Francine Klagsbrun (Opinion, May 14) both misunderstands Orthodox Judaism and unintentionally strengthens the Rabbinical Council of America’s rationale for stating that “regardless of title” a woman cannot be a member of the Orthodox rabbinate.
Judaism, in the eyes of Orthodox Jews, has always encompassed much more than codified laws. It includes the judgments of a broad consensus of rabbinic leaders about what is Jewishly proper, particularly when Jews are faced with new social or political circumstances and movements.
Klagsbrun has decided that halacha “has no barriers to ordaining women.” While there are in fact codified halachic problems with a woman in a Jewish leadership position — and this is not the place to explore them — she misses the halachic forest for the trees. Every recognized Orthodox decisor who has opined on the issue has pronounced the idea of a woman serving as a rabbi to be outside the bounds of the Jewish religious tradition.
And by highlighting some Orthodox rabbis’ fear that congregations flouting the RCA’s statement will slip into Conservatism, Klagsbrun illuminates the issue. The Conservative movement began with seemingly minor departures from halachic norms, paying no heed to the recognized halacha decisors of the early 20th century. By any objective measure, the ensuing years have seen that movement abandon even clearly codified halacha (including explicit biblical verses). Klagsbrun may hope that Orthodox Jews follow in that movement’s footsteps, but we respectfully decline the invitation.
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America