Thursday, Dec 2, 2021

Who is the Real Rabbi Joshua Maroof?

Painful as it is, we feel compelled to shine a spotlight on a small, but potentially very significant, controversy that has been brewing over the past few weeks regarding the views of a prospective candidate for the pulpit in an important West Coast congregation. The candidate, Rabbi Joshua Maroof, who most recently served as rabbi of Cong. Magen David of Rockville, MD, is no stranger to the readers of the Yated. Before re-introducing Rabbi Maroof, a few explanatory paragraphs are in order. For a number years, the Yated has been warning of the danger to Orthodoxy and halachic Judaism presented by the ideology of so-called “Open Orthodoxy,” as termed by its founder and proponent, Rabbi Avi Weiss. Whether it is Open Orthodoxy, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT), or the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), where Rabbi Weiss serves as rabbi and Sarah Hurwitz serves as “Rabbah,” the Yated in previous essays has exposed Open Orthodoxy as a clever tactic to institute Conservative and Reform practice under the guise of Orthodoxy. Indeed, we have previously questioned whether such practices can even be called Orthodox.

One of the most prominent aberrations was to introduce the rabbinic ordination of women, something prohibited by millennia of halacha and mesorah. Several years ago, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale ordained Ms. Sarah Hurwitz as a “Maharat,” a term that was later changed to “Rabbah.”

 

Rabbi Weiss, in an effort to confer a guise of rabbinic legitimacy to this clear breach of Orthodox and halachic practice, had three rabbis write ostensibly halachicteshuvos” explaining why such a practice would be permitted.

 

One of these responses was written by Rabbi Maroof, who also professed to be a mentor and teacher/tutor of Ms. Hurwitz. It should be noted that other than subscribe to the ordination of women, Rabbi Maroof has indicated on many occasions that he does not subscribe to the ideals of Open Orthodoxy.

 

Rabbi Maroof, however, made a special trip from Baltimore to be present at the “ordination” of his student, Ms. Hurwitz, and addressed the congregation at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. More on what he said in that address shortly.

 

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the rabbinical body of rabbis associated with Modern Orthodoxy, came out with a statement whose defining line was: “…We cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title…”

 

Today, Rabbi Maroof seeks a pulpit in a congregation that insists that he be a member of the RCA. Accordingly, he is seeking membership in the RCA, and the vote on his proposed membership is imminent. As such, his unorthodox view regarding the legitimacy of ordaining female rabbis has once again been placed in the spotlight.

 

RABBI MAROOF’S STATEMENTS AND CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE YATED

 

After the Yated exposed some of his very troubling remarks made publically at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Rabbi Maroof corresponded with the Yated and accused this newspaper of taking his statements out of context. At the same time, he, in part, repudiated his remarks.

 

The Yated printed an edited version of Rabbi Maroof’s letter on which he signed off as an accurate portrayal of his views. We said then that we accept his words at face value.

 

While we really want to take Rabbi Maroof at his word, his statements are somewhat confusing. Since that time, his remarks have become more bewildering. Rabbi Maroof has made some contradictory statements and comments that may lead some to believe that he is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

 

The question is really simple: What does Rabbi Maroof truly believe? In other words, are his beliefs outside the pale of Orthodoxy?

 

Perhaps, the best thing is to present the facts and let them speak for themselves. The following are relevant portions of Rabbi Maroof’s remarks, statements and correspondence, starting with the speech he gave at the “ordination” ceremony of Ms. Hurwitz.

 

March 22, 2009

 

From Rabbi Maroof’s address at the conferral ceremony of Sarah Hurwitz as “Maharat”:

 

“Today, we are making a clear statement of the principle that knowledge of Torah and fear of G-d are the only criteria that matter when it comes to the question of who should serve as a leader in Israel. Today’s success represents a tremendous step forward to a new stage in a mighty struggle. And Sara Hurwitz’s emergence as a spiritual leader of profound wisdom and impeccable character marks the dawn of a new era in negotiating the challenges and obstacles that face us in that struggle.

 

“I say that we are engaged in a struggle, and that this is only a step, because we all know that the principle Sarah represents is far from being well-established in today’s Orthodox communities. Indeed, there are many among us – not in this room, but within Orthodoxy as a movement – who still cling to outmoded ideas and dogmatic notions about who is or is not qualified for Torah leadership. They are concerned with chromosomes rather than character and value anatomy over ability. They are skeptical of or opposed to what we are proclaiming here, and believe that gender identity is a more fundamental qualification for leadership than either Torah knowledge or observance.”

