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?

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.

  • 7
    Please define "Rabbi".
    – Double AA
    Sep 1 '14 at 0:34
  • 6
    I am not sure why people are being rough on Gary. I understand his question to be: Why will Orthodox institutions that give semikha and heter horaah to men not give it to women? Why will Orthodox synagogues and day schools employ men but not equivalently qualified women in positions not involving psak? Jan 18 '15 at 6:31

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.

  • 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
  • 1
    Note that JTS took for granted that to have a pulpit rabbi who couldn't lead services (or count for a minyan) would be ... too impractical. They thus developed the Roth Neder ("female rabbis must vow to pray, and now they're obligated too, so they can leader prayers.") The entire spectrum of Orthodoxy agrees a woman can't be counted for a minyan or lead many parts of prayer, but some would say "so what? She can still be a pulpit rabbi and just be responsible for calling in ten men and appointing one of them to lead" - a notion that the Conservative movement found unworkable 35 years ago.
    – Shalom
    May 12 '19 at 10:13

On the first page of Yoreh Deah - וכן המנהג שאין הנשים שוחטות - Rav Schechter quoted from The Rav (Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik) that this is because the shochet would commonly act as an assistant rabbi, and since that is assur, it became forbidden for women to be the town shochet.

  • 2
    Though it would seem that the Beit Yosef there rejects this line of argument.
    – Alex
    May 17 '20 at 16:23
  • true, but the same can be said about many halachic topics; almost nothing in Halachah is agreed on by everyone
    – Tuor
    May 17 '20 at 16:32
  • 1
    True, but most halachic topics haven't been taken by large swaths of Jews as (one of) the defining lines of Orthodoxy, much less merely based on a twentieth century rabbi's suggested explanation of a medieval custom that may not have even been a true custom. Also, note that the Beit Yosef doesn't understand how some authorities can distinguish between שוחטות לעצמן and שוחטות לאחרים, yet that would be a perfectly reasonable distinction if R. Soloveitchik's suggestion was correct.
    – Alex
    May 17 '20 at 16:41
  • Fair point. do you think that invalidates my answer?
    – Tuor
    May 17 '20 at 16:47
  • 2
    No. I upvoted your answer - you cited a source that answers the question. I’m just noting potential objections.
    – Alex
    May 17 '20 at 16:52

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.)

  • 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....
    – MTL
    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
  • 6
    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
  • 1
    I mentioned those in particular because their title is in their own merit.
    – user5829
    Sep 4 '14 at 3:27
  • 2
    @user5829, how do you figure that the title is "in their own merit"? Both married rabbis, and I suspect wouldn't be called "rebbetzin" if they hadn't. Jan 18 '15 at 6:25

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.

  • Reading...reading.(still trying to find something concrete earlier than Rambam). The linked article's first paragraph says "the Talmud points out, etc" as part of his argument's foundation, but the footnote 3 it points to appears to reference Yevamot 45, but I can't find anything there discussing the matter...
    – Gary
    Sep 8 '14 at 17:52
  • The source for the Rambam is the (manuscript version of) Sifrei, see e.g., ravtzair.blogspot.com/2011/12/blog-post_29.html. The Talmudic basis for the reason cited in the answer is the Rav's view of ערקתא דמסאני in Sanhedrin 74a.
    – wfb
    Nov 11 '15 at 21:28

Being [called] a Rabbi can mean:

  1. Someone respectful in the Jewish community and be elected to run the community: a female Rebbetzin can be very respectful and can be elected to run the community based on Hilchos Shutfim (partnership).
  2. Being knowledgeable in Judaic sources and give answers: women can be very knowledgable (so can Google).
  3. Passing exams for Rabbanut: of course, see the previous point
  4. Having some guiding Ruach Hakodesh (being an Admo"R): unless a woman is a known prophet she can't have the necessary "closeness" to Hashem that specifically comes from studying the Torah for its sake (not for knowledge). As women lack that Mitzvah they lack that "ability", and therefore can't reach the necessary levels of Ruach Hakodesh.
  5. Being a Posek: different movements see it differently - those who follow #2 and #3 - a woman can be a Posek, those who follow #4 they can't.

We address this issue of female Rabbis a bit differently - it is not a matter of permitted or forbidden it is a matter of validity. For example, it is not "forbidden" for a woman to witness an event, just her testimony is not valid. So there's no problem with women being called Rabbis/Rebbetzins or whatnot, the question is about the validity of their deeds.

For example, (some say that) if a Rabbi Posek that a chicken is Kosher or a stain is pure, he turns it into the reality of Kosher, but if I say it's Kosher, I don't set the reality and I might make others fail. So the question is "what's needed for a woman to reach that level of validity of her verdicts. It appears, that similarly to judges or witnesses, the Torah does not provide an option for a woman to set the reality. Therefore a woman can not become "that sort of" a Rabbi.

