Following weeks of negotiation with the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Avi Weiss has made an about face and agreed to not confer the title ‘Rabba’ on graduates of his Yeshivat Mahara”t for women.
The RCA issued a statement Friday afternoon that confirmed a report in the March 5 issue of The Jewish Star.
The story in the print edition quotes an unnamed source who said, “They’re negotiating. The RCA does not want to kick him out and he does not want to be kicked out, but this is an intolerable activity …. He [Weiss] is an impetous fellow, which is okay. Everything is in how he words it. If I had to guess, when Rabbi Weiss retracts, he’s going to say this was the right thing at the wrong time and I regret doing it, and I commit to not doing it for a period of time.”
Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, did not return calls for comment but on Friday afternoon the organization released a statement to announce that Rabbi Weiss had backed down.
Rabbi Weiss said as much in a letter addressed to RCA President Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, which was released to the public:
“It is not my intention or the intention of Yeshivat Maharat to confer the title of “Rabba” upon its graduates,” Rabbi Weiss wrote. “Yeshivat Maharat prepares women for positions of religious leadership in the Orthodox community. Each student who completes its course of study in Tanakh, Talmud, Halakha and Jewish Thought, and is deemed fit by her faith, knowledge of our Mesoret, ethical integrity and temperament to assume positions of religious leadership in Orthodox institutions will be confirmed as manhigah hilkhatit, ruhanit, toranit (Maharat).”
The basic problem for the Orthodox establishment, as they see it, is one of tzniut or modesty. I'll let Rabbi Avi Shafran explain it all:
“Tznius isn’t a mode of dress. It includes the idea that women are demeaned and not honored when they’re put in the public eye and put on a pedestal. The position he [Weiss] has created violated the concept,” Shafran said. Whether the ordination violates a specific halacha (Torah law), is unimportant, he explained.
“Putting a woman in front of a group of men and women on a regular or ad-hoc basis is violative of tznius. Halacha accomplishes much more than the letter of the law. There is nothing in the Shulchan Aruch about keeping a cat in the aron kodesh. It’s technically permitted but it’s wrong to do.”
An opinion letter at JTA takes issue with the decision.