Do You Want Me to Leave Orthodoxy? An Open Letter to the RCA
Dear Rabbinical Council of America,
Do you want me to leave?
Do you want 17-year-old girls who care about Judaism to leave Orthodoxy? Do you want them to leave Judaism altogether? Because that is what is going to happen if you don’t give us a seat at your table.
I am a 17-year-old girl who wants to get ordained at Yeshivat Maharat because I want to become a Jewish leader. I daven three times a day, go to shul every Shabbat, keep Kashrut vigorously, and I want to devote my life to the Orthodox Jewish community.
How do you propose I do that if not through ordination?
I want to respect your organization. I want to respect the unity within Orthodoxy that you try to create. But I cannot respect you, because you refuse to respect me. Your recent policy prohibiting the ordination of women, and the hiring of ordained women was incredibly upsetting to me. It was voted on by men with far more Torah and world experience than I have. But these men have no idea what it is like to be a seventeen year old girl in the Orthodox community and refuse to create a space for me.
The reason that I am still here is because of the women who are becoming leaders in this community. Yeshivat Maharat, the first place in the world to ordain Orthodox women as official clergy, gives me hope for the future of the Orthodox community. If not for them, there would not be an outlet for female voices in the Orthodox world. It’s really hard to be part of a religion which can be seen as sexist at times. But you don’t need to perpetuate that. Without a voice catering to women, I would feel lost in a religion that is so dominated by men. The ordination of women is changing the face of Orthodox Judaism in an incredibly exciting way. I know four other girls my age who want to get ordained. That is a significant number and it’s only going to grow. I am inspired and a better person and Jew because of the women I know who are studying at Yeshivat Maharat. Seeing them learning, davening, and interacting with the world inspires me and their devotion to Judaism should be acknowledged.
On your website you say that your organization “has been in the forefront of many issues, movements, ideas, and initiatives intended to enhance the status and impact of the many facets of Torah on Jewish life in its interactions with the world around it.” I would argue that the acceptance of women’s ordination is needed to enhance the impact of Torah on the world. Even though women can be leaders in their professional lives, when one looks at the Orthodox Jewish leaders of today, women are strikingly absent. At least half of Orthodoxy’s members are women and women need to have a real role in public Jewish life. The Yoatzot Halacha and YU GPATS (Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Study) program are amazing. But if you accept the fact that women can learn the same material as men and on the same level as men, then why can’t we have the title?
When someone says the word Rabbi to me, I picture a man in a beard. But that shouldn’t be an accurate representation of leadership in the Orthodox world. Growing up the only Jewish leaders I knew, in my Modern Orthodox school and Shul, were men. I was never particularly interested in talking to them, but maybe that would have been different if some were women. Only when I was introduced to feminism did I start to question that. I had never considered spending my life doing “Jewish things” before I met a Maharat. I would love it if the little girls in my community grow up seeing women as Jewish leaders in Shul. I want to change the implications of the title Rabbi. I want anyone to be able to be a Rabbi, regardless of gender.
I will not leave this life because of you, and the reason I’m staying is because places like Yeshivat Maharat exist. It’s because incredible women who have been learning Torah their whole lives are finally being recognized. And I want to help create a Jewish future where seventeen year old Orthodox girls can become Rabbis.
Rana Bickel is a senior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.