Sometimes the best solution to a controversy is not to act on it.
That is our recommendation to the Orthodox Union (OU), the major body of Orthodox congregations in North America, which is grappling with what, if anything, to do about the fact that four of its member synagogues have women clergy members.
A major OU report by seven prominent rabbis into the role of women in rabbinic roles concluded that they should be prohibited, leaving the organization with the question of whether and how to act on the findings. A possible vote scheduled for last week has been postponed until after the holidays. While it is believed that the leadership of the OU may call for expelling the synagogues in question, a number of OU pulpit rabbis and lay members have circulated and submitted separate letters wisely urging that no action be taken.
One letter, signed by an estimated 50 rabbis, including those from prominent Manhattan synagogues such as Kehilath Jeshurun and Lincoln Square synagogue, notes that the signatories have “a range of views on the questions of ordination and rabbinic roles for Orthodox women.” But, it notes, “we are all in agreement that expelling OU synagogues[,] which employ Orthodox women in these roles would do a great deal of harm in both the short-term and the long-term to our shuls, Orthodoxy and the broader Jewish community.” Instead, the rabbis call for implementing a number of the OU report’s suggestions in terms of “creating, funding and promoting halachically appropriate positions, individualized to each community, for female educators, scholars, halachic advisors and pastoral/spiritual presences.”
The other letter, drafted by several board members of the OU, urges the group’s leadership to “take no further action on this issue and move on to issues that will unite us rather than divide us and will be inclusive rather than exclusive.”
We hope the leadership will recognize the divisiveness and anti-Orthodox sentiment that has resulted from the Israeli government’s policy of exclusion over prayer at the Western Wall and efforts to give the chief rabbinate of Israel a complete monopoly on conversions. It is time for the OU to move on to other, more pressing issues than what title befits women in service to their congregations and where they should stand in delivering words of Torah.