Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Does Rav Moshe Feinstein Think Women Can Be Rabbis

On another blog someone told me that Rav Moshe goes against the Rambam and believes that women can be Rabbis. I decided to see for myself whether this was true or false. Based on this shiur that was given by Aryeh and Dov Frimer, it seems like Rav Moshe does not hold this way. However, let us look at the pertinent sources in Iggros Moshe (rav Moshe's responsa).

The first source makes it seem like Rav Moshe might hold against the Rambam. Found here (Yoreh Deiah chelek 2 siman 44):

אבל יש לדון בזה מצד
אחר, דהנה הרמב"ם בפ"א ממלכים ה"ה כתב וכן
כל משימות שבישראל אין ממנים בהם אלא איש,
ואף שלא ידוע לי בעניי מקום לדבריו דבספרי
שציין הכ"מ והרדב"ז ומ-ע לא הוזכר אלא מלך ולא
מלכה אבל רין כל משימות שלא יהיו נשים לא
הוזכר שם, וצריך לומר דהוא סברת עצמו כמו
שדרשינן לכל משימות שלא יהיו אלא מקרב אחיך
ביבמות דף מ"ה, דרשינן נמי כל הדינים שבפרשה
שנאמר על מלך גם לכל משימות שהוא גם לזה
שנאמר בספרי מלך ולא מלכה שה"ה לכל משימות
שלא ממנים אשה.

(Not a word for word translation) Rav Moshe says that it’s not clear to him what the source of the Rambam is for forbidding not only a malka but also a parnesset(any position of authority).  Rambam may have analogized from a non-Jew to women, but that isn’t clear. [We now know that there is an alternate reading of the Sifrei, but that’s not our reading.]   (From here)

So, this Rav Moshe seems to be saying that the Rambam's psak is based on his own logic. Some might want to read that as saying that Rav Moshe would not hold like the Rambam. This is especially true because of the next thing that Rav Moshe says:

ולכן לצורך
גדול בשביל חיות האלמנה ובניה היתומים יש לסמוך
על החולקים על הרמב"ם ולמנותה תחת בעלה

(Not an exact translation) Then Rav Moshe goes on to note that the Rambam is not the only view, and demonstrates that there are a whole series of Rishonim who disagree with the Rambam and are lenient on parnesset. And then he says that bi-she’at ha-dehak – in a crisis situation, where we are dealing with a woman’s livelihood, certainly these other opinions could be relied on so that she could continue to be a mashgihat kashrut. In other words, he maintains that the Rambam is a pillar of Halakha, and we would generally prefer to be stringent and rule like the Rambam. However, since this is a dire situation, and there are major authorities- including, Ramban, Rashbah, Ran, and Rabbeinu Tam – who disagree with the Rambam, we can rely on these other sources to give us the flexibility to allow this woman to be a mashgihat kashrut. (From here)

So it seems like Rav Moshe is allowing for a woman to hold a position of authority against the Rambam. This would seem to indicate that Rav Moshe is open to the idea of women taking on leadership roles. (However, he clearly states this would only be allowed in a dire situation. I am still unsure why people would quote Rav Moshe's opinion here to say women should be in leadership positions where a religious man IS capable of doing the same thing.)

However, after this seemingly positive attitude of Rav Moshe for women in leadership roles, there is a turn against them having such roles. In the next part of the same responsa he says:

האסור כי הלא עיקר
האחריות שהקונים סומכים הוא על הרב ונחשבת
היא רק כעושה מלאכת הרב ברברים שיכולה לעשות
שנחשבת לגבי הרב רק כפועל בעלמא שאפשר לו
גם להעמיד אשה כיון שהיא נאמנת כלעיל

(Not an exact translation) But then Rav Moshe suggests what he believes is a better idea. We will ask some Rabbi to be the the rav ha-makhsir – that is, the one who will assume the ultimate authority for the Kashrut will be a male, while the almana will be the mashgiha and do the actual supervision work. The rav ha-makhshir is the person or the organization who assumes ultimate responsibility for the hekhsher, and the mashgiah is the employee who’s on the site doing the actual supervision. (For example, the OU is the boss – the supervising kashrut organization ultimately responsible; everyone else who works for them, including women, who supervise all the time for the OU, are the mashgihim.) Rav Moshe indicates that if we do it that way, then even the Rambam would agree, because she’s now working for the rav ha-makhshir, and not for the ba’al ha-bayit.(From here)

There is even a responsa of Rav Moshe's that goes further and straight out says that women are not even allowed to be shul presidents. He states in the very next siman (Yoreh Deiah chelek 2 siman 45

הנה מש"כ כתר"ה שמצד תשובתי בזה שהקשתי
על הרמב"ם שפוסל נשים אף לכל משימות שלא
ידוע לי בעניי מקור לדבריו, וגם שמשמע לי שלא
כו"ע סברי כן יוצא מכשול..........

ולשמא ימנו
אשה להבתי כנסיות שבמדינתנו אמעריקא נמי לא
שייך שיוצא מזה מכשיל, דהבתי כנסי.ת והמוסדות
שמתנהגים ע"פ דרך התורה לא יעשו בלא הוראת
רב מובהק וממילא סגי לזה גם שיטת הרמכ"ם שלא
למנות אשה, ולאלו שסרו מדרך התורה הרי גם אם
הוא איסור ברור ומפורש שבתורה לא ישגיחו ע-ז
ואיז אנו אחראין עליהם. וממילא נמצא שליכא שום
מכשול ח"ו מברור ההלכה שכתבתי שלא כו"ע מודו

(Not a full translation)Regarding women as shul presidents, most shuls have rabbis. The rabbis are fully aware that the Rambam is against it, so that it’s not a default position. Therefore, they will not allow women to be president of the shul. (From here)

I would just like to add that anyone who can understand this last quote from Rav Moshe can see that he thought it was 100% against the Torah to have women as presidents of shuls. He goes so far to say that anyone who makes a woman president clearly does not care to follow halacha.

Based on this siman in Iggros Moshe I think it is impossible to claim that Rav Moshe would allow a female Rabbi. He doesn't even allow a female to be president of a shul! How could one assume that he would allow a woman to be a Rabbi?

This does not mean there are not other poskim that allow female rabbis. If one wishes to see the whole argument I would suggest reading the article that I link to for the translations of Rav Moshe's responsa. I was just disturbed that someone would say Rav Moshe argues on the Rambam and would hold female Rabbis are allowed. That is clearly not the truth.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your work and sharing this with us. Additionally, I very much appreciate your devotion to learning and sharing HaRambam.

Shabbat shalom


E-Man said...

Thanks Akiba, I hope you enjoy my site and the divrei Torah.