Tuesday, 15 July 2014

C of E has women Bishops: what about women Orthodox Rabbis?

Yesterday the official state religion of England - The Church of England- made a decision via a vote at its General Synod to allow women to become Bishops. I am not too sure what to make of this myself, in so much as whatever the tradition and theology, once they voted for women Vicars in 1992, the end logic was to also allow for those higher up the chain. I know that some will be unhappy about this decision, but it did get me thinking about women in Orthodoxy being Rabbis, Judges and the rest. 

I cannot see any reason in Jewish law for women NOT to be Rabbis, but even so I have mixed feelings on the issue myself. .On the one hand I can see from the Hebrew Bible that women had often played important leadership roles,e.g.  Miriam, Deborah, Esther; furthermore in my humble view women in Judaism are ALREADY leaders in so much as it our women who govern our homes, not us men and of course in the secular world women now have careers & jobs of their own. I fully support this and women's education to whatever level they wish to go to, be it religious or secular or preferably both. The wife of a Rabbi is often 'part of the team' when it comes to Rabbis work, so again another position of authority, even if it is partnership with her husband, rather than on their own.

On the other hand I just don't want to put a coach and horses through the tradition-which in Judaism has a very powerful influence in its own right-  that means we do not ordain as a general rule female Rabbis. Does there need to be a discussion about this in the Orthodox Jewish world or is it something which we do not need to discuss ? From my experience - and female readers please don't take offence- us Sephardi tend to be 'folksy' as in down to earth, ffriendly or neighbourly,sociable & small 'c' conservative, so I do ask myself is there any clamour for women to be Rabbis? If there is no great rush of women wanting to do this is that a reason to say 'no' to any discussion ?

True we now have  a situation where women have become "halachic advisers" (in the Orthodox world), but there is only ONE officially 'ordained' Orthodox Rabbi that I know of,Sarah Hurwitz, but in order not to rock the boat they didn't call her Rabbi to begin with, but recently she has taken on the title Rabba, which really upset the Ultra Orthodox Haredi, who are already furious over the 'women of the wall' campaigners. And do we necessarily need to upset the applecart among ourselves, when there are already other divisions within Jewry?

I don't see this as one of those make or break issues which defines you as Orthodox, so I am genuinely torn here. I am certainly all in favour of women being Cantors, on executive councils of Shuls, being Halachic advisers etc.  In respect of Cantors,yes, I know about kol isha, the spirit of which I am 100% in agreement with. Note that in in the Bible there numerous examples of women -Jews- singing in front of men (e.g. Exodus. 15:20-21,1 Samuel 18:6,1 Chronicles 25:5,Psalm 68:26). So my view is that Kol Isha is quite correct, but that this does not prevent women singing solo in front of men, but what it means is that women should not sing SEXUAL songs in front of men, because this is the whole spirit behind the law (modesty).

Of course us Sephardi could claim to have had the first female Orthodox Rabbi -again not officially as she was called Tanna'it- a scholar of the Talmud and ran a Jewish seminary whilst performing the occasional miracle- in the 17th Century Iraq, a lady called Asenath Barzani.

What do readers think?


  1. Dov,

    It would be a coach and horses .

    What happens when you ordain Rabbis & have female Cantors will be the need to re-write the following :

    1. A revision of the idea that only men can form a quorum for prayer (yes I did watch the link, but how many other women are going to be as gracious as Sarah? I will admit she did seem to be doing a good job, though, but that's America which is different).
    2. No division of the sexes in Shuls
    3. Will men be willing to be the 'partner' in the team like women are now?
    4. Being a Rabbi is full time and probably over time. Can women do this and manage the household? Men, I think are incapable of doing this; it'd be total chaos if I left Peter in charge of the house.

    I'm just not sure about doing all of this, so my natural instinct is to say No at present, it is TOO MUCH of an upheaval. I prefer the status quo, perhaps a gradual shift might be better as you've outlined, but it has to be done sensitively and not railroaded through- that I believe was the BIG issue Oscar had with the women Bishop thing in his Church. But then, despite having PhD and 2 other degrees, I'm 'folksy' ! Actually I don't mind that description. It is very true of Sephardi women as well as men. I'm proud of being described like that (:

  2. Bible and Truth16 July 2014 at 16:01

    People quite rightly point out that Jesus treated woman with great respect and mildness of spirit, showing he appreciated their efforts in the ministry they were assigned and in their wholesouled worship.

