19 March 2009

Considering the Moral Question in Regards to Women's Rabbinic Ordination: Briefly On Sunday's Dinner

Gary Rosenblatt speakingThis past Sunday, I attended YCT's first ever Evening of Appreciation (the last five years, the school has held Gala Dinners, but, on account, of the economic climate, they opted to scale it back). It was certainly not the same level as in previous years, with noticeable differences being the omission of hors oeuvres (with the exception of a little fruit) and the lack of an outside band (some students who played well accounted for the evening's musical accompaniment).
Aside from the entertaining remarks by Howard Jonas, the news-making element of the evening was the panel of several alumni fielding questions from the audience. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Week, wrote an article entitled "Orthodox Women’s Ordination? Even Rabbis Are Split", referring to a question posed to the panel if there was any moral impediment to women becoming rabbis (Bargain Jewess referred to it as "a question that will shock many and while there are many more pressing issues on the table it is something to think about as the dynamics of our community change."). Alex Kaye speakingHere is what he wrote about it:
Alexander Kaye, rabbinic assistant at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, elicited applause from many among the more than 300 people in attendance with his one-word reply: “None.”
But his fellow panelists were not as certain, with Adam Scheier, senior rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, and Saul Strosberg, rabbi of Sherith Israel in Nashville, Tenn., noting that while the ordination of Orthodox women may be a burning issue in the New York community, it did not have the same sense of urgency among their congregants.
Later in the discussion, Rabbi Kaye amplified his earlier response, asserting that while there may be strategic and political reasons for not having Orthodox women rabbis, he felt there was no moral basis for it.
The panel, as reflected above, was not unanimous. However, the question of morality in regards to women's ordination or not still is open. One of my schoolmates wrote the following (who permitted me to quote it here from a larger piece):
I personally do not feel egalitarianism is a moral imperative (I'm okay with roles) and if one does see it as a moral imperative, then as I've said in the past, then one should not be orthodox....since for a principled egalitarian Orthodoxy is an amoral system (that can only be pushed so far) and one should not lead, participate, or even affiliate with a system that is so antithetical to their definitions of morality. Also, I do not understand what is so bad about creating a leadership role for woman just as there has been for men for thousands of years. Why do we have to make her role have the same title as what has historically been a man's title? There is nothing magic about the title.....a new title will mean whatever role women play in Orthodox Judaism's future both based on the perception of the masses and the actual actions of women.
He continues:
Morality is not merely an academic ivory tower construct. Issues of morality cannot be separated from the real conditions to which the idea is related. Decisions to act upon our moral constructs and arrival to what is the moral action or decision must be tied to what will be the practical implications of the moral construct. The socio/political implications of what we conceive as moral actions is integral to arriving at what is the moral thing to do. This means, in my opinion, that in the case of Sarah Hurwitz, the practical implications for musmachim, YCT, and the congregants of synagogues led by YCT musmachim must be considered in arriving at what is the moral decision. If by doing this, musmachim may lose jobs, if congregants will feel betrayed, if congregations who want to be seen as orthodox will no longer be seen as orthodox will no longer be seen as orthodox, etc., then these issues must be factored into our process of what is the moral decision. To many Orthodox Jews, their standing and belonging to the Orthodox community is an important value and crucial to their Jewish identity. To jeopardize what these congregants believe to have important spiritual and practical value must be considered. We cannot do whatever we want just because we believe it is right. As leaders, we have responsibilities to the needs of our congregants. To act and talk publicly without regard to those who have put their trust in us is tyrannical and immoral.
It's certainly an interesting response to the moral question.

1 comment:

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I don't understand the comments cited in your post, nor do I find them to represent anything moral at all.

I take it that instead of clarifying the actual halakhic issues involved and being concerned about championing the cause of justice for 50% of the Jewish people (i.e., women), we should be worried about capitulating to the political pressure exerted by the Orthodox community and satisfying our constituents' fear of a fallout with the mainstream. How exactly is this advocating for justice or morality?

"Remember who signs your paycheck and what they expect you to do for them" is now considered a moral vision, the clarion call of justice?

Service of the community means guiding the community toward a true understanding of Torah principles even when this requires some compromise and sacrifice on our part (and theirs).

It doesn't mean legitimizing and perpetuating misconceptions about Judaism in the name of making people feel good about themselves.

I am sure many a rabbi was concerned about supporting the civil rights movement in this country for fear of running afoul of the deeply conservative and prejudicial attitudes of a good number of his constituents, people who probably believed that opposing civil rights was the Jewish thing to do.

Shame on them and shame on us if we adopt the same approach in dealing with the question of the role of women in Jewish congregational life.