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Women Can Be Rabbis In All But Name, But They Are Still Not Qualified To Wear Tefillin, Part 2

April 28, 2014

As I noted last time, the official YU/RCA opinion is that women can not be ordained as rabbis because, among other things, being a rabbi is a form of s’rara, and Maimonides had ruled that women could not be appointed to any s’rara within Israel. I pointed out then that Maimonides also believed that converts and their immediate descendants could also not be appointed to s’raroth, but we still find many ordained converts and sons of converts as ordained rabbis in classical history.

The following halacha also makes it clear that at least what we would call the position of rabbi is not one of the things Maimonides would consider a s’rara (The Temple Appointments and Those Who Serve Therein, 4:20):

When the king, the High Priest, or any other official dies, his son or anyone fit to inherit him is appointed in his stead. Those who are higher in the order of inheritance receive precedence with regard to receiving the position (Heb. s’raruth) of the deceased, provided he is equivalent [to the deceased] in wisdom, or in the fear of God, even if he is not comparable in wisdom. For [Deuteronomy 17:20] states with regard to a king: “He and his descendants in the midst of Israel.” This teaches that the kingship is inherited. This applies with regard to any office (s’rara) amidst the Jewish people. If one acquires it, he acquires it for himself and for his descendants. 

Since when did the RIETS ordination board decide that its s’micha would be granted based on primogeniture and not on study and mastery of the proper curriculum? To be fair, there are segments of Orthodoxy that do consider the rabbinate hereditary, and that’s why you hear about rebbes and admorim who do not seem to be the beacons of scholarship or ethical behavior you would expect spiritual leaders to be, but they do have the yihus.

In the biblical days, the prophets, who were the bearers of the Oral Tradition and the forerunners of our present day rabbis, had groups of students called b’nei han’vi’im, apprentice prophets, who aspired to attain divine inspiration. Our sages would compare Elijah’s and Elisha’s students to their own yeshivoth. And now a question for those who would automatically disqualify women from studies toward rabbinical ordination: would our prophets have objected to taking on female apprentices? Would they allow female prophetesses to train other aspiring prophetesses? If not, then how did we ever produce prophetesses?

Perhaps they would answer that once upon a time, it was permitted to train women in knowledge of God and his Torah to the extent that they could achieve prophecy, but for some reason, with the cessation of prophecy, it somehow became forbidden or impossible to train them to acheive lesser knowledge. I do not buy such an argument. Any other suggestions?


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