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Women in the Rabbinate

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In the Jewish religion, the rabbinate is responsible for leading the community. The rabbinate is a term that refers to the office of the rabbi or rabbis as a group. Since the rabbi is well versed in the teachings of the Torah, his primary role is to answer questions that members of his community may have about everyday behavior, in accordance with Jewish Law. The rabbi also uses his expertise as a counselor, giving members of the community advice and guidance on most every subject, from marriage and raising children, to business ethics, to dealing with neighbors, to care of elderly relatives, or to utilizing the Torah's advice for living. A rabbi's job also entails inspiring his or her community members to become better people. He does this both through individual example and by sharing the knowledge he or she has obtained by becoming a scholar of the Torah.

Because of the rabbi's authority on the Torah, communities and individuals typically tend to follow their leadership on issues of Jewish law. Rabbis hold a unique authority, for they are often chosen to lead by their community. People within certain communities may recognize that other rabbis have the same authority elsewhere, but they work with their own rabbi regarding their personal decisions and opinions. This nature places the rabbi in high standing within his community, since they are so heavily relied upon.

The rabbinate was formed in the Pharisaic and Talmud era, in which the Torah scholars assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. This assembly of men was known as the Sanhedrin, composed of seventy one elders, whose codified laws are referred to as the halakha. The halakha sets the guidelines for the Jewish comprehensive way of life: what you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot wear, how to groom yourself, how to conduct business, who you can marry, how to observe the holidays and Shabbat, and perhaps most importantly, how to treat God, other people, and animals.

Although the Sanhedrin was responsible for creating many of the Jewish Law codes, it is important to note the difference between Torah Law and Rabbinic Law. Torah laws are laws that come from the direct word of God, while Rabbinic Laws are laws that have been derived from the word of God. Additionally, the Rabbinic Law was codified by only men. This is important because these laws were collected during a period in which males were the sole holders of leadership roles. (Weiss)

It cannot be ignored that these men may have created the rabbinic laws in conformity with their patriarchal society. Since these laws influenced all aspect of the Jewish faith, they created many rules establishing gender roles. In the era in which rabbinic law was created, many women were not able to enjoy the freedoms and equalities that modern women experience today; thus assuming that rabbinic law placed women in stereotypical gender roles. Although this may have been acceptable at the time, these rabbinic laws instilled a serious gender divide in which Jewish women could not assume leadership roles within their religion.

Jewish law has historically restricted women from entering the rabbinate at all. This issue has stemmed from the rabbi's position of communal authority. Following the ruling of the Talmud, the devisors of Jewish law held that women were not allowed to serve in positions of authority over a community, including, but not limited to, judges or kings. Similarly, the position of official rabbi of a community has generally been regarded as a position of status.

It was not until the haskalah, the period of Jewish enlightenment that women began to hold authority within the Jewish community. Women would later gain greater gender equality in the Conservative and Reform movements, during which the influence of modern feminism can be accredited for fueling gender equality in the Jewish faith. Women of these movements strove for equality and increasingly sought a place in the rabbinic. Women in the rabbinic have fundamentally changed the traditional gender roles that have been assigned to them by traditional Jewish laws. By occupying these leadership roles within their community, female rabbis have influenced a positive shift toward gender equality. (Avi)

Members of the Jewish faith rely heavily on the guidance and practice of their laws in every day life. These laws where established from the direct word of God, Torah law, and the rabbinic law, laws created from the interpretation of Torah. Both forms of law have traditionally excluded women from entering the rabbinate, since "the shapers and expositors of rabbinic Judaism were men and the ideal human society they imagined was decidedly oriented towards their own sex." (Baskin, 3)

Classic rabbinic Judaism has always been in many circles still is a male dominated culture, whose virtuosi and authorities are males, whose paragon of normality in all legal discussions is the adult Jewish whose legal ruling in many areas of life (notably marriage and ritual observance) accord men greater privilege than women, and whose values define public communal space as male space. Within this culture women are unable to initiate a marriage or a divorce, are obligated to dress modestly in public and to segregate themselves behind a partition in a synagogue, and are excluded from the regimen of prayer and Torah study that characterizes, and in the rabbinic perspective sanctified the life of Jewish men. In this culture women are socially and legally inferior to men. (Baskin, 3)

Since these laws originate from the text of the Torah, it is important to examine their influence and how it took part in establishing a patriarchal society. Evidence of a patriarchal construction of rabbinic laws can be seen in the creation story of Eve.

aggadic midrash, non-legal ribbinc biblical interpretation, was layered on the rib of the biblical text as a perquisite accompaniment to the written word, so the rabbinic sages deliberately constructed women as ancillary beings, shaped on the rib of the primordial man to fulfill essential social and sexual functions in an androcentric society. While the conviction of male was built into rabbinic ways of reading divinely revealed texts and of ordering human affairs...the framers of rabbininc literature were not oblivious to the implications of froming the feminie as essentially other and implicitly lesser than the masculine. (Baskin, 2)

Furthermore, this interpretation of the female placed Jewish women in a lower social status than men. An analysis of the rabbinical interpretation of Eve continues to provide us with evidence of the formulation of a patriarchal society by the Sanhedrin. It also demonstrates how rabbinical interpretations of Eve have alienated women from the rabbinic by restricting their leadership roles in the



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