All Eyes On RCA Convention: Will They Take Stand Against ‘Maharat’ and ‘Rabbah’?


rcaThe Rabbinical Council of America’s three-day conference set to begin Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y., comes just months after the near ordination of a ‘female rabbi’ by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from chareidi leadership.

With a high-profile discussion scheduled on women’s leadership and two proposed rules aimed at marginalizing rabbis who deviate leftward on hot-button issues, the upcoming RCA conference is expected to draw its largest crowd in years.

“I think it will be one of the more exciting RCA conventions,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the council’s first vice president, told JTA.

Two amendments to the RCA convention that have been put forward are clear reactions to the controversy sparked by Rabbi Avi Weiss’ decision in January to confer the title “rabba”  on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Following condemnation from the Yated Ne’eman newspaper and from the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudath Israel, and discussions with RCA officials, Weiss stated that he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else.

One amendment effectively would expel from the council any member who “attempts to ordain as a member of the rabbinate, or to denominate as ‘rabbinical’ or as ‘clergy,’ a person not eligible to serve as such as those terms are understood under the policies and positions of the RCA.”

A second amendment would bar from officer positions anyone who is a member of another national rabbinic group “whose principles or tenets of faith are antithetical or contrary to the policies and positions of the RCA,” according to JTA.

The question now is whether the RCA will strongly condemn Weiss’ actions and clearly come out against granting semichah to women. It is still in question whether there is strong consensus to do so by RCA rabbis, who number some 1,000.

Some fear that the policy that the RCA will enact on these issues will likely remain vague on specifics and that a policy of calculated ambiguity is necessary in part to maintain unity across a broad range of opinion. But that will likely demonstrate that the RCA is unwilling to take a strong stance on this matter. Only time will tell.

{Noam Newscenter, with reporting by JTA}


  1. Sadly at times the RCA has been quick to condemn other Torah groups yet when faced with this “Rabbah” issue which is a break with our Mesorah they have tried to avoid taking a strong stand.

  2. It would also be right for them or the OU to draft a statement or join the exisiting kol koreh to help Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. Other organiztions have already done so and it is time for them to join in urging there members to furfill the mitzvah of pidyan Shuvyim.

  3. Rabbi Weiss promised not tto name any additional Rabba but that does not preclude the raba he named from bestowing the title on additional woman . That appears to be the plan since she is the head of the seminary .

  4. To #4:

    Yes, actually, a breach of Mesorah with potentially catastrophic implications IS an issue of critical importance to us. It may not be as politically flammable and “hey let’s jump on the bashin’ bandwagon”-worthy as some other problems, and it may be true that it is not – on its own – the biggest issue facing klal yisrael right now, it certainly is potentially the most disasterous for what it could lead to.

  5. #7…this weeks Parsha makes it clear that we have to pay our workers on time (Vayikra 19:13)…yet in violation of not only the Mesorah but explicit Torah law many Mosdos don’t follow this. Seems like a bigger problem to me

  6. There goes Mandy again. My wife is very proud to raise a yiddish family. I envy her for not having to be in the Olem Hasheker as most of us are. Of course, I am referring to the corporate world… I guess Mandy likes the “high profile”, baloney corporate culture more then the beautiful innocence of raising a jewish family.

  7. #10- Corporate culture? What does that have to do with being able to serve in a leadership position at a shul? Why is that incompatible with raising a family?

  8. Mandy,
    It’s your dissatisfaction and your disdain for the “baby-raiser and homemaker” (your quote) that I am refering to. Your comments on this subject begin with that disdain. I truly feel bad for you.

  9. Yes, leftists like mandy’s treif onion soup and dag’s reform version of “Judaism” would very much like to implement woman’s lib feminist ideology to replace Torah ideology.

    Nevertheless they will never succeed. Their ancestors in the haskala have been trying for hundreds of years already.

  10. To Mandy: this has never been an issue for me. I don’t have a gemarakup and don’t find that kind of learning satisfying. I understand that there are women who do and feel like square pegs in round holes. There ARE women who feel that they have unexplored potential. They’re not all agenda-driven, etc. But one of the biggest hurdles to me is the intense scholarship necessary – the getting there, and ongoing – as well as minyan commitment that are not compatible with the life frum women generally lead.

    I’m thinking in terms of a rav who is leader and posek, not just a social worker or shul pres.