 

July 14, 2009

 

Rabbi Maroof in a letter to the Yated:

 

“My perspective on women’s issues was misrepresented in your paper and many of my statements were taken out of context. The author of the article implied that I dismissed great Torah luminaries as ‘dogmatic’ or ‘anti-women’ because of their opposition to the notion of women holding positions of communal leadership.”

 

March 22, 2009

 

From Rabbi Maroof’s address at the conferral ceremony of Sarah Hurwitz as “Maharat”:

 

“In fact, I firmly believe that our struggle cannot be deemed truly successful until the little girl attending a gan in New York, and the young woman studying in a seminary in Yerushalayim, and the housewife living in Bnei Brak all know that the potential for Torah leadership is within their grasp. But even that is not enough. No, we still won’t be finished. Our task will not be completed and our mission will not be accomplished, until the little boyin cheder in Bnei Brak, and every rabbinical student in New York, and every man learning in kollel in Yerushalayimrecognizes that his gender does not grant him a monopoly on our G-d’s Torah…”

 

July 14, 2009

 

Rabbi Maroof in a letter to the Yated:

 

“The only area in which I have promoted the cause of women in particular has been the area of Torah study, and the only public pronouncements I have made about this subject are the ones referenced in your article. I have neither adopted nor espoused any radical or controversial halakhic positions on this or any related topic.”

 

March 22, 2009

 

From Rabbi Maroof’s address at the conferral ceremony of Sarah Hurwitz as “Maharat”:

 

“Our message today is loud and clear: There is a place for women in the world of Torah leadership, and our absolute commitment to halacha leaves no place for power politics in the house of G-d.”

 

July 14, 2009

 

Rabbi Maroof in a letter to the Yated:

 

“I exclusively identify myself with the center-right/yeshivish segment of Orthodox Judaism… All of my comments regarding expanding the range of leadership opportunities for women were made exclusively with reference to the study and teaching of Torah, and had nothing to do with women’s ordination or their employment in synagogues.”

 

March 22, 2009

 

From Rabbi Maroof’s address at the conferral ceremony of Sarah Hurwitz as “Maharat”:

 

“Empowering women in this manner is fully legitimate from the standpoint of Jewish law.”

 

July 14, 2009

 

Rabbi Maroof in a letter to the Yated:

 

“Anyone who examines my words carefully will see that my premises, arguments and conclusions are fully consistent with the rulings of Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l, and other gedolei Torah….

 

“Contrary to the accusations of [the Yated’s] Mr. Lichter, I did not intend to cast aspersions – chas veshalom – on individuals whose reservations and objections are firmly rooted in halakha and based purely on Shas and Shulchan Aruch, such as the great poskim of the past and present.

 

March 3, 2009

 

Rabbi Maroof in an interview with the JTA:

 

“Most Orthodox rabbis are aware that there’s no prohibition on woman rabbis. I think there are many Orthodox rabbis who think this would be a great thing, and they’re hoping that somebody else would have the courage to do it, as long as it’s not them.”

 

July 15, 2009

 

Rabbi Maroof in a second letter to the Yated:

 

“JTA asked me about the issue of women rabbis, as you correctly noted. I responded that insofar as a rabbi is essentially a teacher/instructor in Torah law, there is nothing in the role that is technically halakhically prohibited to a woman. I said that the sources of halakha indicate that a woman can study and teach Torah to students who seek her guidance. However, I qualified my statement – as is also indicated in the JTA piece – by stating that my remarks were limited to the role of teacher/instructor, and not prayer officiant, congregational leader or anything else. What you see in the article is the product of the author’s ‘processing’ of my comments, which is essentially accurate but emphasizes what was perceived as controversial in my words rather than giving a balanced portrayal of my position…

 

“If you have any further questions about my opinions, views or actions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly…

 

“Meanwhile, remember that it is bein hametzarim, and why the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed. Perhaps some restraint is in order here.”

 

July 15, 2009

 

The Yated Editor’s correspondence with Rabbi Maroof:

 

“Own up to what you have done and pledge to drop this crusade and then we can talk. You cannot stand by the side of Avi Weiss, publicly advocate woman rabbis, deviate from our mesorah, and then tell me that it’s because of people like me that the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed.

