TORA, the organization of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis of America, applauds the recent decision by the Orthodox Union to implement the details of the responsum they presented last year. In a statement released yesterday, the OU states unequivocally that the institution of female clergy is not in consonance with Orthodox Judaism and therefore will not be acceptable in OU member synagogues. Despite harrowing criticism from more liberal rabbis, the OU decided to clearly delineate the red lines of Orthodoxy for the sake of the future of a unified Orthodox community. The decision is a victory for the majority of the Orthodox world who have faith and confidence in our collective age old wisdom, and have no desire to sacrifice it on the altar of fleeting societal trends.
The OU sensitively acknowledged that there are currently four member synagogues that already employ female clergy. The statement inclusively maintains the membership of these synagogues with the understanding that ongoing dialogue will continue in search of mutually agreed upon solutions that achieve compliance. A three-year Sunset Clause has been set to revisit the matter with these four synagogues if matters are not resolved by then.
TORA praises the courageous statement of the OU because it provides necessary clarity to an issue that has caused communal confusion in the recent past. The same way that the OU Kashruth symbol is synonymous with unquestionable Torah standards, the OU synagogue will continue to be unquestionably Orthodox.
TORA embraces all Jews and respects the right of every person to practice religion however they choose. Nevertheless, as Orthodox Jews we believe that we are guided by Jewish laws, customs and traditions that have bound us since time immemorial.
TORA understands that while the eternal precepts and laws of the Torah need to be applied in every generation, their implementation must be in line with the letter and spirit of divine law. Orthodox Jewish women learn Torah, teach Torah and assist in the Halachic processes of maintaining Ritual Purity. Orthodox women run communal organizations that visit the sick, care for the bereaved and share kindness wherever it is needed. But just as an Israelite cannot perform a Kohen’s service, a woman may not serve as clergy.
The OU’s decision is based on wisdom that transcends the topic of women clergy. It asserts a traditional belief in mesorah and the protocols of halachic decision-making in establishing the qualifications for who participates in the determination of halacha at the highest levels, in the need to temper autonomy with Torah authority and in the value of what the traditional community calls meta-halacha.
TORA calls upon all Orthodox Jews and organizations to welcome the OU decision in order to maintain unity in our community. Just as the Torah was only transmitted amidst unity at Mt. Sinai, let us strive to build and foster continued unity so Judaism will continue to flourish.