By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Washington Post recently reported on breaking news: “Taking on positions as clergy in a tradition where women have never been clergy before, they have adopted a variety of titles. Some call themselves rosh kehilah, meaning ‘head of the community.’ Some go by maharat. Rabbanit. Rabba. And even rabbi.”
In case you didn’t get it, they explained, “That’s right. There are female rabbis now in Orthodox Judaism. Not many, to be sure. Since Rabbi Avi Weiss privately ordained Rabba Sara Hurwitz in 2009 and declared her the first female Orthodox clergywoman – then founded a school, Yeshivat Maharat, to train more – his school has ordained 21 women, and others have been ordained privately. That’s tiny compared with the 1,000 Orthodox rabbis in the global Rabbinical Council of America, which refuses admission to women. But this small group of women is becoming far more significant in Orthodox Jewish life. Women lead synagogues now in New York and in Massachusetts.”
Many of you who are reading this article view this as a joke and wonder why in this newspaper we spend so much space and ink reporting on the advances that Open Orthodoxy is making across the country.
One of the reasons is because this disaster is coming to a town near you, before you know it. Many sit comfortably in their cocoons, viewing themselves and their communities as impervious to the perversions of Open Orthodoxy and other deviant groups.
Many see themselves as so firmly entrenched that nothing can influence them and negatively impact the strength of their community. But then, when Open Orthodoxy comes to town, people gather in despair, wondering how to prevent their community from falling prey to the so-called progressives who sell a watered-down version of halacha to good people who don’t know better. Being aware of the threat and properly educating those who are searching can prevent much pain and loss.
Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter, an assistant clergy member at Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, Maryland, just announced that she is moving to Philadelphia to open a new shul there. Of course, it will be Orthodox. She got a grant from a new fund that was established to support female-friendly Orthodox synagogues. So, while we are sitting around ignoring the growing problem, the other side is ramping up their efforts at promoting their feel-good agenda.
She is not the only one. The Post cites the examples of Rabbi Lila Kagedan, who leads the Walnut Street Synagogue in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz, who started Kol HaNeshamah in New York.
The Post says that Fruchter “chose Philadelphia because the local Orthodox community is growing.” In other words, people in Philadelphia are returning to Orthodoxy after having recognized that Conservative and Reform Jewry are vapid and fail to provide serious religious fulfillment.
So, this woman and others like her come along and take advantage of these serious people who seek to observe Torah and mitzvos, selling a story that by following them, they can have the best of all worlds. They sell themselves as halachically Orthodox. No, I am not making that up. Fruchter herself says it.
“I assure them it’s going to be traditional, halachic: fully in line with Jewish law in terms of Modern Orthodox understanding,” Fruchter said.
Who, you wonder, pays for this? The article answers your question. “Her synagogue is funded by Start-Up Shul, a new organization aiming to create gender-inclusive Orthodox synagogues. In the model of Christian church-planting efforts, said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld (the leader of Washington’s Ohev Sholom and a co-founder of Start-Up Shul), the organization will fund two synagogues this year and hopes to increase to four or five new synagogues per year in the future.
“We want to support entrepreneurial rabbis – maharats, rabbanits, whatever they call themselves – who are going to create a synagogue supportive of women in leadership positions in the clergy,” said Herzfeld. “Without question, most Orthodox Jews are absolutely ready. Her synagogue is going to be bursting through the roof within five years,” he predicted. “She’s such a talent. People are going to be coming from all over Philadelphia just to be taught by her.”
Who is Herzfeld? Why, he is the Orthodox rabbinic leader of a shul where females are employed as clergy. He formed the Beltway Vaad, an Open Orthodox group of male and female clergy who are involved in conversions and kosher supervision, among other things. Along with Maharat Friedman, he runs DC Kosher, which endorses local gentile vegan and vegetarian restaurants through random checks by volunteer mashgichim.
His shul is Orthodox, of course. In fact, it is a member of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, a.k.a. the Orthodox Union or the OU. Though in 2013 it was the first shul to hire a maharat, the synagogue organization has not yet revoked the shul’s membership. The article says that “Herzfeld believes most Orthodox Jews don’t care” about having women rabbis in Orthodox shuls.
If you do care, he doesn’t care about you and people like you. He funds start-up Orthodox shuls such as Fruchter’s and will continue to push the envelope until Open Orthodox innovations become acceptable.
