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Female Orthodox Rabbis
A Few Thoughts
By Shlomo Phillips © November 04, 2015 (latest update April 5, 2017)

It seems to me that when it comes to ordaining female rabbis there are three main views:

Why or Why not?

Judaism is a religion/people that is based on 5000 years of experience and history. As such we have a LOT of tradition to honor and protect. Change comes very gradually to such a system. This is a great protection as it assures that fads and assimilation do not abruptly alter the strengths that have enabled us to survive the worse persecutions ever experienced by any other group in history.
Also, because our beliefs are firmly rooted in Torah and preserved and interpreted through ongoing Rabbinic Tradition, we have a further built-in safeguard against assimilated beliefs and practices. This is where the demand for female ordination is just beginning to be seen. There are plenty of highly trained male rabbis to meet the needs of the Jewish community. Yet SOME Jewish women (and some men) are now demanding to be like the nations and have female religious leaders (consider I Samuel 8:5 in this regard). Whether this is a positive change depends on who one asks. Which brings us to position two.
Birth Pangs:
The ordination of female Orthodox rabbis appear to be inevitable. Its just a matter of time. The world and our people are very different than we were even 50 years ago. This change is not a fad. Whether anyone approves or not, women are now completely integrated into all aspects of public and private life throughout the civilized world. Orthodox religious leadership is one of the very few hold outs. Female clergy persons are becoming ever more common, including along all of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. Women are going to be Orthodox Rabbis one way or another. Either local congregations or overseeing organizations like the RCA will accept them, or new congregations and overseeing bodies will be created, as is happening. Halacha is made by what the Jews do, not only by what the rabbis decree and more and more Jews are accepting this change.
The Non-Orthodox began ordaining women many years ago. The Orthodox will as well, one way or the other. The current debates are but the birth pangs of this inevitable policy shift.
Not Now. Not EVER!:
Judaism has never been a static religion. It is always changing and developing as exampled by Rabbi Hillel changing the calendar and by modern rabbis ruling that local Orthodox rabbis no longer have the authority to make converts without the approval by groups like the RCA. Sometimes change is for the good, sometimes it is not. Some individuals and congregations will doubtless resist this change for many years one the policy is formally altered, but it will happen. Some women are already serving as defacto Orthodox rabbis.
In my male opinion, what the rising Orthodox female candidates for the rabbinate need to do to be more speedily accepted as rabbis -- which the vast majority of non-Orthodox female rabbis have completely failed to do -- is resist the urge to make their gender a cause cé·lè·bre. In other words, they should NOT be "FEMALE rabbis." They should just be rabbis. My limited experience with female rabbis is that they tend to be FEMALE rabbis. They talk about their gender and gender issues way too much. They too often focus on supporting POLITICAL groups like Women of the Wall that blaspheme the sacredness of the Holy Kotel for political purposes and not enough on strengthening the Jewish family unit. They too often fail to assist male congregants the same way they assist female members. They often ostracize males who hold to more traditional values and practices and inevitably lead their congregations to the Left politically and religiously. Many male and female Jews just want a rabbi, not an activist in gender politics. This is partially why so many Orthodox Jews say not now, not ever! BUT it is inevitable. The only question is how Judaism will fare.
My point:
If prospective female Orthodox rabbis do as their non-Orthodox counterparts, Orthodoxy is going to resist, pushing their inevitable inclusion farther into future. Personally, I don't really care about the gender of my rabbi. What I care about is the Jewishness, the Torah observance, the wisdom, the compassion, the teachings, the inclusion of both genders, the example set forth, by the rabbi. Is the rabbi a good example and resource to ALL members of the congregation of traditional Judaism and its practice? Does the rabbi encourage the Jewish community to become ever more observant and zealous of tikun olam? Does the rabbi lead the congregation and greater community in standing up for Israel? Is the rabbi a committed Zionist? That's what I want to see in a congregational rabbi. Considering that it is becoming ever more difficult to find these traits in any rabbis, male or female, Orthodox or non-Orthodox, gender needs to take a back seat now.
What About the Mechitza?
The rationale for a mechitza, the partition dividing men and women in Orthodox shuls, is given in the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 51b, 52a). In Pirkei Avot 1:5, Yosi ben Yochanan says that a man who spends too much time talking to women, even his wife, neglects his study of Torah and will inherit gehinnom. During times of worship our attention should be on HaShem alone. This was the original purpose.
While times have changed and many may not understand its purpose, the original intention of the mechitza, in the form of a balcony, was established in the Temple in Jerusalem for the occasion of the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot, a time of great celebration and festivity. Its use then dates back nearly to the dawn of our holy religion. Dividers were first established to preserve the modesty and attention of the worshipers not to penalize women etc.
Men are Morally Weaker Than Women:
Another consideration with both the mechitza and the ordination of female rabbis among traditional Jews is the long standing belief that men are more "fallen" by nature than women. The mechitza is seen as a protection of men to help them control their wondering lustful thoughts. Likewise with the rabbis, since men are believed to be less righteous by nature than women, having a male rabbi avoids needless potential temptations (there are some very attractive non-Orthiodox female rabbis!). If this view is "sexist," it is so against men, not women. At least, from the traditional perspective. This tradition judges that men are more prone to fall victim to lustful thoughts than women and that they need to be protected. Considering gender roles prior to 20th century this argument makes complete sense. Today most women have to work outside the home. The world has moved on. Many long standing gender assumptions are being reevaluated today.
Onward Through the Fog
The American cultural revolution of the 1060's and 70's challenged everything and some Orthodox shuls gradually began removing the mechitza. The Orthodox Union responded by adopting a policy of not accepting synagogues as new members if they did not have mechitzot. Existing member congregations were pressured to conform to this ruling.

As I said above, in my opinion, its a question of when all remaining gender barriers will fall, not if. But are we becoming more civilized by destroying the traditional gender roles, or is this a sign of our creeping decline?

Just my two cents worth.


Be the Blessing you were created to be
And
Don't let the perfect defeat the good


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