Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Why Women Will Never Be Orthodox Rabbis

posted by David Klinghoffer

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.


Advertisement
Comments read comments(32)
post a comment
LAURA MUSHKAT

posted February 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm


One error in the article-due to the fact that Orthodox is often seen by some people as the only “traditional” form of Judaism.
Conservative is also traditional and does have female Rabbis.
Reform, ofcourse, also have female Rabbis.
Funny thing-rabbi means teacher and in the Orthodox form of our religon teachers (in all 3 types of schools-daily or even parts of the week actually)have female teachers! You would think they would be given equality and ordained from that way at looking at things as well. Ofcourse they would have to then be able to read Torah, and do all the other things only males do in that form of Judaism.



report abuse
 

Dan

posted February 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm


Has Jonathan Wells decided if HIV infection can cause AIDS yet?
Or, is he still an HIV denier? He should survive by resisting a change in his conclusions.
Anyways.
Hmmm, interesting Wellian logic – a mutation, by definition a change, results in another identical mouse. Change = identical. Ummm, ok.
Gosh, you guys at the DI are exceptionally brilliant, no wonder you’re so well published, I mean, give talks at private high schools… when will you guys be getting your Nobels?
Judaism has survived by resisting change… I sure won’t be caught in temple again (if I can help it), unless it changes. Religious mythology is on the decline, especially in Europe. I guess it depends on how one defines “survive”.



report abuse
 

granny

posted March 1, 2010 at 12:15 am


which judaism are you discussing? Sephardic (older) or Ashkenazi (newer)? Judaism has changed many many many times, and that is why it has survived. You are wrong.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted March 1, 2010 at 9:18 am


The same sort of arguments have been used to justify the caste systems of the world, to justify the Class divisions and borders of the world and the communal divisions of the world that TORAH supposedly threw into unprecdented upheaval (theologically and politically) by removing an enslaved people (‘coded into the genome’ temporally and transcendentally for their subjugated status), from Mitzraim, the same Torah that legislated an unheardof and inconceivable egalitarianism (inconceibable by the social ‘genetics’ of their day and perhaps this argument), in an social and political environment well versed in “eternal” notions of “spiritual DNA”.



report abuse
 

Ellen

posted March 1, 2010 at 9:38 am


As a historian of the Jewish people, I can state that “Orthodox” Judaism has not existed for millennia. It has existed since the 19th century. Jewish tradition is millennia old; however, the rigid orthodoxy we identify today as “Orthodox Judaism” came into being as a reaction to the attempt to “reform” Jewish practice — that is, to make Jewish practice more acceptable to Christians so that Jews could assimilate to a degree, yet still remain nominally Jewish. The “Orthodoxy” we see today began as an attempt to preserve traditional ways of life against the pressures of modernization and assimilation. Prior to the 19th century, there were just Jews, and the ways in which Jews lived. The traditions were not monolithic (although certainly closely related), and there was change over time.
Klinghoffer may want to examine the history of the modern Jewish movements before he talks about DNA and other glib, absurd metaphors.



report abuse
 

Mike S

posted March 1, 2010 at 9:53 am


Chassidus would seem to be a clear counterexample to your point.



report abuse
 

Ellen

posted March 1, 2010 at 11:34 am


Mike S: Indeed not. As I said, traditional practice is old; “Orthodox Judaism” as a movement is not. But you do make my point: Chassidus, in the beginning, was opposed — violently, at times — by many in the established Eastern European communities, especially in Lithuania. Although Chassidus is classified under the general umbrella of “Orthodox” (some call them “ultra-Orthodox”) nowadays, in the 18th century, when the Chasidic movement began, it was considered a radical departure from tradition. There were bans, excommunications, and worse at the time.
Chasidim and the forerunners of today’s Orthodoxy only began to join forces in the 19th century, as the movement that became Reform gathered momentum.



report abuse
 

DJ Clawson

posted March 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm


“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.”
Since you seem to be so familiar with science, perhaps you’ve heard of evolution? You know, creatures adapting through a series of mutations to a new environment over generations? Something Judaism has been doing since Avram was given the name Avraham? If Judaism was coded into our genes at Sinai, we would still be a tribal religion with a wandering mizbaiach and sacrificing on the high places, not wearing black hats to symbolize our adherence to tradition and going into long debates about gramma switches. Halacha is a living, breathing thing or there would be no reason to have responsa anymore.
And being so educated, you know what happens to people who don’t adapt.



