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Friday, August 18, 2017

I read Elizabeth Kratz’s editorial “Am I a Lonely Woman of Faith?” (May 18, 2017) with interest. I’d like to suggest that it is based on at least two unstated, and quite debatable, assumptions.

The first is that cooking chicken soup and assuming positions of communal leadership are somehow mutually exclusive. The sensory experiences of observance—from pre-Shabbat smells to the nusach of Havdalah and beyond—certainly shape our children’s experience of mitzvot, and especially Shabbat. But these things are logically unrelated to the public role of women in the community. If some women see the two axes—home and shul, say, or cooking and Torah teaching—as either/or, and choose the chicken-soup axis, more power to them. But this is an assumption, not an argument that will convince those who do not already agree. One only needs to look as far as the legions of men who have adopted cholent-making as their own while still counting in a minyan.

This brings me to the second unstated assumption. Ms. Kratz assumes that the membership of the 395+ OU-affiliated synagogues that have not hired female clergy feel, as she does, that our community’s peculiar approach (peculiar, relative to either secular America or the rest of Orthodoxy) to gender roles is working just fine. No doubt she speaks for many. But in her zeal to point out (correctly) that proponents of certain innovations do not represent all Modern Orthodox women, Ms. Kratz perhaps unwittingly entrenches the opposite fallacy—that all but a handful of frum women are content. In my experience this is not true. Women in some circles may be chafing at an all-male rabbinate. But other women are wondering why there are no women on the board of their mikvah, or why there are no shiurim for women at their shul, or why the only shiurim for women are not text-based, and on and on. These notes of dissatisfaction take slightly different shades in different corners of the community, but they are nearly always there, including among the very women whose educational and counseling roles the OU has ostensibly endorsed.

I find myself coming back to a passage by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”l, in his 2010 address to the RCA (published in 2016) regarding the ordination of women: “Many more traditionally oriented women are fully satisfied, personally and communally, with the current situation.... Yet, everything considered, we sense, collectively... that the level of satisfaction is not quite what we desire.” This candid assessment strikes me as correct: there is a degree of dissatisfaction that is easy to ignore, but such ignorance is not bliss.

We are living in the middle of a period of rapid change—much of which has already been assimilated into our ideas of what is traditional—and none of us knows what the future holds. I believe we would be well served by recognizing and encouraging diverse approaches, and self-critique, rather than imagining uniformity where it does not exist.

Sincerely,

Miriam Gedwiser

Teaneck, NJ