There are two other dimensions to the “female Rabbi” phenomenon that are worthy of exploration – actually, several more, but two suffice for now – two dimensions that are not at all related.
The Talmud (Masechet Nedarim 81a) cites the verses of the prophet Jeremiah (9:11-12) asking “for what reason was the land [of Israel] lost to us” and we were exiled ? He answered “Because they have abandoned My Torah,” G-d says. And how was the Torah “abandoned” ? The Gemara’s answer is that “they did not recite the Birchat HaTorah” – the daily blessing that precedes the study of Torah. In other words, they did study the Torah, but did not say the requisite blessing. And for that we were exiled from the land of Israel ?
The blessing referred to acknowledges, in pertinent part, G-d “who chose us from the nations, and gave us His Torah.” It was that blessing that the Jews of that generation failed to recite that must precede the study of Torah – that G-d chose us from the nations and gave us His Torah.”
Think about it. The Torah represents the embodiment of (some) of the infinite wisdom of G-d and is our uniqueness as a nation. God would not have given us His Torah had he not first chosen us – i.e., separated us from the nations of the world. Torah study by its very definition presupposes a disassociation from the values, thought-processes and world-view of the nations. And each time we study Torah – certainly when we seek to apply its principles to contemporary times – we must underscore that sense of separation by articulating the Birchat HaTorah. We must ensure that the Torah reflects the eternal values of the Jewish people, and not the transient values of Greece, Rome, Christendom, Arabia – or America.
It is undeniable that many of the distortions that have crept into Jewish life in the last half-century (the “female Rabbi” is but one; I would include the new “partnership minyanim” that necessitates the presence of ten men and ten women before beginning services, and in which women lead part of the services, and other such symbolism) have not emerged from a Jewish source but from a Western source: the rise of “feminism.” Nothing in Jewish life – or in the Torah – would militate in favor of any of these practices. Their sources are all non-Jewish.
To incorporate these non-Jewish trends into Jewish life, and to do it through arcane references to isolated statements taken out of context or simply by premising one’s conclusions on the fact that something is not explicitly forbidden or mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch (mechitza is also not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch) is the type of scholarship that prevailed during the First Temple era, and precipitated the exile. It is a type of “scholarship” that is not preceded by the Torah blessings that emphasizes that G-d “chose us from the nations” – He didn’t tell us to look to the nations for the values that would shape the Torah – and “gave us His Torah,” that has its own epistemology , methodology and values. Those who seek to infiltrate the Torah with the three pillars of modern Western life – feminism, egalitarianism and humanism – corrupt the Torah, cheapen the word of G-d, and ultimately sever their followers’ connection to the Tree of Life.
Where these pillars are integrated into a new, grotesque Torah hybrid, it is no wonder that the distinctions between men and women, between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, and even between Jews and non-Jews (gospel choirs in shul, anyone ?) all become blurred. With all the “papers,” the “scholarship,” the “conferences” and the pre-determined conclusions – even assuming the sincerity of the individuals involved – it is all tantamount to “for they have abandoned My Torah,” and the Torah itself becomes not the elixir of life but a noxious and harmful entity that offers a quick high and then leaves its practitioners deflated or worse.
Unrelated to the above is the deleterious effect of feminism on today’s woman, in at least one critical index of life. Researchers at the Wharton School of Business published a report last year (American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, August, 2009, 1-2, 190-225) entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” By objective measures women’s lives have improved immeasurably in the last 35 years – in terms of educational opportunities (there are more women than men enrolled in college today), employment opportunities that have increased women’s incomes and that have almost erased any gender gap in income (the disparities such as they exist are almost entirely attributable to seniority differences based on the woman’s need for more time off due to childbirth and child-rearing needs), and even social opportunities – to choose spouses or to leave unpleasant marriages. Those are demonstrable gains that women have made.
Yet, by a subjective measure, women’s happiness has declined precipitously with all the newfound freedoms and material advantages. This decline transcends racial, ethnic, demographic and income boundaries, and the decline in women’s happiness is both in absolute terms and relative to men. For example, in the 1970’s, women were much more likely than men to report being “very happy.” Today, not only has the percentage dropped of women who report themselves as being “very happy,” it has also fallen below the level of men who report themselves as being “very happy.” Women today are also more likely to say they are “not too happy” than are men, the reverse of 35 years ago. To use another metric, women fell far below men even on the “life satisfaction” scale – another dramatic change.
There are a number of reasons that are suggested. The ease of access to contraception and abortion gave women “control” over their bodies, but has been a far greater boon to men who seek sexual recreation without marriage and are no longer forced into “shotgun” marriages in case of unexpected pregnancy. Marriages were in a free fall for the first two decades after the rise of feminism (although it has levelled out in recent years), as men and women took flight at the first sign of marital dissatisfaction – and leaving many women as single mothers juggling too many responsibilities. The existence of women in the workplace has not diminished their household chores that much, creating what is known as “The Second Shift” phenomenon – women work outside the home all day, and inside the home a good part of the night. Finally, the authors (Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers) suggest that the increased opportunities of modern women have also increased the likelihood that they perceive themselves as not measuring up to their peers – who now include men. Comparing their lives not just to other women but also to men fosters the conclusion that they have fallen short in the pursuit of life’s material quests.
Perhaps there is one more reason why women have become progressively unhappier: they have ceased to find fulfillment in being women, and instead wish to be men – a disposition to which they are preternaturally and psychologically unsuited. For a woman to find her spiritual purpose in life fulfilled through rank mimicry of the male experience – partnership minyanim, aliyot, Torah reading, and now clergy – is, aside from its halachic offense – degrading to the Jewish woman. If happiness is found (and it is) not in finding pleasure but in a being living in line with its nature, than there are consequences to feminism that have induced women not to live in a way that conforms to – and gratifies – the essential feminine nature. Is there a crueler irony than that feminism might have destroyed the “feminine mystique”?
The Torah posited, without absolutely mandating, different roles for men and women, not only to ensure that each makes its maximum contribution to the nation but also so that each should find fulfillment in the function to which it was most suited. Granted there are halachic prohibitions on some feminist excesses, and other prohibitions that arise from an understanding of the Torah personality (and some changes that were undoubtedly beneficial or neutral) ; but to erase these distinctions – in Jewish life – will sadly place the Jewish woman on the downward happiness slope of the modern woman generally, and (I guess the two dimensions were related after all) reflect an ideology of self-worship in which the Birchat HaTorah is not uttered in these forums because its methodology and conclusions defy the will of He “who chose us from the nations and gave us His Torah – and implanted within us eternal life.”