Question: Is it permissible for the Bet Midrash to ordain women as rabbis?
By Rabbi Reuven Hammer
Responsum: Not only is the Bet Midrash permitted to ordain women as rabbis; it is obligated to ordain women who are suitable just as it ordains men who are suitable.
One of the reasons that the majority of the Va’ad Halakhah gave for opposing the ordination of women five years ago was that such a step would cause irreparable harm to the future of the Masorti Movement. But times have changed. The Bet Midrash is already an established fact and is recognized by various sectors of the population. Furthermore, an Israeli woman who was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York is already serving as a Masorti rabbi in Israel. Thus it is hard to claim that accepting women will harm the Bet Midrash or the Masorti Movement. Furthermore, it is unfair, anti-Zionist and hypocritical to send Israeli women to study for the rabbinate in New York.
A rabbi is a person who has learned the tradition and is therefore worthy to continue the tradition and to teach it to others. The title does not grant any ceremonial or ritual status. The institution of the rabbinate was a revolution, which allowed any Jewish male to reach the level of teacher and spiritual leader. But that revolution was not complete because sociological conditions were such that no one could imagine that a woman could become a rabbi. But today, when a woman can be a member of Knesset, a Prime Minister or a member of the Supreme Court, it is difficult to justify a position that women cannot be rabbis.
Some say that women cannot be rabbis because they cannot serve as cantors or witnesses. To me that is like saying that a Cohen cannot be a rabbi because he cannot perform a funeral at a cemetery. In any case, we must find a way to enable women to be witnesses either by reinterpreting the halakhah or through a takkanah. Finally, there is the moral issue. Women make up over half of the Jewish people. Their opinions and abilities can come to the aid of our people in all sorts of ways. To forgo this resource is to forgo a treasure. Furthermore, who are we – the men – to decide if women can be rabbis or not? According to the Torah (Genesis 1:27), women too were made in God’s image. To prevent them from reaching this high position is unethical and unjustifiable.
In conclusion, it is permissible for the Bet Midrash to ordain women as rabbis. We must not send them to the Diaspora to study when there is no halakhic obstacle to their being accepted here. The auxiliary problems are no reason not to accept women. Not accepting them will mean the loss of an important resource for the Jewish people and contradicts the principle that women were created in the image of God.