What Does the Rabbinical Council of America Think of Women?

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When I first moved to San Francisco, there was a huge outcry in the Orthodox community — a positive outcry, that is. Apparently, out of all the synagogues (Reform, Orthodox, Renewal, independent, and otherwise), only one had a female president — the Orthodox synagogue. The local Jewish paper had called her the first female president of an Orthodox synagogue, which, the old folks at the Saturday night seudah shelishit said, was incorrect. “Why, our synagogue had women presidents back before the U.S. government did,” one particularly ancient man testified to me. I didn’t want to let him down, but hey, what do I know?

There’s a new petition circulating that calls for the Rabbinical Council of America, one of the largest traditional Jewish rabbis’ organizations, to reexamine their recent stance on women in leadership positions in the Orthodox community. In strangely self-congratulatory language, the RCA wrote:

Over the course of the last several weeks…the leadership of Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Avi Weiss have engaged in discussions concerning the issue of ordaining women as rabbis. We are gratified that during the course of these conversations Rabbi Weiss concluded that neither he nor Yeshivat Maharat would ordain women as rabbis and that Yeshivat Maharat will not confer the title of “Rabba” on graduates of their program.

We are delighted that we have been able to resolve this matter in adherence with Torah principles and in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of peace and unity within our community. We are confident that continued dialogue of this type will enable us to resolve other important issues facing the Jewish community today.

Now, the RCA aren’t bad guys at all. In fact, they’ve begun a huge push to support ethical kashrut standards and decrying rabbinical power-mongering like organ-trading and licentious behaviour. They even pushed for a “special RCA edition” of the ArtScroll Siddur, since the standard edition omits a Prayer for the State of Israel along with some other rearrangings.

The RCA’s statement is dangerously ambiguous — are they talking about women rabbis? Women as congregation board members? Women encouraging other people to show up to synagogue? Says the petition: “According to all public sources, the RCA does not support women in executive board positions in synagogues, the RCA does not support women as community scholars, and the RCA most certainly does not support women in positions of influential religious leadership.” Needless to say, the RCA board doesn’t have any female members.

You can view or sign the petition here, or check their Facebook group for more updates.

Posted on April 14, 2010

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