Rabbi Joshua Maroof, rabbi of Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, MD, recently wrote a letter to the American Yated Ne’eman stating that it was out of poor judgment that he attended the matriculation of Sara Hurwitz as a “Maharit” (see original article here). He states that he has absolutely no connection whatsoever to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and, most importantly, that he categorically rejects “Open Orthodox” ideology. The full text of his letter, and the response of Yisroel Lichter, the author of the original Yated article, follows:
The July 10th issue of Yated Ne’eman contained an article by Yisroel Lichter on the subject of “Open Orthodoxy” and women’s ordination in which my views, affiliations and public statements were completely and shockingly misrepresented. I was deeply pained by the fact that these false and inflammatory rumors about me were disseminated in Yated Ne’eman, a newspaper avidly read and respected by my rabbaim, my chaveirim and myself. I thank you in advance for allowing me this opportunity to correct the misunderstandings and distortions that were conveyed in that article. I hope that, for the sake of honesty and fairness, my response will be printed in the Yated in an unedited and uncensored form.
Throughout his article, Rabbi Lichter portrayed me as a radical member of the “Open Orthodox” movement, referring to me as a “left-wing fringe element” no different than a Conservative or Reform rabbi. The reality is that I have absolutely no connection whatsoever to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and I categorically reject “Open Orthodox” ideology. I repudiate Open Orthodoxy in no uncertain terms and I am against the conferral of semikha to women because of the halakhic violations involved.
I exclusively identify myself with the Center-Right/Yeshivish segment of Orthodox Judaism. Indeed, the speech I delivered at Sara Hurwitz’s ceremony – from which select quotes were reproduced and maligned by Rabbi Lichter – I mentioned twice that “I hail from the right wing of Orthodoxy.” This particular phrase was unfortunately omitted from the Yated article; however, my affiliation is well known to those who have had personal contact with me, including many representatives of Open Orthodoxy, who would be surprised to learn that I am being labeled a left-wing radical by the press.
If I were a left-wing fringe rabbi, then being condemned in Yated Ne’eman would not matter to me. The reason I am so deeply upset about the unfairness of your article – an article that asserted, in black and white, that I am not even entitled to the benefit of the doubt – is because I am very far from being a leftist. I feel as if I have been dragged through the mud in full view of my own community without so much as a chance to respond to the allegations being made against me.
Rabbi Lichter claimed that I have a history of advocating controversial positions on women’s issues and that, therefore, I lack credibility. While I cannot speak for the other rabbis who were criticized in this vein in the article – I am unfamiliar with their backgrounds in this respect– I can say that this is patently false with regard to me.
The only area in which I have promoted the cause of women in particular has been the area of Torah study, and the only public pronouncements I have made about this subject are the ones referenced in your article. I have neither adopted nor espoused any radical or controversial halachic positions on this or any related topic. I have never been involved in or associated with any organizations, projects or activities devoted to the advancement of a liberal agenda.
I am not on a crusade to ordain women rabbis; in fact, I have no interest whatsoever in such a project. I would be opposed to it on the grounds of the prohibition of serara and my remarks in this connection have been regrettably misunderstood. My comments were specifically addressing the learning/teaching element of the rabbinical role, nothing more. My perspective on women’s issues was misrepresented in your paper and many of my statements were taken out of context.
The author of the article implied that I dismissed great Torah luminaries as “dogmatic” or “anti-women” because of their opposition to the notion of women holding positions of communal leadership. However, in my written teshuvah, which the Yated regrettably refused to publish but which is readily available online, I explicitly cited and affirmed the Rambam‘s view that serara (political leadership) is prohibited to women. Of the three teshuvot utilized by Rabbi Weiss to support his initiative, mine was the only responsum to do this; sadly, this very significant distinction was overlooked by Rabbi Lichter. Anyone who examines my words carefully will see that my premises, arguments and conclusions are fully consistent with the rulings of Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l, and other gedolei Torah.
All of my comments regarding expanding the range of leadership opportunities for women were made exclusively with reference to the study and teaching of Torah, and had nothing to do with women’s ordination or their employment in synagogues. In this regard, the thoughts I expressed find broad support in the writings of many Torah giants, including but not limited to the Tosfot in Masekhet Nidda, the Sefer Ha-Hinukh, the Hida in Birke Yosef, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l, Rabbi Ben-Tsion Meir Hai Uziel z”l, the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Rishon Letsion Rav Mordechai Eliyahu. Granted, there may be differences of opinion on some aspects of this issue, but my position is a far cry from heresy.
Surely Miriam, Devorah and Hulda were well-versed in every area of Torah and halakha and provided instruction and guidance to Am Yisrael in their time. All of these women must have received a thorough education in Torah Shebichtav and Torah Shebal Peh and were certainly counted among the premiere Torah authorities of their age. Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, Chava, the grandmother of the Chavot Yair, and Rebbetzin Bayla, the wife of the Derisha, were similarly recognized and praised for their outstanding erudition. Is this not sufficient precedent for the notion that an inspired woman can achieve great heights in Torah scholarship and can serve as a role model and teacher for her people – provided, of course, that the halakhic principles of modesty and propriety, as well as restrictions on serarah, are observed?
