New 'Hecksher' for Ordination of Orthodox Women Rabbis

When Rabbi Avi Weiss announced in May that he is opening a center for the training of female Orthodox clergy, it was heralded by many as a watershed moment.

At the Kolech conference in Jerusalem earlier this month, women’s ordination was much-discussed, the idea endorsed by Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, and participants decided that female Orthodox clergy should be called “Rabba.” Kolech is an Israeli religious feminist organization. Writer Elana Sztokman blogs about the conference here.

These developments have been important, yes, but not altogether unexpected from the people involved, and haven’t struck me as the big breakthrough needed for the issue not to remain marginal to the mainstream Orthodox community. But reading this new article in the current issue of The Jewish Press, though, made me say “wow.”

In his opinion piece Rabbi Michael Broyde — a widely respected mainstream Orthodox rabbi, lawyer, rabbinical court judge and expert on halacha, and not someone most would describe as progressive — argues cogently for the formal training of women as Orthodox clergy (although he says they shouldn’t be given the same title as men):

Formal institutional training for women who wish to be part of the Orthodox clergy - teaching, preaching and answering questions of halacha and hashgacha — is an improvement over the current lack of any formal training and therefore a good idea. Such programs, granting degrees conferring fitness to be a member of the Orthodox clergy, are a wise idea whose time has come. … Training people for a job is more prudent that expecting them to do such a job untrained. If they are serving in these roles and servicing our community well, the Orthodox community will grow. The opening of institutions to train women as members of the Orthodox clergy would be an excellent alternative to law school, and would serve as a logical progression in the development of women’s Torah education in the Orthodox community.

Rabbi Broyde’s piece, to me, marks the beginning of public acceptance of female rabbis, no matter what their title, by the heart of the American Orthodox community.

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