Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Rambam Forbids Women Leadership but Is That All He Forbids....

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the whole woman rabbi subject. In more recent news Young Israel, apparently, does not deem women worthy to be presidents of shuls.

I am not getting into a long discussion about the whole topic (though I hope to one day) but I just want to point out one thing. Hirhurim has just posted a link to an article describing the Rav's views on women in leadership roles. One of the main sources referred to is the ever famous Rambam that says that women cannot be given serara - leadership.

The Rambam can be found in Hilchot Melakhim 1:5

ו [ה] אין מעמידין אישה במלכות--שנאמר "מלך" (דברים יז,טו), ולא מלכה; וכן כל משימות שבישראל, אין ממנים בהם אלא איש

We do not appoint a women to the kingship because it says "king" not "queen" and so too all the jobs (leadership roles) in Israel we only appoint to them a man

Now if you insist on taking the Rambam as an immutable code which never changes nor sways in the face of modernity then I suggest you keep reading the Rambam. Remember the Rambam is written in stone! Don't let your liberal/Western ideas tempt you to deviate from him right or left!

ט ... אלא כל השררות וכל המינויין שבישראל--ירושה לבנו ולבן בנו עד עולם: והוא שיהיה הבן ממלא מקום אבותיו בחכמה, וביראה. היה ממלא ביראה--אף על פי שאינו ממלא בחכמה--מעמידין אותו במקום אביו, ומלמדין אותו;

... rather all the leadership and appointments in Israel are an inheritance from father to son. And that is as long as the son is as good as his father in wisdom and and fear (of heaven) If he was equal to his father in fear, even if he is not equal to him in wisdom, we appoint him in his father's place and teach him.

The Chassidishe Rebbes must have had to learn this Rambam by heart. But there you have it. most of the frum world is deviating from the Rambam by not consistently giving preference to the son of the last shul president/Rabbi etc. Yes the Rambam adds that little caveat about "as long as he is equal to his father" but still how many shuls do you know where as soon as the Rabbi leaves/dies they call up his son first for the job interview. Yes it happens sometimes but does anyone actually take this Rambam seriously (besides Chassidim of course). Is anyone careful to always insure that the son of the former Rabbi/president gets a chance to interview for the post before anyone else?

But let's not stop there let's go back in this Rambam a bit. Did you know if you're a convert you cannot be in a leadership role?
אין מעמידין מלך מקהל גרים

We do not appoint a king from the "congregation" of converts
Now the Rambam also says in regards to a king:

אפילו אחר כמה דורות--עד שתהיה אימו מישראל

Even after many generation until his mother is from Israel

He then proceeds to say:
ולא למלכות בלבד, אלא לכל שררות שבישראל

And not just for monarchy but also for all leadership in Israel

Now I'm not sure if the last bit about "until his mother is from Israel" is meant to apply soley to a king or also to "all leadership in Israel" also. If the latter then I'm sorry that last one has got to be the most disregarded "halacha" of the Rambam. Does anyone get disqualified from being a Rabbi or a shul president nowadays because his mother was a convert! I think not.

Even if the "mother from Israel thing" is only discussing kings does anyone demand that the shul president be a born Jew? What if his parents converted when he was 3 years old or something making him also a convert. Are you telling me that someone who has been Jewish since he was 3 cannot be shul president?

Is it consistent to pick and choose which Rambams to consider immutable halacha and which ones not? The whole "no leadership for women thing" is in a chapter dedicated to many other antiquated social rules many of which have long ago been recognized as obsolete by the frum community. So why does the "no leadership for women" get special immutability vis a vis the other leadership rules of the Rambam. Just like those rules are obsolete so too "no leadership for women" is obsolete.

Am I missing something? Does the Shulkhan Aruch add something that I'm forgetting?

Feel free to point out my error.

Edit: I might have had just a little too much faith in the modernity of Young Israel I assumed that no Young Israel shul would bar a convert from being shul president. Apparently its not so clear:

Hat tip: Anonymous


Young Israel officials were not only exercised by the new rabbinic screening policy; the NCYI's recent decision to bar females and converts from being a Young Israel synagogue president was heavily criticized as well.

