Why Can't Women Get Modern Smicha and Become Rabbis?

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  • #609256
    benignuman
    Participant

    The RCA reiterated the following in response to Yeshivat Maharat graduating their first class:

    “In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halachically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.”

    I mean the following as a pure halachic question.

    A woman cannot be a witness and cannot be dayan, but she can answer a halachic question and the person asking can choose to follow. Modern Smicha is just r’shus to answer shailos. The Modern Rabbi need not be a dayan.

    So why can’t women be Rabbis? They can be teachers of Torah (like many Rebbetzins are), they can counsel (like many Rebbetzins do), they can give sermons (like many Rebbetzins do), and if knowledgeable they can answer shailos.

    I have never met a woman who knows how to learn (although I assume that there are a few out there), and who I would trust answering shailos, but there are many current Rabbis who I would similarly distrust. We might want to strengthen our standards in Smicha programs, but as long as women meet those standards, why can’t they be Rabbis?

    #1071495
    Torah613Torah
    Participant

    If Devorah Hanevia could be a shofetes without being a Rabbi, not being a Rabbi obviously doesn’t prevent you from doing much.

    It’s just a title, and most women don’t care about titles anyway (except their husband’s titles.)

    #1071496
    writersoul
    Member

    Torah: Well, I want to be a doctor, so let’s say, hypothetically, that I know everything I need to know to set up shop, but since I didn’t go to med school, I can’t get my MD- even without the title, even though I can practice medicine as well as any doctor, I’m obviously limited in what I can do with my knowledge, as nobody wants to be healed by someone who’s not an MD (or RN or PA or whatever).

    Perhaps to some, the title of rebbetzin signifies the kind of female rabbi indicated in benignuman’s post; for many, however, that does not seem to be the case.

    (BTW: I have no interest in becoming a rabbi- as I already mentioned, I want to be a doctor. This isn’t so much devil’s advocate as trying to see both sides of the point. Besides, I can say that really, I don’t care about being a rabbi, who needs it, and all that stuff, but the fact remains that people DO care that they can’t be rabbis, including a couple people I know, and I think that that is a very valid feeling to have- whether halachically permissible is a COMPLETELY different story.)

    #1071497
    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    From a Cross-Currents article about the RCA resolution, written by Rabbi Adlerstein:

    #1071498

    Ah, the old “bechukosaihem” rationale. In a US court, it would be void for vagueness.

    #1071499
    Sam2
    Participant

    There is actually a massive legal issue as Jewish women cannot receive tax exemptions for parsonage because, by definition, they cannot be clergy.

    #1071500
    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    Well, my objection is that I have decided to become a chovevei-nik, and therefore I follow Conservative Judaism, and Saul Lieberman paskened it is assur.

    I have read the teshuva. He says that it is assur to call a woman the title “rav” or “rabbi” because it denotes being kosher as a dayan and they are not.

    What can I say? Benignuman convinced me on the other thread and now I’m convinced.

    Lemme see if I can find it online. I did, the Hirhurim blog has it in english–google “saul lieberman women rabbi” and it will come up.

    #1071501
    Sam2
    Participant

    DY: Rav Soloveitchik was famous for his Shittah that anything that another branch of Judaism tries to change and make a tenet of their religion becomes Yeihareg V’al Ya’avor. He has Gemaras and Rishonim to prove this.

    #1071502
    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    Ah, the old “bechukosaihem” rationale. In a US court, it would be void for vagueness.

    On that note:

    http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/coffeeroom/topic/will-you-marry-me#post-244271

    #1071503
    Torah613Torah
    Participant

    1. What exactly is the difference between a shofetes and a dayan?

    2. writersoul, to my understanding, it can be argued that being a Rabbi isn’t like being a doctor, because you don’t really need smicha in order to do the things being a Rabbi permits you to do (since there isn’t really smicha today anyway.)

    btw your identity is showing. Try to be more careful. (this + some other threads.)

    #1071504
    yytz
    Participant

    Benignuman: On the question of women who know how to learn, a few Rebbetzins known as Torah scholars in their own right have been included in the leadership of Beit Hillel, a new dati leumi coalition meant to promote a moderate approach to counter the extremism of Israeli charedim. While they aren’t called rabbis, they do participate in the halachic discussions of the organization.

    #1071505
    benignuman
    Participant

    Torah613,

    Tosafos says people came to Devorah for psak, but she didn’t sit on a Bais Din and could not enforce her rulings (but everyone listened out of their great respect for her).

