Issue of February 26, 2010/ 12 Adar 5770
‘Schism’ not Rabbi Weiss’ doing
To the Editor:
Rabbi Billet’s article on the ordination of Rabbah Sara Hurwitz was frustrating; it offered no meaningful reason for why her ordination is “in error” (Moving forward by going into reverse; Feb. 19, 2010
). Moreover, I found it self-serving that Rabbis Billet and Shmuel Hain warn of a schism over this issue. The schisms in the Orthodox community are not the work of people like Rabbi Avi Weiss. They are the doing of those who have repeatedly pulled Modern Orthodoxy to the right and have done little to respond to the insular philosophies of rabbinic leaders in Israel and of many of the rabbis we hire to teach in our Modern Orthodox educational institutions.
The question is not whether we educate our women well or whether women serve us in a halachic capacity. I suspect women like Rabbah Hurwitz are not fooled by patronizing compliments about the advancement of women in Jewish communal life. The question is how we explain to women with first-class educations and first-class accomplishments that the parity they experience in the secular world is unavailable to them in a religion as remarkable for its historical evolution and adaptation as it is for its adherence to tradition.
Let Williamsburg follow Woodmere
To the Editor:
In his article, ‘Moving forward by going into reverse
’ (Feb. 19, 2010), Rabbi Herschel Billet criticizes one who begins with a desired halakhic conclusion and then tweaks sources to accommodate that conclusion, suggesting that this was Rabbi Avi Weiss’ mistake in according rabbinic ordination to a woman. Actually, Rabbi Billet appears to have employed this very type of reasoning when criticizing Rabbi Weiss. Both Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Billet begin from the same halakhic point of departure: that a woman’s ordination is not prohibited, a position shared by many YU roshei yeshiva. Rabbi Weiss then proceeds to the logical conclusion: if not prohibited, it is permitted. In contrast, Rabbi Billet and many of his modern Orthodox colleagues appear to find themselves compelled to arrive at the opposite, albeit counter-intuitive, conclusion: if not prohibited, it is nevertheless not permitted.
Rabbi Billet accomplishes this with policy arguments that are simply unsupportable. He argues that the Jewish community should focus upon “more significant” issues, appearing to dismiss woman’s issues as “insignificant.” He expresses concern for the “fragile unity” of the Jewish community. “Unity” is, of course, “motherhood and apple pie,” but is there truly unity between, say, Williamsburg and Woodmere? To preserve unity, should Woodmere conform itself to Williamsburg, or should it be the other way around? Doesn’t the search for unity compel us to also consider the feelings of our women, some of whom are highly learned and are growing increasingly resentful of their “traditional” but halakhically unsupportable second-class status within Torah Judaism?
The true challenge of being “modern” Orthodox lies in the precarious but ultimately necessary process of balancing our timeless values with the mores of an-ever evolving society.
Women deserve same respect as men
To the Editor:
In his opinion piece in last week’s Jewish Star (Moving forward by going into reverse; Feb. 19, 2010
), Rabbi Herschel Billet suggested that conferring the title “Rabba” on an Orthodox woman was an unnecessary move that would take the focus off the real issues as he sees them: establishing meaningful ways for women to participate in Jewish communal life (in those communities that see this as a value) and maintaining (Orthodox) communal unity.
While Rabbi Billet’s assertions are admirable, I believe he needs to clarify how he sees these ideals being upheld, moving forward as a united Orthodox community where many believe in the need for continuing and furthering the roles of women in public life.
Rabbi Billet is correct: A battle over titles is not an effective use of our shared energies. Yet Kavod haTorah is a principle of communal life. We value our leaders — their knowledge, wisdom and contribution — and acknowledge that esteem partially through the use of titles. Would anyone in Rabbi Billet’s community dream of calling him, or any other rabbi, anything but “Rabbi So-and-so?” Female scholars, teachers and leaders deserve the same deference and acknowledgement of their positions and the sacrifices they make on behalf of Klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Billet asserts that, “What should be of primary importance is how we educate our women and what opportunities we provide them, not what titles we give them.” This moment provides a special opportunity for Rabbi Billet and other Centrist/Modern Orthodox rabbinic leaders to openly discuss what opportunities they believe should be made available to women, and how the many scholarly, capable females in our communities should be recognized for their sacrifices for and contributions to the Jewish People.
Rabbi Yonah Berman
The writer is the assistant rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount.