Rabbi Riskin is wrong

In a previous post, I mentioned the issue at hand.

He has published a response (below) to the RCA resolution claiming it was political and not halachic. His arguments about Deborah and Bruria are well known and existed well before the RCA, so to claim them as proofs for his opinion is rather vacuous. Bruria is brought in a Tosefta in Kelim, but in the Mishna it is brought in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua (from memory chapter 2). Was that a political decision by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi or was there more to it. Were the Rabbis afraid (despite Deborah et al) to name Bruria? If so, why is that? Was Rav Yehuda Hanasi a slave to social mores or were his social mores determined by Mesora which does not deny the Bruria’s of this world, but does deny them Sroro unless it’s a Horoas Sho-oh. I’m not aware of Rabbi Riskin’s appointment as a prophet, but I’d suggest he has bigger fish to fry. What is the divorce rate in Efrat compared to similarly sized towns in Israel? Why is that? That would bother me much more. Unfortunately, Rabbi Riskin doesn’t have Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik or the Lubavitcher Rebbe, both of whom he would have consulted today about such a pronouncement. I will take Rav Hershel Schachter as a Halachist over Rabbi Riskin any day of the week. By the way, does Rabbi Riskin consider Open Orthodoxy Conservative (like the Aguda pronounced yesterday)? Does he consider them conservative with a big C?

I have written to the Rabbinic Council of Victoria. So far, I have not elicited a response. I won’t let go though, till they issue their response. This issue is too fundamental for each Rabbi to make their own determinations. It’s a question about which group you align yourself with, and I suggest very strongly that the Rabbinic Council of Victoria align itself formally with the RCA.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the municipal chief rabbi of Efrat and one of the most prominent leaders of Modern Orthodoxy, has criticized a recent resolution adopted by the Rabbinical Council of America which banned its member rabbis from giving any form of ordination to women or hiring women in a role of religious or spiritual leadership.

The RCA resolution said its members may not “ordain women into the rabbinate, regardless off the title used” or “hire, or ratify the hiring of, a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution.”

It appeared to be mostly aimed at institutions associated with the liberal Orthodox movement loosely defined as Open Orthodoxy, including Yeshivat Maharat in Riverdale, New York, founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss, which gives ordination to women to serve as spiritual guides and give rulings in Jewish law, or halacha.

Riskin, along with other rabbis in Israel, is himself an RCA member and oversees the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halachic Leadership (WIHL) at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem, which gives women a qualification that amounts to ordination, although it is not labelled as such.

And Riskin has also appointed a graduate of WIHL to a position of spiritual leadership, the first such appointment to the Orthodox world in Israel, when he hired Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld last year to work as a halachic and spiritual guide in Efrat.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post earlier this week, Riskin said that the RCA’s resolution was “unfortunate” and argued that it was not based on the substantive issues of women’s ordination.

“I believe the resolution they made wasn’t halachic as much as it was political,” the rabbi said.

“As such it was quite unfortunate. There is no question whatsoever that throughout the generations women have often provided halachic and spiritual leadership as is shown from Sarah the prophetess to Deborah the judge, from Bruriah, the daughter of Rabbi Hananya Ben Teradyon of Talmudic times to the rulings of major halachic decisors of today including former chief rabbi Bakshi Doron, that state that women can become the great religious leaders of the generation, the ‘gedolei ha’dor’, and that they can provide rulings for halachic direction.”

Riskin also said he was “very taken aback by the inclusiveness of the resolution.”

The terms of the RCA’s resolution banning the ordaining and hiring of women appeared to include women who graduate from the WIHL.

Women at WIHL complete a program of Talmudic and halachic study comparable to ordination programs undertaken by men, and upon graduation are given the title of Morot Hora’ah and are certified to serve as spiritual leaders and arbiters of Jewish law.

“The guide must be halacha and not politics,” continued Riskin. “One can argue about the titles and what title to give, but halachic and religious leadership can certainly be given to women.

“The RCA certainly understand this, and their resolution makes no sense halachically since they accept yoatzot halacha. That’s why it seems to be a political decision and not one based on halacha.”

Yoetzet halacha are women qualified to give halachic guidance on issues pertaining to Jewish law in the field of family purity, and the position has become an accepted part of Modern Orthodoxy in the last 15 years.

The RCA’s resolution says explicitly that it does not apply to “non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha.”

Giving ordination, or equivalent qualifications, to women, and the adoption by qualified women of a role in making rulings on Jewish law, is a new development in the Orthodox world, and not widely accepted. The mainstream haredi world completely rejects it.

Speaking to the Post, Executive Vice President of the RCA Rabbi Marc Dratch said that the qualification given by WIHL did not come under the definition outlined by the resolution.

“Rabbi Riskin’s program does not ordain women to be clergy in the American sense,” said Dratch. “He has been an innovator in many ways and my hope is that this should not be a point of separation between Rabbi Riskin and the RCA.”

Talking more broadly about the resolution, Dratch said that he hoped it would not lead to further division, and noted that some members of the RCA leadership had publicly stated that they were opposed to the resolution, not necessarily because they disagreed with it but because they felt it was not the best way to deal with the issue.

“It’s a serious issue but we hope it will not come to a situation which will create an un-breachable divide. We need ways to engage in a better dialogue which requires patience and respect for the integrity of the Orthodox community.”

In terms of the practical impact of the resolution, Dratch said that if an RCA member rabbi were to act in contradiction of the resolution, a concern could be brought to the association’s executive committee which could then convene a mechanism to evaluate the concern and, if required and so decided, take action.

It would not lead to the automatic expulsion of the member he said, and noted that there had always been RCA members “who deviate from the mainstream” and that “only very, very rarely has a member been expelled.”

Meira Welt-Maarek, a recent graduate of WIHL who serves alongside a school rabbi as a spiritual leader in a high-school in the Alon Shvut settlement also under Riskin’s direction, labelled the RCA resolution as “political,” saying it was not presented with any sources to support it.

“A halachic argument has a textual frame of reference and they have none, it’s just an opinion which creates divisions,” Welt-Maarek told the Post.

“Women also stood at Mount Sinai, and halachic discussions can only benefit when more people share their perspective. The Torah goes beyond political divisions and barriers. My job is to allow everyone to have access to the Torah and create their connection and path to it.”

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

2 thoughts on “Rabbi Riskin is wrong”

  1. I read the previous blog on this subject as well.
    When Hashem created Adam, He (Hashem) thought that creating only one person was a bit lonesome.
    That’s where Chava was born (created). Adam (man) was born to do the work, whilst Eve (woman) was there to support Adam.
    From that moment on, the roles of man and and woman were defined until the present day. But something happened
    along the way. Nowadays, we have movements called feminism, women’s groups and lobby groups ,gender studies, status for women, etc, all there as an equalisation policy; to compete with the male gender. In the Caulfield Shul newsletter, in the Parsha of Chayei Sarah, the rabbi of Caulfied Shul describes Sarah as a very strong woman. And then, this was the perfect segway to comment about the RCA. He said that the decision not to obtain ordination into the rabbinate was very disappointing. I, personally, support the advancement of women in all fields of endeavour, not just in the field of rabbinical studies, as long as Halacha is not compromised or breached. I acknowledge the fact that women are indeed capable in all areas of rabbinical scholasticism, but giving smicha to women breaches Halacha, Halachic intentions and Halachic principles. Both the male and female genders have different roles in life, and from that perspective, they are not intended to compete with each other, but rather to compliment each other. It seems to me that both the wider secular society and it seems that the Jewish community think that combining the male and female roles in a competitive state, in which they are not. In that, that where the issue between the male and female genders arises from.

    Like

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