    #1071506
    benignuman
    Participant

    DY,

    Do you know where this Avnei Nezer is?

    I don’t see how there is any serara. What power does a rabbi have? What power does a rabbi have that Devorah did not have?

    #1071508
    Sam2
    Participant

    Ben: There’s two De’os in Tosfos on that.

    #1071509
    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    Seriously. You mean to tell me that a troll like me can be a rabbi, and not one single woman (or married woman) can?

    #1071510
    writersoul
    Member

    Okay, true, mod. I’m taking that down.

    I’m just trying to pinpoint exactly what Torah is singling out as identifying me, if not for that.

    ETA: Apparently the post is too old to edit- mod, can you please take that down?

    I’m being really obtuse tonight, methinks.

    #1071511
    writersoul
    Member

    To repost my original point in the post that was taken down (thanks, mod!):

    Torah: Just like you wouldn’t want a doctor without a degree, no matter how knowledgeable, you would probably prefer a rabbi with semicha over a random rebbetzin. Even if logically, for your purpose, either one would do the same thing, we lean towards the one that is accredited. As you mentioned, a title commands respect.

    Also, do you know me, or are you just guessing? (If I’m the only wannabe doctor in the whole frum universe, then that’s a shame, IMHO.)

    #1071512
    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    DY,

    Do you know where this Avnei Nezer is?

    No. If I get a chance, I’ll try to find it.

    #1071513
    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    You mean to tell me that a troll like me can be a rabbi

    What’s it worth anyhow if you’re not on the RCA?

    #1071514
    benignuman
    Participant

    Sam2,

    I know, but I never understood Tosafos’ other answer given that a navi can’t change halacha (outside of horaas sha).

    #1071515
    Chortkov
    Participant
    #1071517
    Avi K
    Participant

    I think it’s mainly a response to the feminist movement as well as non-Orthodox movements. I personally do not understand how a rabbi whose contract must be re-approved periodically and whose son does not inherit his postion (see Rav Shaul Yisrael, “Amud HaYemini” 12:5) is said to hold a ????. There is a title “yoetzet halacha”, which is pretty much the same thing, and is issued by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and accepted by mainstream MO shuls in the US. While the yoetzet si generally limited to questions of taharat hamishpacha and other women’s issues, there are also liitation to various types of semicha. Only “Yadin, Yadin” allows one to be a dayan. “Yoreh, Yoreh” is a general license to pasken. YU also has a title “Rav uManhig” for men who want to teach limudei kodesh as it is considered pas nisht for such a teacher to be “a Mr.”. It also gives a designation “chaver”, which basically means that he is a learned baal bayit.

    #1071518
    Daniel Rosen
    Member
    #1071519
    benignuman
    Participant

    I think the argument that we cannot give women smicha because that would be perceived as changing the Torah to fit modern sensibilities and the capitulate to the Reform and Conservative movements, is a strong one.

    I need to think about it. It does seem somewhat disturbing that we would be held hostage like that by the actions of outsiders.

    #1071520
    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    It does seem somewhat disturbing that we would be held hostage like that by the actions of outsiders.

    There’s a lot of precedent for that. On can argue that the whole issur of “chukas hagoyim” is being held “hostage” by the actions of outsiders.

    The Chasam Sofer made takanos to separate us from reform, e.g. not having a chupah in a Bais Haknesses (I think that was the C’S).

    I would argue that Chabad’s messianism has taken others’ yearning for Moshiach hostage, and modern day zionism has taken non-zionists’ love for E.Y. hostage, and I’m sure we can find other examples.

    #1071521
    Daniel Rosen
    Member

    Benignuman: even if the only people in the world were orthodox jews, nothing would change its intrinsic to proper society roles.

    #1071522
    modex
    Member

    Not only is it a strong argument against issuing such smicha or manafacturing female rabbbis, but please ask yourself the question why *should* we make woman rabbis after 3,500 years since Moshe Rabbeinu of not having such a concept.

    #1071523
    charliehall
    Participant

    “A woman cannot be a witness and cannot be dayan”

    Actually a woman can be a dayan in a property case, although at the moment there are no women with the appropriate level of semichah. Rav Uziel z’tz’l points this out in his response to Rav Kook z’tz’l over the issue of women voting and running for office; essentially the entirety of the Jewish world accepted Rav Uziel’s opinion.

