I have sympathy for religious mavericks like Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York, who for ordaining a woman as a rabbi, or “rabba” as he calls her, is under fire from Orthodox rabbinic colleagues on the Rabbinical Council of America. To be Avi Weiss takes guts. Unfortunately for him, as the New York Jewish Week‘s Jonathan Mark is anticipating, his gutsiness could result in Rabbi Weiss’s expulsion from the RCA.
There’s a simple reason why ordaining women as Orthodox rabbis will never catch on. Religions are like species of animals. Just as a particular species has its own integrity, coded in its genome, that makes it one kind of creature instead of another — a dog instead of a cat — so too with faiths. Orthodox Judaism has a spiritual genetic code that has insured its survival for millennia. That record of survival, as in the circular if nevertheless undeniable logic of Darwinism, attests to its survival fitness.
Whether you think women rabbis are a commendable idea or not, the notion if put into practice would represent a violation of the spiritual DNA of traditional Judaism. In an animal, mutations tend overwhelmingly to be either without effect or deleterious. As my friend and colleague Jonathan Wells observes, it’s pretty much a rule of thumb that a mutation in a mouse results either in another identical mouse, a sick mouse, or a dead mouse.
To adopt the metaphor, Rabbi Weiss seeks to mutate Orthodox Judaism in a radical fashion. But Judaism has survived precisely by resisting major change. Sure, Orthodoxy has experienced a certain kind of slow genetic drift over thousands of years, but nothing like the kind of instantaneous refashioning that Rabbi Weiss envisions. When radicals have sought to reform Judaism in the past, what you ended up with has always been either failure, or the splitting away of new religions. Judaism, for better or worse, is not subject to revolutions — at least, not successful revolutions.
You can only wish Rabbi Weiss well, but his cause is doomed.