Our Generation’s Mechitza

Has Modern Orthodoxy lost its way?

We can’t begin to answer that question without a working definition of Modern Orthodoxy, something that seems to bewilder many people. I have always embraced the definition suggested by my teacher, Rav Aharon Rakeffet, shlit”a, that a Modern Orthodox Jew is “a Torah Jew in a Western milieu.” That seems about right, because the cornerstone – the foundation – must always be the Torah. The Torah Jew in a Western milieu will encounter challenges that he simply would not meet and require applications that would not be necessary in a more cloistered environment.

To read some of the reactions of the fringe Orthodox left – if they are even still part of the Torah world – to the Supreme Court’s recognition of same sex marriage is to conclude inevitably that a certain wing of Modern Orthodoxy has fallen off a cliff. Suggestions abound that as a result of the new ruling the Torah must change, that Torah Jews must accept this decision or be adjudged guilty of some unspecified moral outrage, that failure to embrace the homosexual agenda will lead to mass defections from Torah, that this sin is different from all other sins because it is popular in the circles of elitist opinion makers, that we should abandon our propagation of the seven Noachide laws, etc.  Really? It is fair to ask: Who are these people? Do they think that they are the very first generation of Jews that ever faced a conflict between the Torah and some “modern” value? Remember that ancient Greek and ancient Roman values were quite “modern” in ancient times. Indeed, every generation has faced a divergence between Torah values and some contemporary norm, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for the Torah and surrender to the will of G-d would be superfluous.

The grave error they make is in perceiving modernity as the anchor – the pillar around which the Torah has to be manipulated and reformed. To put it in our language, modernity to them is the ikar (essence) and the Torah is tafel (secondary), G-d forbid.  Those attitudes give Modern Orthodoxy a bad name, and any Torah Jew would be justified in rejecting it.

There is another issue, however, that has drawn much attention and has emerged as the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable interpretations of Modern Orthodoxy, and that is the matter of women’s ordination. Jewish and general newspapers are inundated on a weekly basis with reports of new ordinations, new hiring, and new candidates. It is as if a PR firm recommended that advocates flood the print media as often as possible – daily? –to give the impression that this phenomenon is growing in acceptance, is normative, and opposed only by a handful of sexist troglodytes who have moved to the extreme right where they belong and are best forgotten.

Far from it.

The inadmissibility of female ordination needs no prolonged discussion. (I’ve written extensively on it, including here .) It was so obvious to Professor Shaul Lieberman z”l of the Jewish Theological Seminary that he dismissed it 35 years ago as “a joke and mockery.” Orthodox Jews across the spectrum rejected it as heretical when Reform Judaism and then Conservative Judaism introduced women rabbis a few decades ago.  The title doesn’t matter, and too much time has been wasted creating and then arguing over various acronyms that all purport to do the same thing but, to some, in more palatable ways. I prefer honesty – truth in advertising. It is what it is. Let’s deal with it.

What is truly astonishing – even eerie – are the similarities between the intramural war over women’s ordination currently on the agenda and the battles over mechitza that were waged a century and then a half-century ago. It is no coincidence that the point of controversy is exactly the same: egalitarianism. It is the contention that men and women are absolutely equal and identical, and any distinctions made by law or custom must be discarded or amended to comply with a modern and progressive world.

Consider: The abolition of mechitza won support because their advocates asserted the need for “religious equality.” The Mechitza was viciously attacked in America by a Reform rabbi who claimed that putting women in a “cage” was an affront to religious equality. There was no reason for Jewish law to treat men and women differently, he opined. The year was 1855. Even he – David Einhorn – did not contemplate a female clergy and it would take another century before the Reform movement was willing to make that leap, also on grounds of religious equality. The same holds true for the ordination of women. It is all about equality.

Consider:  The abolition of mechitza was supported by some genuine talmidei chachamim, some of whom wrote learned treatises purporting to explain how the presence of a mechitza, while preferred, is not imperative. The same holds true for the ordination of women, except for the irony that there are more sources in halachic literature that preclude women rabbis than there are that mandate a mechitza in a shul, which, in fact, is not even mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. There were proponents of mixed seating, but their view did not prevail over time as it was a minority and unpersuasive view. No one thought to say “eilu v’eilu.”