    “I want to be a doctor, so let’s say, hypothetically, that I know everything I need to know to set up shop, but since I didn’t go to med school, I can’t get my MD”

    There was a time, not that long ago, when women could not become doctors. Elizabeth Blackwell, followed by her sister Emily Blackwell, were the first two female physicians in the United States — graduating from medical school in the United States in 1849. (Interestingly the first female Protestant minister in the US, Antoinette Brown, would marry their brother Sam Blackwell.) However, what is not well known is that in ancient times, in the middle ages, and in early modern times there were a very, very small number of female physicians in Europe. Similarly, there were a very small number of learned women in Judaism who fulfilled rabbi-like roles without the title.

    “Perhaps to some, the title of rebbetzin signifies the kind of female rabbi indicated in benignuman’s post; for many, however, that does not seem to be the case.”

    Rebbitzen mean’s rabbi’s wife; there isn’t any reason why one must be married to someone with semichah in order to get semichah yourself.

    ” it denotes being kosher as a dayan”

    The usual yoreh yoreh semichah that 99% of rabbis have specifically does NOT qualify them to be a dayan. And see above.

    ‘I personally do not understand how a rabbi whose contract must be re-approved periodically and whose son does not inherit his postion (see Rav Shaul Yisrael, “Amud HaYemini” 12:5) is said to hold a ????.’

    Neither do I. The way that congregations treat rabbis clearly shows that it is the people with the money who have the ????.

    “It does seem somewhat disturbing that we would be held hostage like that by the actions of outsiders.”

    Indeed it is changing the Torah because of the actions of outsiders.

    ” intrinsic to proper society roles”

    Given that there are only about a dozen mitzvot from the Torah for which there is a different obligation for men than for women, it is a pretty big stretch to use the Torah to justify the halachic imposition of different roles for women that arose in the non-Jewish culture around us.

    Before one can adequately address this question, one has to realize what “ordination” means today: If you have yoreh yoreh semichah, you are a rabbi, whatever title you have. Contrary to what the opponents of women’s ordination claim, yoreh yoreh semichah does NOT make you qualified as a dayan, chas v’shalom! All the subjects typically included in the examinations for yoreh semichah — kashrut, Shabat and Yom Tov, taharat hamishpacha, and aveilut — are subjects for which women and men both have a chiyuv, so there is absolutely no prohibition to teach women these halachot (and probably a chiyuv on the community to teach them). All the yoreh yoreh says is that the examining rabbi (or school) deems the recipient knowledgeable in those matters, and sufficiently trustworthy to teach and answer questions in those matters. It doesn’t imply any more ???? for women than for men.

    And although it has been rare in the past, we HAVE had such learned women so this is not really an innovation, just restoring something that died out probably as a response to the ways of the goyim who badly oppressed women by keeping them ignorant. In addition to Devorah and Beruriah, whom others have mentioned, the gemara in chullin reports that in talmudic times learned women would teach each other the laws of taharat hamishpacha and examine each others’s bedikah cloths. That is exactly the kind of thing that the learned women from Rav and Rabbanit Henkin’s Nishmat program do with they get certified as a yoetzet halachah.

    We should be rejoicing that in our times we have such learned women in our communities!

    #1071524
    Avram in MD
    Participant

    benignuman,

    I need to think about it. It does seem somewhat disturbing that we would be held hostage like that by the actions of outsiders.

    A unique facet of Torah law is that the intention of a person plays a significant role in the halacha. Maasei Shabbos is an example, where the permissibility of benefiting from the melacha (forbidden labor on Shabbos) may be different depending on whether the melacha was performed b’shogeig (unintentionally) or b’meizid (intentionally).

    Charliehall above makes a strong argument based on historical precedents in favor of a sort of ordination of women – and his points seem good; however, it is quite apparent that arguments like these are coming as a result of the push for women’s ordination, rather than as the driver.

    In other words, if there was a situation impacting mitzah observance in the Torah community, and some feel that a group of women who are certified to answer specific shailos would increase the ability of the community to observe the mitzvos, then these arguments may hold water to a broader segment of the community. It seems pretty clear, however, that the motivation by the activists pushing for ordination is coming from somewhere outside of the Torah community, and these halachic arguments are coming ex post facto.

    Therefore, it is not the halacha that is held hostage by the actions of outsiders, but the motivations of YCT, etc.

    #1071525
    notasheep
    Member

    I think it says something when you look at the modern world of women with their ‘equal rights’ and ‘feminism’ how these people are not really wanting what the position really entails, rather they just want to be the same as men. When you put this modernist view together with the Conservative and Reform movements you get women wanting to be rabbis.

