They call him the "Rabbah Rouser"
July 31, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety among religious traditionalists that when you take one step toward egalitarianism, the floodgates are open and everything that seemed self-evident will no longer be. Men go to work, and women raise children. If you undermine that, you have lost your whole universe.”

The Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism have been ordaining women as rabbis for decades, but the religion's most traditional sect, the Orthodox, remains a lone, minority holdout against egalitarianism. Last year, Orthodox Rabbi Avraham "Avi" Weiss (political activist and founder of the controversial, liberal, "Open Orthodox" Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Yeshiva in New York) tried to shake things up by ordaining the first female American Orthodox rabbi.

Weiss ordination of 'Rabbah' Sara Hurwitz has led to a statement from the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America accepting an expansion of leadership roles for women in their synagogues.

Related: This week, Rabbi Weiss was one of about 100 moderate Orthodox rabbis and teachers from North America and Israel who signed a “statement of principles” outlining a tolerant, open, accepting approach to gay men and women who want to maintain ties with their Orthodox community, family and friends. The statement says that "although [Orthodox] Judaism 'cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings,' communities must still accept 'practicing' gay couples and their children into synagogues, schools."

Homophobia is not uncommon in Orthodox communities.
posted by zarq (35 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Single page version of the NY Magazine article.

The quote that heads this post is from Rabbi Shai Held, dean of Yeshivat Hadar in Manhattan. YH brands itself as the first egalitarian yeshiva in NYC.
posted by zarq at 9:12 PM on July 31, 2010


Good for Weiss. I'd be amazed if my former religion were to become even this tolerant in my lifetime. That said, a statement of principles that "cannot give its blessing and imprimatur" to same-sex couples but will do so for opposite-sex couples is the opposite of a tolerant, open, or accepting approach to LGBT folks.

I wouldn't have said that fifteen years ago, when I would have been mightily impressed with a group that was committed to any sort of inclusion of LGBT folks. Things have changed a lot since then. I'm too old and too good looking to wait around for kindly, "moderate" bigots to get over their discomfort with me.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:55 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


“I’m a hardcore Miami Dolphins fan,” said Oliver, a past student president of Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, who asked that his last name not be published. “I work in finance and vote Republican. How am I gay?”

He votes Republican?!? How is he Jewish.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:11 PM on July 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Zarq, I don't want to pooh-pooh your post ... but isn't the take-home message from your last link that Avi Weiss is trying to be controversial and not having any success? It's just not very exciting.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:16 PM on July 31, 2010


Men go to work, and women raise children. If you undermine that, you have lost your whole universe.

Uh, that's a pretty lousy universe.
posted by Aquaman at 10:20 PM on July 31, 2010


Welcome to modern times. We're a global community now. Tribalism is a dead-end. Tradtional families are a goner. The world has changed. The train has left the station. Be on board or be left behind.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:31 PM on July 31, 2010


Tribalism is a dead-end.

It's a dead-end that fundamentalists and extremists of all stripes and creeds will go down to the last breath and the last drop of blood to defend. Don't underestimate their determination.
posted by blucevalo at 10:41 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Men go to work, and women raise children. If you undermine that, you have lost your whole universe.

This doesn't explain the rather long-standing Orthodox/Hasidic tradition of having the wife work outside the home to support the husband, while he devotes himself to the Torah. Of course, the wife also does all the childcare, etc.--this is and was very much not a feminist arrangement. (Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers [1925] is about one such family.) Arrangements like this are now very much in the minority, but they do still exist.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:58 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a dead-end that fundamentalists and extremists of all stripes and creeds will go down to the last breath and the last drop of blood to defend. Don't underestimate their determination.

And which our nations are exterminating through war.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on July 31, 2010


Tribalism is a dead-end.

Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax? You're goddamn right I'm living in the dead end!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:34 PM on July 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Zarq, I don't want to pooh-pooh your post ... but isn't the take-home message from your last link that Avi Weiss is trying to be controversial and not having any success? It's just not very exciting.

I generally try not to editorialize above the [more inside] fold on purpose. The message that each reader opts to come away with from any post should ultimately be up to them.

My opinion: Rabbi Weiss has succeeded in being controversial. Whether that controversy has elicited constructive results is harder to conclude. How do we define success? His efforts do seem to appeal to a segment of the Jewish community looking for a more liberal definition of Orthodox spirituality. His shul in Riverdale now has 850 member families, and is one of the largest in the area. Weiss founded YCT, which provides a more liberal education than that given by YU. This liberalism has caused the RCA to declare that YCT graduates will not be recognized by their shuls or considered ordained by them. Despite this, there is no dearth of students applying. His second announcement that he had ordained Ms. Hurwitz inspired quite a bit of anger and introspection within the NYC Orthodox community. However, he's only succeeded in changing the RCA's status quo in small increments.

My sense of this entire situation is that he is attempting (perhaps inadvertently?) to create a sort of bridge between American Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism since as we both know, the latter sect does not have a problem with egalitarianism.

