Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Mesora: Beyond the Issue of Women Rabbis

 The gemara praises Beit Hillel for quoting Beit Shammai first. The reality its that there is a vast difference when people present their opinion as the only one and when they do so within the context of a disagreement on the subject. There is clearly greater depth and ultimate understanding in the latter context but a decision regarding the options also clearly becomes more difficult. In addition, it is important to also further recognize that Beit Hillel still did not present the Tzadduki view on the subject. The further parameters of Orthodoxy must always also be considered. All in all, though, the recognition of possible disagreement does open up the world of greater depth.

It is thus interesting in that the present discussion of the place of women rabbis within Orthodoxy, the discussion has generally not followed the process of Beit Hillel, with neither side, most often, (1) presenting their arguments while also presenting the divergent the views or, (2) if they believe the opposing argument to be beyond the pale, presenting why this is so.

See, for example:
the following shiurim arguing, from the Mesora, against women rabbis from Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman

and the following article from Rabbi Avi Weiss obviously in favour of women rabbis

My point is not to equate the two sides but to raise the issue of why the arguments do not include the obvious depth of the broader issue and disagreement that is inherent to the discussion.

In this regard, I should also mention the article from Rabbi Hershel Schachter at
which does attempt to present the greater depth of the issue in showing the complexity of it. It is because of this very complexity that Rabbi Schachter points out that it is, thus, most necessary that such decisions be made by a gadol.

The problem then becomes, though, defining who is a gadol, which is already a continuous and contentious issue within contemporary Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, Rabbi Schachter does not address this issue. In this regard, many people do not recognize that those who favour women rabbis actually maintain that they are following the view of a gadol in their eyes as they consider Rabbi Daniel Sperber in that category. No wonder that removed, objective looks at what is happening in regard to this issue are raising questions not on the issue itself but how the issue is being addressed. See, for example:

Alan Krinsky's article in the Forward at

and Garnel Ironheart's post on the subject on The Blog of Garnel Ironheart at

(I must say, it is with pride that I state that both authors actually have a connection with Nishma.)

 I just wish to add my voice to this concern. Beyond women rabbis, we have to recognize the true depth of Torah. I have great concerns when I hear those arguing for women rabbis in a manner which
negates the vast majority view of Torah scholars that have a problem with this issue in, at least, some ways. And I have similar concerns when I hear those arguing against the concept not having any recognition that those who are supporting this view also have their arguments. This doesn't make it right -- but its not so simple.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


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