Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Spinning Out of Orthodoxy

There's pushing the line and then there's jumping over it and denying you have. YCT generally does the former. An Israeli organization, Kolech, has just done the latter.
The Religious Women's Forum Kolech decided at their conference last week to choose a Hebrew title for a woman ordained as a rabbi by an Orthodox institution, although no woman in Israel yet holds this position.
The title chosen by a majority of conference participants is "rabba."
"Rabba"? That's the name of a convenience store near where I lived while I was in med school. It's also the name of a prominent amora who would likely not approve of this development, but no matter. Clearly they're going for the feminine of rav in an attempt to create a gender equal female version of what they think a rav is. Unfortunately for them, this intiative isn't likely to go anywhere.
First, for the title. Now it's no secret that the moniker "rabbi" doesn't mean as much as it once did. Heck, they're pretty much giving it to anyone nowadays - that explains how I got it. There aren't any limitations on who can call him/her/itself that either. I'm willing to bet that Hebrew Union College has graduated more than a few "Reform converts" or "patrilineal descent" folks over the years. The JTS, just to remain trendy, will likely do so in the next short while. In the end, as I've expressed elsewhere, "rabbi" is a title conferred by registered schools. You finish the HUC and JTS program, you get the title. If you can call a chiropractor a doctor, can you be fussier for who gets to be a rabbi?
If that's the case, then why bother with a new title? Why call someone a maharat or a rabba? Wouldn't it be much easier to simply create a degree program at a recognized school and confer the title on successful graduates?
In addition, the underlying reasons for creating this new title are flawed:
The decision to create a name for the controversy-loaded position in Israel grew out of a desire to encourage women to strive to reach such a level in their Torah learning.
"The women's learning revolution has existed for quite some time," said Rachel Keren, chairwoman of Kolech's Board of Directors, to Ynet. "Women are advancing in Torah study, but there is a glass ceiling hindering their advancement. The glass ceiling was already shattered in the course for female halachic advisors and on the issue of female legal counselors, but still hasn't been shattered in the field of rabbis and religious judges. This issue is of prime importance.
"There is a threefold interest that this ceiling is shattered – the interest of the woman who wants to advance and gain recognition, a societal interest, and the interest of the Torah world that there be as many Torah studiers as possible. By choosing a title, we wanted to raise public awareness to this need. We believed that the public discourse (on the subject) would encourage women to continue learning."

The biggest argument against the whole "wanting to encourage women to learn" argument are, in fact, the Vilna Gaon and the current kollel system. The Gaon, ztk"l, never got semicha from anyone. Most guys in the kollel system nowadays don't bother going for it either, possibly for fear that it will force them to get jobs as teachers or something. One does not need a title to learn and if the title is the reason for increasing one's learning, then one is acting contrary to how Chazal say one should approach a Torah education. Thus the threefold interest is a hollow one. Women who want to advantage in Torah have many opportunities today. If they're doing it for recognition, that's egotistical and should be discouraged. There is no societal interest to be served either. And if the idea is to create female religious judges, well you can guess how well that'll fly with mainstream authorities.
I have tremendous respect for much of what Kolech is trying to accomplish. As some in the Chareidi community try to run roughshod over the norms and sensibilities of the rest of the frum community, it is imperative for non-Chareidi organizations to firmly defend their constituents. But going past the line of what is acceptable to the vast majority of non-Chareidi Torah observant opinions isn't going to create a revolution, just a small sect that will spend its days vainly trying to convince everyone else they're really Orthodox.

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