Monday, March 08, 2010

Talking about Sarah Hurwitz

Been arguing elsewhere with some bigshots on Twitter about Sarah Hurwitz and the RCA's capitulation.

Points of disagreement include:

Was it a capitulation on the part of the RCA?
I say yes. Avi Weiss got everything he wanted, specifically a highly trained female assistant to minister to the women in his congregation. It makes sense to call her Rabba, in that she is acting like a modern Rabbi, and has the same training and credentials as any modern Rabbi, but wisely Avi Weiss decided that her title shouldn't be a deal breaker. Sarah Hurwitz is back to being a Maharat, but functioning for all intents and purposes like a Rabbi.

Should Avi Weiss be allowed to hire a highly trained female assistant to minister to the women in his congregation?
Again, I say yes and fail to understand how our law or religion might object. Still, some of the Twitter chevra believe its contrary to the halacha for reasons that have not as yet been revealed to me.

Does Jewish tradition have anything to say about this?
I say no. The things Jews happened to do, or refrained from doing, over the course of the last 2000 years do not necessarily constitute a "religious tradition." Some of it is "just stuff we did."  If you want to declare a particular practice part of the religious tradition you must supply grounds. To date no evidence has been supplied that male-only Rabbis is part of our "religious tradition" dating back to Sinai.  Instead, all of the evidence suggests that our ban on female rabbis is closely related to the flawed perception of women, and the  flawed theory about the sort of work women are capable of performing that infected the world at large until very recently. For eons, there were no female doctors, lawyers, teachers, or judges. Absent proof of a religious tradition, its reasonable to say that Jews had no female rabbis for the same reason the rest of the world had no female CEOs.

Addendum to this point Even if it can be shown that we have a religious tradition of male only rabbis, it has to be further demonstrated that this tradition applies to modern Rabbis. Today, our rabbis are not inheritors of a tradition of smicha dating back to Moshe. With rare exceptions, they are not dayanim, and they are not poskim. Most don't even work in shuls or schools, and those that do are simply teachers or ministers, functions that women quite capably perform. Modern Rabbis are called "Rabbi" simply by virtue of their degree or their job. A woman who has the same job or holds the same degree should have the respect of the same title, and the higher pay scale that often accompanies it. Even if the smicha tradition precludes women (a contention yet to be proven) the modern rabbinate is something else and no different from any other job. A woman can earn this particular degree and hold this particular job just as she can earn any other degree and hold any other job.

N.B: I'll post the Twitter conversations if all parties consent.

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