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IRF Reacts to Recent OU Statement

Friday, February 2, 2018

The IRF is heartened to see the steps the Orthodox Union (OU) has begun to take to promote women’s spiritual fulfillment within the Orthodox community in North America. We are also pleased that the OU has reaffirmed its commitment to creating opportunities for female spiritual leadership in the Orthodox community, as well encouraging "developing appropriate titles for women of significant accomplishment, holding professional positions within the synagogue, educational and communal structure, thereby acknowledging their achievement and status." (OU statement-Jan 31, 2018). As a group of Orthodox Rabbis, Clergy and Spiritual leaders comprised of men and women, the 240 members of the IRF look forward to assisting the OU wherever possible in advancing these goals moving forward. We also commend and share in the OU's call for on going dialogue, and desire for communal harmony.

For generations, both through its innovative programs (NCSY-Outreach, Yachad, JLIC, etc.) and membership policies the OU, more than any other national Orthodox organization and institution, has projected the value of Big Tent Orthodoxy. This approach has served the OU and the Jewish community well. The influence of the Orthodox community, and the OU, has broadened, in large part thanks to the OU’s ability to facilitate and convene together the widest range of Orthodox Jews.

Although in its recent decision the OU has wisely chosen not to expel the four member synagogues who presently employ women in positions of religious leadership (as “clergy”), the OU has, at the same time, established as policy that any other synagogues will indeed face expulsion from the organization should they contravene its policy on the matter. In light of the substantial halakhic foundation for allowing that which the OU has foreclosed, and the fact that the OU itself maintains that "a significant portion of the functions and services admirably performed by these women (in the four synagogues mentioned above)" are acceptable – this is tragic. It continues to be our contention that the OU should provide the room for local community rabbinic autonomy, which the OU recognizes in so many other areas, to set the course for each individual synagogue. It is unfortunate that the OU has chosen the issue of women’s spiritual leadership as one in which it is playing Orthodoxy’s gatekeeper rather than as its facilitator.

By choosing to enforce standards that exclude Orthodox colleagues in avodat Hakodesh who demonstrate in their work and personal practice a complete commitment to Orthodoxy and halakha, the OU is reversing decades of precedent and good will, and enacting bad policy.

We believe the OU is missing a historic opportunity to truly promote women’s spiritual leadership across the spectrum of our diverse Orthodox community. By doing so, it is squandering its role as a unifying force in the community.

The IRF will continue to actively advocate for the inclusion of women in significant religious leadership in the synagogue context, guided by our own clear determination of the breadth of halakhic possibilities in this regard. The IRF will continue to champion and model the values of Torah and Mitzvot and of unity without uniformity, within the Orthodox community and beyond. We call on the OU to rededicate itself to these values and to partner with us and with the many other fine rabbinic and lay organizations in achieving our shared goals lehagdil torah u’lehaadira.