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Orthodox Women Rabbis ‘Ruin’ Judaism — Really?

First I saw the headline: “Women Rabbis Ruin Judaism for All Women.” Then the bio, a photo and name confirming a woman author, Rahel Rocklin. The ensuing Times of Israel post was bound to be an odd one, but I could not have guessed how odd, or, rather, odd how.

-It is an argument about the superiority of Judaism and Christianity to paganism and Islam, a weird twist I can only attribute to modern-day political alignments.

-It’s an argument against “leveling the rich and the poor” – that is, an argument in favor of severe wealth inequality, because… that’s worked out so well? I have no idea.

-It is an argument against women wearing pants. (Rocklin has yet to weigh in on the sweatpants I’m wearing as I type, but I think she can rest assured this look has never inspired anyone to “become promiscuous”, another of her concerns, which do seem, as you may have gathered at this point, a bit all over the place.)

Yet there is, underneath the muddle of idiosyncratic preoccupations (medieval chivalry? infant formula?) and because-I-said-so traditionalism, an argument: Rocklin argues that Orthodox women rabbis should be content with a mainstream society that’s accepted feminism, and leave Orthodox Judaism to its true guardians: men, or, it would seem, Rahel Rocklin. As far as Rocklin’s concerned, these women “can leave our beautiful tradition and join the Conservative or Reform movements. Or they can create their own movement and call it whatever they like, so long as they do not call it Orthodox.”

If Rocklin were responding to some movement led by secular, pants-preferring Jewish women like yours truly, I’d say, fair enough, she has a point, each to their own and all that. But the demand for women to become rabbis is coming not just from outside Jewish onlookers but from within Orthodox Judaism. And you can’t win an internal debate by pronouncing yours the only voice that counts.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected] Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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