Consider: Many wonderful Orthodox rabbis served for decades in congregations without mechitzot, and other great – even legendary – rabbis took down their mechitzot for the Yamim Noraim in order to accommodate the larger crowds in attendance. So, too, there are a few well-known rabbis who have become the advocates for female clergy. Regarding mechitza, some of those older rabbis made their peace with it, and many never did, knew what they were doing was wrong and always longed for the day when mechitzot would again grace their shuls. Why did they allow it?

Consider: The prevailing argument was that the egalitarianism of American society would never tolerate the separate seating of men and women, and it was underscored that women would widely abandon Torah Judaism and stop coming to shul if forced to sit in the aforementioned “cages.” The removal of mechitza was therefore intended to stem the tide of the alleged defection of pious women from Orthodoxy, what we would call today a kiruv move. The exact same reasoning is applied here today – the expressed fear that if women are not ordained they will take their talents to the non-Orthodox movements and the Torah world will suffer a grievous loss. That argument either depreciates the Torah commitment of the modern woman or it is positing that the target audience is influenced more by feminism than it is by the Mesorah.

Consider: There are voices proclaiming that female clergy is by now entrenched in Jewish life because there are a dozen or so ordainees, and the Torah world – even the Modern Orthodox Torah world – has to accept that reality. But in the early 1960’s, there were more than 250 shuls without mechitzot that were members of the Orthodox Union, the OU. More than a half-century later, there is (I think) but one OU shul without a mechitza (a shul “grandfathered” in, literally; “if mixed seating was good enough for my pious grandfather, it’s good enough for me”). Every new shul that applies to the OU must have a mechitza. In the early 1960’s, there were dozens of members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the RCA, who served in shuls with mixed seating. Today there are, to my knowledge, none. (I assume there must be one or two, I just don’t know of any.) Indeed, employment in a mixed seating synagogue is a barrier to membership in the RCA. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, even RIETS dispatched its musmachim – willingly or unwillingly, above the table or beneath the table – to shuls without mechitzot, if only, technically, for brief periods of time. Today, I bet not.

In effect, this breach of Torah norms – the lack of mechitza – was effectively reversed within several decades. For example, some of those OU shuls put in mechitzot and some became members of the now-fading Conservative movement – but at least clarity was obtained and amita shel Torah preserved. It required a change in Jewish culture, a greater assertiveness and self-confidence on the part of Orthodoxy, and a recognition – undoubtedly driven in large part by the Young Israel movement and the more right-wing Torah world that burgeoned after the Holocaust – that we can adhere to Torah norms even in the face of a hostile dominant culture and even if the values of the “modern” world cause a measure of discomfort and dissonance to faithful Torah Jews. So be it. The no-mechitza culture was reversed also because, well, it didn’t work, and too many Jews who rightly perceived it as a compromise with Jewish law continued to compromise themselves completely out of Torah observance.

The same battle is underway today. The ordination of women – so obviously forbidden but deemed necessary because of modernity, egalitarianism, kiruv, compassion, or pressure – is the mechitza of our generation. The traditional Torah world – what we call the “right-wing” world – need not join the battle, except to lend its pressure from the outside, because they do not even hear the clamor. It is the Modern Orthodox world – Torah Jews in a Western milieu – that has to preserve its honor and its fidelity to halacha through a protracted, visible, public and explicit defense of the Mesorah.

That means that the same institutions that waged the battle fifty years ago must redouble their efforts and ensure that this generation of Jews remains committed to Torah. It means that the OU has to clarify to its constituent shuls that hiring women with “ordination” crosses a red line – the equivalent of tearing down the mechitza. It means that the RCA has to firmly and unambiguously renounce the notion of female clergy, and distance itself in one way or another from members who have brazenly breached these norms in their eagerness to expand the role of women in Jewish life or their devotion to Western values – and their conflation with Torah values. It means that the Roshei Yeshiva in RIETS have to impress upon the public and their disciples the gravity of the violation of Torah implicit in the institution of female ordination.

It also means that, sadly but invariably, those groups or individuals that continue to promote the legitimacy of female clergy will have excluded themselves from the Orthodox world, like their predecessors did – some of whom were also very fine people – who were passionate proponents of mixed seating.

