Orthodox rabbis weigh in on professional roles for women

Orthodox rabbis weigh in on professional roles for women

NEW YORK — The leading Modern Orthodox rabbinic association has adopted an official position against the ordination of women while also encouraging the creation of “halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities” for female scholars.

Members of the Rabbinical Council of America adopted the resolution during their three-day conference that began Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y. The resolution comes just months after the near ordination of a female rabbi by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from the haredi Orthodox leadership of Agudath Israel of America.

The resolution cites “commitment to sacred continuity” in stating that the organization “cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.” But it stops short of sanctioning or expelling members who violate the policy — a move being urged by some rabbis who were upset over the recent actions of RCA member Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Weiss sparked outrage in January when he 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 the Agudah condemnation and discussions with RCA officials, Weiss said he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else, saying Orthodox unity was of more pressing importance.

The RCA resolution notes that “young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education,” and it embraces the idea of such scholars assuming communal roles.

“As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature,” the resolution states, “we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring” of Torah study, religious commitment and observance of mitzvot.

RCA officials say the resolution was adopted without opposition. They declined to outline the specific duties that fall under the rubric of rabbi, saying the resolution sought to set out broad parameters while leaving a degree of latitude to RCA members.