The Role of Women in Judaism
The issue of a woman's role in scholarship and Judaic ritual leadership, which has been 'whispered' about just under the surface for a while now, was raised aloud again and brought to the forefront recently.
This has happened particularly by the big news made by Rabbi Avi Weiss with his "Open Orthodoxy" idea, opening the door for women to have a leadership and public role in Jewish ritual observance, and also by Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the Petach Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, when he created his "halachic document" enabling women to increase their participation in synagogue services, and by various other articles and blogs on the subject.
Here are some excerpts: from The Forward:
Rabbi Avi Weiss, a leading advocate for a more liberal Orthodoxy, and Sara Hurwitz, a protégé of Weiss, are now taking inquiries and applications for Yeshivat Maharat, a four-year program set to open this fall to train women as “full members of the Rabbinic Clergy,” according to an e-mail announcement. But they will not, as of yet, be called rabbis.From YNet News:
Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva, has recently formulated an elaborate halachic document aimed at facilitating the integration of women into prayer services and the life of the congregation, while striving for the maximum level of equality allowed by the Halacha.And from Elana Sztokman's blog in writing about 'Judaism in transition':
In the plan, which was presented at a conference at the Lander Institute in Jerusalem Wednesday, Sherlo calls for renovating synagogues in order to adjust them to women's prayers, to encourage women to dance with the Torah scroll and allow orphaned women recite the kaddish prayer alongside men.
. . . As long as women do not “count”, not for minyan, not for kaddish, not as human beings, the message we sent to our daughter is still a lot of wishful thinking. As long as we continue to insist on gender difference, that only men can give a get, that men take a wife while women are “taken”, that only men are considered reliable witnesses, that men are rabbis while women are “maharats”, and so forth, then the equality line is still a bit of a fib. Sure, we’re working, but there is much work left to do, and this is where our energies belong.I remember how, years ago, some of the Orthodox establishment berated the great Torah scholar Nechama Leibowitz (zikhrona li-vrakha), whose class I had the honor of attending.
Has the time for acceptance finally arrived? Can we do this? Can Orthodox Judaism incorporate a new philosophy of including women in active, public religious roles?
Another interesting response to this hot topic was written by a Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Levi Brackman. He acknowledges in his article on YNet News that some women, for spiritual, not feminist reasons, seek a deeper role in ritual observance:
. . .most traditional women I encounter have no desire to lead synagogue services and are comfortable with their place within Orthodox synagogue services.
But there are some who are not. Some women want a more active role in the synagogue—not because they are feminists but simply because they have a spiritual yearning for it. We in the West live in a society that has dispelled negative sexist and chauvinistic attitudes towards women. Whilst men and women are different, we now clearly recognize that men and women are equal.
But then he goes on to say that (emphasis mine):
Ultimately religious Jews who are committed to the traditional interpretation of Judaism must be guided in their spiritual worship by Jewish law as found in the Talmud and codified in the Shulchan Aruch. If there is room within the confines of Jewish law to allow greater female participation in the synagogue, women should not only be allowed to participate in that way they should be encouraged to do so.That leaves this only a partially propped-open door. Because I don't think the Talmud nor the Shulchan Aruch are up for debate. . .yet.
Here is a JPost video referenced on Elena Sztokman's blog, about the Kolech conference in Jerusalem this past July (click on the JPost link to see this).
And here is just a small portion (see #1) of the agenda* at the Kolech conference (*for loose, partial English translation, see below)
The subject is on the table.
(then, of course, there is always DovBear. . .)
*some opening lectures are:
1) the causes which designed the structure of halacha (Jewish law)
2) "your nakedness will not be exposed" - before whom do we cover ourselves up, and why?