report abuse
 

Dan

posted March 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm


How can you possibly trust something that is unclean for about 1/5 of it’s productive lifespan, on a monthly basis, to possibly provide spiritual insight? Further, they can’t even produce a child without writhing in pain – I don’t see men having this same limitation.
The daughters of Eve can’t even be circumcised, and they are easily fooled by talking snakes, this is why a divine entity won’t let them carry his word. And men, created in this divine image and blessed with superior physical strength, must therefore ensure that never happen!!



report abuse
 

RJM

posted March 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm


You seem unaware of the many, many changes that have taken place in Orthodox Judaism in the past century, or even the past thirty years, including the ubiquitousness of the Bat Mitzvah, which was anathema to Orthodoxy only a few decades ago. Orthodoxy is not comparable to DNA, because while DNA is a material phenomenon, Orthodoxy essence is its principles, and as long as a change doesn’t contradict those principles, it is no threat to the survival of Orthodoxy. It is best to leave the determination of what is or is not compatible with the principles of Orthodoxy to Orthodox Rabbis who are experts in this field.



report abuse
 

Menahem

posted March 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm


Ellen, this historian disagrees with you. Yes, Orthodox is a description that arose fairly late but only after progressive movements arose. The movements who maintained Jewish tradition as it was understood heretofore then defined themselves (or were defined by others) as Orthodox. Maimonides did not call himself Orthodox nor did the rabbis of the Talmud, the early commentators, the great decisors… but they are, in the context of this discussion, all fundamentally Orthodox.
I respect your right to disagree but believe your point is fundamentally flawed.



report abuse
 

Shmuel

posted March 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm


Jacob Katz in his studies of halachik develoment recognized that there is a Jewish Halachik gut reaction ie irrespective of any halachik arguments there are certain things which go against the Jewish halachik consciousness and will not be accepted by the Jewish halcha abifinv masses.



report abuse
 

Hillel David Rapp

posted March 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm


The problem with this argument (aside from the somewhat ironic parallel to evolutionary biology) is that it is based on a false premise – that the title rabbi has been used even somewhat consistently throughout our history, thus implying there will be some drastic change to our “spiritual DNA” in applying it to women. The reality is that a congregational rabbi in the U.S. in 2010 is a completely new expression of Jewish leadership, as is the modern Rosh Yeshiva or a current educator bearing the title rabbi. The expectations of knowledge, skill, and function are different for each, and barely resemble the roles as they existed 100, 200, and 500 years ago. Everything from the curriculum studied, to the method of confirmation, to the ultimate role of leadership has been evolving with each generation, and in fact, looks drastically different in a relatively short period of time. Does Rabbi Lookstein resemble Rav Yonatan Eibshitz in any significant way? Last I checked, Rabbi Lookstein was not writing kabbalistic amulets for his congregants to wear and ward off spirits, and Rav Eibshitz never took his congregation on a mission to Sderot. And these are two pulpit rabbis only a couple of hundred years apart!
The reality is that the only element of the institution “rabbi” that has not changed is the word itself and the fact that it has not been universally granted as a title to women. The departure from history being proposed here is purely semantic. In many ways, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s push half a century ago to create gender equality in the Lithuanian model of Jewish education represented a much more sweeping and dramatic departure from historical norms, in that it advocated for gender equality in educational curriculum and content. A change in the application of the title “rabbi” is no more dramatic than the natural changes that have already occurred in the roles of leadership in society, because the title “rabbi” represents nothing more than the latest expression of communal or educational leader.
It seems the author is making a common mistake derived from the ignorant position that Orthodox Judaism as it functions today is an authentic representation of what Judaism has looked like for thousands of years. The reality is that Orthodox Judaism was as reactionary in our history as Reform and Conservative Judaism had been, and its inception was as unique a departure from what came before. In fact, the concepts, content, and curriculum that drive many Orthodox community’s education have expanded and developed to the point just shy of providing full gender equality. It is as if you said that women could study all that was needed to be medical doctor, but could not hold the title Doctor because for thousands of years only men had been granted that title. If Orthodox Judaism is willing to recognize full equality between men and women in educational content and leadership capabilities, granting them an identical title that confirms such knowledge and ability for their community is actually a rather minor change. Failing to do so is nothing short of discrimination based on gender.



