Orthodoxy at a Turning Point: A National Conversation
Moderated by Rebbetzin Sharon Freundel
Distinguished Guest Panel:Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Frimer, Rabbanit Chana Henkin, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Rabbi Daniel Sperber
I'd like to recommend watching or listening to this discussion (and the two that proceeded it are definitely worth listening to as well here)
The discussion explores the how the expanding educational opportunities for women in the Orthodox world effect the role of women in the community and in the synagogue. I could have listened to these people for another few hours but the discussion was well planned and the moderator (the Rebbitizin) did a very good job of keeping it going. It also helps that the panelists are articulate and committed to their points of view as well as sincere. Although they do not agree this was not a debate and the general tone was that they are all trying their best to be loyal to the Orthodox traditions while acknowledging the changes that are taking place. Rabbi Aryeh Frimmer, as he himself points out "has been in this business since 1972" and has written major articles and given hundreds of lectures on the subject. He has seen himself go from the being among the only Rabbis seriously discussing change to the right-winger on this panel.
It's easy to loose track of what has happened in this area since the seventies. A discussion like this one was impossible in those years because the questions just hadn't even been addressed. But many of the issues that Rabbi Frimmer addressed over those years have become in his words "non-issues". Take for example the fact that in many Orthodox synagogues women are saying kaddish.
Look at higher Torah studies for women. Rabbanit Henkin's program training Yoatzot Halacha would have been out of the question as recently as 50 years ago. Not only are these women learning Talmud on a high level but they are applying what they learn and women are listening to them. All this was accomplished by steady hard work and serious learning by dedicated students and teachers with a commitment to Torah and a constructive attitude.
Rabbi Sperber's position is more far-reaching and has not become as accepted yet. Although he advocates giving women a more active role in the ritual we have yet to see the Orthodox mainstream adopting this. Rebbi Frimmer is against it on halachic grounds and Rabbanit Henkin gives the impression that now is not the time for it although she is not outright against it. My feeling is it just won't happen, not for a while anyway.
Rabba Sara Hurwitz is the youngest member of the group and this actually put her at a bit of a disadvantage. Rabba Hurwitz is serving in a communal position in an Orthodox synagogue in New York City after being ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss. There has been a lot of controversy over this step and I confess that I am not convinced. I do not understand what her role is meant to be or what theYeshivat Maharat of which she is the dean is actually intending to do. It seems the idea is to develop Orthodox feminine leadership. Now, that is a good thing, but I don't understand their model. Perhaps it is unfair to compare her with the other three panelists because this is just the beginning but her presentation here didn't convince me that this a constructive path to be following.
All in all, this is an important discussion and it is encouraging to see that we have such learned and talented women and men in our generation. Rabbanit Henkin hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that our goal should be to enhance the observance of Torah and take advantage of the talents of women. Amen!
As to the title "Rabba" I really can't see the point. There seems to be a lot of energy going to waste on this subject. I'd just like to make an aside here. Some of you may know that I have been helping to transcribe The Montefiore Censuses which are the best 19th century records of the Jews who lived in Eretz Israel. (The Turks didn't really keep records.) The list that I just finished working on is the Kollel Vohlyn listing for 1866. These are Hassidim from what is now the Ukraine who settled in Jerusalem. There are folks on this list from Bratislav an Berditchev among other Hassidic towns. The census was done so that Sir Moses Montefiore could get an idea of how many people there were and how much financial help they needed. The lists are interesting in that besides names there is some information about age and vocations. Almost none of the men on my list were listed with a title. One was listed as Rabbi. There is a list of widows and on that list is Hannah Rachel of Ludmir otherwise known as the "Maid of Ludmir" who functioned as a Hassidic Rebbe. She had her own synagogue where her Hassidic followers prayed and she prayed in a adjoining room. On Shabbat afternoon she would speak from her room giving them divrei Torah. What is amazing is that she is the only other person on the list to have a title listed and that title is Rabbanit!
Rabbanit Rachel Hannah, from Ludmhr, age 60, 3 years in Eretz Israel