Changes

I am hardly a traditionalist, yet I must admit that I have said, more than once, “Some things will never change.” I never imagined that a black man would become president of the United States. I never imagined that I would become an Apple person (“I’ll never leave my PC behind!”). Of course when I was 10 I never imagined that I would eat salad or broccoli or actually anything green. And now I am a vegetable king!
I have remained resolutely certain that some things will never change within the ranks of our ultra-Orthodox brothers and sisters. After all, their mission is to stave off as much innovation and modernity as they can (see last week’s Before Shabbat about the anti-Internet rally) From this perspective, they could do harmony with Christian fundamentalists when they sing, “Give me that old time religion/It’s good enough for me”.
The fact that change is considered anathema for most traditionally religious people guarantees that there will never be women Catholic priests. The same truth guarantees that there will never be a female Orthodox rabbi. Some things will never change.
And yet… Rabbi Avi Weiss, a popular traditional rabbi who propounds what he calls open Orthodoxy created a yeshiva that instructs men and women. One of his brilliant students, Sara Hurwitz, was so distinguished that last year he ordained her. She is called rabba, the female variation of rabbi. He originally chose the title maharat, which is some sort of Hebrew acronym for “scholar” that almost nobody knows. So he changed his mind. “These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition,” declared Agudath Israel of America, ultra-Orthodoxy’s most authoritative rabbinic body. “Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.” Weiss, never a favorite among the hard-liners, was accused of sabotaging his community. Steven Pruzansky, a rabbi in Teaneck, New Jersey, wrote on his popular blog, “Those who seek to infiltrate the Torah with the three pillars of modern Western life—feminism, egalitarianism, and humanism—corrupt the Torah, cheapen the word of G-d.” [New York Magazine]
All of which goes to prove that if one is willing to stand the slings and arrows of fanatics, maybe it is possible to move things. Perhaps some things can change. Even amongst Orthodox Jews, albeit open Orthodox Jews, the unthinkable is happening. There lives an Orthodox rabbi who is a female – in my lifetime. Traditional Jews who abhor open Orthodoxy are right to be afraid. When an American Orthodox rabbi like Rabbi Pruzansky writes a blog condemning feminism, egalitarianism and humanism as not only contrary to Judaism, but destructive to it, then you know that Rabbi Weiss has cut too close to the bone. You know that change is going to come, kicking and screaming all the way.
Another huge transformation for female rabbis and for Reform Jews occurred this week in Israel. Now don’t get too excited. Remember, 3 women were arrested last Tuesday at the Kotel for wearing a tallit. No, that’s not a typo. Arrested for wearing a tallit. However, as that injustice was being perpetrated, in an unprecedented move, Israel has announced that it is prepared to recognize Reform and Conservative community leaders as rabbis and fund their salaries. Rabbis belonging to either stream will be classified as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities.” The attorney general advised the High Court that the state will begin equally financing non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities that are interested in doing so.
The state of Israel, recognizing non-Orthodox rabbis? Men and women?? That will never happen… Only it has happened. Now before we break out the champagne, let’s review the extent of the compromise. The non-Orthodox rabbis will be called “community leaders” and not rabbis. They will have no authority to wed or perform halachic duties. They will however sit on various committees and get paid by the state like their Orthodox counterparts. They will be paid, not by the Religious Affairs department, but rather the Culture and Sports Ministry. Is this ideal? Hardly. But it’s a beginning. The precedent has been set.
Now it’s just a matter of time. And a matter of faith. Instead of proclaiming that some things will never change, it might be wiser and much more positive to repeat Sam Cooke’s lyric: “It’s been a long time coming/But a change is going to come.” And it will come. With God’s help. And with our dedication and hard work.

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