Here’s What’s Wrong With Women Becoming Orthodox Rabbis
Shehechiyanu. We have witnessed the day when it is no longer an Orthodox sacrilege to see a woman ordained as a communal leader – whether she be called Rabbi or Rabba or Maharat. The long awaited wow of attainment is upon us and count me in for the celebration.
And yet, so help me G-d, my eye is still twitching and there is a rant waiting restless up my sleeve. Because the unfortunate truth about this otherwise shiny new thing is that it’s a waste of an opportunity.
Here we have a chance for an unprecedented paradigm shift. And yet – lamentably – we have committed the sin of simply hitting ‘copy’ & ‘paste.’
We have copied leadership models & training programs built for men and pasted them onto women.
And here’s why that’s such a colossal shame:
Because the gifts of the feminine are the tincture for the world’s worst maladies.
And, more pointedly, the gifts of the feminine are what Orthodox Jewish communities most direly need.
When those gifts are checked at the door to the beit midrash, then we have lost out on the most promising piece of this feminist progress yet.
By “gifts of the feminine,” I am referring to Jewishly-rooted Kabbalistically-sourced notions of femininity. Characteristics such as receptivity and internality, nurturing, emotion, equality, communication, compassion, family. Skills honed by females over millenia. Strengths inherent in our very spirit and physiology.
These feminine ways of being, when well-polished, have the understated power to impact issues as big as Isis and as minute as a couple’s morning clashes over who takes out the garbage.
The ordination of women as Orthodox rabbis — for all its monumentally important progress — has not yet mined the treasure of natural resources in their female cohorts. And we are a people poorer for it.
And herein lies the opportunity that is ours to seize.
Right now we as a people are ripe to create a new and much needed genre of female leadership — and feminine leadership. A genre that capitalizes on the incalculable gains that come with women — in all their G-d-given gifts of femininity — finally occupying positions of public influence.
This shift is about more than women merely attaining the status of rabbi. It is about our communities attaining the medicinal riches of having women in the lead.
Yes, women’s enTITLEment as leaders is essential. But it needn’t stop with the technicalities of ordination. This paradigm shift should also be about creating more feminine models of leadership for the male rabbis in our midst.
It is happening in precious drips and drabs but needs to turn into a torrent, my friends.
What would it look like for traditional male semicha programs to pick up skills from the other side of the mechitza? What might it look like for all of our leaders to go through a training that teaches them the feminine gifts of how to make space more than how to take space? How to listen as well as how to speak? How to nurture, how to feel, how to embody, how to receive?
What if our scholars were encouraged to grow taller than their thoughts? To go deep into the caverns of their internality to find the wisdom their hearts speak? What if our leaders were required to become intimately acquainted with each rock of their own emotional terrain?
I promise you, our communities would be more gentle, nurturing and healthy havens than they are today. Our dialogues would be more healing than heated. Our politics more unifying than divisive.
Forgive me for being utopian, but these words come straight from my rechem. Straight from my deepest seated mother instinct for creating the nest that will best keep my progeny the vibrant and vital light unto the nations they are meant to be.
Imagine a Jewish community whose leaders — male and female alike — are proficient in how to midwife souls. Where rabbis are just as equipped to help you through your depression and your spiritual angst as they are equipped to answer shaylot about kashrut. Where rabbis can paskin halacha but they can also interpret dreams. Where they have the skills to unburden the heavy hearts of their congregants and uplift the lowest among us with their nurturing.
The questions we are now called to answer in this new paradigm of female leadership is how can we bring uniquely feminine wisdom to the enhancement and ennobling of our entire tradition?
For the entry of women into rabbinic leadership uplifts the very institution of the Rabbinate itself.
Let’s strive for something higher than parroting long-standing masculine ways. Let’s bring women’s best virtues to bear on the most pressing public issues of our day.
Women have heart and soul to bring to the helm. Let the new cadres of female Rabbinic students be taught to do just that. Let us lead with our strengths, our feminine IQ, EQ and acumen. Let’s not base our modeling solely on the model for men. For their sake and ours and for the sake of our future generations.
Let us no longer perpetuate cut and paste ordinations. But rather let us strive to have women’s ordination be like a hypertext. A hypertext that links us to storehouses of feminine wisdom finally brought to bear on the Jewish public sphere.
This is the vast historic opportunity at our fingertips today if we would but reach out and grasp it.
Let us not squander this precious window with another cut and paste.
A Postscript on ‘How-to’ & Hakarat HaTov
Emotion, Not Only Intellect
In the current paradigm, the skeleton key to entry into the rabbinic chambers is halachic proficiency. Leadership is accessed by intellect alone. Yet halachic knowledge does not a spiritual leader make. Not in our day and age at least.
Yes, let us have halachic authorities. Of course we need hachamim to call with our shaylot.
But for that to be the core criteria for spiritual leadership!?
Spiritual leadership needs to be defined by the SOUL, not solely by the intellect.
Transformation, Not Just Information
All too often rabbinic training entails the transmission of INFORMATION.
If you are lucky you get some INSPIRATION.
But what we need as a people is TRANSFORMATION.
Our leaders should be trained in how to help others transform their lives — how to take a ritual celebration like a wedding or Bar-mitzvah and squeeze the fruit dry of its juice for change.
Training leaders to be proficient in the realms of spirit, emotion & psychology are essential.
Classes in Hassidut, Kabbalah, Jewish meditation and psychological training would all go far in creating this paradigm shift.
Clearly, the outline of the dream program I am envisioning is beyond the scope of this post.
I just know that I am yearning to see it birthed and pray that this rant is another push along the way.
That being said, it is crucial to offer hakarat hatov acknowledgments to the institutions which have already started moving in these dire directions.
Below are mentioned a few institutions which I have been in touch with. Surely there are more. Please do share in the comments section about programs in the Orthodox world that strive to integrate a more feminine/soulful/emotional/psychological approach to their training.
– Jerusalem’s Sulam Yaakov Yeshiva – founded by R’Aaron Leibowitz – is where my husband received his Orthodox ordination. His program required a weekly chabura where the Rabbinic students went through a process of intensive self work together in a group-setting facilitated adeptly by Rabbi Daniel Kohn. It was astonishingly transformative and helped to sculpt these men into deep vessels for spiritual leadership.
– Yeshivat Maharat has a robust Pastoral Care component which integrates much of the psychological/nurturing pieces referred to above. I have heard from their leaders that they are committed to finding ways to further flesh out the gifts of the feminine within their program. I look forward to hearing more about how they go about this process.
– Yeshivat Chovevei Torah has pioneered so much of this movement. It has done and continues to do invaluable work in moving the notion of Orthodox Semicha forward to train truly sensitive & spiritual leaders.
– Finally, there is a new Shlomo Carlebach semicha program opening this fall. It is called Hazon Shlomo and it is working to create a more spiritually oriented training for Rabbis with a strong Hassidut component. The Shalev Center, founded by my husband R’Hillel and myself, is involved with Hazon Shlomo, working to create a track for the psychological rounding out of their training.
Again, please do share in the comments sections about programs in the Orthodox world that strive to integrate a more feminine/soulful/emotional/psychological approach to their training. All rantings aside, I am eager to hear and celebrate the invaluable progress that has already been made.