While I realize that, without the benefit of context, some of my remarks could have been misinterpreted by the casual reader, they were not intended to have any radical or, chas veshalom, disrespectful implications. I was speaking in an impassioned manner of the value of Torah learning and my hope that its beauty be made available to a wider audience – men and women – across all segments of Orthodoxy. Moreover, I expressed my wish that scholarly women – again, both Modern Orthodox and Chareidi – who excel in the study of Torah be granted the opportunity to teach and inspire other Jews rather than being disenfranchised or having their accomplishments discounted because of their gender.
Let me clarify that the criticisms contained in my speech were directed at people who – because of bias or preconceived notions – try to prevent G-d fearing women from learning and contributing to communal leadership even in halakhically permissible ways. My point was to condemn those who oppose women’s involvement in Torah study regardless of its halakhic legitimacy. Contrary to the accusations of Rabbi Lichter, I did not intend to cast aspersions – chas veshalom – on individuals whose reservations and objections are firmly rooted in halakha and based purely on Shas and Shulchan Aruch, such as the great poskim of the past and present.
My participation in Sara Hurwitz’s ceremony was motivated by my desire to acknowledge her significant attainments in Torah study and to celebrate the fact that women with Torah knowledge can have a positive and lasting impact on the spiritual growth of our communities, provided that they operate within the framework of halakha. If my presence and delivering a speech at Sara Hurwitz’s event was misconstrued as a tacit endorsement of Open Orthodoxy, its institutions or its peculiar interpretations of Jewish law, or advocacy for the ordination of women as rabbis, then I absolutely regret having attended.
I am owning up to what I have done out of poor judgment, but, in all honesty, I never intentionally took up any cause that I would now have to drop. I made an error that I recognize in retrospect, and I hope you will acknowledge my sincere regret. Everyone makes mistakes and I am admitting to you that I should not have participated in an event of this nature…
I thank you again for allowing me to provide this clarification of my ideological affiliations, halakhic opinions and actions for the benefit of the Yated readership.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rabbi Joshua Maroof
Magen David Sephardic Congregation
11215 Woodglen Drive
Rockville, MD 20852
Yisroel Lichter responds:
I thank Rabbi Maroof for the clarification of his remarks in his letter to the Yated and subsequent communications further clarifying his positions and I appreciate the time and effort that he expended for the purpose of setting the record straight regarding the intention of his public remarks at the installation ceremony of Ms. Sara Hurwitz.
It takes a certain amount of gevurah – spiritual strength and fortitude – to go on record in such a forthright manner. I commend and admire Rabbi Maroof for being a gibor ruach – for clearly and unequivocally distancing himself from Open Orthodoxy and its ethos, and for declaring that his words were in no way meant to be anything but “fully consistent with the rulings of Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z”l and other gedolei Torah.”
I think, however, that a few words of clarification about my intentions in penning the original article are in order. Rabbi Maroof, in his communication printed above, expresses pain over the fact that his public statements have been “shockingly misrepresented.”
The first misrepresentation mentioned is the fact that I lumped him together with “left-wing fringe rabbis” while “I hail from the right-wing of Orthodoxy.” Perhaps I should have been clearer, but the classifications of “left” and “right” were not political in nature, but rather were meant to differentiate between a rabbi who espouses views that are clearly not within the parameters of halacha. In the lexicon of this paper, such a rabbi would be deemed left in relation to other rabbonim such as Rav Moshe Feinstein, and even the more “centrist” Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.
We commend the fact that Rabbi Maroof has explicitly clarified his position saying, “All of my comments regarding expanding the range of leadership opportunities for women were made exclusively with reference to the study and teaching of Torah, and had nothing to do with women’s ordination or their employment in synagogues.”
We cannot, however, be blamed for “shockingly misrepresenting” his remarks and his position when those very remarks were made at a ceremony conveying upon a woman an “employment in synagogue” and a position of spiritual leadership that goes far beyond “the study and teaching of Torah.”
The fact that Ms. Hurwitz, at the very ceremony that Rabbi Maroof addressed, accepted a position in the synagogue that, to the best of our knowledge, is a position that is prohibited by authentic poskim and is a radical departure from the age-old mesorah of halachic Jewish life which specifies distinct and different roles for men and women, combined with the fact that Ms. Hurwitz publicly addressed the congregation in a way that, to the best of our knowledge, is not permitted by Rav Moshe Feinstein, left us with no other conclusion than that Rabbi Maroof, at least regarding this radical departure, was promoting the position of “Open Orthodoxy.”
: after Rabbi Maroof’s clarification of his remarks, we can say that he may have been misunderstood, but he certainly was not misquoted.
I or a representative of the Yated editorial staff would welcome the opportunity to accompany Rabbi Maroof to meet with Rav Dovid Feinstein, son of Rav Moshe and one of the preeminent poskim in this country, in order to receive clear guidance as to Rav Moshe’s opinion with regard to a position such as the one assumed by Hurwitz and, in general, the guidelines and parameters that should be in place vis-à-vis women teaching Torah, serarah and the other inherent halachic issues.
It is with unequivocal appreciation that I hail Rabbi Maroof’s clarification and the strength of spirit that he has exhibited in setting forth his position in writing.