High School Tefillin Debate Just Tip of Iceberg for Orthodox Jewish Women

News Analysis

getty images

By Uriel Heilman

Published January 23, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In 2009, Weiss pushed the envelope even further by ordaining Sara Hurwitz, later conferring on her the title of “rabba,” a feminized version of rabbi. The move was condemned immediately — not just by the haredi Orthodox, but by leaders of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.

“The ordination of women as rabbis represents a serious and inappropriate breach with our sacred tradition and is beyond the pale of Orthodox Judaism,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, a rabbi in Teaneck, N.J., who was vice president of the RCA at the time.

For a long time, it had been unusual for one sector of American Orthodoxy to condemn another, despite differences in practice and even ideology. Many families span the various kinds of Orthodoxy, no one’s quite sure of what the contours of modern Orthodox are, and it’s not unusual to find haredi Orthodox Jews worshiping in modern Orthodox shuls and vice versa.

(Neither consider it acceptable to worship in Conservative or Reform synagogues.)

But as liberal Orthodox Jews support new roles for women, particularly in the synagogue, it’s looking increasingly like Orthodoxy is undergoing a schism.

The more traditionalist elements of the Orthodox community view the reforms as beyond the pale, a threat to the integrity of their halachic community. This is why Weiss and the yeshivas he has established, including the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, have faced so much Orthodox opposition — from the RCA, which does not recognize Chovevei ordination, to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which recently questioned Weiss’ Orthodox credentials.

Incidentally, SAR is not the first Orthodox school to allow girls to lay tefillin; the Ramaz School in Manhattan made such an allowance as far back as the early 1990s, though it made no public announcement about it until SAR did this week. And eight centuries ago, the daughters of Rashi, the medieval French rabbi, famously were said to have worn tefillin.

While the more public battles have been over women being ordained, laying tefillin or reading from the Torah, there are innumerable issues related to women both large and small with which Orthodoxy is grappling. It’s not just about clergy but also women serving as synagogue presidents, making the blessing over bread or wine on Shabbat, or dancing with Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah. While initially considered aberrant, some of these practices have gradually gained acceptance in mainstream Orthodox circles.

Will the changes considered controversial today gradually gain mainstream acceptance, too, or are they fated to remain a fringe Orthodox phenomenon?

In an elastic movement with no central governing authority or membership structure, it’s hard to say. Clearly the haredi Orthodox will stand against change. The question is which way the modern Orthodox and the institutions associated with them — the RCA, Yeshiva University, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel, to name a few — will swing.

There is, perhaps, one factor that may play an outsize role in determining this: leadership. If the change agents within Orthodoxy become educators, role models and leaders of the next generation of modern Orthodox Jews, successfully pass on their commitment to both halachah and egalitarianism, and continue to live a life committed to Jewish law, they could transform the face of modern Orthodoxy.

But if they fail, then those who have been arguing all along that these changes have no place in Orthodoxy will see vindication in that failure.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.