The Rabbinical Council of America, considered the main umbrella group for centrist Orthodox rabbis and one of the largest rabbis' organizations in the world, announced Tuesday that it rejected the idea of ordaining women as rabbis.
The unanimous decision by the influential body, at its 51st annual convention in Scarsdale, New York, is a blow to prominent Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, Bronx. Weiss announced in 2009 that he had ordained Sara Hurwitz and given her the title 'Maharat' – an acronym for Manhiga Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit (Jewish Law / Spiritual / Torah Leader). The acronym Maharat was not well received, and in February Hurwitz was given the title Rabbah instead.
Weiss's announcement had aroused the ire of the Council of Torah Sages (Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah) of America, which called it “a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition” that “must be condemned in the strongest terms.”
“Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox,” the Torah Sages proclaimed.
The more moderate RCA has now joined the Torah Sages in ruling out the ordination of women in the role of rabbi, by any name. The resolution was phrased by a committee headed by Rabbi Leonard Matanky of Chicago, and titled “Resolution on Women’s Communal Roles in Orthodox Jewish Life.”
It says: “The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement... In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically [pertaining to Jewish law] and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.”
“Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah [Torah learning]. yir’at Shamayim [fear of G-d], and dikduk be-mitzvot [scrupulous observance of commandments].”
'Ready to make an impact'
In advance of the RCA conference, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) sent two letters RCA in an attempt to advance women’s leadership roles in synagogues and communities.
One letter read: “Rather than engage in semantic discussions about whether or not it’s halakhic for a woman to become a rabbi, or make divisive statements about a woman’s role in Judaism, we urge the RCA to focus instead on finding new ways for this motivated group of learned women to thrive. They are ready to make an impact in the Orthodox world—in our synagogues, at our schools, and within our homes.”