An Open Letter from a Halachic Feminist to the RCA

By Batsheva Haber


It’s me, the Halachic feminist.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed me.

I’m the girl sitting in the front row of the women’s section, not just on Shabbat but for an everyday mincha as well.
I’m the girl who took a year off to study Torah before starting her life, and the girl who still wonders if maybe that wasn’t a year off, but rather should be her life.
I’m the girl who puts time aside every day to study Halacha, not because she needs to, but because she loves Halacha.
I’m the girl whose friends come to her with Halachic questions, not just because my dad is a rabbi, but because often enough I know the answer or know where to find it.
I’m the girl who grew up in the Torah world, but always felt like the boys got more.
And I am the girl who stands up to my angry feminist friends and says to be patient, that change must be done in the right way in Judaism – not by individuals but by a strong rabbinic leadership.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed me, but your last resolution makes me think that you haven’t.

I, like many religious girls today, find myself caught between two worlds. I’m a religious feminist – something that is not necessarily an oxymoron but a hybrid, and one that has issues that need to be resolved. Many of my friends have chosen to step outside the Halachic orthodox world, to take the law into their own hands and to create a new Halachic reality. But that is not who I am writing this letter on behalf.

I’m speaking in the name of women like myself, who find themselves caught between both worlds and yet know that no matter what Halacha comes first. The women who sit time and again, patiently and frustratingly, at the sidelines of our religious community because they understand that some things can’t be done Halachicly, and that others can only be done after a long and particular Halachic process.

We have committed ourselves to the orthodox Halachic world, despite the price we pay. Because we believe in Halacha and we believe in you, we left our fate in your hands. However, this must be a two way street. If we trusted you to fight our battles, you must do everything in your power to find Halachic solutions for our issues. I am not asking you to break Halacha, just to reexamine and see what can, and what can’t be allowed within the framework of Halacha. The Halachic world is dynamic, and you know how to navigate it better than anyone, so you must do what you can. Your decisions should try to include us in the religious community we belong to, not exclude us.

So when you make such decisions, remember me and my friends and your obligation to us. Your decision affects us first and foremost, and our place in the religious community. We want to belong in your world – please don’t kick us out.

That girl


18 thoughts on “An Open Letter from a Halachic Feminist to the RCA

  1. That is actively happening within the Rabbinical Council of America. This is the year. That resolution is just one part of a comprehensive project that is underway. The last sentences of that resolution — the sentences that the newsmedia omitted — point the way.

  2. You can be fully halakhically observant and learned at in the Conservative movement that is fully egalitarian and allegedly committed to halakha. So why change Orthodoxy when the very definition of the word “orthodox” implies something that should not change?

  3. The Conservative movement has many halachic, observant women who are learned and happy. and who probably just signed a petition against the RCA’s resolution. You probably know how alienating and hurtful it is to have what you think of as a valid, moral and halachic path be declared invalid. So don’t do that to Conservative Judaism. It is your choice whether to stay in Orthodoxy and transform it from within or to join another halachic movement that is already egalitarian (and I cheer you on whatever you choose ). But please don’t portray Conservative Judaism as non-halachic and Orthodoxy as the only halachic movement.

    • Give me a break! The Conservative movement may have been Halachic a long time ago but it lost any claim to being Halachic in June 2012 when the following happened:

      The Conservative movement — affirming that same-sex marriages have “the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages” — last week established rituals for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

      I am sure you approve of this affirmation and you have every right to feel that way but it is absurd to claim that this affirmation is consistent with Halacha.

  4. It you want to be taken seriously as a woman, in an arena, stop calling yourself a girl. We women need to stand up for ourselves, and it is not only demeaning when men call us girls, but also when we do it to ourselves.

  5. Though I am a member of the RCA and I speak only for myself, I believe many of my Chaverim will agree with my comment. Our response is YES, we have noticed you. The kind of person you are is very important to us. First, leadership in our communities, across the orthodox spectrum, is widely available to you and we encourage you to exercise it. Women teachers and principles, Yoatzot Halachah, Rebbetzins, and many others currently exert a profound influence in our communities with their teaching, Halachic expertise, visiting, counselling, nurturing, influencing, programming, and many other roles. Second, the effort we are expending is to clarify and expand the roles, titles, training, and jobs that utilize women’s leadership and expertise, in a way that is not trying to attack or subvert orthodoxy. Please be a part of it – we need you!

    • You realize the second position you named can only be attained by having to marry a (male) Rabbi and how absurd that is.

      • I do realize that, and I don’t think it is absurd at all. Many men and women meet and decide to marry based (at least partially) on a shared sense of wanting to serve the Jewish people as rabbi and rebbetzin. And many such couples operate together, each exerting leadership in their community. And these women have a profound influence and impact on the Jewish People. Separately, perhaps the title rebbetzin could be separated from being married to a rabbi, just as in Israel the term Rabbanit is becoming separated from being married to a rabbi. Lastly, I am less concerned about the semantics of which word is used as a title than I am about the content of the Judaism the person is trying to foster. Looking for every leniency, using non-Halachic reasons for Halachic conclusions, having an antagonistic or subversive attitude to some Mitzvos is, in my opinion, much more serious – both for women and men.

