As an addendum for more comments regarding Rav Schachter’s shiur at the RCA, I wanted to clarify a few things:
1) I have tremendous respect and admiration for Rabbi Shai Held who wrote the critique of Rav Schacter, at least in terms of “chidush”. Rabbi Held is a talmid chacham and already an accomplished Jewish thinker and liturgist. I have used his liturgy on the Tsunami disaster in my shul! So any rejoinder I have to his critique is said timidly and humbly. I apologize that I may not have come off sounding this way in my zeal to defend the “chidush” nature of Orthodoxy. I look forward to continuing discussions and debates with Rav Held in the future.
2) Rav Schachter himself, in this same shiur at the RCA conference, allowed for disagreement with his points. Rav Schechter emphasized how any halachic authority could disagree with another halachic authority, from an earlier time or contemporary, and therefore, I felt exhilarated after his speech as it legitimized my decision to follow halachic authorities – in the Orthodox world - who disagree with his stance on the ordination of women to the rabbinate. Every posek (halachic decisor) must rule what his or her understanding, and every individual must honestly chose which decisor they follow: there will be disagreements, but no one is bound by anyone else’s truth. If the Gaon from Vilna could disagree with the Gaonim 1000 years before his time, we can certainly feel OK in ruling according to a contemporary posek – or poskim - who disagrees with Rav Schachter.
3) Thus, I do not think that there is any halachic prohibition on ordaining women as rabbis, and while the time may not be right in Orthodoxy at the moment for this practice, I look forward to the time when it will be appropriate. In the meantime, within Orthodoxy, I hope to see more and more shuls with full time women in the clergy, and I hope there Yeshivat Maharat, and the programs which confer other titles to women, such as Yoatzot Halacha, will continue to grow and thrive. I hope that Orthodox leaders step up to the plate to fund those programs and those positions.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
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