these developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. ... Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.
One of the Agudath Israel's claims must be immediately debunked. According to the JTA article,
The council also objects, [Rabbi Avi] Shafran added, because any change in Orthodox norms must be backed by a "world-class Torah decisor," and no such authority has lent his name to Wiess’s actions.Rabbi Benzion Uziel permitted women to be dayanim in certain cases, and his teshuva has been translated into English here. (Rabbi Uziel's teshuva deals primarily with women holding public office and voting in a democracy, but he deals as well with women holding the offices of king (queen) and dayan.) Several other rabbis have recently offered the basis for permitting women to be rabbis, here. So much for that claim.
Apparently even the RCA is set to discipline or even oust Rabbi Avi Weiss, according to Jewish Week: "Rabbis Set To Rumble Over Rabba?". However, one claim there is erroneous; we read there,
In a twist, one Rabbi Weiss school, YCT, won’t recognize the rabbinic credentials of the other Rabbi Weiss school, Yeshivat Maharat, with Rabba Hurwitz being denied membership in the International Rabbinic Fellowship, also founded by Rabbi Weiss and primarily composed of YCT rabbis.On 4 December 2009, an email was sent to students who are University Network members of Rabbi Marc Angel's Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. Rabbi Angel wrote,
The International Rabbinic Fellowship, a new modern Orthodox rabbinic association founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss and me, had a conference last month. About 60 rabbis from throughout the US attended, as well as rabbis from Canada and Colombia. The group reached a consensus that it would be appropriate to include women members, even though they do not have, and don't have the opportunity to have, semikha. A committee was tasked with coming up with suitable criteria for membership. Some rabbis were concerned that admitting non-rabbi women into the IRF will undermine our credibility as an Orthodox rabbinic body, and will impede our efforts in such areas as conversion to Judaism, the agunah issue, Jewish education etc. What do you think? How do you envision religious leadership for modern Orthodoxy 10 years from now?In short: the IRF "reached a consensus that it would be appropriate to include women members", and the only question was what criteria should be used to judge women applicants for membership, given that most suitably learned women do not have the ability to earn formal semikha, meaning that an alternate litmus test must be found. Similarly, according to an IRF Press Release (here),
Though Orthodox Judaism does not ordain women as rabbis, several Orthodox women who serve in a handful of Orthodox congregations in rabbinic capacities were present. A long discussion was held at the conference on the question of admitting women acting in a rabbinic capacity as full voting members among the Rabbis. The group voted to task the membership committee with creating criteria for the potential consideration of admission of women. If the IRF votes to admit women, criteria for membership will also be voted on in June. The IRF recognizes that there are highly capable women serving in rabbinic roles and as such the group might benefit from their presence, ideas and guidance.This heralds the first time that an Orthodox rabbinical group has entertained the possibility of admitting women as full members into its ranks.
It would also be interesting to examine Rabbi Marc Angel's own views on women's ordination. In an interview with Gilah Kletenik of Yeshiva University's Kol HaMevaser (here), we read:
KHM [ = Kol HaMevaser]: It’s hard not to pick up on the male-dominated storyline; after all, it is about a Lithuanian yeshivah. Still, certain characters advocate for an expanded, even emancipated, role for women in Judaism. What do you think is the ideal place for women within all areas of the community and how might this be achieved?I've spoken with Rabbi Angel on various issues, and I've found that he often prefers to avoid legislating or deciding for the future. He'll often tell me that based on the present situation we see today, the relevant halakhic principles are A and B and C, and that the resulting halakhic conclusions are X and Y and Z, but he refuses to express an opinion on possible future developments. He refuses not only to offer conclusions, but he even often refuses to speculate on whether other relevant principles (besides A, B, and C) will exist in the future. It is a common practice of his to avoid deciding for the future, because he is humble enough that he doubts the reliability of such predictions, and in any case, he doesn't wish to tie the hands of anyone in the future by setting a precedent that may later prove to be inconvenient and limiting.