report abuse
 

Mark L.

posted March 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm


Your points in this article on Orthodoxy and female rabbis are moderate and sensible, David, unlike some of the responses you’ve received. Anyone who can’t recognize that Orthodox (or traditional) Judaism has developed slowly over a long period of time, and that the introduction of female rabbis would represent a radical change for it is either lacking in common sense or is ideologically overheated.



report abuse
 

Emily with the Kippah

posted March 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm


What about Asenath Barzani, the Kurdish woman for whom the title “Tanna’it” was coined to describe a Talmudic scholar of the feminine gender? This was in 16th century Kurdistan.



report abuse
 

tzvee

posted March 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm


ironic that you publish your misogynist sexist attack on purim



report abuse
 

David Klinghoffer

posted March 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm


What’s “misogynist” here?



report abuse
 

a reader

posted March 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm


with all due respect, your analogy could not be more off the mark. you assert that women rabbis would be a violation of the “spiritual DNA” of traditional judaism. however, you fail to recognize that the idea of a woman rabbi/halachik authority is found (or at the very least entertained) in the opinions of several of the greatest ‘rishonim’ (medieval halachik authorities), not to mention the prophtetess Devorah who, we are told, judged Israel. To follow your analogy, the concept of a woman rabbi/halachik authority would actually be “encoded” in the “spiritual DNA” of traditional judaism (latent as it may have been for centuries), and would certainly be in no way a violation of it, as you suggest.
furthermore, to echo the comments of several others, your characterization of traditional/orthodox judaism as essentially a monolithic, unchanging, and unadapting organism belies a deep misunderstanding and/or lack of familiarity of the development of halacha and jewish practice over the last 20, 200, and 2000 years.



report abuse
 

Scott R.

posted March 1, 2010 at 11:48 pm


We’re not Catholic – our “priests” don’t do magic such as when communion is consecrated. Our clergy are just teachers. Why can’t a women teach, read the Torah or say prayers in public with men present?
Are we really that weak that we can’t handle this?
This is why I cannot deal with Orthodoxy. Proud Reformative.



report abuse
 

Mark2

posted March 3, 2010 at 3:17 am


“a reader” writes: “to echo the comments of several others, your characterization of traditional/orthodox judaism as essentially a monolithic, unchanging, and unadapting organism belies a deep misunderstanding and/or lack of familiarity of the development of halacha and jewish practice over the last 20, 200, and 2000 years.”
Which part of:
“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.”
did you miss?



report abuse
 

Jack Clark

posted March 3, 2010 at 5:49 pm


You said: “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.”
I guess neither you nor your friend understand much about Darwin and his theory of evolutionl. There is a fourth possibility when it comes to mutuations, namely, that the mutant represents a change that increases the viability of both the speciman and the species.
Although, realistically, you’re probably still struggling with the earth is round theory, so why am I wasting my breath?



report abuse
 

Ray Ingles

posted March 4, 2010 at 1:26 pm


Just as a particular species has its own integrity, coded in its genome…

What if “species” aren’t Platonic Forms? What if the boundaries are fuzzier than that?



report abuse
 

Mark2

posted March 5, 2010 at 4:20 am


Jack Clark writes: “I guess neither you nor your friend understand much about Darwin and his theory of evolutionl (sic). There is a fourth possibility when it comes to mutuations”
Which part of:
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.”
did you miss?



report abuse
 

J.R.

