Liberal Orthodox Rabbinic Group: No Women Members, Setback for Rabba Hurwitz


avi-weissThe most liberal Orthodox rabbinic group in the U.S. has voted down its first proposal to accept women members. The International Rabbinic Fellowship, a group of about 140 rabbis formed three years ago by local rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel, held a “wonderfully healthy and passionate discussion” of the issue before “a close vote” Dec. 20, according to Rabbi Barry Gelman of Houston, the president of the organization.

He would not divulge the specific vote count as the rabbis voted down proposals to allow women full or limited membership.

Though not surprising, the outcome was seen as a blow to advocates of increased recognition of women in synagogue roles, especially since Rabbi Weiss, as a founder of the IRF, has been a leader in calling for such efforts.

The IRF was founded, in part, to serve as a home to rabbis not accepted as members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinic group. Rabbis whose ordination is from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical school Rabbi Weiss founded, have not been allowed membership in the RCA.

The most likely female candidate for IRF membership, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, who functions in a rabbinic role at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where Rabbi Weiss is senior rabbi, acknowledged disappointment with the vote. But she said she is focusing on other issues, like her work at Yeshivat Maharat, the small yeshiva for women she heads, and seeking to network with other women involved in synagogue leadership.

She noted that some IRF members advocated for women’s membership and said she is “looking for a time when men and women can be equal partners, especially in the area of spiritual leadership.”

Rabbi Weiss said he had hoped that women would be admitted.

“Although this was not the outcome, I found the discussions respectful, productive and uplifting,” he said. “Every voice in the conversation supported maximizing the role of women in spiritual leadership in the Orthodox community, both within the synagogue and without.”

The discussion, he said, focused on “what is the right way for the IRF as an organization to practically go forward at this juncture in time.”

Fellow IRF co-founder Rabbi Marc Angel said he believes that had the vote been framed as simply seeking to admit Rabba Hurwitz, it would have passed.

But since it was a general proposal to accept women members, he said, and since there are no Orthodox women rabbis who qualify for membership, the proposal was defeated.

“I think she does fit the bill,” Rabbi Angel added, referring to Rabba Hurwitz. “She has the equivalent training, but that wasn’t the question asked.”

He said he thinks women will be admitted to the IRF at some point.

Describing the debate leading up to the vote, Rabbi Gelman, the group’s president, said that advocates for women’s membership argued that since the IRF already was in favor of women serving in synagogues and other areas of Jewish life, membership was a natural next step.

Some felt that it was unethical and immoral not to do so, the rabbi said.

Opponents maintained that the IRF was not an ordaining organization and therefore not the appropriate one to decide whether or not to admit women.

The majority of the rabbis rejected the argument that this was an issue of ethics or morality, he said.

Another factor in the vote was concern about maintaining the IRF’s credentials in the Orthodox community.

“Some argued that it is important for our group to have a voice in the Orthodox rabbinic world, to be relevant and be heard,” Rabbi Gelman noted. “Our group is in its infancy and this is not the right time” to accept women members.

He added that some member rabbis were concerned about getting too far ahead of their synagogue constituents.

Rabbi Gelman said he personally opposed admitting women, in part because “this is not the road for the IRF to go down at this time. We want to gain some traction and deal with nuts and bolts issues and be seen as an educational leader.”

He cited such issues that are “at the heart and soul” of Jewish life as “Talmud Torah, stale tefillah [prayer] in some shuls, spirituality, and the day school economic crunch.”

Rabbi Gelman emphasized that the IRF “has publicly stated that we are in favor of women serving in various forms of congregational and communal religious and spiritual leadership in accordance with the halacha and Orthodox practice.”

Robin Bodner, executive director of JOFA, the Orthodox feminist organization, said her group “applauds the IRF for making some bold statements, including that women can paskin [make halachic decisions], while at the same time we hope to soon see the day when women are included in the IRF as full-time members.”

Read more at The Jewish Week.

{The Jewish Week/}


  1. One of the products of Chovevei Torah, Rabbi Adam Scheier, rabbi of the Shaar HaShamoyim in Montreal, Canada, recently allowed a toeivah individual to speak in his shul on the topic of being toeivah and orthodox. Furthermore, Scheier wrote the introduction to a book this man wrote on the same topic! When asked if he would officiate at to’evah marriages, Scheir answered that “now is not the time,” similar to Barry Gelman (who was also a rabbi at the same shul as Scheier before he moved to Houston) who said it is not the right time now to accept women as members. Rabbi Scheir on the High Holidays talking about the Mezvinsky-Clinton wedding said “Yes, we’ve made it (ie. as Jews in America). This is the hashkafah of the graduates of Chovevei Torah. Don’t let the name fool you. They are really “Mevazei Torah!”

