Menachem Mendel

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It’s Going to Happen

I just finished read a very good book on the question of the relationship between literacy and power, specifically when it comes to advanced Jewish learning by woman. The book is Tamar El-Or’s Next Year I Will Know More: Literacy and Identity Among Young Orthodox Women in Israel. I highly recommend this book, or its Hebrew original, for anyone interested in this issue. Hebrew readers can hear a little bit about her new book here.

It was interesting to finish this book right before the RCA discussed the question of women rabbis. I will say it again, it is just a matter of time. Once you teach young women how to study Talmud, it is inevitable that you are going to have female rabbis. Give her whatever title that you want, but Torah=Power. Below is a selection from El-Or’s book in which she describes a conversation that she had with the head of the Midrasha at Bar-Ilan University about her claim that teaching women rabbinic texts will inevitably lead to changes within Jewish tradition and law. (pp. 68-70)

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8 Responses to “It’s Going to Happen”

  1. 1
    Yoine Cohen:

    For the life of me, I can never understand the way you and others cover this issue.

    Let us assume that in the future this will come to pass and a group of people who claim to be Orthodox Jews will have women Rabbis. Does that mean that no group of Jews who call themselves Orthodox will disagree and reject the group that did accept women Rabbis, in the same fashion they are rejecting Conservative Rabbis?

    Isn’t all this strictly speaking an issue of just semantics? Group A will have/get a name and Group B will have/get a name. Just like there is group known as Orthodox and an other that is called Conservative.

    If its inevitable that there will be Women Orthodox Rabbis, and I as a Hasidic Orthodox Haredi Jew believe that this will come to pass. But it will also come to pass that there will be a community that will consider them in same category as they presently consider Conservative men and women Rabbis; non legitimate in practical terms.

    So we will be left again with one group of Jews claiming to have halachic legitimacy in ordaining women Rabbis and other who reject their legitimacy!

    Unless they believe, that “all” Haredim or RWO’s are destined to disappear from the face of the earth or will drink some mind altering cool-aid to change their minds. But if that is not the case then you and the women in the article are simply chewing water.

    I kind of sense your hope but hasn’t your hope already been fulfilled by the Conservatives? So even from their/your prospective what exactly will be gained to have another group doing the same, and still be faced with the issue of non-recognition? And if they are hoping for broad acceptance by virtually all Orthodox and you think that it is positively in the offing. I would ask what kind of cool-aid are you drinking.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I in no way deny that a large number of orthodox Jews think that it is totally forbidden for women to be ordained as rabbis and they will continue to feel so, no matter what Avi Weiss, Daniel Sperber, or some other liberal orthodox rabbi does. I do think that it is a denial of reality for someone to think that they can educate Jewish women in traditional Jewish texts, especially Talmud and Poskim, and not think that this will lead to women rabbis. In this sense, I think that some in the RCA may be thinking whether teaching girls Talmud was such a smart idea. If you ask me, Rav Soloveitchik paved the way for female rabbis when he supported their studying Talmud. If your community doesn’t support such equal access to rabbinic literature, then there very well may never be female rabbis in your community. Acceptance is overblown. Since when did the Hasidic community ever accept anything coming out of YU? Right wing orthodoxy will continue to grow and flourish and that is a blessing for the Jewish people. I also think that labels “Orthodox”, “Modern Orthodox”, “Conservative”, are often meaningless.

  3. 3


    I largely agree with you. The difference between Mod Orth and Conservative is a simple one. Go into any Mod Orth shul and 95%+ are shomer shabbat. Not so a typical conservo shul. Once you have sanctioned driving on shabbat, the rest kind of went out the window.

    My hope is that this occurs not in our generation, but the next one, where people are more used to seeing women who have a better grasp of halacha and talmud than the average layman (emphasis on man). Then, it will simply be a matter of semantics.

  4. 4
    Yoine Cohen:

    “Since when did the Hasidic community ever accept anything coming out of YU? Right wing orthodoxy will continue to grow and flourish and that is a blessing for the Jewish people. I also think that labels “Orthodox”, “Modern Orthodox”, “Conservative”, are often meaningless.”

    The words above makes is clear that you responded שלא ממין הטענה not to the question I posed.

    The fact is that if the RCA preforms a get, or for that matter a kedushin it is recognized as valid 100% by the all RW of Rabbinic courts (I should know, as I function as a Toen-Rabbani) From my experience if a respondent to a summons to appear before any Haredi Court answers that he or she is willing to appear before the RCA the response is always respected. This is not the case with the Conservatives, one cannot to respond to the CRC or to Mechon LeHaraah of Monsey, that you are willing to stand before a Conservative Beth Din.

