More Orthodox women rabbis?


The prospect of more women serving as Orthodox rabbis is just around the corner. A recent article in The Forward discusses the opening of a new yeshiva that plans to train women as Orthodox clergy. Interestingly, however, graduates will not yet be called “rabbis.” According to Sara Hurwitz, one of the program’s founders:

We’re training women to be rabbis … What they will be called is something we’re working out.


The program is partly a brainchild of Rabbi Avi Weiss, who has long been an advocate for what he calls “Open Orthodoxy,” and is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, an “Open Orthodox” rabbinical school based in NYC.


Rabbi Weiss stressed that the halachic limitations on women would be observed, and thus some functions would still need to be performed by men. But that does not mean that women will fulfill any less of a leadership role, he stresses.


“The Orthodox model is not the Conservative and Reform model, where the roles of men and women in general and in leadership are identical,” Weiss told the Forward. “In Orthodoxy, the roles significantly overlap, but there are very clear distinctions.”


The issue of women rabbis is still hotly debated within Orthodoxy, and Weiss has long drawn criticism for his positions.


Despite the controversy of the topic, most people are not aware of the history of women within Orthodoxy, nor of the fact that there are already a small number of women who have received Orthodox smicha. Despite your position on the issue, it will be interesting to observe how these women clergy will be received in the Orthodox world.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to More Orthodox women rabbis?

  1. Bunmi says:

    If women become rabbis in the Orthodoxy, one thing that we’ll see for sure is a lowered birth rate amongst frum women. The heters for birth control will fly! 🙂

  2. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Hi Bunmi,LOL … we’ll just have to see. It will be interesting to see how things will navigate. It definitely will not be like other movement in Judaism. Even though women (will) serve as rabbis, Orthodox halachah still remains intact. As such, women still may not end up serving on Beit Dins, etc.

  3. Amanda E says:

    Actually, Beit dinim are places women CAN serve, and have. Laying Tefillin an handling sefrei Torah are more problematic when nidda issues are taken into consideration, although laining Torah is not, particularly after the landmark decision this last purim about qualified women reading the Megillah for the entire community, not just for a group of women, as things have been in the past. Women are making huge strides in the Orthodox world from advocates to yoatzot. I’m excited to see where things will go in the next few decades. And it’s a lot easier to get a heter for b/c than you might think! Most people just are afraid to ask.

  4. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Hi Amanda,Thanks for chiming in on the discussion! Although in some circles women are able to serve as dayanim, it is still often limited to just ruling on “women’s issue,” nu?I hope all is well!

  5. Anonymous says:

    The article, I believe, and without any support, gives false credence that Avi Weiss’ views are becoming “accepted” in mainstream Orthodoxy. This is inaccurate, and indeed, false. Those in the Orthodox community see Avi Weiss and his group/Yeshivot for what they are. Rather than pushing the boundaries of Orthodoxy, he is pushing the boundaries of Conservative and Reformed Judaism.It is truly sad that, in the call for “more learning,” Avi Weiss and his group have failed to learn the true meaning and values associated with the roles, and indeed distinctions, between men and women under the Torah.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Conservative Judaism has been ordaining women rabbis for decades and has been shrinking for decades. If liberal Orthodoxy wants to go ahead with female ordination, I’d encourage it.All the large religions in the world have male only clergy. This is because women will go in large numbers to services lead by men, but men won’t go in large numbers to services lead by women. This is true everywhere.

  7. Monique says:

    Anon, if Weiss is such a fringe-y guy, then why are the graduates of his yeshiva getting positions in mainstream Mo-dox shuls?

  8. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Dear “Anonymous,”I made clear (as well as the article does) that women clergy is controversial within the Orthodox world.You do raise an important issue of possible effects of “over-feminization.” However, there are also a number of congregations who have experienced much success with healthy balances between male and female clergy.

  9. Amanda E says:

    I’m afraid the information you have about women serving on beit dinim is outdated. Qualified women are allowed (at least in Israel) to be rabbinic advocates on any kind of case. Our lawyer happens to also be an advocate, has been for a couple decades. She is widely respected in the orthodox world. The Shulchan Aruch rules that a woman cannot be a dayan (I’ll look it up if you want the source). So unless you decide not to follow that, you won’t find a female Dayan in the OJ world. I think it is time for Orthodox women to move into every sphere they can, halachically. However, I would argue that anyone who does not follow the Shulchan Aruch is not Orthodox. On an entirely different point, I think that in the quoted article, the term Rabbi is mixed up with one who leads a congregation. While I don’t have numbers to back it up, I believe that the majority of people holding orthodox semicha are actually not leading congregations. Let us not fall into the trap of correlating learniing and leadership. Holding a leadereship role in a congregation does not make you a rabbi (as many past presidents of shuls will attest) and holding semicha does not make you a leader.