  2. “Rabbi” Avi Weiss is the “Reverand” Al Sharpton of the modern-othordox camp: Stirring up controversy to promote himself. I don’t think there are too many people out there that take this menuval seriously. Afra Lepumei.

  3. I was watching Shalom TV with the interview with this “Rabba” Hurwitz. If it wasn’t so sick it would be funny. Chutzpa beyond belief. Some people just love to be in the middle of the toilet when it’s being flushed I guess.

  4. Mordy, you’re completely wrong about Rabbi Scheier and his views about toeivahs. Read the Statement of Principles he signed about the place of toeivahs in the Orthodox community. Like you, he affirms the Torah’s prohibition on toeivah. Unlike you, he supports reaching out to Jews who identify as toeivahs, and letting them experience the beauty and truth of Torah. Even if the toeivah Jew remains a homosexual his entire life, he should still be encouraged to keep Shabbos, pray with a minyan and study.

    As for your hearsay comments about now “not being the time” for him to perform same gender marriages, I would guess this quote is either imagined, exagerated, or grossly out of context. A rabbi deserves the benefit of the doubt. An anonymous internet commentator doesn’t.

  5. “Rabbi Avi Weiss is the “Reverand” Al Sharpton of the modern-othordox camp: Stirring up controversy to promote himself. I don’t think there are too many people out there that take this menuval seriously. Afra Lepumei.”

    I agree with everything you said, except the last two words. That’s a disgusting gutter phrase, Mah disonoy loch, etc. Abd besides a ben torah shouldnt speak like that.

    Anyway, agreed with the thrust of your point.

  6. My words above directed to Meir, comment # 3. Also forgot to say its not right to refer to rabbi avi weiss as a menuval. Misguided publicity hound, yes. But not “menuval”.

  7. This is not a setback for this movement. It would be better for these “Rabbis,” to allow women rabbi’s in order to clearly seperate this movement from Orthodox Judaism. This is clearly not Orthodox Judaism, and unfortunately this misrepresentation soils our image and ideals as Orthodox Jews. Beter they clearly seperate themselves than continue to lead people away from our mesorah!!!

  8. Let us not identify the IRF as the most liberal Orthodox rabbinic group. They are clearly not Orthodox. Their reverence for Mesorah and Shmiras Hamitzvos is sorely deficient.

  9. To Ari 410 #7,I have no problem with accepting toeivahs in shul as you suggest Rabbi Scheier does. My problem is that he gives toeivahs a forum in his shul to speak publicly about their lifestyle. The topic he spoke about was “Being orthodox and a toeivah.” Orthodox Judaism cannot give its imprimatur to this behavior. The quote about it not being the time now for toeivah ceremonies was not imagined, exagerated or grossly out of context, as you claim. I read it in The Canadian Jewish News. David Brody, a longtime toeivah-rights advocat is quoted saying: “Why can’t our rabbis bless two people who pledge their love and fidelity and pursuit of the values of Judaism. To which Rabbi Scheier responded: That is “not where we are right now.” Any true orthodox rabbi would have said he will never officiate at such a ceremony. The paper goes on to say and I quote
    “Brody has spoken at Shaar Hashomayim on growing up Orthodox and [toeivah] and Rabbi Scheier wrote words of praise in the introduction to Brody’s novel, Mourning and Celebration: Jewish, Orthodox and [toeivah]/Past & Present, which he published last year and imagines what it would have been like to be a young [toeivah] man in a 19th-century shtetl.” I rest my case.

  10. All you commenters owe the IRF a HUGE HAKORAS HATOV. This story enabled all of you to pat yourselves on the back and reaffirm your oh so very frum bona fides. And there were two great bonuses: 1. You got to insult and denigrate a group a well meaning Jews who probably never did a thing to any of you and 2. You got to reaffirm your noble frumkeit (krumkeit?) and ignore the profound problems the beset chareidi society. Opportunities like that are rare indeed, and you should all show the IRF some appreciation.