This is not the place to discuss appropriate roles for women, something that has already been addressed at length in this forum. The issue here is focused: will the Orthodox rabbinate and lay leadership respond quickly, appropriately and forcefully to the mechitza controversy of our day, or will it wait a long fifty years – like they did with the mechitza issue itself – before regrouping and reasserting the supremacy of Torah over Western values?

If they choose silence – or silent protest, which is tantamount to passive acquiescence – then they will have validated the right-wing Orthodox world’s traditional ambivalence, even iciness, towards Modern Orthodoxy. But if they choose to act, in concert and with the full weight of Torah authority, Mesorah and myriads of ModOs alongside them, they will delineate the appropriate boundaries for the Jew in the Western world and preserve the Torah for generations to come.

My guess is that they – we – will enter the fray, clarify what is acceptable and unacceptable, and join our generation’s battle for Torah, the honor of men and women, and the perpetuation of the Modern Orthodox ideal. Already the major organizations referenced above have a consensus approaching near unanimity that female ordination is an unacceptable breach of the Mesorah and places its proponents outside the Orthodox world. I trust that the coming struggle will respect all personalities but will focus on this critical battle of ideas – ideas that will determine the course of Torah for generations to come.


41 responses to “Our Generation’s Mechitza

  1. Can I ask a genuine question?

    I went to Yeshiva, my dad studied at Mirrer Yeshiva, I’m not hostile to frumkeit but why can’t women serve as rabbis? What is the halachic basis for it?

    Just so I can answer that myself if asked.

  2. With all due respect, isn’t this just as much your issue personally, as the leading Rabbi in a well respected shul, in the bastion of Modern Orthodoxy that is Teaneck? Why did you wait until the last paragraph to include yourself? It gives the impression that you feel like have done your part and you are now just waiting on everyone else to join? But if you truthfully feel the way you expressed, I would’ve expected you to say that this is “our” mission and not just “theirs.”

    • Yes and no. Personally, I don’t feel the pressure. Other rabbis and communities are much more challenged by it. But the relative silence of the organizational world has been frustrating to many rabbis.
      – RSP

  3. Pingback: Daily Reyd - Torah Musings

  4. A question and two points I like to make:

    1. When you say an OU shul shouldn’t be allowed to hire a woman “with ordination,” is it just therefore a semantic difference with an equally (or better!) trained woman who is not “ordained” but, say, has a Master’s in Talmud from YU, or is a yoetzet halacha, a graduate of R’ Riskin’s program, etc.? I don’t see the problem with the latter and I do think terminology matters, so maybe it is an important semantic matter. (It should also be stressed that there’s a difference between the headline-grabbing type of “female ordination” and the quieter, organic type in Israel which seems based on simply having women learn and is backed- not an actual “ordination” part, but the rest- by some great gedolim.)

    2. I wouldn’t criticize “modernity” too much, as least as strictly defined, that is, the movement that began with the Enlightenment and ruled in the western world (not always perfectly, of course) until 1968 or so. It believed in reason, scientific progress, respect for history, and more. What we have here are the fruits of post-modernism, which stands for none of those things, but which insists that language has no meaning and is thus irrational, hedonistic, and anarchic.

    3. Related to the above, I have to make a point I’ve made before. It may be my own political prejudices speaking, but I honestly have to wonder how many of the people pushing this sort of nonsense, or falling for it, are liberals and/or Democrats. It seems to me a conservative would be more able to push back against a decadent society- not guaranteed, especially if you live in a “blue” city, but it would at least give an extra level of support in addition to Torah, while the opposite, I think, damages one’s view of what the Torah wants.

    • Indeed, regarding your paragraph 3, the argument I always make, and quite forthrightly too, is completely non-Torah based. That is, look what a destructive force feminism has been in America. The family unit is almost in ruins. The concept of “discrimination” has led, as predicted, the pendulum to go completely in the opposite direction, in which reverse racism against men is common. The notion of “merit” is a thing of the past. Yes yes, there are other factors, and there have been some positive steps, but on the whole, the scorecard shows feminism to have been a disaster. Given that, why on Earth would anyone want to import that failed ideology into our shuls and community? No, thank you.