 

“Chazor boch.”

 

July 16, 2009

 

Letter from Rabbi Maroof responding to above criticism from the Yated Editor:

 

“I am against the conferral of semikha to women because of the halakhic violations involved.

 

“If you go ahead and attribute the opposite of these opinions to me, then you are indeed deliberately engaged in motzi shem ra

 

“I am not on a crusade to ordain women rabbis; in fact, I have no interest whatsoever in such a project. I would be opposed to it on the grounds of the prohibition of serara and my remarks in this connection have been regrettably misunderstood. My comments were specifically addressing the learning/teaching element of the rabbinical role, nothing more…”

 

April 27, 2010

 

Rabbi Maroof posting on Facebook following the RCA statement saying that we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title:

 

“Down with the rabbis who canonize the arbitrary and rabbis who condemn advancement.”

 

April 2011

 

Rabbi Maroof’s explanatory statement to the RCA Executive Committee as a prelude to his admission into the RCA:

 

“I spoke at the ceremony conferring the Maharat title upon Sara Hurwitz because I am an avid supporter of advanced learning opportunities for women in general and because I served as Sara Hurwitz’s halakha teacher for one year and I admire her accomplishments in particular. I knew in advance that she would be given a special degree or title at that ceremony, but I did not believe there was anything halakhically objectionable about her being granted a special title such that I would be forbidden to deliver a speech at the gathering.

 

“…Regarding the ordination of women, while I have stated openly and I still maintain that it is not halakhically prohibited in theory, I nonetheless accept the RCA’s 2010 policy statement on this issue for all practical purposes.”

 

– – – – –

 

In conclusion we ask:Who is the real Rabbi Joshua Maroof? What are his real views? Does he advocate the “mighty struggle for… Sara Hurwitz… as a spiritual leader of profound wisdom and impeccable character, mark(ing) the dawn of a new era in negotiating the challenges and obstacles that face us in that struggle…?”

 

Regarding the ordination of women, he says that he still maintains “that it is not halakhically prohibited in theory,” yet he states that the only area in which I have promoted the cause of women in particular has been the area of Torah study…”

 

He also says that he is “not on a crusade to ordain women rabbis; in fact, I have no interest whatsoever in such a project, I would be opposed to it on the grounds of the prohibition of serara…”

 

Is Rabbi Maroof advocating Torah study for women?

 

“I expressed my wish that scholarly women – again, both Modern Orthodox and Charedi – who excel in the study of Torah be granted the opportunity to teach and inspire other Jews.”

 

Or is he advocating Torah leadership for women?

 

“Today’s success represents a tremendous step forward to a new stage in a mighty struggle. And Sara Hurwitz’s emergence as a spiritual leader of profound wisdom and impeccable character marks the dawn of a new era…

 

Is Rabbi Maroof advocating “teaching” or “leading” congregations?

 

Rabbi Maroof to the Yated:I am against the conferral of semikha to women because of the halakhic violations involved.”

  

Rabbi Maroof to the JTA: “Most Orthodox rabbis are aware that there’s no prohibition on woman rabbis. I think there are many Orthodox rabbis who think this would be a great thing, and they’re hoping that somebody else would have the courage to do it, as long as it’s not them.”

 

Is Rabbi Maroof against semicha for women or is he for it? Is women getting semicha “a struggle” or is it something to be “against”?

 

IN SUMMATION

 

We wish no ill on Rabbi Maroof. Nevertheless, when someone places himself in the public eye, making pronouncements and taking public action that can have far-reaching effects on the very core of whom we are as Torah-observant Jews, we cannot afford to keep quiet.

 

What is especially troubling is the fact that, from his multiple correspondences, Rabbi Maroof seems to state what is most convenient at the moment, notwithstanding his contradictory stances on some of the most important issues affecting Torah-observant Jews. The time for truth has arrived. Who, indeed, is the real Rabbi Joshua Maroof?

 

What statement will the RCA be making if it accepts his application for membership in its body, knowing that the membership is a prerequisite for the assumption to the pulpit of the West Coast synagogue?

 

What statement is the RCA making by continuing to confer membership upon Rabbi Avi Weiss?

 

We look to them to come clean on this issue which bears long-term ramifications for Orthodoxy.

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