    While there are strong differences of opinion on many issues between various streams of Orthodoxy, the only thing that unites them is one thing, namely; “recognition”. The CRC (Satmar) does and will approve many products as Kosher by the OU (I used to be in the food business). They might have different standards but they ‘recognize’ them as being a Kosher ‘edut'[witness] on a product.

    It is not surprising for me that you claim that these distinctions are meaningless. Of course they are meaningless to you, but as was reported in the media, the members of the HIR were very concerned not loose their ‘orthodox’ legitimacy, in the eyes of other Orthodox Jews.

    It is clear to me, that any group or shul that accepts women Rabbis (yes as you predicted it will happen) will by definition loose the one bond that keaps all Orthodox in one bind, and that is ‘recognition’.

    You state that you don’t deny that for many it is forbidden, but that is not the question. The question is, if they will extend ‘recognition’ to those who don’t think its forbidden? And if they won’t, what exactly will be achieved that hasn’t already been achieved by the Conservatives? You will still be left with two groups (by what ever which name – I agree it doesn’t matter) that don’t recognize each other.

  5. 5
    Menachem Mendel:

    I think that your “recognition” is partial at best. Here are a few examples:

    If a woman converted with an Orthodox rabbi outside of the big Jewish communities who was a musmach of YU (I won’t even use the example of Hovevei) and then they wanted to marry a hassidische man, do you think that the conversion would be accepted? It is possible that they might, but correct me if I’m wrong, that they would probably require a giyyur le-chumrah. If I am correct, which I may not be, then recognition only goes so far.

    Why does Empire chicken need any hechsher in addition to the O-U. If O-U isn’t good enough, then you don’t recognize it. Having different standards is another way of saying that I don’t recognize it as kosher.

    If something is legitimate then you recognize it. You may not do it yourself, but if you think that it is a legitimate opinion that you’d eat the food.

    I am not a member of HIR and I wonder if some people in HIR aren’t aware of how their shul is perceived outside of Riverdale. HIR already has very little if no legitimacy in the eyes of many Orthodox Jews.

  6. 6
    Yoine Cohen:

    I am sure you are aware that empire already has a ‘haredi’ hechsher; the KAJ.

    Shechita is kind of different, where there is tradition of seeking a shochet who is ירא שמים מרבים and the different definitions of what is ‘glatt’ so lay people seek to get the most stringent for their own or guests’ consumption. Never would the most chumrah organization deem empire non kosher as to require ‘kashering’ of untensils. That is what is called ‘recognition’.

    Yes there are strong differences and sometimes a tinge of de-legitimization rhetoric flying among the Orthodox. But there is a bottom line, and where it ‘really’ matters. The Edah HaCharedis recognizes the Geirus and the Gittin of the Rabbanut.

    CRC recognizes RCA gitin and geyrus! But both don’t recognize Conservative acts of same. There is no other way to define the contours of what is Orthodoxy. Of course those who would love to see ‘change’ keep on ignoring or belittling this salient point, by claiming that the borders of Orthodoxy can’t be defined hence the oft repeated quote “labels are meaningless”.

    As the esteemed Rabba herself was quoted as saying that the ultra orthodox have anyways written off the MO’s so why bother with them. But my point is, that it is a misleading if not a self serving argument.

    It is not my intention to be disrespectful to you, so if I am please forgive me. No matter your views there is the Talmudic requirement mentioned in Maseches Chagiga 15:2 of kavod Toraso of Elisha, and a learned person you are in any case. >>

    [Oi vey my shtreimel is on fire]

  7. 7
    Menachem Mendel:


    IIRC, Empire didn’t always have a KAJ hechsher, that is only in the past few years. I understand your distinction between not eating something and saying that it’s not kosher. To tell you a little secret, I know that in the past the Rabbanut would sometimes recognize a Get given by certain Conservative rabbis since they respected their knowledge of Gittin. My guess is that this doesn’t happen so often any more. Maybe in fifty years we’ll be able to get a better perspective on what is happening now.

    Thanks for being a good bar plugta.

  8. 8
    Yoine Cohen:


    Your ‘secret’ just enhances my point. Individual Rabbis actions or status in both camps [Orthodox and Conservative] can get tacit approval or disapproval of their legitimacy, i.e. some Giyur’s of individual ‘orthodox’ Rabbis are rejected by some.

    But how does that change the general truth of what are the general dividing lines and accepted definitions by the widest consensus within Orthodoxy -especially the organized groups- of who and what is recognized as being legitimately Orthodox?




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