It is noble of you to confront the question of the roles of female leaders and clergy in the Orthodox Jewish community. This is an issue of intense import to many orthodox practitioners of both genders and it is impossible to ignore. There are no doubt powerful and compelling halakhic, emotional, and sociological considerations on both sides of every question and it is impossible to jump quickly to any conclusions in either direction. Debate and discussion, with the important caveat that it is balanced by hearing and incorporating a wide variety of views before coming to any conclusions, is indispensable.
In short, the question of female leadership is not unimportant and not without its need to be addressed.
But rabbis….why start with this?
Why are you convening to address the role of female clergy, without also formally addressing the role of male clergy?
Where were you in the past year, and every year before that, when scandal after rabbinic scandal — male rabbinic scandal— rocked the Orthodox Jewish world?
Why is the gender of the person standing at the pulpit of more urgent interest to you than the trustworthiness of the person standing behind the pulpit? Of the boundaries we have in place to protect our children (and adults) in the shul community? Where are the discussions, debates, and declarations regarding the specifications of the rabbi’s role?
No member of the clergy — male or female– can be placed unregulated and unchecked in any position of power and influence. Fortunately, many, many rabbis do put proper boundaries in place themselves, and they should be commended, but we have reached the point where we can no longer assume this to be the case about any one rabbi in particular.
Should a female be reading from the Torah, carrying the Torah, delivering a sermon, answering halakhic questions, be ordained as a rabbi, employed by a shul in a clerical role? These are questions not without depth, import, and nuance and should be handled as such. But first let’s ask: how should a rabbinic leader (regardless of gender) meet privately with congregants? What boundaries are in place around the rabbi-congregant relationship? Who is available for congregants with concerns to safely confide in? What protocols for oversight should be in place? How can we keep the women, men, and especially children of our communities safe and secure? What has gone wrong in the past and how can we as a community learn from our mistakes? These are conversations that need to happen, and need to happen NOW- before the next time we find out someone was hurt behind closed doors. Please, for the sake of our future as a safe and viable community, let’s not ignore what really matters most.
An orthodox female who is active in Jewish communal life and is also a concerned mother
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