  11. I have no disdain for homemakers, etc. I just happen to think women should not be limited to that role and should have other options. If a woman can be a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a business professional, a CEO, there is no reason she cannot lead a shul, give divrei torah, counsel, do chaplaincy work etc. And just like you wouldn’t use a different term for a female neurosurgeon as you would for a male one, there is no reason to use a different term for a female shul leader than a male one.

    I know there are many women in the frum world who would be more comfortable asking advice and certain shailos from a female, this is indisputable. There are certain shalom bayis and TM questions that many frum women are mortified to discuss with a male rav.

    What is puzzling to me is the intense and hateful reaction to the rabbah term. If Sara Hurwitz wanted to encourage a non-traditional version of Judaism, she could have easily joined any of the conservative or reform shuls in the area. She clearly wishes to remain within the boundaries of halacha and to expand the role of women within that framework. Other than simple male intimidation, I have no idea why this is so controversial. What are you men afraid of? Why does a female Jewish leader scare you?

  12. @#7:the terms you use to describe an Aishes Chayil are more than derogatory;further, they depict solely your opinion.I fully agree with the other comments directed towards yours.

  13. Dag –

    The reason the mosdos cannot pay on time is that we have these people who insist that they can’t pay full tuition, yet are schlepping their family to some resort for Pesach (obviously there are situations where that is required, and of course there are many people who can afford to do so – kol hakavod to them), and other extravagances. I can assure you that there is not a single Yeshiva that is happy about the fact that they cannot adequately compensate the people most responsible for your children’s future, and the peanuts that they are able to provide are often late. If it bugs you so much, why don’t you contribute more?

  14. Mandy –

    Klal Yisroel has managed just fine for centuries without female rabbonim. Any TM questions presumably affect the husband as well as the wife, and he is more than welcome to discuss it with his male Rav. As far as Shalom Bayis, it seems that there was a lot more of it throughout the generations – even without female rabbis (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). Strangely, it is in this generation of politically correct equal rights that the frum divorce rate has shot up to proportions unheard of in “unzer velt”.

  15. #15, No, Hurwitz wishes to destroy Orthodox Judaism from within. By joining conservative or reform, she couldn’t accomplish that. Hence her tactics.

  16. Mandy,
    It is not just men that are “AFRAID” as you say. It is any true torah observant jew. Plain and simple is is against halacha for a woman to serve a female “shul leader”!

  17. Rabbonus is not neurosurgery. Rabbonus is a klei kodesh that entails serara, edut, and being shaliach tzibbur, all capacities a woman cannot halakhically partake in. Halakha does not permit a woman to serve in any of these roles, which are essential to being a Rabbi.

    If women wish to become scholars, teachers, maggidei shiur, yoetzot, or toanot rabboniot, I would encourage them. I even have no problem if they wish to be congregational poskim, maggidei shiur, or scholars. They can even be mashgichot or shochtim. However, there is no basis to allow women to serve as eidim or to lead davening. A rabbi not partaking in these capacities would be very problematic and inpractical, and quite frankly, is not much of a rabbi, considering the demands of the rabbinate. Donlt compare apples and oranges. A male and female neurosurgeon can do the same things exactly. Not the case with a religious and legal system with clear guidelines and standards.

  18. #21- No one is discussing women leading davening or serving as eidim. The term rabba is reserved for a congregational posek or pulpit rabbi. Don’t set up strawmen.

    As for your position that if one can’t be a shliach tzibbur, one can’t be a rav, I find that position untenable considering the many bochurim who get smicha every year and never daven for the amud.

  19. #22 — If you find it untenable, there are many religions that will welcome you as a member. Indeed I suspect you sport membership from one of them already.

  20. #22- A congregational Rav’s duties do often include davening for the amud. What kind of a rabbi wouldn’t be able to officiate at a wedding or wouldn’t be able to lead davening? A woman therefore cannot be a pulpit rabbi, a position entailing these roles. Other lingering concerns are serara and the fact that a woman can’t sit on a beit din (rabbis are frquently asked to sit on batei din for converts they sponsor). You are wrong, Mandy, and should just join the Reform or Conzervative movements- you’ll be more at home by them.

  21. One reservation I have, especially of women as poskot, is, what kind of shimush will they have? Will poskim of widely accepted stature facillitate their “apprenticing” for an extended period, as the poskim we go to have done?


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