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Women Rabbis

Question: Can you tell me what traditional Jewish opinion on women Rabbis is? I know that certain branches of Judaism do not allow it. How come? Could you give me any scripture references from the Torah?

Answer: We must understand that although commonly we refer to Jewish clergy as Rabbis, there are many different types of Rabbis, often varying by denomination. For example, the typical “Orthodox” Rabbi that existed in Europe and exists today in many communities in America and throughout the world, are ordained based on a tradition that has been handed down from Moses at Sinai, and exercises certain powers within the community, not only to answer queries regarding Jewish Law and adjudicate disputes, but even to make edicts that are binding on the whole community. On the other hand, although we also commonly refer to Reform and Conservative clergy as Rabbis, very few have such powers, but are really employed to officiate at weddings, Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs, and deaths, and are more like counselors and social workers to their congregants.

Regarding the first type (which I’ve stereotypically called Orthodox, although there are many Orthodox Rabbis that actually fit the second category), Maimonides (Hilchot Melachim 1:5) rules that a woman may not be appointed to such a position. This is based on the verse in Deuteronomy 17:15. Regarding the second type, we really don’t find that women should be restricted from a “social worker” type role. Although many people might feel that calling any person in such a role a Rabbi is a misnomer – that is really a question of semantics. But if a Reform congregation wishes to appoint a woman as their clergy, I don’t know of anyone who would object to this alone. They may object to calling her a Rabbi – but that objection would also be applicable to calling a male in the same position a Rabbi!

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

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