By Rabbi Dov Fischer
Two weeks ago Arutz Sheva published my article on “The Shul I Won’t Attend.” If you missed it, please give it a look as background for the subject at hand.
Following that article’s publication and its wide dissemination these past two weeks, and a plethora of powerful articles by other writers, all urging the Orthodox Union to deal finally with the outlier congregations within its fold whose fealty to Mesorah (Orthodox tradition) is suspect by virtue of their radical behavior, the Orthodox Union’s leadership met last week and issued a powerful position paper. It reaffirmed the halakhic ruling of its Poskim (the official ruling on Jewish law rendered by a special panel of leading Orthodox rabbinic authorities who advise the OU) that women may not be rabbis. End of story.
This position — that women may not be ordained as rabbis — is so basic to any halakhic discussion on the subject that it amazes normative mainstream Orthodox Jews that the subject even needs to be discussed. Agudath Israel does not ordain women as rabbis. The Rabbinical Council of America has ruled that women may not be rabbis. National Council of Young Israel does not allow women rabbis.
In a way, the surreal subject is reminiscent of an incident that happened when I was a freshman in yeshiva high school. The rebbe in our Chumash (Torah) class saw one of the boys in the back row passing a note to another during class. So the rebbe walked to the back and seized the note. As I recall, the note said “Stottlemyre is pitching tonight.” (Mel Stottlemyre was a world-class pitcher for the New York Yankees.) As the rebbe walked back to his desk in the front, he told the two boys that they would be penalized more severely than usual note-passers were punished — I think that meant he would mark two red dots near their names on the roster instead of one — and he said he was imposing an even stronger punishment, which also would include losing several days’ recess, because the note had not been written on regular notebook paper but, instead, had been written on paper that had been torn from the margin of the Chumash. (!)
The rebbe proceeded to tell the class “Honestly, boys, it is true that, if you challenge me, I cannot cite to any religious source in any religious text of Judaism that says you are not allowed to tear paper out of a Chumash to write a note about nonsense. Not in the Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law), not in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (another authoritative halakhic code, this one authored by Rabbi Maimonides) — nowhere! And, boys, do you know why no rabbinic authority in the last two thousand years ever published a prohibition against tearing paper out of Chumash margins to write a note? The answer is: Because no rabbi in the past two thousand years ever imagined that there would be such a chutzif-sheigitz (yeshiva colloquial for “low life”) like you!”
(I remember that the penalized student then protested: “Rebbe, if you are marking me with a red dot and taking away so much recess, then why are you also penalizing me with a second red dot?” And the rebbe responded: “Because Stottlemyre is not pitching tonight. He is pitching tomorrow night!”)
That incident comes to mind as the Orthodox Union now has met and formally announced that, other than the last four radical-left outlier “Open Orthodox” congregations still in its ambit who have women rabbis — and who also engage in a wide range of other outlier practices — the OU will bar any other of its several hundred congregations hereinafter from imitating the four renegades. Thus, they have locked those four congregations, isolating them in time, and ended any prospects that the radicals had fantasized that they would be “pioneers” who would start a trend. The “trend” is at an end.
The OU, acting with care and empathy, approached its policy-making with moderation, giving the four radical outliers three years’ time to clean up their acts. That is, none has been expelled from the Orthodox Union — yet. And the OU also set in place a policy — in preparation for the expulsions that we may or may not expect in three years — for those who do not clean up, announcing that the children in such congregations still will be able to participate in youth programs like NCSY and Yachad even after the congregations get expelled in 2021. Of course, the OU said it much more gently. But read the words, and it is all there.
The entire issue of women rabbis is not about spirituality but is about a Western Feminist movement where those on the left find that they have to mimic the latest leftist crazes and import them into a diluted Judaism. And so we see the renegades at such congregations celebrating Gay Civil Weddings with public announcements, kiddush sponsorships, and even suggestions of “Mazal Tov cakes.”
It is a problem that always has been: “The Nations around us have statues and idols that they can follow, so why can’t we have a golden calf?” “The Nations around us have a king, so why can’t we have a king?” And now the Nations around us have women church pastors, so why can’t we?
Why not? Because we are different. It is that one sentence that every Jewish camp kid sings at the Friday night meal, as the sun sets and the wine or grape juice is sanctified: “Ki vanu vacharta v’otanu kidashta mi-kol ha-amim.” (“Because You selected us and sanctified us from among all the nations.”) That’s why.
The role of the woman is as sacred in Torah life as is the role of the man. Just look at the mess in America, where more than 50 percent of all Jewish marriages outside of Orthodoxy now are Jewish-Christian intermarriages. Ask any rabbi, and he (or — if Reform/ Conservative / Open Orthodox/ Reconstructionist — she) will tell you that the vast, vast, overwhelming percentage of intermarriages are between a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman. That means that the majority of childen now being born to non-Orthodox Jewish men in the United States are non-Jewish. Because the Torah gives the woman the power and primacy that defines the child’s religion. That is Torah: the woman defines the future generations of the Jewish people.