    Jesus however did not appoint women to positions of oversight in the Christian congregation, this was something that man did later after the great apostasy c.300-400 when Rome made "Christianity" a religio-political entity, something Jesus warned severely against.

    The bible teaches that God's instituted headship not with a view to denigrating anyone but because that is how he created us. "The head of the woman is the man, in turn the head of the man is the Christ and the head of the Christ is God." If a man chooses to abuse that position he worse than a man with out faith 1 Cor 11:3. A man's obligation in his own family is to provide both physically and spiritually, and he does this by submitting to Christ's headship. The woman can avail herself of God's mercy by submitting to the headship arrangement, failure to do so limits and can block the flow of holy spirit to a true Christian as either a man or woman expresses through their actions that the ransom sacrifice is not something they want to put their trust in.

    Unfortunately for the Church of England as with most other state Christian sects has allowed the traditions of men to be become more important to them than the commands of God tickling their ears on every subject from female headship to homosexuality, fornication, adultery child molestation. What white washed graves the leaders of this church really are.

  3. A a loyal Anglican from the Catholic tradition I am distraught by the news. But the fact remains that Jesus did appoint 12 men for his front line positions and the reason that he would have done so is because he knew that at some point they would have to risk their lives. In fact most of them were martyred. Some of these men may have had children but children were then and still are a lot more dependent on their mothers than their fathers when they are younger - a child who is abandoned by their mother generally fares worse than a child who is abandoned by their father. He therefore would have asked men rather than women to be his disciples as asking women would have been very unfair to any children they might have had or be going to have. Things are not really so different today.

    My priest explained to me when I was being confirmed that if anyone tried to desecrate the sacrament once it has been turned into the body or blood of Christ he hoped that he would risk his own life to defend it. Being a priest or bishop is not a normal job - it involves many types of sacrifice including potentially sacrificing ones own life. A female priest or bishop is more likely to have children or even grandchildren directly dependent on her. It would not be fair to those children to ask their mother to make that sacrifice.

  4. London's Willy16 July 2014 at 16:04

    So a non-Christian thinks the C of E should have women priests? Great. Maybe the chief rabbi will also chip in, or the King of Jordan, or someone whose opinions are equally irrelevant.

    If it is possible to draw 'correct' theological conclusions from scripture then the personal preferences of the theologian are not relevant. Perhaps in the same manner as one can draw conclusions in historical inquiry, where what is important is the deployment of evidence and interpretation from that. In other words, it is objective.

    If theology is the product of one's internal judgement, whether this be reckoned to be as the result of enlightenment by the Holy Spirit or just the programming of one's upbringing, then you can argue that non Christians like myself have nothing to 'chip in'. It is subjective

    .In which case women can argue that the Holy Spirit is moving them to become bishops. The Church no longer accepts slavery despite statements by St. Paul . (Although he was probably adjusting to the reality of the age and he thought it was all coming to an end shortly) Would you argue the Holy Spirit influenced that? If so, why not women bishops? My local vicar is a woman and does the job well.

  5. You should know better16 July 2014 at 16:07

    The concept of a woman rabbi ot "rabba" is not accepted by the vast majority of orthodox Jews and authorities. Further, feethe ling "proud' at siitng eext to the first female reform rabbi speaks volumes about the level of Sara's committment to genuine Orthodox Judaism.

  6. You should know better16 July 2014 at 16:08

    so "rabbi" is the torah from mount sinai changing now?? no - women are not permitted to b rabbis are not to answer halachic questions - it is all ok for reforms or conservatives but this is all verrrry unorthodox and (if you really learned) you know it....

  7. Kol HaKavod. I hope to look back at this and marvel at the novelty of something that has been long overdue ! (:

  8. Ah Ruth,

    Women Bishops or women Rabbis or both?

  9. How do you explain the women I've mentioned in the above post from the Hebrew Bible, who clearly did take leadership roles? Aren't you being a bit 'unorthodox' by ignoring them?

  10. It takes time. Hence my comment on 'coach and horses'. Personally I think Sarah H does a very good job from what I've heard. Oh and what is wrong with wanting to reconcile the various Jewish divisions.

  11. I'm allowed an opinion just as anyone else is, so that is a bit of a stupid thing to say. As for the rest of the post, this means nothing to me.

  12. Hannah,

    I agree with you on a 'softy, softly' approach. That is the way change, any change, needs to be brought in.

  13. Esther,

    I'm surprised by this view, given how 'feminist' you claim to be. You do raise some interesting challenges, though.


Comments aren't pre-moderated. Try and keep things civil. See our comments section for further details.