Monday, March 21, 2005

Why the Hell not?

Reading Jpost's article on orthodox-frum-women-(albino-eskimo-midget)-rabbis (ok the middle stuff came from a weird song I happened to shuffle past last night) I think to myself, why the Hell not? I understand not inventing legal categories that have never existed before, like letting women count in a minyan, which is even a shaky idea when it is considered in the mishna (and they were pretty liberal back then- hell, they even wanted women to learn torah [Sotah 20.]). Everyone concedes, however, that smicha died a very long time ago (except for maybe the GRA) so that our modern rabbinate is just a synthetic artifice, the same way the DMV is (i.e. it exists for our convenience). That being said, I do not see why women should not be afforded the same opportunities as men*.

I think we can then map this debate on the Andrew Sullivan/Michael Warner homosexual marriage debate. Sullivan would say that we (women) want the same rights and opportunities as plain folk, while Warner would argue that we should not be trying to bolster the current power hierarchy. Oh, and Jerry Falwell would say that they are all damned to hell anyhow, so why should we care**.

Oh, and go check out Volokh.

* I do think that feminism in orthodox is an uber-boring topic of conversation, however, that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be blogged about on (very) rare occasions.
** He would probably give the "women should serve their husbands in the home" line from Ephisians 5:22, but I wanted to continue with the Hell theme of the post.


Oren Bassik said...

The answer to your mildly profane question, Zev, is rather simple: it divides communities.

Supposing any currently orthodox institution starts ordaining women, large segments of the Orthodox community will no longer "accept" that smicha, with consequences ranging from Kashrus to book burnings. Is this really worth it so some whiny women can pretend they are men?

My point here isn't that ordaining women is a bad idea, it is just that "why the hell not" is a pretty terrible argument for it. You need to show some positive value - which will be difficult, for as you say, everyone agrees it lost most of its meaning a long time ago.

Zev said...

There are already pretty profound distinctions within the frum community, giving women smichas will not be the point of total fissure. Women already serve as Yoetsot Halacha in Israel, and their psak is respected in many communities.

You are right that the title is pretty much worthless (from a historical-halachik perspective) but it carries weight, right? People look up to Rabbis as being leaders and having something intelligent to say (that is not to say that frum women are not highly intelligent, with acute and well informed insight on a myriad of social, political, artistic and literary fronts). Why should women be excluded from that role? Yes the Brurias and Nechuma Lebovitchs of the world have existed, but they have been actively held back and looked down upon. Why do we need to continue that? If some Rav wants to give the daughter of the Netziv smicha, why the hell not?

Further, I respect the rhetoric weight referring to feminists as "whiny women" but no one questions the motives of YU guys for spending years in smicha. Furthermore, don't you think that feminists would be less whiny if they were given an active role? It is not like these women want to open up the halachik community to their lecherous and prurient ways; for God sakes, they want to learn Torah and paskin halacha!

Anonymous said...

true to form, i can't read an exchange like this without commenting...


"it divides communities"
so "You need to show some positive value..."

yes, it does divide communites, so yes, a better argument needs to be made. you sound like you might think there is no "positive value" to be shown. you also sound like you might think that ordaining women is inherently silly, not just sociologicall misguided. zev said some of this in his response, but here's what i have to say about all that:

there are costs as well as benefits to maintaing the current exclusion of women, even in terms of "division" itself.
consider the implicit "division" that exists when women are systematically excluded from things, especially from things they don't have to be excluded from for technical reasons.
basically, they suffer because everyone knows that, given the choice, most learned women would rather remain within the frum community without the respect they deserve (read: the recognition and career opportunities that the same level of learning gets their male counterparts) than leave and get respect from people they don't care about.
also, i strongly believe the "glass ceiling" impacts the choices (regarding learning, lifestyle, etc.) and self-perception of lay-women and girls.

in contrast to the many women who will grin and bear it, most of those on the "right wing" who feel strongly are wont to throw tantrums whenever too much power gets diverted from its traditional seat, especially to women. this effectively holds the (in my opinion large number of) people who feel like zev - that it deosn't really matter- as well as the minority of mild-mannered women (and their supporters) whose lives are being restricted, hostage. talk about whiny.

note that i am not arguing for women rabis, only that there are reasons for as well as against. further, that there are reasons on both sides that come from overly egoistic and inappropriate motives.

