The Rabbinical Council of America, on the eve of its three-day annual convention, starting Sunday, has decided to make all of it off limits to the press.
The group, the rabbinic arm of the Orthodox Union, will be meeting at the Young Israel of Scarsdale through Tuesday afternoon, grappling primarily with the issue of boundaries for women’s leadership roles in the synagogue and community. The participants are expected to pass a resolution that the majority of the more than 900 members can embrace dealing with which roles are permissible under halacha and which are not.
While it’s understandable that the rabbis would opt to close the session where they debate the resolution, it’s disappointing that the full program, which includes a number of panels and presentations on women’s roles, will be off limits to the press. And I say that not only as a working journalist, interested in covering an important story about a religious movement seeking to balance tradition and innovation at a pivotal moment, but as a member of the larger community who believes in greater transparency, not secrecy. Precluding the media from reporting on the range of presentations, and the dynamics of decision-making, is a step backward for an organization seeking greater credibility with its constituency.
In past years the RCA has eagerly sought press coverage for its annual conferences, which have shed light on the issues and personalities of the day. This year’s message — stay away and we’ll let you know about the resolution on women after the vote — reduces the three days of programs, with hundreds of rabbis, to one element. It’s more than a mistake, it’s a shame.