      This is no way detracts from the controlling halachic points the Rabbi here makes and links to, but merely adds to it. Rabbi, you express a desire for the (modern or relatively-modern) orthodox world to enter the fray in the battle for Torah. That battle has already begun, and you are leading it. True, the opponent is a pipsqueak, and statistically speaking, not even in existence. But they use the media like the old davidka machine guns, to make them appear more numerous than they are. So – the battle must go forward.

      My brother and his family are moving to Teanek and looking for a house near your shul. Oh, am I ever מקנא him.

      • I could make a much more focused argument: Whenever a religion lets women into leadership positions, that religion has died. This is very noticeable in mainstream Protestantism; it is very noticeable in Reform and Conservative Judaism. A large majority of rabbinical students in the latter are women.

        Like it or not, men don’t like being in houses of worship led by women. Liberals prefer to ignore it- they prefer that things they don’t like not exist, and so either pointlessly condemn the men (condemn all they want, human nature is what it is) or ignore the issue. But it is an issue.

        In the last couple of years, YCT ordained a grand total of two rabbis. The Maharat Yeshiva ordained something like five this year alone. The writing is on the wall.

      • Nachum –
        The argument that religions with women in leadership positions die is proved false by Evangelical Christianity in America, which is doing just fine with its female leaders. Also, any discussion about women in religion should bear mind that Orthodox Judaism is, by far, the anomaly in America. Women have historically been the majority of churchgoers throughout time. See “Women’s History is American Religious History” by Ann Braude.
        I suspect that the Mahart/YCT discrepancy is due to a few things:
        1) It might just be a blip. I don’t know how many they’re each set to ordain next year, but I’m pretty sure that the normal YCT class is much bigger.
        2) I have heard from Maharat students that the Maharat student body is much more ideologically diverse than YCT because they have nowhere else to go. It is possible that Maharat is drawing from some REITS-esque female students.
        From my experience in OO circles, there is no notable gender discrepancy.

      • To Richard – comparing Christians to Jews is rather inapt, no? And even if one wishes to compare the two, the fact that women have been regular churchgoers is irrelevant to the question of whether men are interested in women church leaders.

        As for your assertion of women leaders in Evangelical Christianity – I called an Evangelical friend of mine and asked him – מסיח לפי תומו – who the leaders of Evangelicals were. He named (and I haven’t looked them up for proper spelling so this is phonetic) John Macarthur, Chuck Swindall, Alistair Beg, Franklin Graham, and then, more centrist, Rick Warren. Not a woman in the bunch. I then asked him specifically about your assertion, and he said there is a popular woman evangelical named Nancy Leigh Demoss, but he said even she would tell you she cannot serve as a pastor. He said women serve in leadership roles for children and music ministries and the like. He did say, interestingly, that there is a left wing element to Evangelicals too, and in those circles presumably women can serve in pastoral roles. You can say he’s wrong and that another Evangelical might have different things to say, but you cannot truthfully assert that woman are in leadership positions in Evangelical Christianity. Certain elements of it, no more.

      • I agree that comparing Judaism to Christianity doesn’t really work, but that should be directed at Nachum, not me. I don’t think we’ll see the same thing happen in Orthodox Judaism, mostly because the notions of halakha and chiyuv render it more difficult for men to just lose interest. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the Maharat change is pretty limited in scope and, as others have observed, has already more or less happened at shuls, albeit under different names (“rebbetzin,” “community scholar”) without men fleeing. The men’s side is still the boys’ club and davening is still led by men. (I’m not talking about Partnership Minyanim here, which are a different issue, although men have not fled those either.)

        I wasn’t talking about the gedolim of the Evangelical world. As for pastors, I’ll follow up with my Evangelical friends; I’ve done extensive Orthodox-Evangelical interfaith, and I recall some saying that they had female pastors. I didn’t get the sense that they davened at particularly left wing places, but I could be wrong. This website (http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/quick_question3.html) says that 9% of Evangelical pastors are female, which isn’t huge, but mainline Protestants, which is the data point you are using as proof, only have 24%. So it looks like I was partially wrong on this point.