RMA [ = Rabbi Marc Angel]: I don’t have the ideal place. The issue of Orthodoxy and women exists because the world has transformed. Today, women study Talmud; this used to not be the case. But you have a glass ceiling; you can only go so far. We’ve created a dynamic by educating our women, and we don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t have an answer yet. I’m in favor of opening options: women’s tefillah groups, women’s Megillah readings, and women as members on boards. In our synagogue (Congregation Shearith Israel), we have Lynne Kaye filling the position of Assistant Congregational Leader – she does everything a rabbi would do except for the ritual aspects. Sure, these developments may be a dead-end, but how do we know unless we experiment? These boundaries – how flexible are they? A pesak on these matters would freeze the process. We must see how things unfold.
In any case, Rabbi Angel has recently written a wonderful post on women's ordination ("Women as Orthodox Religious Leaders?"). The amazing thing about this piece is that Rabbi Angel appears to take no position, nor offer any personal opinions. All he does is ask questions and point out difficulties in others' positions. His own opinion is not difficult to read between the lines, but the fact remains that he never once explicitly gives his own opinion. His piece also offers an implicit criticism of the apodictic rulings of Daat Torah, in which dogmatic positions are stated without any textual or traditional support.
Professor Marc Shapiro has written about this phenomenon of Daat Torah. In his words ("The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era," (book review), Tradition 28:2, 1994),
[Jacob] Katz also ilustrates the nineteenth century [emphasis added] creation of what he terms ex cathedra rulings. [Notice the terminology borrowed from Catholicism - Michael Makovi.] That is, the halakhist, acting through his charismatic personality, issues rulings on a wide range of communal issues basing himself primarily on biblical passages and religious feelings rather than halakhic sources. If a certain decision is perceived by the halakhist as necesssary to maintain the Torah community, he will reach it. The halakhist places these new rulings at the very center of the religion, and one who violates them is no longer to be regarded as a faithful Jew. It seems clear that the method of decision-making Katz is describing is fundamentally not really different than the contemporary notion of Daat Torah. I thus do not accept the popular view that Daat Torah is a twentieth century [emphasis added] concept. Even in pre-modern times one can point to rabbis deciding communal matters based on non-halakhic points. What this means is that the halakhist was intuitively convinced that his community needed to adopt a certain approach and, lacking the precise halakhic sources, supported his position by citing Bible, Midrash etc. By making a case without traditional halakhic sources it is impossible for an opponent to marshal contrary halakhic arguments. A ruling could be opposed, but not refuted. The only real difference between the modern exponents of Daat Torah and the earlier authorities seems to be that the earlier authorities felt the need to expound upon their opinions with numerous Scriptural and Aggadic proofs. The modern exponents of Daat Torah often feel no need to offer any justification of their views and it is here where one finds their originality.Cf. an article by Katz, "DA'AT TORAH - The Unqualified Authority Claimed for Halachists". In this article, Katz argues that while the term "Daat Torah" is a creation of the twentieth-century, that nevertheless, the phenomenon of Daat Torah is a nineteenth-century phenomenon, witnessed in the battle of Hungarian Ultra-Orthodoxy against the Neologs (conservative right-wing Reformers).
In any case, our focus is on the final observation of Shapiro just quoted, viz. that,
The only real difference between the modern exponents of Daat Torah and the earlier authorities seems to be that the earlier authorities felt the need to expound upon their opinions with numerous Scriptural and Aggadic proofs. The modern exponents of Daat Torah often feel no need to offer any justification of their views and it is here where one finds their originality.Rabbi Angel's article on women's ordination criticizes precisely this phenomenon of apodictic rulings devoid of any citations or justifications or supports.
Rabbi Angel's article also offers some good arguments (presented in the form of questions) regarding women's ordination. His article can be read as Women as Orthodox Religious Leaders?.
Rabbi Angel's piece really is extraordinary, and is a must-read.