  11. Throughout this whole extremely tragic saga, there has been one gigantic question in my mind.

    Is there any way at all that someone, or a group of someones, could somehow be Mekareiv Rabbi Avi Weiss? Could they somehow sit dow with him — and his whole group — and effectively show them the total folly of what they are doing?

    When he was a young man. where did Rabbi Avi Weiss himself receive his Torah Chinuch? Where did he receive his “S’meecha”? If it was at a Makom Torah, were any of the Rabayim there — who were Avi’s mentors — people whom Avi had respect for? If so, could they possibly talk to him?

  12. L’Aniyus Daati, probably one of the main items that would need to be presented to them, and especially to Mrs. Sara Hurwitz and her friends who are striving for women’s “equality,” is that what they are doing is totally unnecessary!!!! In Torah true Judaism, women are, I repeat, women ARE — ALREADY — TOTALLY — EQUAL!!!!

    What the Torah does say though, is that man and women are NOT the same, and therefore they do have different tasks and different positions of life. (Thus, the efforts to have women do all the exact same things that men do, are very wrong.) But in importance and worth and respect and dignity, man and women are totally equal!!

    Probably the first Torah literary work that puts together and explains these principles was compiled by Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, ZT’L. It was called “The Jewish Woman,” and it became part of a several volume set titled “Gesammelte Schriften” – “Collected Writings.” [The entire set has been translated into English and can be purchased from the publisher at (or, of course, at stores that sell Feldheim products.)]

    Around twenty-five years ago, a Chashuva Mechanech – a prominent teacher – in Detroit, Rav Abba Friedman, ZT’L, using Feldheim Publishers, put out a thin paperback book titled ” . . . Shasani Kirtzono” – ” . . . According to His Will.” In it, he printed the entire SRH essay of “The Jewish Woman,” and he also printed copies of every other place in the SRH writings where SRH discusses issues about women! If somehow this book could be published again, it would certainly be a big Toeles L’Rabim.

  13. Response to #7
    R’ shlomo Wolbe was asked by someone who to be a baal teshuva for everything but that,R Wolbe responded that he should jump off the roof.

  14. Probably one of the very best and powerful means of effectively presenting to Mrs. Hurwitz and countless women like her what is the truth of Torah — is to present it to them!! In some tactful way, bring them to one of the several places where there is a strong Torahdike community. Give them a tour of a (Litvishe) Beis Yaakov or a (Chabad) Beis Rivka or a (Satmar) Beis Rochel girls’ school in session. Arrange for them to stay with — and observe — a Torahdike family. Let them see what the women and the girls of the family do: how they help each other and the numerous Chesed projects they are involved in. In other words:


    Maybe even better, bring them to a place where there is NOT a Torahdike community. However, it is where there is a Chabad center, and thus arrange for them to stay with the Chabad Shaliach’s family. Let them see what the wife and the daughters of the Chabad Shaliach do: how they are constantly busy working around the clock in various aspects of numerous projects to be Mekareiv and assist the people of the community, how they are enthused and excited with the wonderful parts that they are playing in the wonderful job of bringing Judaism to the area.

    In all, let the see and experience how content and happy and enthused these Torahdike Women are and do not in the least feel in any way whatsoever “slighted” or “shut out of” or “discriminated against” because they are not rabbis or are not leading the services in the congregation.

  15. Dear Mordy:

    The hate which you foment is truly astonishing.

    How do you feel about sitting next to and davening with the toeivah men that frequent your shteibel?

  16. Mordy, I read the article and I think what Rabbi Scheier said is more complex than the way either of us portrayed it. According to the article, Scheier makes clear “Jewish law’s prohibition of [toeivah] acts” and says that giving a “blessing” to two toeivah is “not where we are right now.” You seem to think that he wants to be there in the future, but I think that claim is undercut by his affirmation of the Torah prohibition on toeivah.

    Also, you complain that Rabbi Scheier gives a public forum to self identified Orthodox Jews who speak about having toeivah inclinations, and possibly acting on those inclinations. I think an argument can be made that these individuals will be totally lost to the Torah world if they don’t see our shuls as places where they can be open about their struggle. Clearly they have some identification with Torah–thats why they’re in shul in the first place. While I don’t agree completely with this approach, I think you owe these individuals–and Rabbi Scheier–more compassion and respect.