  5. Annonymous

    I appreciate the points Rav and understand some of the issues of women clergy but wouldn’t it be important for you to address the other problems that these left wing fringe groups are propagating (e.g. partnership minyanim, views on homosexuality, Amalek, Moschiach) which in some ways are more problematic than women clergy? These issues seem pretty serious too

    • There are many problems, as you note, but I can’t write about everything!
      Fortunately, many erudite rabbis have.
      – RSP

  6. Ideally, we, as Orthodox Jews, want to bring Conservative, Reform and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Jews back to Halachic/Mesorah Judasim. Respectfully (I meant that), I do not think that pieces such as the one which you wrote here and in the tone which you wrote it will do that. So how can we mekarev the egalitarians, the tikkun olamniks, and the liberal-minded, ostensibly all well-meaning, good people who understand God’s will somewhat differently than us? Ideally, we also want to paint a palatable picture to the world, so that we can serve as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation – how do we do that in today’s world?

    Personally, I would have wanted an article such as the above to describe what steps we should take in a positive direction to achieve the goals set for us by the RBS”O, rather than focus mainly on demonizing what we should avoid.

    • Yaakov –
      There is a story about the Sanzer Rav that I think is applicable here. When he was already in his old age he looked back on his life and said, “When I was younger, I decided I would try to change the world. As I got a little older, I realized that the world is too big for me to change, so I decided I would try to change my country. As I got even older, I realized that even my country is too big to change, so I decided that I would try to change my city. As I got even older, I realized that even my city is too big to change, so I decided I would try to change my family and friends. And now, in my old age, I have realized that even that is too big for me to change. So I have decided that I will try to change myself.”
      The first and most crucial part of kiruv and being a kingdom of priests is to be absolutely and unapologetically clear about what we believe in and stand for. For if we are not, how can we ever espouse to convince others to believe and feel the same way we do.
      Kiruv should not be engaged by sweet-talking and avoiding controversial issues. We have to be upfront and honest about our beliefs. And if the “Conservative, Reform and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Jews” are interested in discussing and debating in an intellectually honest manner, then we can start to think about kiruv.
      Otherwise, you are are like a salesman trying to close a deal by simply not telling his potential buyer about the things he may not like about the product.

      • In the past 24 hours I heard this story in the name of R’ Elimelekh of Lizhensk and now the Sanzer Rav. Another source I heard it attributed to is R’ Yisrael Salanter. I traced down the story once. The account I heard that had all the specific details places it in the mouth of the Chafeitz Chaim in his keynote address at the Agudah’s first Kenessiah Gedolah. We even have a summary of the address and where it fit in the speech as a whole.

    • The first step towards a solution of anything is to acknowledge the problem. Likewise, the best way to be mikarev someone is to make them appreciate the mistake they’re making. The example of the mechitzah is a brilliant way of demonstrating that, one that I’ve not seen others bring to bear. It puts the current contretemps in the backdrop of recent history, and shows the error of the women-rabbi proponents. I should think such people would be appreciative of this.

      But Yaakov, of course, let’s not be naïve. The YCT crowd has no interest whatsoever in being mekurav, and you know that, I know that, they know that, and the Rabbi knows that. Let’s not play the “mean spirited” game here, please.

    • Srully Epstein

      One needs to distinguish between being mekareiv people as individuals and being mekareiv movements. Movements are just that – they move. These movements are moving away from Torah values and teachings. As such, they need to be stopped, or at least put in their place.

      This is where the “hakei es shinav” approach is necessary.

    • You create an impossible standard and then wonder why it’s not being met. To reach people who are abandoning the Mesorah while thinking they are fulfilling the Mesorah, they must first realize why what they are doing is wrong. Applying your reasoning, fifty years ago Rabbis were wrong to insist on mechitza because they should have just been the mekarev the wayward.
      But first the wayward have to acknowledge that what they are doing is wrong. That’s where we are now. You can’t climb a ladder five steps at a time.
      What does G-d want? His seal is truth. We should start with amita shel Torah.
      – RSP

      • When the Gemara (Shabbos 9a IIRC) says חותמו של הקב”ה אמת I respectfully suggest the better translation is “signature”, not “seal.” a signature is what makes a person unique – his identifier. That’s also why we refer to someone as having a “signature style.” In this world of sheker, the only entity to be entirely truth is the Lord God Himself. That’s what the Gemara means, I think. at any rate, my pshat!

