Weiss’ Rabbinic Fellowship weighs in on women in leadership

As I noted yesterday, getting a handle on the limits of female leadership in the Orthodox community is nearly impossible. The Modern Orthodox rabbinate has no clear policy on the issue. The haredi leadership has issued a dismissive press release and called it a day. 

So where’s the liberal Orthodox rabbinate? The International Rabbinic Fellowship, an association created as a more "open" alternative to the mainstream Rabbinical Council of America, issued this statement on women’s leadership.

We view as encouraging the most recent efforts to bridge gaps within various segments of modern Orthodox rabbinic leadership. In this regard we salute the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Avi Weiss for working together to strike a compromise that preserved shalom in the Orthodox community. 

At the same time, we affirm that attempts to delegitimize rabbis and synagogues for the positions they take on this debate go against the spirit of respectful and meaningful conversation.

In that vein we affirm that engaging women to serve in a various forms of congregational and communal religious and spiritual leadership is in accordance with the Halacha and Orthodox practice.

So, to recap. Agudath Israel of America says an Orthodox synagogue cannot have a woman in a "rabbinical position of any sort." The RCA, speaking in an affirmative voice, says it supports women in "appropriate leadership roles." And now the IRF says women should be able to fill "various forms of congregational and communal religious and spiritual leadership."

Clearly, Agudath Israel and the IRF are on a collision course, but beyond that it’s impossible to know what any of these statements means in practice. The RCA has hedged, which I suppose is to be expected if they’re currently formulating a position. The interesting thing to watch for is how the RCA negotiates between its left and right flanks. Hard to see from here how they’ll say anything specific and substantive about women in leadership without one party declaring them off the reservation. 

The RCA conference is scheduled for April 25 in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Full statement after the jump. 

The International Rabbinic Fellowship, an organization of close to 150 Modern-Orthodox rabbis gives thanks to the Almighty for the unparalleled advancement in women’s Torah education that has revolutionized and strengthened the Orthodox and broader Jewish community in untold ways in the last fifty years. 

We are strongly supportive of the growing number of committed and learned women who are or would like to serve the Jewish people as educators, and in various forms of congregational and communal religious and spiritual leadership. 

The issue of expanding women’s leadership roles in the Orthodox community is one that has engendered vigorous discussion and debate. We strongly affirm the value of these debates within Orthodoxy, especially when they are held respectfully and are inclusive of all voices in our community: our rabbis, religious leaders, and laity, our men and our women. 

We view as encouraging the most recent efforts to bridge gaps within various segments of modern Orthodox rabbinic leadership. In this regard we salute the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Avi Weiss for working together to strike a compromise that preserved shalom in the Orthodox community. 

At the same time, we affirm that attempts to delegitimize rabbis and synagogues for the positions they take on this debate go against the spirit of respectful and meaningful conversation.

In that vein we affirm that engaging women to serve in a various forms of congregational and communal religious and spiritual leadership is in accordance with the Halacha and Orthodox practice.

Finally, we call on everyone to continue this discussion in a thoughtful and respectful manner, in a spirit of generosity and a commitment to truth and communal harmony.

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