The intermarriage crisis actually could have completely closed down all Reform and Reconsructionist temple life in the United States. That is because their lifeline and bread-and-butter comes from families paying a multi-thousand-dollar annual membership and Hebrew School tuition when their children reach age 11 or 12, to prepare for a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah to be held in another one or two years. The thing is, the families thereupon quit the temple and let their memberships expire, and pull their kids out of the Hebrew school, the day after the bat or bar mitzvah.
So those temples rely on the revolving door that always sees new families with new 11-year-old kids joining to replace the 13-year-old kids who are splitting from temple faster than an amoeba can split. However, in an era when the majority of all the new 11-year-olds are not even Jewish, it would kill out the temples and the non-Orthodox movements completely because the money would dry up. So those movements now have made a new rule that the non-Jewish children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers are . . . presto! Jewish! And that way they still can join and fork over the dough to the cashier.
But of course it all is a game. Importantly — but lost in the race to Political Correctness and imitating the Nations around us — the non-Orthodox, in playing this game, have eroded the power of the Woman in Judaism.
It used to be that a Jewish man knew he had to marry a Jewish woman, that his parents would kill him or, even worse, cut him out of their wills if he intermarried. But now that Reform and Reconstructionists are re-defining Judaism — dubbing non-Jewish children “Jewish” — their men are running off to intermarry, and there is a real unspoken and unaddressed crisis in America confronting Jewish women who want to marry a Jewish man but find a shortage left for them. Even the Chovevei Torah seminary of “Open Orthodoxy” now ordains rabbis who are copacetic with Jewish-Christian intermarriage and even endorse it.
By contrast, real Orthodoxy has maintained the unique central authority of women. In Orthodoxy, there is not a shul that can survive without the vital leadership roles played by Jewish women. That is why Orthodoxy fights city governments all the way up to state Supreme Courts for the right to build an eruv in a town, to facilitate the woman’s coming to shul (with baby carriages, for example). Otherwise, why bother stringing wires around the city and attaching hundreds of boards on telephone poles? Orthodox communities are not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, fighting excruciating and costly lawsuits, and engaging every week of the year in the most intense major wire inspections — just so that men can carry a key or handkerchief to shul on Shabbat. They do it so that the community’s women — particularly mothers with young children — can come to shul on Shabbat and participate in the community spiritual experience instead of remaining homebound.
Moreover, the woman defines the home in Orthodox life. The woman is the primary source creating the spirituality of the child and defining boundaries for the husband, too. That is one of the reasons that she walks around her husband seven times at the wedding chupah. (“Open Orthodoxy” encourages men to walk around the women at the wedding.)
Thus, in Judaism there are prescribed roles, often based exclusively on birth. I am not a Kohen. No amount of money, no amount of proven Torah learning can elevate me to the Kohen status of conferring the Torah’s three-fold blessing upon the congregation when the thre holy festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot, and the Days of Awe arrive. And no amount of money can buy a Kohen righteously out of his sacred role. Thus, by dint of his birth, the Kohen may not marry a divorcee or a woman who has converted to Judaism, love notwithstanding.
The kings of Israel come exclusively from the tribe of Judah. The Levi — and only the Levi — has his defined role alongside the Kohen. The firstborn must be redeemed and annually fasts on the eve of Passover, not the second-born. The male gets circumcised, not the female. The female immerses monthly in the mikveh, not the male.
If our ways consequently are not their ways, fine. That is what Orthodox Judaism. The G-d of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah commands us His laws and set forth a formal legal system, rooted in turning to the generation’s recognized rabbinic authorities, for the transmission of His Torah throughout the continuing generations, and it is that G-d Whom we serve, not a variant god of our imagination who fits better into the West’s spirit of the times.
Frankly, that is why Jews established the State of Israel right smack-in-the-middle of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, and the whole bunch of those psychopathic entities, instead of somewhere ostensibly more hospitable to human life, like Mars. Because that is the command of G-d, the place that He selected for His omnipresence to repose. That is why the World Zionist Congress rejected Herzl when he promoted establishing the Jewish state in Uganda.
With this past week’s OU ruling, the Orthodox Union has taken an important bold second step — following up on its initial publication of its Rabbinic panel’s ruling — to set new updated rules and guidelines for its congregations in the face of the many aberrations of “Open Orthodoxy” and its renegade institutions: the deviationist International Rabbinic Fellowship (which includes “Open Orthodox” women rabbis), the prohibited Maharat Ordination School for Women Rabbis, and the outlier Chovevei Torah School for Male “Open Orthodox” Rabbis.
In the past, the OU sadly has had to expel congregations that defiantly refused to erect a mechitzah partition that separates men and women during prayer. And yes, it is true that churches — and, in predictable imitation, non-Orthodox temples — do not have such partitions. But Orthodox shuls are modeled after the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem and not after St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan or the Vatican in Rome.
Now, once again, the OU ultimately has stepped forward bravely to set the same high standard of Torah fealty for its congregations that it always has set for its kosher-certification instituti