The RCBC has, for many decades, served as an umbrella organization of Orthodox rabbis that has helped establish and develop the physical and spiritual infrastructure and helped foster the communal well-being of the burgeoning observant community in Bergen County. The council has always had a wide diversity of rabbis who represent the big tent of the Orthodox community in our area. Many of my co-members are dear and treasured friends, including, my close friend, the newly elected president, Rabbi Kenneth Schiowitz, who is a thoughtful and outstanding communal rabbi, talmid chacham and educator. The council members who I know well, work tirelessly for the community and are devoted spiritual leaders to their members and the broader Orthodox and general Jewish community.
It is thus, with pain and sadness, that I must express my strong disagreement and disappointment at the RCBC's recent vote to adopt a by-law that would restrict the rabbinic authority and autonomy of its members, beginning in Sept. 2019, on learned and committed women serving in spiritual leadership roles or being trained for those roles in the synagogue context. This is an issue that has been and continues to be in vigorous debate in the Modern Orthodox community. In the last decade a range of views has been articulated by various rabbis and scholars, both here and in Israel on the fundamental issue. As such, different communal models have emerged as to the practical implementation of including learned women in spiritual and Torah leadership. For many decades, the informal policy of the RCBC has been to allow each member to reach the best halachic and public policy decisions for that rabbi’s individual shul and its members on matters of dispute within the Modern-Orthodox community and this decision is a shift away from that norm.
I was hired by the members of Congregation Netivot Shalom to be its rabbi, religious leader and spiritual guide in matters of halacha and public policy. I have attempted to fill this role, to the best of my ability, in accordance with Torah and halachic principles as applied in the context of my individual community. Netivot Shalom has always been a leader and pioneer in expanding the opportunities for women to enhance their avodat Hashem, explore their educational, intellectual and religious heritage and take on meaningful communal and spiritual leadership roles, within the guidelines of halakha in all its majesty and breadth.
Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot