Discussion of Women Rabbis Causes Stir

By Nacha Cattan

Published February 20, 2004, issue of February 20, 2004.

At this week’s gathering of Orthodox feminists, women read from the Torah and led the Kaddish prayer during mixed-gendered services. Still, at least one topic had the power to shock this crowd: women rabbis.

At this annual conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the subject was raised by two young women in the audience who called on the panelists at a session to start rabbinical programs for Orthodox women. Rabbi David Silber, dean of the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a women’s yeshiva, took up the challenge and said he’d be willing to partner with anyone interested in ordaining women rabbis.

The session caused a stir, which grew to a roar when the founder of JOFA, Blu Greenberg, said the ordination of women rabbis is “just around the corner” and that in 15 or 20 years they will be accepted in the Modern Orthodox community.

But a crucial voice in the matter, a panelist in the controversial session, Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, said his fledgling liberal Orthodox seminary is currently focused on promoting “open Orthodoxy” but not women rabbis. “We have to recognize our commitment to be part of the Orthodox community,” he said.

The third panelist, Rabbanit Malke Bina, founder of MaTaN, the Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem, did not directly address the question about women rabbis, but said her school has attempted to arrange mixed Talmud learning sessions with a rabbinical school for men.

Orthodox feminists say that the only restrictions for women rabbis under Jewish law would be on leading prayers that require a minyan, serving as a witness for weddings and conversions, and sitting in the men’s section of a synagogue.

The idea of women rabbis was not officially endorsed by JOFA, but Greenberg told the Forward: “By making it an open conversation in the Orthodox community, it is giving it a measure of support.”



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