Dr. Jay Cinnamon, past president of the Young Israel of Toco Hills, Atlanta, who spoke as a private citizen, said he was "disappointed but not shocked" that the NCYI chose to ban women from holding a synagogue presidency. But he found the ban on converts "repugnant." He explained that in Atlanta and many other cities, there is "a small but significant number of converts, many of whom are true gerei tezedek and extraordinarily devoted to the community and halacha." Many of them, he said, are "as pious as any other Jew." Dr. Cinnamon said that to categorically deny converts synagogue presidencies removes productive members from consideration, and possibly more injurious, sends a "profound and distasteful message" that converts are not fully equal Jews.

Other Young Israel officials shared his sentiments. 58% of Young Israel leaders said that they strongly felt that their president should be male. But 67% strongly believed that a convert should be able to serve as president. In practice, it seems that several Young Israels have had females serving as de facto presidents, though at times they used different titles.

The NCYI gave no defense for their restrictions on synagogue presidential candidates in their memorandum. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading scholar of the last generation, wrote responsa addressing the scope of the prohibition against converts or females serving in a position of coercive authority over other Jews. Medieval scholars dispute whether women can hold such positions, and Rabbi Feinstein decides strictly, mentioning in passing that women shouldn't be shul presidents. While he also upholds the prohibition on giving converts a position of major authority, he does advocate using maximum possible leniency on this issue to be sensitive to converts, and he explicitly permitted a convert to become a rosh yeshiva. He did not say whether a convert was prohibited from becoming president.

Maybe Young Israel is more consistent in their backwardness then I thought.


Baruch Spinoza said...

Hello Shilty,

If you understand that the Torah was written by men in power to find justification for protecting their own authority then it is obvious why women were excluded from many of the commandments.

Now about the Rambam. The Rambam has been ignored before. For example, Jews do not follow the Rambam's position of genital mutilation (the euphemistic term is "circumcision"). Rambam's position on genital mutilation is a lot more extreme, its goal is to dull the sensitivity of the penis in order to reduce sexual satisfaction that people get. Today it is not done to such an extreme point, sex still feels pleasurable to circumscribed men, of course not as pleasurable as to non-circumscribed.

The other kind of sexism that I find in Judaism is their position concerning polygamy. Now, I am not sure how you feel about polygamy, whether you think it is immoral or not, but I am certainly a strong supporter of polygammy. (In fact, I aspire to be a polygamist myself, but that is a different discussion). But the Jewish version of polygamy is sexist. One man and many wives. But if a female wants some men, she gets strangled to death by the Sanhedrin. So I would like to see an equal kind of polygamy. Where a woman can have many husbands. Well, actually there can be a version of gay polygamy, lesbian polygamy, or bisexual polygamy, but I do not want to get into discussing these wonderful marriages now.

Baruch Spinoza said...

Oh there is one more thing I wanted to say. We also do not follow the Rambam or the Torah on monarchy anymore. Which, I hope we can agree, is a prositive thing for the world.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Brain the size of a planet and they call me Shilty ;)

>If you understand that the Torah was written by men

I'm not discussing the Written Torah. I'm discussing the Rambam's interpretation of the Oral Torah.

Where are you getting this whole thing about dulling the sensitivity of the penis. I'm no expert but I don't think the Rambam advocates a different type of circumcision then the one we follow. Yes he explains in the Moreh Nevuchim that the point of circumcision is to reduce pleasure but I don't think he halachically was stricter about circumsision.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>We also do not follow the Rambam or the Torah on monarchy anymore.

The monarchy is a bad example because it is basically an impossible law to carry out nowadays. Most Orthodox Jews agree in theory that the laws of monarchy apply.

no one said...

The Rambam forbids using the Torah to make money in any shape or form. To him the position of rabbi is about as kosher as a cheese burger. And yet you don't hear many rabbis claiming we should be listening to the Rambam in that area.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Young Israel has also banned converts from being shul presidents:

Shilton HaSechel said...


WOW! I had no idea! Adding that to the post right now!

Shalmo said...

How many converts are there anyway? I very much doubt they are anymore than around 185,000 which is what I last read was the total number of Jews by Choice (converts) in the US

Shilton HaSechel said...

>How many converts are there anyway?

It's the principle

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