Thursday, June 20, 2013

Is Avi Weiss Anti-Feminist?

Yeshivat Maharat graduated its first class of three ordained women, the first time, at least in modern history, that an organization which affiliates itself with an Orthodox stream of Judaism has done so. Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of Yeshivat Maharat, has penned a justification of this seeming break with tradition in the pages of the Times of Israel (please excuse my anachronistic writing style; I know that neither pens nor pages were involved).

In the blog post, Rabbi Weiss seemingly undercuts his own position, giving examples of women throughout history who have served as spiritual leaders:
Biblical personalities like Sarah, Miriam, Devorah and Esther served as supreme spiritual leaders. In our century, Sarah Schneirir was the founder of the Beis Yaakov school network in Poland. More recently, Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher rebbe, served as religious mentor to countless women in Lubavitch leadership.
Today, haredi women lead their schools; a woman heads the Talmud Department at Riverdale, New York’s SARAcademy; women serve as presidents of Modern Orthodox synagogues; and women are serving as full time members of the clergy in Orthodox synagogues in New York and Chicago.
Whatever one's feelings about the issue (and, let's face it, this cannot be resolved without the benefit of hindsight), it's indisputable that  the examples he gave are women who had no ordination, nor, apparently, any need for one. In addition, women continue to fill communal roles without any sort of ordination (graduates of Yeshivat Maharat notwithstanding).

So why is an official ordination all of a sudden necessary? Could it be that Rabbi Weiss feels that it's better for women to serve once a man has given them his seal of approval? Doesn't sound like he's trying to advance the feminist cause.

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