    A normal frum woman who is well balanced and in her right mind wouldn’t dream of being a rabbi. We know that there are certain jobs that are for men, and some that are for women.

    #1071526
    just my hapence
    Participant

    notasheep – So what you’re essentially saying is that feminists want humans to be like dwarves… Well that would make shidduchim interesting – basically it would be asking, quite sheepishly, underneath the beard and chain-mail what gender the other person actually is…

    #1071527
    benignuman
    Participant

    notasheep and Daniel Rosen,

    The roles you describe are general ones. But there are exceptions. And as charliehall wrote there have been exceptional women throughout the ages that were very learned and became promulgators of Torah. I am not advocating mandatory Gemara study for women, I am only saying that we should not say it is assur and if a truly qualified woman comes along and would like to become a Rabbi we should have no issue with it (absent the appearance of giving in to Conservative and Reform, which I am mulling over).

    #1071528
    gavra_at_work
    Participant

    Well that would make shidduchim interesting

    Its basically the way it is now. A few beliefs, wear the beard and you get accepted as a dwarf. (al la Pepe)

    A few beliefs, wear the hat & jacket and poof (without any Chafing), you are an accepted yeshiva bochur. You now deserve life support.

    #1071529
    benignuman
    Participant

    Avram,

    I am not coming from some sort of feminist, “lets be egalitarian” position and I am not coming to validate anything ex post facto. I don’t think the world is harmed in anyway by there not being women rabbis.

    However, I value honest clear positions based on honest clear arguments. There is no categoric rule in halacha that women cannot be rabbis, so why pretend as if there is. Rather we should say that “if a properly motivated sufficient learned woman comes along and wishes to be tested for smicha, we have no problem with that. However we have a problem with institutions created for the purpose of being like Conservative and Reform, the church or secular society.”

    #1071530
    zahavasdad
    Participant

    There was a female Chassidic “Rebbe”

    The Maiden of Ludmir (Hannah Rachel Verbermacher)

    #1071531
    Avram in MD
    Participant

    benignuman,

    I am not coming from some sort of feminist, “lets be egalitarian” position and I am not coming to validate anything ex post facto.

    I’m not sure how you derived from my post that I was ascribing any motivations onto you, although perhaps I did so indirectly to charliehall, and definitely directly to YCT. I should have been more careful in my wording, so I apologize.

    I value honest clear positions based on honest clear arguments.

    I agree with you there.

    There is no categoric rule in halacha that women cannot be rabbis, so why pretend as if there is.

    I’m not sure that the absence from halacha is so clear cut. People who have much more Torah knowledge than I do seem to think that it is not permissible.

    If I had a minhag that for some reason I wanted to change, or if I wanted to do something that wasn’t commonly (or ever) done in the frum community, I would go to my rav and ask a shaila. I think the first thing he would ask me is, “why do you want to do this”? Whether he ultimately permits it or not would depend highly on my motivation for doing it. A different person in a different situation might get a completely different answer.

    The first change made by the Reform movement in Germany that brought huge condemnation from the rabbis of the time was something that seems tiny; they moved the Torah leining up to the bima. If a shul had done this because it was difficult for everyone to hear the leining, perhaps there would have been some disagreement, but not a full fledged outcry. The outcry happened because of the motivation of the reformers – to make their synagogues look more like churches.

    I cannot myself answer the question of whether ordaining a woman using the smicha system we have today is forbidden or not, but it does seem clear that the way YCT is going about it is not the proper Jewish way.

    #1071532
    Avram in MD
    Participant

    zahavasdad,

    There was a female Chassidic “Rebbe”

    The Maiden of Ludmir (Hannah Rachel Verbermacher)

    From a brief look at her Wikipedia entry, her behavior (acting like a chasidic rebbe) provoked a lot of opposition, and she asked a shaila of the Maggid of Chernobyl, who advised her to stop those practices, which she did.

    #1071533
    modex
    Member

    benignuman: I am only saying that we should not say it is assur and if a truly qualified woman comes along and would like to become a Rabbi we should have no issue with it

    Why hasn’t this scenario presented itself in the 3,500 years since Moshe Rabbeinu? Why should we change 3,500 years of Jewish practice?

    #1071534
    writersoul
    Member

    charliehall: Back in the day, when these women were doctors, the concept of medical school certainly existed but in much more of an abstract way. Chances are, even the male doctors in many of those Middle Age/Renaissance villages didn’t have degrees and probably achieved their level of experience by apprenticeship, as the women probably did.

