I was somewhat surprised that there were no letters or responses to the article on the rabbinic ordination of women, (“Rabba Eryn London Receives Semicha From Yeshivat Maharat,” July 20, 2017) albeit with the alternative titles of “Maharat” or “Rabba.” I would like to share a perspective—not from a halachic place, as there are rabbis far more qualified than I to comment. Rather, I write from an educational perspective.
Formerly, I served as founding head of two girls’ yeshiva high schools, so I feel I have some experience in best practices for chinuch habanot (Torah education for young women). Far greater than actual book learning is how these students actualize their lives 10, 20, 30 years after they complete their education. One area that I have seen to be a key predictor of fealty to Torah observance in later years is a healthy, balanced sense of self, including a clear, unapologetic perspective of their roles as Jewish women.
We are living in bizarre times: gender fluidity, extreme alternative lifestyles, a dearth of leadership, to name a few, have contributed to much confusion. In our own society, we are faced with extremes. Many “mainstream” Torah-based magazines refuse to print photos of women in an absurd display of piety. This sends a condescending and unhealthy message to our daughters.
On the other extreme, messages such as “everyone can grow up to be a rabbi” send a confusing and ultimately disempowering message. Are there no distinct roles of Jewish men and women anymore? Forgive this unpolished analogy, but should a male yeshiva student aspire to be a kallah teacher? To intimately teach family purity to Jewish brides? As a male in women’s education, I can unequivocally attest that there are some areas a man—no matter how great a rabbi—should not be involved in.
Women and men have roles that intersect and overlap in many areas, and thankfully we live in a community that understands the talent, scholarship and leadership that women provide. Yet, at the end of the day, there are distinctly male and female roles. In these days of moral and gender ambiguity, it would be most unfortunate to make things worse by teaching our young women—and men—that “anything goes.”
Rabbi Jonathan (Yoni) Schick