Anyway, I think it's an interesting story. Of course, YMMV! :)
posted by zarq at 11:43 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I appreciate you not editorialising.

I meant that he wasn't very successful in arousing controversy. I suppose the RCA's move shows that he inspired at least some opposition, but I haven't heard of his opponents putting him in cherem or anything like that. In fact, who are his opponents? Is there anyone calling themselves the anti-Weiss? I get the feeling that as long as he and his graduates are orthopractic he'll be pretty much ignored by the majority of the orthodox.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:06 AM on August 1, 2010


Despite this, there is no dearth of students applying.

I'm not sure I would wonder whether students are applying, but if people, especially the big donors, are still contributing funds.
posted by lullaby at 12:53 AM on August 1, 2010


"BLESSED ART THOU, O LORD OUR GOD, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, WHO HAST NOT MADE ME A WOMAN."

anything else?
posted by victors at 1:04 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Springfield, MO checking in. We have had a female Rabbi (Rita Sherwin) for nearly a decade. Reform Temple with a (highly reluctant--you're in the boonies--deal) shared Orthodox population.

You would not believe the shitstorm that brewed up when I "came out*" as an Anti-Zionist in this supposedly liberal female-led community. I'm still not sure if I'm disowned or not.

*told my parents and siblings. I never brought it up to the congregation. But they know. Oh shit, they know.
posted by sourwookie at 1:25 AM on August 1, 2010


BLESSED ART THOU, O LORD OUR GOD, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, WHO HAST NOT MADE ME A WOMAN

We laugh (but we shouldn't) when our mom habitually starts to cover her eyes but catches herself whenever she light candles for non sacred reasons.
posted by sourwookie at 1:31 AM on August 1, 2010


Welcome to modern times. We're a global community now. Tribalism is a dead-end.

I'll be impressed when they ordain a Moslem rabbi. Until then, they're just a bunch of small-minded bigots, no matter how many female clerics they churn out.
posted by Faze at 5:32 AM on August 1, 2010


My former Rabbi here in AZ was one of the first women ordained in the Conservative movement. Not sure why she's not with the congregation anymore... contractual stuff, maybe? (She was called into active duty with the military periodically.) That woman was a total badass.
posted by ph00dz at 5:51 AM on August 1, 2010


Moslem? Are you from the 18th century or something?

Funny thing, that's not even the craziest or most ignorant part of that comment.
posted by absalom at 6:09 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


And until the Hebrews manage to bar mitzvah an elephant, they're all just a bunch of liars, somehow.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:01 AM on August 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I meant that he wasn't very successful in arousing controversy. I suppose the RCA's move shows that he inspired at least some opposition, but I haven't heard of his opponents putting him in cherem or anything like that. In fact, who are his opponents?

He was condemned by some groups, including the Agudath Israel Council of Torah Sages. If he had not promised not to ordain any other women, it seems likely that the RCA would have kicked him out.

Is there anyone calling themselves the anti-Weiss?

Not literally. That doesn't mean his ideas aren't being viewed as a problem or threat.

I get the feeling that as long as he and his graduates are orthopractic he'll be pretty much ignored by the majority of the orthodox.

Rulings by various rabbinic groups against progressive ideas and acts (defining what is and isn't acceptable) clearly affect the greater community. It also matters to the majority of Jews who are not Orthodox.
posted by zarq at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2010


I'll be impressed when they ordain a Moslem rabbi. Until then, they're just a bunch of small-minded bigots, no matter how many female clerics they churn out.

lolwut? Show me the "moslem" that wants to be a rabbi.....

I'm glad to see some modernizing schism happening in the Orthodox world. Orthodox social structure gives me the heebie jeebies, quite honestly.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:35 AM on August 1, 2010


He was condemned by some groups, including the Agudath Israel Council of Torah Sages.

That is such a great name. It's like The League of Superheroes, only not.

Seriously, I can see that his position isn't insignificant, but I'd consider a strong response to be "Rabbi Weiss and his supporters are not welcome in our synagogues," not just "If a synagogue has a female rabbi it isn't orthodox."
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:38 AM on August 1, 2010


Moslem? Are you from the 18th century or something?

Hey, it could have been worse. He could have used "Mohammedan" or "Mussulman".
posted by Sara C. at 8:47 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure his efforts deserve to be minimized simply because he hasn't succeeded in sundering the Orthodoxy overnight. Even incremental change is to be applauded, in my view, considering most people who make a break with Orthodoxy do it by setting sail for more welcoming waters. Also, Rabbi Hurwitz and the members of the Yeshivat Choveivei Torah should be sharing equally in the acclaim.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:48 AM on August 1, 2010


I don't think that incremental change is worthy of much moral acclaim at this point, snuffleupagus. Compromising with more conservative members of a group on issues of egalitarianism requires privileging the conservative members inegalitarian desires over the recognition of other members as full equals. I can see how that might be necessary and excusable where there are no other groups nearby (or at all), but there are plenty of alternatives here, including, it seems, ignoring conservative Orthodox rules altogether and rejecting the exclusivity of their claim to Orthodoxy. But the statement of principles jettisons LGBT equality either because 1) none of the signatories believes in LGBT equality or 2) the liberal signatories were willing to jettison LGBT equality in order to secure the heterosexist approval of the more conservative members. Neither 1 nor 2 is laudable when, as in this time and place, recognizing the full equality of LGBT folk requires no unusually acute moral insight.

