The Rabbinical Alliance of America (RAA) — Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis — commends Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of England on his decision as president of the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) to maintain Jewish tradition at the school on a key issue.
After a longtime female teacher at LSJS graduated with rabbinic ordination from New York’s Yeshivat Maharat, LSJS ended her teaching role at the school. The ordination of women as rabbis runs counter to Jewish tradition and is not recognized by Orthodox Jewish institutions around the world. Fearing that the employment of a woman rabbi at the school would give the incorrect impression that the school endorses this development, LSJS was forced to take action in order to preserve its authenticity and commitment as a traditional Jewish school.
A group of 35 Reform and Liberal faith leaders in England issued a letter in support of the teacher under question and dozens more have criticized LSJS for taking action. In response, office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth issued a statement saying in part: “It is unavoidable that the religious character of an institution, whether a synagogue or a college, is viewed through the prism of those who hold formal positions or titles within it… As difficult as it is when good and talented people are involved, the Chief Rabbi’s position as President of LSJS is that he must uphold the religious ethos of the college and its position within mainstream Orthodoxy across the Jewish world”
The RAA commends Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ difficult decision in this situation. It is regrettable that anyone should lose their job. Unfortunately, the teacher’s decision to study at an institution that violates Orthodox Jewish standards and to acquire counter-traditional ordination implicitly made an unauthorized and unacceptable statement in the name of LSJS.
The issue is not merely that of an unauthorized statement in the name of a school but also the violation of traditional norms within an institution dedicated to preserving those norms. Judaism is defined by practices and beliefs that often run counter to trends in the contemporary world. It is axiomatic that in such a conflict, Jewish tradition takes precedence over secular values and practices. Orthodox Jews follow in the path of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law), the commentaries and codes, the Sages of every generation. The unanimous consensus among the leading rabbis of the day is that the ordination of women is inconsistent with sacred Jewish tradition. Deviating from these texts and traditions, from the decisions of the leading scholars, from the consensus of rabbinic experts, means capitulating to contemporary values over Jewish tradition. This is inherently un-Orthodox and contrary to the Torah life. Any such deviation not only violates tradition but places at risk the vibrancy of the continuing chain of Torah tradition, a chain that has proven unstoppable throughout the millennia. In this time of rampant assimilation and disappearance of Jews, tradition is more important than ever.