  7. Yes, very good analysis. But we need to always make clear that we are not against women participating fully in all aspects Jewish life to the greatest possible extent possible while following halacha. So we should point out that there are many Orthodox Jewish women (many, not all of them, with the informal title of rebbetzin, or with graduate degrees in Talmud or other Jewish topics) who are very learned, who teach Torah at an advanced level, who write articles and books, who give learned shiurim, and even who give halachic advice (the yoetzos). This is to be encouraged and pointed out at every opportunity. We are not stifling women’s opportunities for greater opportunites for learning, teaching and leadership. It is only where halachah draws a line that we have to say no.

    I would add that while ordaining women is forbidden, other things some OO rabbis are doing are even more blatantly wrong — casting off traditional articles of faith, accepting Biblical criticism, legitimizing other movements, etc. The advantage of not singling out women’s ordination as a lynchpin is that it would avoid giving the false impression that enforcing traditional gender roles (as opposed to maintaining Torah-true halacha and haskafa as a whole) is our preoccupation.

    The one good thing about the OO phenomenon is that their use of the “Orthodox” label, and retention of many of the basics of Orthodox identity (traditional siddur, mechitza, etc) while adopting liberal politics and values and egalitarianism, means that it may be easier to mekarev hard-core liberal Jews into Orthodoxy. For example, they may at first join an OO shul, and then later, now comfortable with Orthodoxy, join a mainstream Orthodox shul. Or they may join a mainstream Orthodox shul, but only because they know that OO beliefs (which match with their own) are considered by many to be within the bounds of Orthodoxy.

    This is potentially important because, while the Conservative movement is fading in terms of numbers, their ideological position is very strong now, especially now that gay marriage is now the law of the land and approval of it de rigeur among polite society. Many unaffiliated Jews searching for their roots will first encounter Conservative Judaism and embrace it, because they will be unable to contemplate that their egalitarian and pro-gay beliefs could be anything but 100% correct in terms of both public policy and religious doctrine. This is a great tragedy, since as we know Conservative Judaism has little ability to prevent assimilation. But with the rise of a left fringe of Orthodoxy, more of these liberal-learning unaffiliated Jews exploring Judaism will feel comfortable ignoring Conservativism and heading toward OO or “Left-Wing Modern Orthodoxy.” Much like the secular Zionists paved the way for the rise of Orthodoxy by building and populating a country where eventually it would become normal and easy to be Orthodox without compromise while participating fully in national life. Hashem works in mysterious ways.

  8. Kenny Cartwright

    Very good article, Rabbi, thank you! The only problem I have is with the Mechitzah in the sense that the man is to leave his family, join to his wife, and the two are to be one. To me, in my unlearned status (I keep that status very much in mind), such flies on the face of the Mechitzah. I heard a Torah teacher, however, say that the Mechitzah is not to subjugate or demean women, but because the men would be distracted, and that the problem the Mechitzah attacks is that of the men, not the women. Do you have time to elaborate. I am learning here.

    • The verse you cite refers to marriage. In marriage, a man cleaves to a woman, although even that obvious truism is currently under attack! We cleave to each other, but we don’t have to work together in the same office, for example. Likewise, we do not pray together because we stand before G-d as individuals and as a community, not as families. Married couples praying together in public would be too much of a distraction for effective prayer, already challenged by other distractions.
      It’s even more complicated and profound, but that suffices for now.
      – RSP

  9. I think we should just admit that synagogues (and, lehavdil, churches) were invented to be Men’s Clubs. And when the Enlightenment preached a religion stripped of ritual in favor of direct contemplation and internalization of its truths, men created groups like the Freemasons — complete with Temples, rituals, “deep truths” (at least, back then that aspect was central) and in a male-centered environment.

    In contrast, as Nachum noted, when the non-Orthodox movements broke the model, or churches did, men lose interest. No matter how liberal or feminist the typical man in their community is.

    It would seem that there are gender differences that makes this format effective for men. Whereas giving women an equal role in rite ends up breaking it. I am not saying anyone is superior or inferior over it, just that there is a particular model of rite and community that is effective in bonding men to the society and inculcating in them its values.

    Shul looks like a boy’s club because it was designed to be one. And that’s a good thing.

  10. As a side note to the issue of RCA/REITS rabbis serving in shuls without mechitzot: My father, a”h, was one of those rabbis serving in a shul beginning in the ’50’s, which had no mechitza. The goal was to encourage the membership to ultimately erect a mechita. Alas, in that shul, it never happened, but my father did manage to at least have separate seating on the yamim noraim.

