Women clergy — the change is organic and necessary

The op ed piece on the OU’s letter about women clergy claims that this change in the modern Orthodox world is the result of external, inorganic trends (“Closing the door on Open Orthodoxy,” February 10). Nothing can be farther from the truth.

The women clergy whom I have met are the daughters, sisters, and wives of the modern Orthodox world (in my case, a daughter-in-law). They are the daughters of rabbis and scholars. All the members of the first graduating class were daughters of rabbis.

I have seen them serve communities, performing tasks that all men and women can do. I have attended their classes, heard their sermons, marveled at their leadership, seen them direct old rituals and new(ish) ones, and even call out when it is time for mourner’s kaddish at minchah. I have seen them not only answer questions on family purity, but build a mikvah. I also have seen them deal with the mess after the criminal behavior of a pillar of the RCA and OU.

As Hillel said, If I am only for myself what am I? I also have seen Orthodox women clergy lead the Jewish community in efforts that go beyond our parochial interests, working with others and building alliances. Rabbi Rocklin’s list of modern Orthodoxy’s struggles “with tuition costs, the atmospheres of secular colleges, high costs of living, helicopter parenting” says much about what so many people find to be missing in modern Orthodoxy. Is it surprising that people are uninspired by the priorities that Rabbi Rocklin lists, and instead are looking for fresh voices for Torah values and a meaningful Jewish life?

Modern Orthodoxy has certified 20th century external, inorganic changes like Zionism, women’s education, women’s communal leadership, and bat mitzvahs. Modern Orthodoxy did so despite the gap that it created with the non-modern Orthodox. This is not the time for it to deny the internal, organic development of women clergy. It can close its doors now to the synagogues and Jews who appreciate what women clergy bring, but it will accept its own daughters in the long run.

Mark Friedman
Former Director, Institute for Public Affairs,
Orthodox Union, Englewood

Decision an insult

Having read both the OU statement and the rabbinic responses regarding women in leadership roles in the Orthodox community, I was disappointed but not surprised by the decision (“Debating a ban,” February 10).

The rabbinic decision was based on 3 main features: halakha, mesora (precedent) and halakhic ethos. The halakhic decision was based primarily on a statement in Sifri that the women cannot be appointed king. Disregarding the questionable comparison of rabbi to king, what are we to make of Devora the judge and Shelomtzion the queen of Judea? Women who were leaders of the Jewish people?

The mesora and halakhic ethos sections site no sources at all. The rabbis state that “the absence of institutionalized women’s rabbinic leadership has been both deliberate and meaningful.” Deliberate certainly. Meaningful to whom? And why?

This is an insult to Orthodox women and men who can envision a more egalitarian leadership structure within halakha. New and halakhically valid minyanim are being founded and are growing, where women plan a more vital and meaningful role than ever before.

In this nearsighted statement, the OU risks being left behind as irrelevant.

Susan Fishbein
Englewood

Torah was given to men — and women

It seems that the men do not think of women as equals. Is Judaism just for men? Isn’t it interesting that none of our accepted Jewish texts were written by women? Yes, we Jews had women leaders throughout history, but they did not have a say in Orthodoxy, which did not exist in name until the past two centuries. Rabbinic Judaism involved only men. Orthodoxy followed, and it involved only men. Women should proclaim their independence now. They should disregard the rules set by men, and form their own rules. Repeat the lessons of prior women’s groups, who achieved success in achieving equality. Man by brute physical strength assumed the role of master. Women, by their reasoning power, can and have overcome that physicality. There are more female leaders of countries than ever at this date. That is because democracy has enabled that path to leadership.

The Orthodox world is not democratic, and only by a comparable all-women movement that grows in power can equality be achieved. The Torah was given to men and women at Sinai. Its commandments are for both sexes.

Let all involved remember that without women, there would not be a continuation of the Orthodox brand of Judaism!

Shel Haas
Fort Lee

Safety first

In reality, I should copy my old letters to the Jewish Standard (there have been many) about my confrontations with street walkers, because no rabbi or civilian ever has responded to me.