Incremental change is not always too little too late, but it is unimpressive (and, I argue here, counterproductive) when the incremental change is mere catch-up. It is even worse when the "radical" pushing the catch up continues to value the approval of the oppressor over the oppressed.

I'll be impressed when they ordain a Moslem rabbi. Until then, they're just a bunch of small-minded bigots, no matter how many female clerics they churn out.

I don't know if the sarcastic use of "bigots" is directed at me or not, but on the chance it was, this is a pretty nasty way to dismiss LGBT issues. Whether, say, Mohammed is the seal of the prophets is a morally neutral belief. Some people believe it and others do not, but there's nothing about the moral content of the belief itself that would cause us to demand universal acceptance or rejection.

On the other hand, whether or not being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, or queer person is sinful, wrong, abominable, or lesser in any way is morally repugnant and indefensible belief. We can rightly demand universal rejection of such beliefs, and if the beliefs are integral to a religious practice, so much the worse for that religious practice. Even if we do not make such beliefs illegal (and we should not), bigotry is the term for them.

By conflating morally neutral and morally repugnant beliefs, you are recasting demands to be treated as fully equal human beings with demands that everyone become a unitarian. That's not what is going on at all.
posted by Marty Marx at 3:38 PM on August 1, 2010


That is such a great name. It's like The League of Superheroes, only not.

Heh. :)

Seriously, I can see that his position isn't insignificant, but I'd consider a strong response to be "Rabbi Weiss and his supporters are not welcome in our synagogues," not just "If a synagogue has a female rabbi it isn't orthodox."

I'm not sure I agree, but you may be right. My impression has been that the RCA and other groups were gearing up to: "Rabbi Weiss and his proponents aren't welcome in our movement," which wouldn't be out of character for them.

Are you familiar with what happened to Rabbi Yosef Reinman after the publication of One People, Two Worlds? The Agudath Council of Sages forced him to withdraw from an extensive book tour out of fear that doing so would lend Orthodox legitimacy to the Reform movement. As with Weiss, the threat of cherem may have been a possibility.

Out of curiousity, does anyone know if 'cherem' and 'haram' have the same linguistic root?
posted by zarq at 5:50 PM on August 1, 2010


That said, a statement of principles that "cannot give its blessing and imprimatur" to same-sex couples but will do so for opposite-sex couples is the opposite of a tolerant, open, or accepting approach to LGBT folks.

Yes. I really should have phrased this better. I modified a sentence from the linked Jerusalem Post article, but didn't reframe it well.

The new statement is 'tolerant, open and accepting' only in comparison to how the GLBT community were previously being treated: shunned, ostracized, attacked and with other expressions of bigotry.
posted by zarq at 5:55 PM on August 1, 2010


Conservative religions are the last stand for bigots and racists. The rest of the world is moving on to greater equality rights.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on August 1, 2010


Out of curiousity, does anyone know if 'cherem' and 'haram' have the same linguistic root?

This suggests they do.
posted by lullaby at 8:10 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Out of curiousity, does anyone know if 'cherem' and 'haram' have the same linguistic root?

I think they do, and Wikipedia agrees. There are lots of cognates between Hebrew and Arabic, even though they're not especially close languages (although they're part of the same family).

The ones I find especially interesting are the similar religious terms. Here's a couple more that I've noticed - a Jewish seminary is a beit midrash; an Islamic one is a madrassa. Both are places where sacred text is expounded, and the root for that is D.R.S. And in a synagogue you have kria (as in "kriat hatorah", reading the Torah) while in a mosque you have people reading or reciting the Koran. Both come from a root meaning "to read" or "to recite".
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:59 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fascinating! I was unaware of all of this. Thank you both.
posted by zarq at 9:34 PM on August 1, 2010


@zarq: Hey, it's cool. I think your summary of the JPost article is accurate, and I should have been clear that I was criticizing their sentiment, not your presentation of it in this excellent post.
posted by Marty Marx at 11:14 PM on August 1, 2010


Even some of the most basic terms have the same linguistic roots (asalaam alakum and shalom aleichem, Ibn and ben - son of, bayit is house in both languages). The "sh" sound is represented by a very similar symbol in both languages as well. We are not so far apart.

Men go to work, and women raise children. If you undermine that, you have lost your whole universe.

As far as this goes in many Chasidic communities the men learn and the women work.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:37 AM on August 2, 2010


"Mussulman"

This sounds like a monster from Dwarf Fortress or First Edition D&D.
posted by absalom at 3:51 PM on August 2, 2010


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