Monday, June 27, 2022

Several people have asked: Why did the RCBC create a bylaw that would bifurcate the community? Why not just allow different views to apply?

Here’s the answer: The RCBC reflects traditional Orthodox Judaism, as it says in our mission statement. We have an obligation to the public to impart what is within and without the boundaries of the mesorah. This is not our only by-law, nor was it the first. The bylaws define the expectations of membership, which, after all, is a privilege, not a right. Those expectations primarily relate to fidelity to the mesorah.

The Torah community has ruled unequivocally that female clergy violates the mesorah. Obviously this is the position of the yeshivish and charedi world, much more numerous than the so-called Modern Orthodox Jews. But it is also the unequivocal position of the mainstream, centrist RCA and the OU that deliberated for months and years on these matters and issued clear and unequivocal guidelines.

Certainly it is in the interest of advocates of female clergy to want to keep a “conversation” going on ad infinitum. So every decision contrary to their interests necessarily becomes a “rush to judgment.” Not beholden to any authority but their own wishes, they pretend there is still room for further clarifications, negotiations and conversations. But the Torah on this issue is settled. It is settled regardless of the feathers that are ruffled, the sacred oxen that are gored, or the genuine passions that advocates have.

There will always be outliers who maintain their way is correct, as there will always be social media posters who are quite edgy and outspoken in their echo chamber.

But the RCBC is a rabbinical organization, one of whose roles is the maintenance of community standards in any number of ways. It stands for something: the Mesorah.

No one is being excluded or ostracized, except voluntarily. If a shul removed its mechitza, according to our bylaws its rabbi would no longer be eligible for RCBC membership. The issue of female clergy is our generation’s mechitza. Here we draw the line in the sand of Orthodoxy.

The ideal would be that Rabbi Helfgot defer to his peers and remain part of the general Orthodox community. If he chooses to leave, then he chooses to leave. He is the one who deviated from the consensus in a way that mimics the practices of the non-Orthodox movements. If Professor Shaul Lieberman could declare the notion of female clergy “risible,” then we should be clear on what is outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy.

But an organization that passes laws that it has no intention of enforcing stands for nothing and gives the impression that rules don’t matter. In due course, that organization too would not matter. The RCBC handled this matter with great sensitivity and tried, for the sake of peace, to moderate its language and keep its deliberations out of the public domain. It’s a shame that this sensitive, respectful approach was not reciprocated.

Halacha doesn’t change because of how many “likes” someone gets on a Facebook post. People don’t get to vote on whether a particular drug works or not. It either does or doesn’t. Discussions need not continue until the advocates get their way; that is bullying, anti-intellectual and against halacha. Sometimes discussions end when the matter has been settled. And employing American constitutional terminology of freedoms, rights, etc., plays absolutely no role in halachic discourse.

This matter is settled and I pray that those who are unhappy with it remain part of our greater community. Those who breached the achdut must choose to restore it.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
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