  11. The simplest answer is that men have a chiyuv of tefila b’tzibur, not women. That seems to be a more cogent reason why shuls developed as they did.
    – RSP

    • More cogent than what? I didn’t see a reason in the blog post.

      As for my own suggestion…. I was talking more about why men were given so many more rituals. Rather than assuming the male level of chiyuv is the baseline, and asking why women are exempt, I want to flip the question around and ask why men are obligated. What gender difference would make these obligations more meaningful to a man than a woman.

      I actually think there is more merit to the idea that we’ve been looking at the question from the wrong end than my particular suggestion of an answer to the resulting question.

      • It is absotuely true that men lose interest when women are in charge. That’s not an assertion, its an empirical fact.There are statistics showing attendance in Reform synagogues to be as high as 90% women. There are online forums discussing this phenomenon. Call it whatever you want, there is something in the male DNA that chafes under female leadership. Perhaps the Torah knew what it was talking about, as interpreted by chazal, in the concept of מלך ולא מלכה?

        Nor do I think this is restricted to Jews. I think this is actually a much more widespread phenomenon, only discrimination laws and the PC culture prevent it from being further explored. There is an article in the 2008 Boston Glone entitled “Where have all the men gone?”, which notes the wild gender imbalance in reform temples. Look at this quote:

        >”There is no consensus about why women are now disproportionately represented in non-Orthodox settings, although scholars and Jewish leaders note that the pattern, although a departure from traditional Judaism, mirrors the pattern seen in mainline Protestantism. “It’s an American phenomenon,” said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “It’s not clear that there’s anything uniquely Jewish about it.”<

        Did you catch that? Reform mirrors Protestants – not Catholics. In other words, the gender imbalance only occurs when women are in leadership roles. Make of that what you will, but the implications are obvious to anyone who cares to look at the subject honestly.

  12. Rabbi,
    I believe I have heard that you are not supportive of a community Yoetzet Halacha. Is your reason consistent with the argument you are presenting above?

    • I am not supportive for the reasons outlined, although there are fine Rabbanim who do support it (especially in Israel where there might be limited contact at times between rabbis and communities). In theory, I don’t see a practical difference between ruling on questions in one area of Jewish law and not others. There are rabbis who support the program because they would rather have women answering questions of taharat hamishpacha for women than men answering them. But why not kashrut? Why not mamonot? Why not Shabbat? Etc.
      The historical case in which it occurred were really exceptional (perhaps there was a dearth of capable men) but what was normative was the opinion expressed in the Shaarei Teshuva that I have cited in the past.
      But I keep an open mind. One thing that is true, and was predicted: the yoetzet program has spurred the appetite for full ordination. If it is a stepping stone, then that adds to its problematic nature.
      – RSP

  13. Bible, Isaiah, chapter 3, verse 12:

    According to the classic Jewish Bible commentaries,
    is this Bible verse a blessing, or is it a curse?

  14. Rabbi, you wrote: “In theory, I don’t see a practical difference between ruling on questions in one area of Jewish law and not others.”

    The concept of yo’etzet was invented to answer questions too many women were not asking of a rabbi, due to embarrassment about discussing female biology with a guy who isn’t their husband. And in marital law (as you know, but in case others didn’t realize) an error in either direction is prohibited. It’s not permissible to simply say, “well, we’ll play safe and wait another few days.” (Whether or not a yo’etzet actually performs “hora’ah” would require a discussion of defining the where the line is between “hora’ah” and trusting my wife that the Shabbos meal is kosher. This isn’t the place for that conversation.)

    Whereas not having a Maharat doesn’t translate into a woman not knowing whether or not the meat was treifed up, or whether money is owed someone. The status quo does not translate into violations of halakhah

    That does make the one area of halakhah quite different, in a practical way, than others.

    And on the middos level, we have motivation to accommodate the tzeni’us that leads to the need for a woman to be able to handle questions in that one area.

    Similarly, the to’enet halakhah, having a woman help present a case to beis din, meant that women who were intimidated to speak up two the three judges or even to a male to’ein could now have their cases more fairly heard. (Either way, I don’t understand how having one of either gender is within the system, but this isn’t the place for that conversation either.) There is a halachic problem with the status quo prior.

