Thursday, March 23, 2023

Regarding “OU Opens Doors to Women Leaders,” (February 9, 2017) after reading the Orthodox Union’s 15-page “position paper” on women serving as rabbis, my first question was why are they doing this in the first place? If one has a halachic question do we call the Orthodox Union headquarters and ask for whom? If we have a question of halacha, we ask our local orthodox rabbi. So why the “position paper”? Purportedly, the paper was a response to the Rabbinical Council of America’s Oct 31, 2015 “policy,” which emphatically denied the role of rabbi to women.

My next thought was should we expect the Young Israel movement or Yeshiva University to put out their own statements on women rabbis just so they can be relevant to the issue? I assume that they are asking themselves, “Are more people going to donate if we take a position or stay on the sidelines?” And secondly, why does every time an organization like the Orthodox Union puts out a controversial statement, like denying women to be a rabbi, does it need to promote the consolation prizes, in this case the “many” roles a women can perform. Are they trying to convince us or themselves? For that matter why does The Jewish Link need to cheerlead the courage of the OU for “undertaking” and “transforming the face of synagogues” on the issue of women rabbis? Does anyone reading the position paper, or the Link for that matter, really think that what the OU did was make “an important commitment to help empower women within our community to fulfill every possible potential”? To me it would be courageous to allow women a position on the clergy but not to kick the can down the road as it did in its position paper.

What is clear is that all of the above organizations fear themselves and need to outfrum their competition lest they become a Chovevei Torah, Hashem forbid. Unfortunately, pulpit and yeshiva rabbis are generally afraid of taking any controversial positions for the same ostracizing fear. And the ones who suffer, of course, are us, the masses. It should be no surprise that of the 11 current and past presidents of the OU, all are men, that all six of the current senior VPs are men, that all ex and current chairmen are men and that only six out of 37 people sitting on the Board of Governors are women. What did one expect therefore? But wait, the position paper says that they are going to promote women? How lucky women are to be promoted!

As a layperson, I do not pretend to be able to answer a halachic question, but quite frankly, notwithstanding my great respect for the group of rabbis appointed by OU laypeople [men?] I am not convinced yet that this is really a halachic question based upon my reading of the position paper or the OU’s own statement on the position: “Finally, even if the absence of women rabbis throughout Jewish history is not fully dispositive, this phenomenon does establish a baseline status quo. We feel that the absence of institutionalized women’s rabbinic leadership has been both deliberate and meaningful, and should continue to be preserved.” That’s the rationale? Shockingly, they did not even fully endorse the concept of yoezet halacha!

I think the OU and it’s “fellow” organizations need do some soul [sister?] searching and be “courageous” rather than following a “baseline status quo.”

Jeffrey Rubin


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