Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Female Presidents at MO Shuls?

This post on Frum Satire's blog really intrigued me. He says:

Dov Bear has a post about a shul in Syracuse (I know the rabbis kids from yeshiva, and have davened there many times) that is being kicked out of the NCYI National Council of Young Israel, because it has a woman president. I always thought that Young Israel was supposed to be “modern” orthodox, yet they have such a rule on the books. Can anyone really say it’s wrong to have a woman as shul president? It just sounds like another rule to prevent women from being leaders in orthodoxy. Although I doubt having the ability to get up at shul and announce the times for mincha that week would be justified as being a leader.
Anyone know if this is true? And why on earth it would be inappropriate to have a woman as a president of an MO (or even an O) shul?

I never even really thought about this as an issue. I just never even considered it. But while I would expect the hoopla over a female rabbi (I didn't even think I'd see such a daring move in my lifetime), this type of reaction over a female president doesn't make sense to me at all.

The "President" position of a shul is certainly a secular invention.... so what's the big deal? And then, when I think about the larger Orthodox organizations, it seems that none of them have women in leadership positions unless its a woman's organization (Am I right about this? I might not be).

Sexism within religion is more justifiable, I guess (I don't really think so, but all I'm saying is that people can claim that this is how "God" or "the rabbis" wanted it...and it's hard to disagree with a God who doesn't [seem to?] communicate back or with people who are long dead), but I don't see how sexism within the secular aspect of the culture can be justified. Especially when there are so many highly educated, highly accomplished women.


Jewish Atheist said...

I seem to recall that as a genuine halakhic issue. MO shuls (unlike MO people) have to follow halakha pretty strictly or they're not MO.

That's the problem with MO, of course. When halakha's on one side and morality's on the other, they go with halakha.

Puzzled said...

This was my argument on Avi Weiss. Not that he should be 'kicked out' of orthodoxy, but that why on earth would he want to consider himself orthodox? He gets no institutional support from it - the flagship orthodox shuls won't hire his grads, for instance. Besides, orthodoxy does entail unthinking adherence to a set, unchanging doctrine. The attempts to modernize it and involve thinking and change are pretty illogical.

On the halacha, I'd just note that the rules were made by men. I'm not surprised that they don't allow for female equality, when women cannot be rabbis.

On Her Own said...

But is having a female president of a shul against Halacha? And if so, why would it be?

What liturgical purpose do shul presidents serve? It seems to me that the purpose they serve is administrative and/or being a figurehead. How can a woman filling those purposes be against Halacha?

Jewish Atheist said...

There's a halakha that says women can't be in leadership roles, iirc. I guess there are different interpretations (of course) but the idea that women presidents falls under that category was, I believe, mainstream in Rabbinical circles. I see from the linked threads that there are some exceptions.

On Her Own said...

JA - "There's a halakha that says women can't be in leadership roles" -- I know you don't subscribe to that belief, but if that's true, I'd really like to see that source.

Puzzled - "Besides, orthodoxy does entail unthinking adherence to a set, unchanging doctrine. The attempts to modernize it and involve thinking and change are pretty illogical."
Contrary to how Orthodox people want to view themselves, Orthodoxy does actually change and modernize, albeit at a ridiculously slow pace. Think about Orthodox women's learning now vs. 150 years ago (even in the most stringently Orthodox circles) for an example of this. I don't think it's inconceivable that at some point in the future, female Orthodox rabbis are okayed and accepted; I just think it'll take a LOOOONG time.

As for Avi Weiss, I think he needs to still consider himself part of the Orthodox movement and be vocal about that because (it seems to me, at least) what he's trying to do is push the boundaries of Orthodoxy. You can't do that from outside the movement.

Jewish Atheist said...

People seem to be citing Rambam, Mishneh Torah, "Hilchot Melachim 1:5"

JRKmommy said...

I found this correspondence from a left-wing MO rabbi, endorsing women as shul presidents, to be interesting: