April 25, 2010
A Moment of Truth for the RCA
I took the red-eye from LA to New York right after Shabbos. I hate red-eyes. But I decided I had to present for the RCA convention, which will begin in about an hour.
As has already been reported in the Forward, there is something worrisome and dramatic that threatens to unfold over the next two days. As the rules of the RCA stand right now (and have stood since the beginning of time), there is no one transgression that automatically triggers expulsion from the organization. Not the repeated failure to use the RCA pre-nuptial agreement when performing a wedding, not the performance of conversion outside of the RCA system, not the halachik theorizing that there could be circumstances under which the Israeli government could be labeled as illegitimate, not even the public desecration of Shabbat. There is of course a committee empowered to discreetly investigate and punish “unbecoming conduct” on a case-by-case basis, as any organizational code of ethics demands. But there’s never been any one transgression considered so heinous, so threatening, so horrible, that it needed to be prohibited by the Constitution itself, under the penalty of immediate expulsion. But if things go badly over the next two days, there will suddenly be one. It’s not murder or adultery. It’s not tax fraud or child-abuse. It’s the ordaining of a woman.
There’s also a companion constitutional amendment being proposed. This one declares that any rabbi who merely belongs to a group that advocates for a leadership position for women that that the RCA doesn’t endorse, is disqualified from being an officer in the RCA. You can be an officer if you belong to a group that believes that the Mashiach has already come, or to one that advocates that Hesder students may disobey the orders of their commanding officers. Just not if you belong to one which pushes the envelope on women’s leadership.
As I’ve written in an earlier post, I believe, for Orthodox sociological reasons, that the time has not yet arrived for women’s ordination. Our community is just not there yet, and probably won’t be for a generation. What’s at stake over the next couple of days is not whether or not there will women rabbis today, tomorrow, or next week. What’s at stake is the humiliating possibility that the RCA will reveal itself to be single-mindedly obsessed with the fear of women in positions in leadership. This would discredit the organization in the eyes of so many progressive Orthodox Jews, and in the eyes of Jews who might be contemplating Orthodox affiliation. And these amendments, if passed, would likely leave in its wake, an RCA membership that is virtually indistinguishable from that of Agudah.
So I’m here in NY to cast my vote. I believe in my heart, and I pray, that the organization will do the right thing, and reject these amendments. I’ll keep you posted. .