(JTA) — The Orthodox Union issued a statement saying women may not lead Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services if men are present.
Last week’s decision by the group’s board of directors is the latest setback for Orthodox Jews seeking greater roles for women in worship ritual.
“With regard to the matter of a woman leading Kabbalat Shabbat services before an audience of men and women, the position of the Orthodox Union is that such practice is improper and constitutes an unacceptable breach of Jewish tradition," the board said.
In April, the Rabbinical Council of America, the leading Modern Orthodox rabbinical body, came out against the ordination of women while encouraging more “halachically and communally appropriate professional opportunities” for female scholars. That RCA ruling was in response to the near ordination of a female rabbi in January. That was when RCA member Rabbi Avi Weiss conferred the title of “rabba” – a feminized version of rabbi – on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Following a harsh rebuke from the haredi Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America, and discussions with RCA leaders, Weiss said he would refrain from giving the title to other women, in the name of Orthodox unity.
In July, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox association of some 150 rabbis founded by Weiss and Rabbi Marc Angel, declared its support for an expanded definition of women’s communal roles in synagogue life but stopped short of advocating female rabbis.
Hurwitz retains her title and continues in her position as dean of Yeshivat Maharat, which offers training and placement services to women similar to that available in Orthodox rabbinical institutions. Along with Hurwitz, a handful of women serve in rabbinic-type positions at other Orthodox congregations in New York and Israel.