    I believe R’ Rakeffet is in favor of yo’atzot, but I know for certain that he is quite proud of his daughter being the first to’enet.

    • In theory, though, a yoetzet need not be limited to taharat hamishpacha, even though the current program does. And in truth, I never understood why a woman should not be a toenet before Bet Din, any more than she could not be a lawyer.
      But that is why I noted many fine rabbis, including Rav Rakeffet and Rav Aviner, support yoatzot. I’m not yet there.
      – RSP

      • Rav,

        We all appreciate your willingness to be swayed by reason on this topic.
        I believe you agree with other respected Rabbis that, within a strict definition of Yoetzet, such would be permitted.

        The matter of departure is that you take a stricter stance out of concern of what this female role may lead to. But wouldn’t your inclination to be more stringent than halachah also be driving a trend in modern orthodoxy in an opposite direction, although less drastic than those looking for heterim?

        I know some institutions widely considered modern orthodox that now have many members that appear ultra orthodox due to a lack of balance to temper the other side.

        Thank you

  15. לכבוד מו”ה הר”ר פרוזנסקי שליט”א

    הגם כי אני נמנה בהכי קונסערואטיבים שבחבורה (כדמוכח מכל הערותי באתרא הדין), גם אני תומך – או אינני מנגד – ליועצת בתפקיד מוגבל למראות נדה בלבד. זה זמו רב שחשבתי שאינה מדרכי צניעות כלל וכלל שנשים יביאו בגדיהן לביניהן וכתמיהן, הן ע”י עצמן הן ע”י בעליהן, לאדם אחר לעיין בה. ואין תשובה לומר שהרב רואה אותם באופן קלינקי, הרי אין זה מועיל כלל מצד האשה. ומבואר בגם’ נדה ג”כ (יג:) חרשת איהי תבדוק לנפשה דתניא אמר רבי חרשת היתה בשכונתינו לא דיה שבודקת לעצמה אלא שחברותיה רואות ומראות לה. (וע”ע שם כ: והתניא נאמנת אשה לומר כזה ראיתי ואבדתיו ופרש”י שם בהמשך מהו שתסמוך עליה חברתה שהראתה דמה לזו ואמרה לה כדם זה שלך הראתי גם אני לפלוני חכם וטיהר) ולכן, אף שאני מודה שאשה אין לה לשרות כיועצת לשום שאלה בהלכה, אפילה הלכה קלה שרשומה בקשו”ע, מטעם פרצה ומטעם שררה, לענין מראות נ”ל דיש להתיר.

    יורינו רבינו, מהו דעת הרב בזה?

  16. Very honest and clear. thank you.

  17. Glatt some questions

    Rabbi Pruzansky, do you support the RCA/OU throwing out synagogues like Rabbi Kanefsky’s shul in Los Angelese that has hired a maharat? Do you support the RCA throwing out shuls like the large shul in Potomac and others who have hired YCT musmachim? Where are you drawing the line?

  18. Good questions. I think both should be treated as both organizations in the past began to treat shuls without mechitzot. Education is necessary before expulsions become routine. Once a line is drawn, then some will be in or out, as they choose. In the past, most shuls made those choices one way or the other, so expulsions were uncommon. I could see the same scenario unfolding here in the coming years. If the issue means so much to them – like the lack of mechitza did to some in the prior generations – then they will have made their choice. We would have achieved both halachic and hashkafic clarity without a witchunt, which I certainly oppose.
    Additionally, there are graduates of YCT, especially in the early years, who are fine people and were unaware of the breaches to come and unsupportive once they did come. Clearly, though, these days, all students there know into what they are entering and with whom they are casting their lot.
    As for the older ones, I am open to being convinced, but yedeihem al hatachtona.

  19. I’ll be judgmental, which is something We Must Not Do, but it seems to me that the yoatzot and toanot (and those in similar “movements,” like female mashgichot) are learned, serious women who want to help in various ways and aren’t out to make a revolution. Whereas the Riverdale crowd, both men and women, seems to have a lot of amharatzut disguised as social activism.

    (To be fair, lots of mainstream ordained men are amharatzim too, but one thing at a time.)

  20. Pingback: Symposium on Open Orthodoxy II - Torah Musings