Why the Rabba isn’t Reform

Crossposted to Jewschool

So the word now is that Rabba Sara Hurwitz can keep the title of Rabba, but she can’t make any more rabbas. Her Yeshivat Mahara”t will only ordain new Mahara”ts.

A number of people, including one Jewschool commenter have asked, “If the orthodox world won’t fully accept her and other women as rabbis, why doesn’t she just leave for a more liberal stream of Judaism?” Some have even suggested she become a Reform rabbi!

The thought is preposterous. What help would someone thinking and living in an Open Orthodox mindset contribute to a Reform community as its leader? No one would ever suggest a Reform rabbi just up and leave, seeking a job in an Orthodox synagogue because they are dissatisfied with something in the Reform world. So why suggest Hurwitz should become Reform?

The most interesting part of it is that one of the people who suggested this to me has been one of the loudest voices asking me to stay put in the Reform movement and try to fix what I’m not satisfied with.

This isn’t just my abstract speculation about a woman I’ve never met. I had a chance to meet Hurwitz at Limmud NY 2010 and I asked her a question about the utility of labels. The word Orthodox is important to her. It allows her to be who she is.

I don’t think Hurwitz is going anywhere and I don’t want her to either. I hope she stays put and continues to be a positive influence on her community.

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14 Responses to Why the Rabba isn’t Reform

  1. larrykaufman March 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    No, the Rabba is not Reform. The question is, is she a Rabba?

    Isn’t it glorious to be recognized for your accomplishments only by folks whose recognition you don’t care about? If Rabba Hurwitz is comfortable with remaining a second class citizen, she is absolutely entitled. What she is telling us is that her religious label is central to her identity, and her professional label is not. In other words, she is one of the people who is questioning the authenticity of her smicha, or whatever the name is for whatever her status is.

    Meanwhile, what are we to make of the craven turnaround of her teacher, mentor, ordainer, Rabbi Weiss? He presumably acted on the basis of the old rule that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. Granted, he wouldn’t have gotten permission — but I also question whether he will ever be forgiven, and wonder about the career prospects of the next generation of YCT graduates.

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 8, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

      Is she a Rabba? Yes. She keeps the title. In the interests of shalom between Avi Weiss and the people who he affiliates with and mostly agrees with, he agreed that Hurwitz would stay Rabba Hurwitz, but that he wouldn’t oversee the creation of any more rabbas.

      Second class citizen? Hardly. It’s far from unanimous, but in her community (and I mean that highly locally, HIR), she’s accepted as a full member of the clergy.

      You wonder about the prospects of the NEXT generation of YCT grads? I’m worried about every gen of them so far and for a few years to come. As far as I know–and when it comes to YCT, I don’t know TOO far–most of their grads don’t find pulpit work.

  2. ML March 10, 2010 at 1:09 am #

    Do you think the fact that most Orthodox people (I’ve met and/or read) have a very skewed view of what Reform Judaism is plays any part of her views?

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

      Maybe. But, as I’ve said, I’ve met Hurwitz and I’ve spoken with her. I think she has a decent view of what Reform is. She comes from an institution that subscribes to Open Orthodoxy, which, if you haven’t read about, you should.

      But it doesn’t matter what she thinks of Reform. It matters if she is Reform. I don’t dislike Open Orthodoxy, for instance. I think pretty highly of it. But I’m not going to join because that’s not who I am.

      Just as bad and skewed as the typical Orthodox view of Reform is the typical Reform view of the Orthodox.

  3. ML March 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    What would you consider they typical Reform view of the Orthodox?

    I don’t think your average Reform Jews looks down on Orthodoxy and Orthodox Jews nearly as much as the opposite. In fact, I don’t think it’s even close.

    • larrykaufman March 11, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

      The sad thing is that too many Reform Jews look up to Orthodoxy as if it were more “authentic.”

      My own view, having grown up in a kosher, shabbos-conscious environment, is that a lot of it is silly, but if people choose it freely, that is their privilege.