posted March 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm


So his editorial is fluf but not for the reasons you may think. He makes this grand generalizations about the nature of “Orthodoxy” without any substance.
However, on a halachic\legal basis a female “rabba” is probably impermissible and possibly forbidden.
1. First, there are no such things as Rabbis. They don’t exist anymore. Nobody has ‘smicha.” What we have instead today are spiritual leaders. Most of the Jewish world throughout history revered to their spiritual leaders as “Hakchamim” -wise people not as Rabbis. The terms are important in capturing the state of spirituality the Jewish people are in.
2. So the question then is really a> can women be leaders? b> can women issue psak halacha?
The answer to both of these for most of Jewish history is NO. The Talmud reiterates that women can not hold leadership positions – although the Talmud leaves some room on the issue of halachic psak. However, the rishonom and achronim take the view that women cannot be leaders of their communities and cannot even issue psak halachot. This view is consistant. Modern Rabbis, including Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Solevietchik have also taken the view that women cannot be leaders, although many rabbis have been flexible on the issue of psak. Rav Solevietchik went even as far as to say that women can’t be a President of a synagogue.
Unless one wants to adopt a new view of how to view the Talmud, and the early rabbis, maybe the view held by the early conservative movement, then its clearly forbidden based on Orthodox ideologies for a women to be a rabbi, rabba, whatever – it doesn’t matter what you call her – she can’t be a spiritual leader.
What about Devorah? Well the Talmud addresses this. “For there was no man in Israel”



report abuse
 

Hector

posted March 11, 2010 at 3:20 pm


“Modern Rabbis, including Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Solevietchik have also taken the view that women cannot be leaders, although many rabbis have been flexible on the issue of psak. Rav Solevietchik went even as far as to say that women can’t be a President of a synagogue.”
Funny, but my friend’s synagogue, which is more “to the right” than the Young Israel (the leaders are followers of Rabbi Soloveitchik) down the road, has a female president, the second one in four years.



report abuse
 

tzvee

posted March 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm


what is _not_ misogynist about this post? no basis for discriminating against women, except misogyny, characterize it however you wish. it also is a stupid policy, denying a religious group of 50% of its talent pool for leadership. other than that, the situation is wonderful, no?



report abuse
 

Bryce

posted March 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm


Tzvee, would you like to go on the record as calling Rabbi Soloveitchik a misogynist?



report abuse
 

Bryce

posted March 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Ben Zion

posted March 25, 2010 at 7:20 pm


Mutations are overwhelmingly deleterious?
Suggest the writer try to avoid biological metaphors in future.
Mutations are much needed for survival of the species as the organism reacts and adapts to changing environmental conditions.
The problem I have with orthodox Judaism is that their prejudice is not limited to women rabbis. They deny the reality of other denominations of Jewish practice and deny the possibility that women rabbis can exist in any denomination. When they deny people their religious and professional identity of others they enter a dangerous slippery slope. Try being a woman in Saudi Arabia, Afganistan under the Taliban or worse.



report abuse
 

Mark2

posted April 18, 2010 at 3:19 am


Ben Zion writes, in the non-essential part of his post:
“Mutations are overwhelmingly deleterious?” and
“Mutations are much needed for survival of the species as the organism reacts and adapts to changing environmental conditions.”
I hope he realizes that these two statements (for this purpose, take the first as an assertion, not a question) are in no way contradictory.



report abuse
 

Pingback: U.S. Orthodox Rabbis Urge Community to Accept Gays, Lesbians BT - Lez Get Real | Lez Get Real

free coupon

posted September 20, 2014 at 7:11 pm


Hi there colleagues, how is everything, and what
you want to say concerning this post, in my view its actually remarkable designed for me.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Kingdom of Priests. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Kabballah Counseling Happy Reading!

posted 11:24:22am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Animal Wisdom: The Voice of the Serpent
Our family watched Jaws together the other evening -- which, in case you're wondering, I regard as responsible parenting since our kids are basically too young to be genuinely scared by the film. The whole rest of the next day, two-year-old Saul was chattering about the "shark teeth." "Shark teeth g

posted 3:56:33pm Mar. 16, 2010 | read full post »

Reading Wesley Smith: Why the Darwin Debate Matters
If the intelligent-design side in the evolution debate doesn't receive the support you might expect from people who should be allies, that may be because they haven't grasped why the whole thing matters so urgently. I got an email recently from a journalist whom I'd queried on the subject. "All told

posted 5:07:12pm Mar. 15, 2010 | read full post »

The Mission of the Jews
Don't miss my essay over at First Things on the mission of the Jews to the world. This, I think, the key idea that the Jewish community needs to absorb at this very unusual cultural moment, for the time is so, so right. Non-Jews are waiting for us to fulfill the roll God gave us in the Torah. Please

posted 6:14:16pm Mar. 05, 2010 | read full post »

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult
Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the topic. But no attempt to assess the scope of his legacy

posted 2:04:11pm Mar. 04, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.