    By rebbetzin, while I agree that being married to a rabbi doesn’t mean that you’re more holy or wise than anyone else, many do feel the prestige of the title. My entire point is that when you have the option of using someone with a title or without, it’s obvious which one people will choose. It’s hard, albeit possible, to achieve fame without obvious credentials.

    #1071535
    benignuman
    Participant

    Modex,

    It has presented itself. There are a few famous ones and presumably a few more that have just faded into obscurity. Devorah HaNavia is the most famous (obviously).

    What hasn’t happened is the conferring of the title “Rabbi.”

    I suspect that in Europe, the title Rabbi did likely amount to Serarah because there were independent religious communities and Rabbis often genuine powers as agents of government. But the modern Rabbi is at most a posek and most often a teacher and counselor. Neither of which amount to Serarah.

    #1071536
    Daniel Rosen
    Member

    I can’t believe the mods are even allowing this topic through. It’s pashut that women cannot be Rabbis.

    #1071537
    benignuman
    Participant

    Daniel,

    The Mishna says everyone should run away from rabbanus. Should we not have rabbannim? Beware of interpreting an Aggadda as halacha.

    It says what are “kalus rosh.” What does what happened to Bruriah have to do with this issue?

    There is no doubt that women could not have genuine smicha. Gufa because it is just a r’shus to answer shailos is the question being asked. A woman would want smicha so people know that she can answer shailos, that she is a moreh (?) horaah.

    It may be poshut to you, but it is isn’t poshut. As far as I know there is no clear cut statement in halacha that a woman cannot be a Rov.

    #1071538
    writersoul
    Member

    Daniel Rosen:

    If it’s so pashut, the mods have nothing to lose by letting these kofrim duke it out with the real Jews.

    If it isn’t, then there’s no reason for the mods to shut it down if they really want a place of discussion open to all (and they apparently don’t always, which is their right, I guess, but it’s still contrary to your point).

    #1071539
    modex
    Member

    benignuman: Is there any clear cut statement in halacha that one cannot dance in Times Square singing the Palestinian national anthem wearing nothing but shorts?

    #1071540
    Daniel Rosen
    Member

    Rav Moshe has a teshuva calling these feminists kofrim. This whole thread is based on kefira. Unbelievable how we are even having this conversation. Look at the entire period of Jewish history since the Rishonim and even earlier. Women have NEVER been Rabbis. This is truly unbelievable. Anyone with true yiras shamayim would know better than to even think this. You know I am speaking the truth. Real talmedei chachamim have more important things to do than come on this website and argue with anonymous posters like you.

    #1071541
    frumnotyeshivish
    Participant

    I think this whole conversation is geared toward discussing what women have the right to be in judaism. The concept of rights and entitlements is quite contrary to classic jewish thought.

    The premise of our lives is that we were created for a purpose. We have a mission. The mission is to create a relationship with, become close to, and be the slaves of, Hashem, thereby bringing the world to its spiritual fulfillment.

    The question then is God created men and women with many obvious differences. Why? We don’t believe the differences are accidental. Our sages explain many differences in the relative roles of men and women and their relative strengths and weaknesses. We don’t know God as well as our sages did.

    Shlomo Hamelech says in koheles “isha bchol aileh lo motzosi.” Rashi explains this is referring to halachah. Women have other strengths. If the role of women is perceived as a lesser one, either there is a problem with the perception, or God designed it that way. Neither of those two options suggests that women should waste their time trying to be men. I believe that it is tragic that so many just missed the boat.

    #1071542
    Daniel Rosen
    Member

    do not repeat posts

    #1071543
    Daniel Rosen
    Member

    I thought it did not go through which is why I repeated it but took out the bottom part because I thought it was censored. You guys have to figure about a better way to communicate with users in a non-public forum. It looks very amateurish.

    if you can still see it in yellow/with a yellow bar it has not been deleted. and this is our established method of communication, so deal with it.

    #1071544
    Daniel Rosen
    Member

    Yes there is Rav Soloveitchik even has a tshuva saying a woman cannot be a president of a shule mishum serara.

    #1071545
    interjection
    Participant

    I find it traumatizing every time I have a bedika shaila. It’s likely not something I will ever feel okay with. Nothing to do with feminism, if I knew of a female who was qualified to deal with those shailos, I would feel way more comfortable than going to a man. Many women who choose to become yoatzot do so because of the discomfort in going to men for private shailos.

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