battery of day-to-day halachik questions that Orthodox rabbis need to field.
(3) As full members of the human community, women are entitled to earn PhD’s, head corporations, and hold any elective office in the land, but are inherently disqualified for a position as prestigious as the contemporary rabbinate.
(4) Orthodox Judaism promotes gender discrimination for its own sake, with Halacha itself lacking the authority to challenge the discriminatory pattern.
(5) Orthodox religious leadership is just fine the way it is, and could only be harmed by the contributions of the other half of the population.
Is he serious?  This is the basis of the rebuttals in defence of the Rabba?
1) No one believes that women don't have the intellectual capacity to learn what it takes to be a rabbi.
2) Women aren't barred from anything he lists, and they also do not need a title to do any of those things.  Neither does a man.
3) Since when does Judaism give a lick about what the human community considers acceptable?  Is the human community (does he mean "mankind" in a politically correct way?) going to tell us what we can and cannot observe as well?
4) Orthodox Judaism does not promote gender discrimination for its own sake but because man and women are - hang on! - different.  Yes, you read it here first.  Men and women are different.  They have different drives, interests, intellectual processes, desires, etc.  That does not make one gender better than the other, no more than an apple is better than an orange or vice versa.  It is only the limited thinking of the politically correct that prevents them from not equating difference with inequality.
5) Who says the other half can't contribute?  Why do they need a title to do it?
My final argument against the title, however, is much simpler than all that.  The word "rabba" is simply wrong.  If they're looking for the true feminine, then it's "rabanit".  I don't think they'd use that because it's now the Hebrew equivalent of the Yiddish Rebbitzen so they need something else.  But Rabba?  No, I think it should more likely be "rabbit".  I don't think they'll pick that though.  Women rabbis, bunnies, other stuff comes to mind.


Chaim B. said...

I really don't understand why R' Weiss would not just call her "Rabbi". He has nothing to lose. Those who applaud him now will applaud even louder, and for the rest of the world which has margainalized him and doesn't take him seriously, it makes little nafka minah anyway.

David said...

This is like most of the stuff we do in Orthodoxy, with the added difference that nobody can articulate a serious or meritorious defense of excluding women from the rabbinate without sounding ridiculous.
There's nothing "magical" about being a rabbi-- you study, you take a test, and-- bada boom, bada bing-- you're a rabbi. From what I've seen, you don't even have to be all that bright (or all that honest, or all that educated). If a woman wants it, why not?