Steve Lipman does great job reporting on Rabbi Avi Weiss having a woman-led and mixed pews Kabbalat Shabbat service (“Weiss Moves Beyond ‘Rabba,’” Aug. 6), in particular, devoting much of the article to the reaction of Rabbi Weiss’ own congregants. This is important because it is ultimately the people, the members of each congregation who select a rabbi and abide by his policy, who will determine if there is going to be any substantial change in Modern Orthodox ritual.
Indeed, Rabbi Weiss is not tackling any issue that has not already had its halachic lines drawn and rabbinic positions taken. As Lipman astutely notes, this issue has been on the table for decades. The question that perhaps Rabbi Weiss is trying to raise for this generation of Modern Orthodoxy is the following: Are you willing to sacrifice the implicit recognition your haredi peers give you as “Orthodox” in order to embrace expressions of gender equality in religious ritual?
The haredi community, by virtue of its size and unified responsiveness to rabbinic leadership, effectively owns the label “Orthodox.” And while haredi and Modern Orthodox communities do not generally mix, most haredim will still catch a minyan for Kaddish in a Modern Orthodox shul, have a meal at the home of a Modern Orthodox individual, attend weddings, funerals, etc. of Modern Orthodox families. The haredi community does not grant this implied acceptance to the Conservative or Reform Jewish communities.
Many in the Modern Orthodox community may be sympathetic to a value structure that broadly embraces equal recognition of men and women in ritual, but are they willing to sacrifice their universally recognized Orthodox status for it? The broader Orthodox establishment has not moved on this issue and has made clear it sees this as a break with Orthodox norms. So it’s up to the people to decide if they’re willing to move away from the establishment on their own. The acceptance of young rabbis who share Rabbi Weiss’ view on this into large and established Modern Orthodox communities may ultimately determine if this is a watershed moment in American Jewish life or just a few voices of protest in a solid Orthodox establishment.