by Tamar Fox
Last week the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem announced a new ordination program that would ordain Orthodox women as rabbis. Huzzah! Or not. Hartman isn’t willing to say that it’s accrediting these women to be pulpit rabbis. Instead, the title of rabbi means that “the male and female students will be ordained by some of the institute’s rabbis, and will then be prepared to assume the role of “rabbi-educators” - not pulpit rabbis in North American community day schools.”
The difference between a “rabbi-educator” and a pulpit rabbi isn’t a potato potahto thing. Jewess sums it up: “But [rabbi-educator], as treated by the Hartman Institute program, is more akin to Doctor for a Ph.D. than for an M.D. Just as one wouldn’t trust one’s English professor to take out one’s tonsils, one isn’t meant to trust these rabbi-educators with decisions about Jewish law.”
It’s generally acknowledged that we need as many good Jewish educators as we can get our hands on, and in that case, one has to ask who cares if they’re “rabbi-educators” or rabbis or just smart people? But giving an Orthodox woman the title rabbi and then telling her she can’t make decisions about Jewish law—even though she just got a degree for her knowledge of Jewish law--is a sneaky way of not getting too political.
As this Slate article reminds us, there are already Orthodox women rabbis, and Orthodox women leading Orthodox congregations. They just don’t get a lot of respect, and have to put up with a lot of flack from the Orthodox right. So basically, the Hartman institute is not breaking any new ground. When YU starts ordaining women I’ll kick up my heels and do a little dance (behind a mechitza, of course). In the meantime, a greater number of good Jewish educators (rabbis or not) is worth a l’chaim or two.