Traditional Judaism believes that men and women occupy different roles in society because they are fundamentally different beings of equal significance. No single consensus exists on the implications of this belief in every circumstance, but it is a fact that on the issue of women’s ordination, the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are opposed—which should be reason enough for discretion and patience on the part of those wishing to work within the Orthodox ambit. Instead, in recent years, Open Orthodoxy has opted for high-profile activities aimed at creating “facts on the ground” in order to force the hand of the establishment. As Sara Hurwitz, the head of Yeshivat Maharat, recently proclaimed, “The conversation is no longer about whether women can be members of the clergy. That was in 2010. Today, women actually are members of the clergy.” That, by any historical measure, was quick.
Such tactics could only lead to discord in a religious community that operates by different rules. Confronted by a challenge it did not know how to engage, the RCA issued and re-issued (and re-issued) one-dimensional statements of the traditional position on women’s communal roles. Meanwhile, as of this week, the right wing of Orthodoxy—the so-called ultra-Orthodox, who now constitute fully two-thirds of the broader Orthodox community—has officially declared Open Orthodoxy to be beyond the pale: an eminently foreseeable defensive move that, whether or not regarded as justified, again calls into question the wisdom of Open Orthodox tactics.
The possibility of revisiting women’s ordination in Orthodoxy still exists, if and when cultural mores within the movement’s constituent communities shift in that direction. That reality may emerge in the coming decades, especially in light of the rapid flourishing of women’s learning and leadership—a flourishing that in some cases was hard-won but that ultimately occurred within the bounds of Orthodoxy and, as I noted early on, is applauded in the RCA’s continuing resolutions attempting to hold the line on the specific issue of ordination. The question is whether change—if and when it comes—will originate out of the effort to preserve tradition or to drag it into lockstep with politics.
Aylana Meisel, “Why Did American Orthodox Rabbis Just Ban Something They’ve Already Banned Before?”, Mosaic (10 November 2015) [http://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2015/11/why-did-american-orthodox-rabbis-just-ban-something-theyve-already-banned-before/]