  10. Anonymous says:

    To accurately define the term Rabbi, it means to have adequate proficiency in certain Jewish texts. Today every true stream of Judaism requires those they ordain as Rabbis to have mastery over certain tractates of Talmud as well as the Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its prime commentaries. Those groups may disagree on interpretation and application of what is contained in those texts. However, without recognized mastery in them, anyone who calls themselves a Rabbi is simply fraud.Within Orthodox Judaism(as within many of the other legitmate streams of Judaism) the title Rabbi also means halakhic decisor. Only from the start of the Jewish haskalah has this title or its role been strictly restricted from women.To be a Judge in a Beit Din as mentioned above is specifically prohibitted by the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 7:4. One cannot be Orthodox and contradict the Shulchan Aruch. That is simply the way the world works.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The Reform and Conservative movements make poor rolemodels. Many Reform “Jews” are not even Jewish, as they might have “converted” with no bris, mikvah and bet din. Many of their rabbis don’t even believe in Hashem, and most don’t teach you to obey even the written Torah! And Conservatives? They claim Torah, but also manage to find excuses to break mitzvot: it is better to break shabbes by driving your car than missing synagogue (or temple or whatever they prefer to call it). They are liberals, who despite what G-D teaches in His Torah, are in favor of killing unborn babies, divorce for no serious reason, they accept gay/lesbian marriage, and are more familiar with the Bagadvita than with the Torah, Tanakh and Talmud. It’s just sad. And their tolerance is a one-way street, reserved for them selves and those who – like them – so bravely attack Hashem and His holy Torah. As my grandmother would have said: They are a disgrace.Seriously: There is so little growth, spirit and joy with these people. Sure, they got their women rabbis and gay men and classes on politically correct topics. But do they have a personal friendship with Hashem? Do they know Him, dance for Him, live for Him? I think not. He’s often not welcome in their “temples” and “synagogues”. Orthodoxy is messed up too, they deny Yeshua and are far from perfect. But at least they got some decensy left, in this world gone crazy. All I can say is: Come Yeshua, come! Happy Shavuos everybody, but let’s stick with our triune G-d and not be deceived by those slick liberal “scholars” working against Him, His Torah and Moshiach!

  12. Monique says:

    Anonymous, I’d caution against blackballing everyone but yourself. That’s not what we’re about here at Yinon, and plenty of your summary judgments about complex and diverse religious communities are unfounded. The Reform movement is undergoing a radical transformation as its leaders (both clergy and lay people) re-embrace “tradition” … halakhah, Jewish prayer, belief in the divine, etc.The Conservative movement’s positions on abortion, ordination of homosexuals, the status of women, and other “moral” issues is more complicated than you think.And there are plenty of believers in Yeshua living in the Orthodox world … there’s also a lot more theological and social diversity in the Orthodox world than you realize. Like any religious movement/institution/community, it grows and changes over time, too. And of course, Messianic Judaism is far more complicated, fractured, and confused about its identity than any of the above. I really don’t think you can blame religious transformation on “liberals” who are out to drag us all to Gehinnom.Seriously, be careful about the judgments that you so readily spout about. We are all Jews. Called by Hashem to very complicated lives, worked out through a difficult history full of hope and suffering. We’d rather look out for Klal Yisrael and gently encourage fellow Jews toward greater levels of hope, faith, observance of the commandments, and engagement in the world than spend our time pointing fingers.

  13. Monique says:

    Amanda, I think what Joshua was trying to say was that currently, women can serve as halakhic “lawyers” but not “judges” on a beit din.In my study of family purity laws, I became aware of women who are authorized to make binding decisions on issues of taharas hamishpocha and other “women’s issues.” Alas, I’m not Orthodox, so I don’t know if the same license extends to other areas of Jewish law. Does that comport with your experience in Israel?

  14. Rabbi David says:

    It is impossible for an Orthodox woman to serve as a Judge on an Orthodox Beit Din. To do so one would need to transgress the Rishonim and the psak halakha of the Shulchan Aruch. Once that is done one is an apikoros and no longer Orthodox.To accurately define the term Rabbi, it means to have adequate proficiency in certain Jewish texts. Today every true stream of Judaism requires those they ordain as Rabbis to have mastery over certain tractates of Talmud as well as the Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its prime commentaries. Those groups may disagree on interpretation and application of what is contained in those texts. However, without recognized mastery in them, anyone who calls themselves a Rabbi is simply fraud.Within Orthodox Judaism(as within many of the other legitmate streams of Judaism) the title Rabbi also means halakhic decisor. Only from the start of the Jewish haskalah has this title or its role been strictly restricted from women.This is a fairly accurate statement. Add to that that a woman cannot be a halakhic decisor for the same reason give above that she cannot be a Judge. Technically women cannot make binding decisions in Taharat Mishpacha or any other realm of Halakha. They can inform the uniformed but any true psak halakha needs be made by a Rabbi, or once again we have stepped outside the realm of Orthodoxy.

Leave a Reply to Bunmi Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *