Our Torah portion this week opens with the death of the Matriarch of our People, Sarah. She derived great joy from the birth of her son Isaac. But throughout most of her life, she encountered great difficulty and pain, much of which came about from the secondary position to which she was relegated within her marriage, and the society at large, as a woman with no power or resources of her own.
As the children of Sarah, we have created a new world of possibilities and challenges for Jewish women. We in the Reform Movement in particular have expanded the role of women in our community to include all avenues of leadership and participation. Happily, our friends in the Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal Movements have followed suit as well, by and large.
It is thus with great dismay that we read this week of the Rabbinical Council of America’s (RCA) rejection of any ordination or rabbinical validation of women within mainstream Orthodoxy. Morally courageous rabbis like Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, among others, have parted company with the RCA in recent years, in support of Orthodox women who choose to pursue rabbinical studies and ordination. My good friend Rabba Sara Hurwitz, ordained by Rabbi Weiss, now serves as Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, the yeshiva dedicated to the training of Orthodox women for the Rabbinate.
It is in light of the RCA’s reiteration of its rejection of progress this week that the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Women’s Rabbinic Network has published the following Official Joint Statement, dated and released Tuesday, November 3, 2015.
“At the spring assembly of the Rabbinical Council of America’s (RCA) 51st Annual Convention held in Scarsdale, NY on April 26, 2010 a unanimous resolution passed amongst rabbinic leadership, stating that women cannot be ordained and be considered rabbis or any other name that designates rabbinic status. This past week, that resolution was formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership. Despite the fact that this resolution had already been publicized in 2010 and reasserted in 2013, the RCA now found it necessary to restate and adopt, once again, a resolution as of October 30, 2015 that bans half the population of its constituency to perform the sacred tasks of spiritual leadership.
“Using the phrase “a violation of our mesorah (tradition),” leaders of the RCA have condemned any persons or institutions granting ordination to women and proclaimed that they will under no circumstances be recognized. We note, with dismay, that the RCA leadership, comprised only of men, is once again determining what Jewish tradition and law proscribe for women.
“As such, we, the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, hereby stand with unequivocal support of ANY woman, who after appropriate, rigorous study and counsel through a recognized rabbinical seminary is ordained by said institution. We applaud these women and their commitment to the study of Jewish law, history and culture for the sake of transmitting our sacred tradition to future generations. We also commend the rabbis and lay leaders who have taken the bold step of teaching, supporting and hiring these newly ordained women as clergy. We stand together with our new Orthodox colleagues who, together with us, work to ensure that Judaism is alive and thriving for all Jewish people who wish to be included in our sacred community.”