The article reports: “Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman said that when she became the spiritual leader of New York’s Kehilat Orach Eliezer – which chose to hire her after considering male rabbis for the position – people asked members of her synagogue if they were willing to attend a shul with a female leader. But once these skeptics attended a service themselves, they were often persuaded.
“‘When I initially did some weddings, people said, ‘What is going on here?’ When people saw, ‘Hey, this is halachic,’ they had to see it for themselves. . . . They saw this is a halachic service. ‘So she speaks. So she gives advice. So she gives the leadership. Now I understand. This is something that doesn’t hurt my sensibilities,’ said Najman. Now the leader of the Kehilah in Riverdale, Najman says the number of male Orthodox rabbis who accept her as a peer has gone from a ‘handful’ to ‘hundreds.’”
The article quotes Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, a “leading Orthodox feminist.”
“‘Time is a big deal. I think change takes time,’ said Weiss-Greenberg. ‘The more that you meet these women, you hear their Torah, you see them responding to crisis and simply being there, you realize what we could be losing out on.’”
Weiss-Greenberg “described female Orthodox clergy who ministered to victims’ families in Las Vegas after the mass shooting there and who joined in Black Lives Matter marches. Young children, she said, will grow up knowing only this model of Orthodox Judaism. ‘That’s exciting. In general, the notion of all this being normalized is extremely heartening,’ she said. ‘I did not think the landscape would be what it is today 20 years ago.’”
Orthodoxy has always been lacking because it did not have clergy who marched in BLM rallies, these people would have you believe. Now, thanks to these courageous new rabbis, that void is being filled.
Orthodox is no longer not normal, they’ll tell you, because they are with it and progressive. Why, they are even in sync with the most aggressive (anti-Semitic) anti-establishment anarchists.
We can either laugh or cry, though perhaps we should be doing the latter.
We learn the parshiyos of Devorim in which Moshe Rabbeinu admonishes the Jewish people prior to his death, as they stand at the doorstep of Eretz Yisroel. In this week’s parsha of Eikev, we read how Moshe Rabbeinu told the nation that they would be blessed if they would follow Hashem’s mitzvos. He warned them not to fear the nations around them and not to succumb to their fallacious ways and observances.
“Destroy their idols and don’t be desirous of their gold and silver, for then you will take them for yourself and Hashem despises them. Do not bring their iniquity into your home, for you will then be detested. Despise it, for it is abominable” (Devorim 7:25-26).
Moshe was saying not to adopt their idols, physical, spiritual and mental. Don’t adopt their practices and culture for yourselves, for if you do, Hashem will despise you.
Don’t attempt to follow the zeitgeist of your neighbors if it is not in keeping with Jewish custom, for it will lead you down the wrong path. And don’t compromise on time-honored values to conform with what you believe are the mores of the day, for doing so will lead you away from the practices Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you to follow.
Moshe further warns not to forget Hashem and cut observance of His mitzvos, mishpotim and chukim (Devorim 8:13).
The pesukim in chapter 8 further admonish the people, stating that should they become wealthy, they dare not become haughty and forget everything Hashem has done for them, for man does not live on bread alone; he exists by following the word of Hashem. If you think that you have earned your many possessions by yourself, through your own intelligence and hard work, you will be smitten by Hashem for not following His commandments.
We must not imagine that the Torah is open to modern day interpretations that emanate from secular theologians and common practice, for by doing so we are introducing abomination into our homes and synagogues. The same philosophy that actively pursues compromises on gender inclusion in the synagogue will also come to welcome and accommodate compromises and actions that the Torah specifically terms abominations.
For just as the Torah foretold, what began as small cracks and minor adjustments in observance has snowballed into what can only be viewed as a new form of religion, unrelated to the Torah and Orthodoxy.
The message of the parsha is direct to us as individuals as well, not only to leaders, groups and communities. Though we are in a relaxed period of the year, the words of this week’s parsha are directed to all and deserve to be studied seriously, lest we ourselves fall off the proper track.
It is easy to become enamored with our own abilities and project our successes as personal victories we earned. One who fails to work on self-improvement can easily become enamored with himself, leading not only to social problems, but deeply religious ones as well. Humility coupled with emunah and bitachon goes a long way toward making us better, healthier, and happier.
There is no better time to start than now.