Thursday, May 20, 2004

For the slippery slope

Bracha Rutner has become America’s first female “Yoetzet Halacha,” or “Advisor on Jewish Law,” trained to answer women’s questions on the laws of family purity. She has been employed for almost a year now by the Riverdale Jewish Center – but the press has only just picked up the story.
Predictably, there is a big rush to deny that the appointment is in any way “revolutionary,” or a real change to women’s leadership roles in Orthodox circles.
“This is not a revolution. This is not about feminism. This is about Torah,” said Rabbi Rosenblatt, who hired Rutner. “She doesn’t have a rabbi’s portfolio.... This is an educational function — a community educator.”
Adds Samuel Heilman, professor of Jewish studies and sociology at the City University of New York and an expert on the Orthodox world: “This is an administrative thing, it’s not a rabbinic thing... I don’t know that it’s different than having a woman who is an assistant to the rabbi” and handles certain educational and administrative duties.”
Well, of course it’s different: Rutner is giving religious rulings, not doing bookkeeping. And as far as I’m concerned, a good thing too. There is no reason why if an Orthodox woman knows as much about halacha as a man, he should have the option of becoming a halachic authority, while she shouldn’t. Men should not have a monopoly on halacha, which concerns us all.
What the Rabbi (although probably not Heilman), of course, is trying to preempt, is the ‘slippery slope’ argument that by appointing a woman to give any sort of official halachic advice, women rabbis are just around the corner. Instead of denying the revolutionary nature of the appointment, he could perhaps explain that in Israel, where there are dozens of “Yoatzot Halacha,” or “Yoatzot Nidda” as they are called there, the practice has so far not resulted in women gaining any other religious roles.
But truth be told, it is only a matter of time – perhaps a long time, but a matter of time nonetheless. As women begin to get comfortable dispensing halachic opinions in one area, they will justifiably begin to wonder why they are not allowed to rule on others. As women begin to get comfortable asking other women for halachic advice in one area, they will naturally begin to ask if it is a cultural tradition, rather than law, stopping women giving rulings in other areas. Call them women rabbis, call them pseudo-rabbis, call them something else – they’re on their way. And like I said, a good thing too.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Without gazing into my crystal ball, if you look at the current head of Nishmat and its practicing graduates, one will find a current theme throughout their public and private actions and that is they do NOT want to be rabbis. They are not in this this to push the boundary for other women. They are in this to help women increase their knowledge of the material and improve their practices. As Rabbanit Henkin has said countless times - this is not a revolution and they are not trying to create female rabbis. And you are right - Rabbi Rosenblatt did make those comments to preclude the "slippery slope" argument. There's a reason why the more liberal shuls and organizations have been unable to hire people in this capacity and that's b/c the Nishmat graduates do not identify with this mentality of pushing the boundaires for women. I apologize for harping on this point but don't try to place these women in positions they themselves are running away from - you can only harm them in the long-run.
Thank you

nope said...


I'm sorry for being intrusive in to your blog. But I am Melissa and I am a mother of two that is just trying to get out of an incredible financial debt. See my hubby is away in Iraq trying to protect this great country that we live in, and I am at home with our two kids telling bill collectors please be patiant. When my husband returns from war we will beable to catch up on our payments. We have already had are 2001 Ford repossessed from the bank, and are now down to a 83 buick that is rusted from front to back and the heater don't work, and tire tax is due in November.

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God Bless You.

Melissa K. W.
To see my family view this page. My Family

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