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I was searching for a while, figuring this was already on here somewhere.. the questions about maharat were close but not what I was looking for. I'll ask it in two parts:

1) Is there a concrete halachic(Biblical?Rabbinic?) basis for women not being permitted to become Rabbis?

2) After 2000+ years, what changed so the JTS's Commission in 1979 decided that they can?
A sub-question: are they recognized by the State of Israel, or only in America?

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Please define "Rabbi". –  Double AA Sep 1 '14 at 0:34
um..someone who studies the necessary stuff and receives Semicha, and then goes on to lead a synagogue congregation(??) –  Gary Sep 1 '14 at 0:48
@Gary Having Semicha and leading a congregation are completely different things. –  Ypnypn Sep 1 '14 at 0:54
@Gary Please define "Semicha". (If you say "becoming a Rabbi" then I will tell you you are being circular.) –  Double AA Sep 1 '14 at 0:56

3 Answers 3

The official position of the Conservative movement can be found in Women and the Minyan by Rabbi David J. Fine. It was released in 2002 as an explanation of the 1983 decision by the Jewish Theological Seminary to ordain women as rabbis and cantors.

The main question that caused debate in the period of 1973-1983 was whether a woman could be a sheliach tzibur, an agent of the public who says prayers for those who cannot do it themselves. An agent must be at least as obligated as the person they are doing it on behalf of. The dean of the rabbinical school Rabbi Joel Roth argued that if a woman voluntarily takes on the obligation of praying every day, this obligation becomes binding on her. The traditionalists at JTS, including the great twentieth-century Talmudist Rabbi Shaul Lieberman argued that there is a clear hierarchy of obligation and that even if she took this obligation on voluntarily, it would still be a lesser obligation than that of a man. This was a bitter fight within the Conservative movement at the time and resulted in some people defecting from the movement to set up the Union for Traditional Judaism.

A brief summary of this can be found in Women in Judaism - Changes in the Conservative position. A narrative account of the struggle can be found in the book "One God Clapping" by Rabbi Alan Lew who was a student at JTS during this time.

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question part 2 nicely answered! Thank you! ...so no Orthodox and not even all Conservative congregations recognize them....I guess that applies everywhere, not just America? –  Gary Sep 1 '14 at 14:26
@Gary Pretty much true regarding none in Orthodoxy, although Rabbi Avi Weiss caused controversy in recent years by ordaining Orthodox women. It would be a rare Conservative congregation that refused to recognize a female rabbi today. The movement is committed to egalitarianism and they see this as an important part of that philosophy. –  Mike Sep 1 '14 at 16:43

The same reason why there are no female masseurs - they're called masseuses!

Rabbi (1) (feminine: Rebbetzin) A Torah scholar, teacher or authority.

Rabbi (2) (feminine: Rabbi) A scholar or teacher hired to lead a Jewish congregation.

In other words, the reason there are not female Orthodox rabbis is the same reason there are no gentile Orthodox rabbis (even though there are some in other movements): because Orthodoxy does not accept the second definition. There is no prohibition of a woman being a scholar, teacher or authority, which is why to this day we have among us world-class female rabbis known as rebbetzins (Rebbetzin Jungreis, Rebbetzin Heller, et al.)

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I think this is a good answer, just not for this particular question....in the comments below the question, the OP defines "rabbi" as "someone who studies the necessary stuff and receives Semicha, and then goes on to lead a synagogue congregation" .....in other words, you're right, but he wants to know why no women lead congregations -- I don't think Rebbetzin Jungreis or Rebbetzin Heller ever did that.... –  Shokhet Sep 2 '14 at 12:06
Sounded to me that he was a little unclear on the definition..."um..someone who studies the necessary stuff and receives Semicha, and then goes on to lead a synagogue congregation(??)" .... So I interpreted the question a little more broadly than that. My answer clears up his confusion. –  user5829 Sep 2 '14 at 13:24
Fair enough. [15 character minimum for comments] –  Shokhet Sep 2 '14 at 14:52
Did those women get that title for being learned and a teacher, or because they married a Rabbi? –  Double AA Sep 2 '14 at 15:47
I mentioned those in particular because their title is in their own merit. –  user5829 Sep 4 '14 at 3:27

Rav Hershel Shachter intimates that , since certain non-masoretic groups ordain women as rabbis, it is a violation on the level of "yeharag v'lo yaavor" (i.e. one must give up ones life, rather than trangress) to give Orthodox smicha to women.

...we encourage one to give up his life in order to secure the continuation of the chain of semichah from the days of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Rav Shachter goes on to explain that, although smicha today isn't the same as Biblical smicha, it is considered an extension of it, and thus, must conform to the same standards. Anyone who gives smicha outside of those standards, threatens the very existence of masoretic (i.e. halachically observant) Judaism.

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How does this answer the question? –  Double AA Sep 3 '14 at 6:10
The question is "Is there a concrete halachic(Biblical?Rabbinic?) basis for women not being permitted to become Rabbis?" Rav Shachter provides that basis in the linked article. –  Jake Sep 3 '14 at 6:12
Sooooo, what is it? –  Double AA Sep 3 '14 at 6:13
I do not think this accurately represents his position. Just because R Yehuda ben Bava risked his life to ensure that real-Semikha wasn't lost, doesn't mean giving pseudo-Semikha to an ineligible candidate is similarly stringent. Nor do I see an argument made in that regard in the article. Moreover, I see no mention of non-masoretic groups in the entire article, nor of their existence's affecting the relevant laws. So -1 –  Double AA Sep 3 '14 at 6:14
I'm having computer issues atm, but see the first paragraph on the page labeled page 23 of the linked article. Modern smicha is an extension of biblical smicha, and the same rules apply. –  Jake Sep 3 '14 at 6:16

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