Women Rabbis, Why Not?

Open Orthodox leaders, in their push for the ordination of women rabbis, all point to the arguments of Bar Ilan University Professor Dr. Daniel Sperber, who is considered the Open Orthodox posek on the matter (notwithstanding that Sperber also serves as the chancellor of a non-Orthodox rabbinical school in Toronto and is involved in many other controversial practices).

Dr. Sperber posits that there is nothing the matter with women rabbis, since: a) No such limitation is specified in halachah, b) Devorah Haneviah was a woman and served as a female religious leader, like a rabbi, according to Sperber, and c) even though women could not receive semichah in the days of old, modern semichah is merely a degree that attests to one’s mastery of knowledge of halachah, and men and women should be able to both therefore receive semichah nowadays.

Sperber’s position is in conflict with that of all poskim, yet he and his Open Orthodox adherents do not seem to care, choosing to follow a position that they like over a position of the most eminent of Torah authorities. That being said, why is Sperber wrong?

Firstly, the Rambam writes (Hilchos Melochim 1:5) that all positions of authority must be assigned to men. Although the parameters of this are subject to discussion among poskim, it is widely maintained that even though a woman may serve as the menaheles of a seminary, a Bais Yaakov high school, or the like, positions of authority over an entire kehillah must be held by men. This means that the shul president, chairman of the board of a yeshiva, and rov must be male.

Secondly, modern-day semichah is not a mere formality without precedent or historical standards. When Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Conservative “rabbinical school,” began to discuss admitting women, Dr. Saul Lieberman, JTS’ Orthodox and most senior staff member at the time, objected strenuously. Lieberman based his objection on rabbinic texts about the origins of modern-day semichah, which showed without question that modern day semichah is a reflection of the original semichah. Just as the original semichah was an appointment to dayanus – a heter hora’ah – which women could not receive, so is modern-day semichah, which reflects this same notion of being a morah hora’ah and rabbinic dayan, which is off-limits to women. Lieberman wrote that to ordain women as rabbis is to make a mockery of semichah, as it would distort its very nature. Although Lieberman’s tenure at JTS was in poor judgment, he personally was Orthodox and his argument is rock-solid and has never been refuted.

Thirdly, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, in a lengthy article in the Hakirah journal, writes that women may not be ordained as rabbis due to considerations of tznius. Rabbi Schachter demonstrates that halachah prohibits one from being in the public eye unless necessary – such as in the case of men, who are required to be in the public eye in order to lead davening and so forth – but that one who does not have this requirement is forbidden to compromise on tznius and assume a public position in Yahadus. This obviously means that women cannot be rabbonim.

Fourthly, Rabbi Schachter writes in the name of his rebbi, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of YU, that any action that mimics the actions of those who represent deviation from Torah and the destruction of Torah life is forbidden, based on the Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin (74 a-b) that one must give his life al kiddush Hashem in order not to comply with shmad against Torah, even if it involves merely wearing the same color shoelaces as gentiles. Rabbi Schachter has stated that since the non-Orthodox movements, which embody deviation from Torah and the destruction of Torah life, have adopted the idea of female clergy, it is strictly forbidden to emulate this example. This is yet another reason why we cannot ordain women as rabbis.

Fifthly, our mesorah is that rabbis are male. Whatever the reason may be, this is our mesorah and we do not deviate from it.

Bringing “proofs” from Devorah Haneviah, as many Open Orthodox rabbis do, is disingenuous. Rishonim, almost a thousand years ago, already discussed this topic. It seems that the Open Orthodox rabbis are unaware of the writings of the Rishonim on this topic. In any case, aside from the fact that Devorah did not have semichah and is not listed by the Rambam in his introduction to the Mishnah Torah as part of the chain of Torah authorities (Baalei Hamesorah), the Rishonim state that Devorah either guided botei din, issued rulings for cases of voluntary arbitration (based on Sanhedrin 24a), or was a teacher and not a morah hora’ah. By all accounts, Devorah was not a rov and thus cannot in any way serve as precedent for women to be rabbonim.

It is sad that despite these clear rulings and proofs, which are uncontested and which reflect the position of gedolim of all generations, Open Orthodoxy continues to ordain women as rabbis and attack those who do not accept this anti-halachic innovation.

The Yated is gratified that the truth has once again emerged about Open Orthodoxy’s refusal to abide by halachah, lest more of acheinu Bnei Yisroel be duped into an “Orthodoxy” that has fully departed from Torah.