  6. Hi,
    I am also a Halachic feminist.
    And I highly doubt you noticed me as well.
    I also sit in the Women’s section, not just Shabbat but often on weekday shachris and/or mincha/maariv. But I don’t sit in the front. I sit in the back. I don’t want to make a statement- after all, I am not going to shul for feminist reasons. I go because I believe it is the right thing for me as a single woman to do, and because I love the community aspect. But when I sit in my women’s section, I don’t always feel comfortable. Sometimes I am the only woman there, and when I am not, it’s only one other person. Sometimes the lights are off or the door to the women’s entrance is locked.

    I am also the girl who took a year off to study Torah before starting her life.
    I am also that girl who puts time aside every day to study Torah because I LOVE it. My friends also come to me with Halachic questions because I might know where to find it.
    I’m that girl who grew up in the Torah world, and still feels like the boys get more.
    And yet, I am not caught up in two worlds. I am a religious feminist.

    The Modern Orthodox community has many flaws but the issue with ordaining women is not one of the big ones. When the lights are off in the women’s section, or if the door is locked, when I feel very uncomfortable being the only woman in shul during the week, that something that can change.
    If there were more women coming to shul, the lights wouldn’t be off. The door would remain unlocked. It would be more comfortable. So why don’t women go to shul?

    “To take of their kids” you might respond. But, stay at home fathers go to shul as well. There are many minyanim so a woman and her husband cane even go to different times. And what about single women? What about the women learning Torah for a year before “starting their life”?

    If you would agree with me that women don’t go to shul because they are not obligated, then you might agree with the same halachik source that prohibits women from poskining.

    So all I am saying is that before the Halachik Feminist community calls out against the RCA, we should take a step back and make sure we are doing it for the right reason, and that it is respectful, and most importantly logical.

      • Women most definetely are welcome in shul. I too am a frum feminist but to me the whole concept of
        women insisting on calling themselves Rabbis are degrading women in itself. To me it implies that we are somehow inferior to men if we don’t have the same title or any title at all does not make sense to me. Why can’t we just let the men have the title “Rabbi” just like we are the ones who can only have the title mother? Let the men have something to themselves for goodness sake! The frum world has acknowledged for ages that women are important . If only the so called feminists would see that we are not inferior in any way .. If you are a halachik jew as you say then I suggest you take an honest look at the Torah and see that women are highly respected and are not losing out in anyway .

  7. Is it possible that there are certain changes that might be called for by feminism which are not consistent with the Torah? Is it possible that conveying smicha, which after all is meant to hearken back to and be a pale imitation of the original smicha, might not be allowed for woman? The author should face the fact that the answer to both questions is yes. It is not always possible to halachic and …. . Sometimes one has to choose.

  8. This essay is intellectually dishonest. Essentially, you want Halachah to bend to your will.

    You claim that “we believe in Halacha and we believe in you,” but end your essay, “please don’t kick us out.” In other words, anything short of acceptance of MY worldview is kicking me out. So basically you won’t take no for an answer – even if that happens to be the answer.

    It’s sounds alot like Henry Ford, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

  9. Sometimes I wonder if you truly know what you want? Within the MO and even more open yeshivish circles the world is yours! You want to learn Gemara – go to GPATS, tanach- go to Revel or another graduate program. In Israel go to nishmat. Become a yoetzet. Learn and teach. What do you want that you don’t have? You could conceivably spend most of your free time learning torah in the New York area. if you want total equality that is not something they can give you because it is not something the Torah allows – you will never be part of a minyan, daven for the amud or leyn. In some communities you will never give a shiur to a mixed audience. In some communities you will. What is it you want that you don’t have? Equal space in Shul? Not happening for a practical reason – women generally don’t come to Shul. Kids, life, lack of chiyuv.. Whatever it is. And do you really need the exact same space to be able to pray to G-d? I will tell you one thing ..the two or three “Halachik feminists” who are in our shul have made our lives miserable. Everything is a fight..everything is seen through the prism of feminism. There is never a thought to middos, never derech eretz (if not for a rav who bends over backwards for you, at least because he’s a human being), never a care for the comfort of the majority (yes they happen to be men!) only a litany of complaints and screaming over davening space in shul. I have to winder what G-d thinks about all this on pure middos level . So before you call out the entire RCA for not noticing you, figure out exactly what you want and exactly what you are not getting and have a productive and peaceful conversation.

  10. Great post, kol hakavod. Friday, 06 November 2015, 00:18PM +02:00 from Whatevs-Shevs :

    >b7haber posted: “Hi,

    It’s me, the Halachic feminist. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed me.

    I’m the girl sitting in the front row of the women’s section, not just on Shabbat but for an everyday mincha as well. I’m the girl who took a year off to study Torah before sta” >

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