  • So like if a woman issued a ruling while drunk then she wouldn't get lashes bc the ruling wasn't effective?
    – Double AA
    May 12 '19 at 13:38
  • @DoubleAA Please remind me what Sugyah you're talking about.
    – Al Berko
    May 12 '19 at 13:41
  • 1
    The torah prohibition to paskin halakha while drunk
    – Double AA
    May 12 '19 at 13:42
  • @DoubleAA The Sefer Hachinuch (152) explicitly says that that applies to women as well.
    – Alex
    May 17 '20 at 16:45
  • @Alex I guess this answer argues with him.
    – Double AA
    May 17 '20 at 17:09

there is not much discussion in halacha (talmud,rishonim,acharonim) on appointing female rabbis simply because it was never an issue until today due to several considerations. possibly among them:

  1. the synagogue or study hall is dominated by the presence of men. men are commanded to pray in a minyan (congregation of at least 10 men) and study torah whereas women are not. hence the women will be in a predominantly male area. this will encourage mingling between the sexes by her example and this is highly discouraged in Judaism. "whoever talks excessively to women causes evil to himself and will end up inheriting gehinom" (Pirkei Avot). the ideal way is as "Avraham converted the men and Sarah the women". (Rashi Gen. 2:15). if these female rabbis just wanted a diploma to work in female institutions it would not be so controversial but this is not the case.

  2. women have a subordinate role to men. this is not PC in our times but this is the official position of Judaism. the torah describes the woman as a helper to man (Gen.2:18). He will rule over you (ibid 3:16). a man is viewed as more of an authority figure. this is important for a leader of a congregation.

  3. According to Rabbi Uziel Milevsky former chief rabbi of Mexico, women's minds function differently than men's. they tend to be less capable of objective thinking than men. the reason is that they internalize what they see and therefore have a hard time stepping back and looking at it objectively. for this they are disqualified from being witnesses (would also be absurd to have a rabbi or judge who is not even a kosher witness). the talmud is built on highly abstract arguments and remote cases whereas women's minds tend to be best at practical things. on this talmud says “Women’s wisdom is solely in the spindle.”

  4. related to previous, the talmud itself discourages women from learning it. many of the talmudic sages discourage the study of torah by women with some even forbidding it such as Rabbi Eliezer, “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women” (JT Sotah 3:4, 16a. see commentaries there which says he holds it is forbidden). you have to ask yourself why these women are so gung ho about learning a book that holds this position

update: The RCA (Rabinical council of America) states regarding a new school which ordains female rabbis: "the RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community" found this quote on emes v'emuna which has a good discussion on this

  • 5
    Re 4: Ki Heim Chayeinu VeOrekh Yameinu! They thirst for Torah because Torah is Awesome. Your quoting one liners out of context from it to distort its true message doesn't take away from that. When you have half the thirst for God's word that they have, you'll bother to learn through that Sugya properly before applying it to people's lives.
    – Double AA
    Nov 12 '15 at 17:26
  • 4
    I am not sure one what you #2 and #3 or why #4 matters at al; who is this rabbi that makes this statement based on pseudoscience? For #3: wasn't the whole reason for the blessing 'shelo asani isha' because the woman is spiritually higher than men exempting her from time-bound mitzwot, and that our great fortune of being obligated in more mitzwot is basically a consolation prize? Also, I have never heard of the statement that in judaism the women is subordinate to men. Could you provide an authorative source that substantiates your use of gen 2:18?
    – RonP
    Nov 12 '15 at 18:00
  • 1
    @ray My question is how either dominance or importance, whatever that means, translates into an inability to have a qualified teacher and role model teach you and be a role model. That's what rabbis do. As I said above, I don't see how 2 answers the question. הלומד מכל אדם Jews learn from everyone. If you produce a Halachic prohibition then so be it. Your whimsy Hashkafic musings aren't very valuable to the community.
    – Double AA
    Nov 12 '15 at 18:11
  • 4
    I don't know about you, but if I tried telling my wife points 2 or 3 of this list, I would quickly discover that any dominion I have over her is by her grace, not because of anything inherent in the natural world. We have dominion over the animal kingdom, but that doesn't mean you should have a lion as a pet
    – Aaron
    Nov 12 '15 at 19:57
  • 3
    @ray i'm not sure i buy that argument. i mean, if women can be generals and judges (like Deborah), prophets (like Chuldah) and queens of Judea (like Salome Alexandra), then i don't buy the argument that women wanting to be Rabbis is a breakdown of the social order. It sounds more like there was no real social order/role, and people are retroactively inventing one
    – Aaron
    Nov 12 '15 at 21:44

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