The street walkers of Teaneck do not wear orange safety belts or keep in single file. They walk dead center in our streets; moving vehicles are not banned on Shabbat and chagim. Their children straggle behind them, and many wear black coats, particularly in the winter months. Our days are short, and our walks to and from houses of worship are slippery. (I said “our,” meaning all of our walks.).

There is no explanation for this behavior, even in the summer, spring, or fall. But in the winter, homeowners are required by law to shovel their sidewalks. Teaneck has created many, many sidewalks with handicapped access at the corners, so there is no excuse for the walking in the streets. You are setting a terrible example for the children. You are taking your lives into your own hands. Even if I were driving at 20 mph, I would have difficulty seeing a small child darting into the center of the street.

What is your investment in your family’s life? Can they wear a reflector belt? Wear a neon bright light flasher? And even with these basics of nighttime walking, how about trying to walk on the sidewalk? So wait to schmooze until you get home. Trade in the black garments for a lighter outer coat. And do not allow your children to escape from the safety of your hand.

I work hard to shovel my sidewalks. I work hard to drive very carefully and very observantly — another meaning for the word observant. So if you are observant, make it your business to stay on the sidewalk, not in the street, and make sure your children do not use the streets for footfall in the afternoon.

Young kids always think that they are faster than the car coming around the corner. Teaneck and the surrounding burbs are chock full of small parks and playing fields.

Safety first used to be a motto on TV. It’s a shame we forget.

Sandra Steuer Cohen
Teaneck

Pardon Pollard

It was with sadness but not surprise that I have not yet read of any efforts by any individuals or Jewish organizations to urge the pardon of Jonathan Pollard during the final days of President Obama or currently now under President Trump.

The action of President Obama to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning to seven years was the time to make this plea. Manning was sentenced to only 35 years in prison after being found guilty of releasing over 700,000 documents, many of them marked with various grades of secrecy while a member off our military. The release of some of the documents caused the death of individuals who aided our military. Manning according to Obama “had served a tough prison sentence.” The sentence “was disproportionate.” Manning served “a significant amount of time.”

Pollard served more time in solitary confinement than Manning spent in jail. His life sentence was far more disproportionate than any other person sentenced for the same crime. His actions did not cause the loss of life due to the passing on of information to our ally, Israel. He pleaded guilty to one count of passing classified information to an ally, saving our government the need for a trial which most probably would have caused great discomfort and embarrassment to our government.

What an excellent opportunity for those supposedly representing our community to urge President Trump to grant Pollard a pardon and allow Pollard to travel home to Israel with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he comes here on his state visit. What an excellent way to start a new dawn of relations between the U.S. and Israel.

Howard J. Cohn
New Milford

Best of both worlds

I am not a supporter of Mr. Trump, nor do I always agree with Rabbi Boteach, but I do agree with some of his statements in his recent column (“Moral light on Trump’s temporary immigration ban,” February 3).

If this country banned all immigrants many years ago, my grandparents would not have been allowed to enter and I wouldn’t exist. But both of my grandparents did come here, one from Russia and one from Italy, and because of that I was born into a loving Jewish/Italian family. I was raised Jewish, but I was close to both sides of my family, and because of that I am accepting of all nationalities and religions. At that time, intermarriage was frowned on, but my family made it work. I went to my father’s side of the family for Easter and Christmas, and they came to my house for Passover. I wasn’t allowed to have a Christmas tree, but I was not deprived of decorating one. My aunt and uncle always left some of the decorations for me to put on the tree.

Both of my sons married non-Jewish women, but I couldn’t ask for two more wonderful daughters-in-law, and all of my grandchildren are knowledgeable about both their religions. When it became too difficult for me to have all the holiday dinners at my house (after all, I am 80 years old), one son now hosts the break-fast on Yom Kippur and the other one has Passover. I still do Chanukah, and of course I am at their houses for Christmas and Easter dinners.

I always tell people that I had the best of both worlds — and I did.

Roberta Gross
West Milford