      Reform Jews of a different era did look down on Orthodox, both because they were unmodern and because they were socially inferior.

      And yes, Orthodox Jews do look down on Reform, often because they disdain the things we’re proudest of — including egalitarianism.

      • David A.M. Wilensky March 11, 2010 at 9:32 pm #

        I don’t think that modern orthodox folks disdain egalitarianism lishmah. They disdain it because we’ve argued for it un-halachically. Some are willing to go along with Hurwitz’s ordination because she and Weiss have argued for it with halachic rigor, something we’re not interested in.

        • larrykaufman March 13, 2010 at 12:05 am #

          If Weiss has applied halachic rigor, why has he caved? Sholom bayis (their pronunciation, not mine) is a core value, but there are times when it’s not worth it, and you just have to get out of that house.

          When rabbanot can sit on a bet din alongside rabbonim, when women count for a minyan — not that silly 10 & 10 stuff — I’ll began to think they’re being egalitarian. And of course, if these women are willing to accept the limits of halacha as it is currently being read, then they deserve what they don’t get.

          Maybe instead of reading Tsenna Renna, they ought to read Lysistrata.

          • David A.M. Wilensky March 13, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

            Even if he’s applied halachic rigor, that doesn’t mean he’s stumbled upon a positive mitzvah obliging him to ordain women. He’s merely argued that it is permissible to do so.

            Whether you consider them egal or not is irrelevant because they don’t aim for egalitarian. They would still argue that it is ok that women and men have different roles and duties.

            You have argued that I should stay in the Reform movement and try to fix my problems. Why do you expect Hurwitz to leave Orthodoxy and ignore its problems?

            • larrykaufman March 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

              I haven’t said that Hurwitz should leave Orthodoxy — on March 8 I said:If Rabba Hurwitz is comfortable with remaining a second class citizen, she is absolutely entitled.

              And on March 13 I said: if these women are willing to accept the limits of halacha as it is currently being read, then they deserve what they don’t get.

              Being Reform, I don’t have to thank God for not making me a woman, but had He done so and put me in the Orthodox community, and left me otherwise who I am, I would find my situation intolerable. But I don’t expect others to march to my drummer. (Full disclosure: I am the son of a woman who was raised Orthodox, and who found her own Jewish identity in a very secular Labor Zionism.)

              If I argue that you should stay in the Reform movement, that is partly selfish, in that the movement needs the best and the brightest — but also because your own Jewish n’shama will tell you that Judaism is practiced in community, and your own independent persona will demand a community that allows you total freedom of expression.

        • BZ March 17, 2010 at 12:31 am #

          I don’t think that modern orthodox folks disdain egalitarianism lishmah. They disdain it because we’ve argued for it un-halachically.

          Plenty of people have argued for egalitarianism using halachic language, but that doesn’t mean that most Modern Orthodox folks look at it as just another halachic option that they happen to disagree with. Most still consider it un-halachic (and maybe they’ll back this up with process issues like “too soon” or “it has to come from halachic authorities who are respected in the Orthodox world”, but at the end of the day, non-egalitarianism has simply become a core part of Orthodox identity).

    • David A.M. Wilensky March 11, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

      I don’t know if it’s average, but Reform Jews either look up to Orthodoxy as more authentic or they look down on it as pre-modern cave-man religion wife-beating religion.

      • ML March 12, 2010 at 12:12 am #

        I can agree with that. However, (and since I’m not Orthodox, I can’t say for sure,) I don’t think there are many Orthodox Jews who “look up to” Reform Jews. I’m sure there are some, but my guess is that they’d still hold animosity, not unlike the fervent homophobe who is so because they fear and repress their own latent homosexual tendencies.

        The Reform Jews who view Orthodoxy as “more authentic” are likely to have little Jewish education to begin with.


  1. Why the Rabba isn’t Reform | Jewschool - March 8, 2010

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