Everyone loves a juicy headline. Usually that happens when something unusual occurs and highlighted if someone is squirming in the story. When a Chabad Rabbi converses with a young woman preparing to become a Rabbi-that is unusual. If she asks him on record what his opinion of women becoming Rabbis, someone is going to squirm, either her, him or both.
You squirmed? This happened in the recent podcast I had with a young woman studying to become a female Orthodox Rabbi. Here is an outline of my response.
It’s built on two principles. The first is that Torah education of young girls and women must be on the highest level. Sadly it’s not. In the traditional schools where the education of boys and girls is separated, the intensity of girls’ Torah education is softened and dumbed down compared to boys their age.
In institutions where girls and boys are taught in the same classroom the problem is a bit different. While girls are taught in a way that does not degrade their intelligence and ability to learn Torah compared to boys, the overall level of Torah knowledge in these institutions are subpar. I know this intimately for a variety of reasons including many of their graduates become our close friends and students while in college.
The second principle I shared with her is the value of tradition in Judaism. Unlike the common superficial understanding of tradition as a euphemism for blindly follow the past and protecting it from reason and the changes of society, it is in fact a cornerstone of Judaism.
It’s undeniable that belief in G-d, observing the commandments, and Torah study are some of the key building blocks in the structure of Judaism. Similarly is tradition but not because it provides the ignorant an answer to every question, as it so famously does for Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. Rather because it breeds within us one of the most critical features that Judaism seeks to develop within each Jew, humility. The one we are required to display towards the other. This includes the upper-case Other, G-d, and the lower-case other, humans.
Tradition is humility and respect toward what came before us and its contribution to what we have today.
The need to educate women on the highest level and the value of tradition are the two elements in my response to her question, “Peretz, what are your thoughts on women becoming Rabbis?” To understand how these two elements are combined, listen here.
This is certainly not the final word on the subject, far from it, it’s simply a small contribution to an important ongoing conversation.