i also happen to believe, though i don't think this is central here, that were the debate conducted without emotional or sociological arguments, ordination of women would have a better shot at being reasonable than it does when those factors are included. on that note, discussions of "whiny women [who] pretend they are men" would often do well to turn the same critical and overly personal attention to the motives of the opposition. We can start by analyzing the emotional background of the following "argument:"

"Is this really worth it so some whiny women can pretend they are men? "



"There are already pretty profound distinctions within the frum community, giving women smichas will not be the point of total fissure."

i think you are wrong, and your confidence astounds me.
yes, communities with substantial and substantive differences manage to pretend that they respect each other more or less (even if that means ignoring each other). but if anything is going to cause an official break within orthodoxy it will have to do with women, somehow. sad but true.

yoatsot halachah are different b/c,
1-they are generated by a women's institution, not a "mainstream" male seminary.
2-they deal with a uniquely feminine issue.
3- they can always fall back on the "women just need someone they feel comfortable talking to, but we really wish they would talk to rabbis instead" line when they are deling with certain sorts of people.


Zev said...

Ok, you got me. I don't really care about the Jewish community. There, I said it.

Ignoring that cynical quip, what would women rabbis look like? Why is it so novel? It would be a bunch of frum women, covered hair and long skirts giving shiurim and paskening halacha. These are roles that women already assume (e.g. the Machon at Gush [as if Gush is a paragon of anything]). My real responce to the social dynamic is that I believe it could be done in a subtle manner as not to "offend" anyone (mind you, my tollerence for those "offended" grows thinner by the hour).

Jose said...

I'm not sure that the warner/sullivan comparison is necessarily relevant. the real challenge that warner makes is not that wanting the same rights necessarily bolsters the power dynamic (for example he is only bothered by marriage, he doesn't really care if queers serve in the military, which is a big issue for sullivan). It's more a question of whether extending legal benefits necessarily guarantees social equality (which sullivan presumes it does, and warner believes it does not and can sometimes make things worse)

In this case, to my knowledge, there is no particularly pressing stigma in frum society attached to boys that do not get smicha. That being the case, opening it up to women would not necessarily further stigmatize women that chose not enter the rabbinate.

jacob said...

Congrats Zev on posting another comment that is sure to generate responses. Maybe next time you can just write "Abortion. Any comments?"

Anyway, I will defend the "right wing" and respond to anonymous. First, regardless of how offensive it may seem, the question of whether or not women should play a major role in jewish leadership has a halachic component to it. I would recommend you read the debates on women voting in the State of Israel. Rav Kook was opposed as were other rabbanim. It is so reductionist to attribute opposition to every new feminist demand as "throw[ing] tantrums whenever too much power gets diverted from its traditional seat, especially to women." Not evrything is about power (unless you have been reading too much foucault but dont get me started on that drivel).
So, why such opposition to ordaining women given that ordination is meaningless and women already function as advisors on religious issues? (Witness the populairty of certain rebbetzin speakers) I think that the opposition is afraid (and rightfully so) that the feminists are not being forthcoming in their insistence on equal rights within the halachik system. The opposition suspects that the true motive (and you can get a good picture of this if you read the feminist "literature") is the breakdown of the male/female binary and any idea of gender roles. Eventually, the demands will not be limited to what is acceptable within halacha but rather will be under the banner of "where there is a rabbinic will, there is a halachik way." (Blu greenberg)
This has turned into a rant so let me finish by saying that the ideas expressed above do not necessarily relfect mine own. I am also suffering from jet lag which makes me exhausted and unable to write coherently. Forgive me. I await your responses.

Anonymous said...

In a recent conversation with Yuter, the topic of challenging conventions within Judaism was discussed. While I argued that the orthodox movement fails to properly challenge the conventions of our religion (perhaps this is done to compensate for the excessive challenging of convention within the the cons and reform movements), Yuter raised an interesting point in that challenging conventions must be done constructively and with a purpose, otherwise anarchy can rear its ugly head.

So, I suppose the question I'm trying to ask is whether or not allowing women to receive ordination within orthodoxy is in fact beneficial toward the movement. I think it's fairly clear that the decisions of the conservative and reform movements to give women ordination was in part due to feminism, and did not fully consider the implications on the stances of people toward halacha. However, I think that an attempt by the ortho movement to widely give women ordination could be done in a fashion which would benefit the movement, spurring much more learning. One thing to consider - Were this to occur, would people think that such a decision was in fact a concession to the conservative and reform movements that orthodoxy was wrong all along?


jacob said...

I forgot the main reason why women should not be ordained:

We dont need more Orthodox rabbis!!