Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Old & New Faces of Orthodox Womanhood ...I hope?

So, this week I read two articles that seemed diametrically opposed to each other.

The first was about an agunah who was finally freed after 48 years from her "chained" status by her former husband's death at the age of 73. See the full article here.

The second was about the first ordination of a female Orthodox rabbi. (Okay, fine, "rabbah.")

The optimist in me would like to think that this is the beginning of a long path on which Orthodoxy will eventually give women equal status to men. If this is true, these stories might be seen as representative of the old and new faces of Orthodox womanhood, respectively.

Of course, there are still limitations. Rabbah Hurwitz can't serve as a witness (something I find seriously offensive to my morals) and she won't be counted in a minyan. In all probability, she probably also will never be a pulpit rabbi. After all, as someone has commented, "Where would she sit?" and "What Orthodox shul would hire a female rabbi?"

Again, I want to be optimistic and say that even these inequalities will be ironed out in the years to come. Maybe not in this generation, maybe not in the next, but certainly at some time in the future.

That said, there really does appear to be a severe backlash. After all, the RCA are calling Rabbi Avi Weiss (the rabbi who ordained Rabbah Hurwitz) before their disciplinary board over the ordination. And there are rumors that they are considering kicking him out -- a move that, for many Orthodox Jews, is tantamount to calling his status as Orthodox into question.

And let's not forget that, even with all of the public outcry and publicity that the agunah issue has had over the last few years, the issue is still far from being resolved. Indeed, as the first article mentions, a 2006 international convention to discuss the issue was called off by Israel's chief rabbi only five days before it was slated to begin. This is widely believed to be due to pressure from the Ultra-Orthodox community.

But if the Ultra-Orthodox community can't stand behind an issue so widely understood as problematic as the agunah issue, can we really expect them to legitimize Rabbi Hurwitz's ordination? I'm inclined to say no.

Increasingly, this appears to me to be the very beginning of yet another break in Judaism between the RW and LW Orthodox -- one which might very well become the start of a new movement that is no longer called "Orthodox."

Still, the optimist in me can hope, right?

Here's to a filtering through of Orthofeminism...