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Author Topic: Women as Rabbis  (Read 2006 times)
Amanda1
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« on: December 23, 2007, 07:53:56 PM »

Hello Rabbi,

Is there a halachic source that says women are not allowed to psak? Or is this minhag? Thanks.

Kol Tuv,

Amanda
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Rabbi Hershel Reichman
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2008, 03:56:09 PM »

Shalom Amanda,

In the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 7:4 the Shulchan Aruch paskens that a woman cannot be a judge.  Tosfos in Masechet Yevamot 45B and Masechet Niddah 50A questions this, because of the fact that Devorah Hanevia was a Jewish judge in the period of the Shoftim.  They offer a number of solutions. 

1)  She was different because she was a prophetess
2)   She didnt judge halachic cases in a courtroom , but just taught Halachot and theory
3)  Both litigants voluntarily agreed to accept her authority as a judge

The Gemara in Shavuot 30A  discusses whether it is proper for a woman to come to court herself if she is a litigant, or if it more honorable for her to send a representative.  The Gemara does not come to any conclusion.

From all of the above, it is clear that a woman who is a great Torah scholar can certainly teach Torah to the general Jewish public.  The only issue is being a judge in a court of law.  The SHulcahn Aruch decided she should not be a judge.  Therefore, the term posek has to be qualified in response to your question.  If posek means to be appointed as a judge in a regular court of Jewish Law, then a woman cannot be so appointed.  If, however, posek means a teacher and writer on topics of Jewish Law, then a woman is qualified.

The term posek is also loosely used nowadays as referring to an expert in Jewish Law to whom people ask practical questions, she'eilot, and then follow that posek's decision.   This is in between being a judge in a courtroom and being a teacher in a classroom.  According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, such a role is more like a teacher than a judge.  Therefore it woud seem that one could ask a woman who is a expert teacher in, say, kashrus or Niddah, about a particular question, and follow her teachings.  it woud also seem, based upon the dicussion in Masechet Shavuot, that it would be moe honorable and proper for a woman teacher to do so in private rather than in public, and to preferably do so for other women than for men.

Finally, in the role of a pure teacher, there is no objection for women to teach Torah, and even have men learn from them, if it is done in an honorable and appropriate way.  Thus, nowadays, many fine Torah books have been written by women, and have been read by many men.

I hope this answers your question.

Rabbi Hershel Reichman
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Amanda1
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2008, 06:42:23 PM »

Hi Rabbi Reichman,

Thanks so much for responding. This is so interesting, I never learned this before. Thankyou!

I have a couple more questions though, if you don't mind.

Why is it that a woman cannot be a judge? Is it because it is not tzenua? What did being a judge mean in those times? Are they similar to the rabbis who serve on the beis din's today? When the Shulchan Aruch decided that women cannot be judges was there a derisa source they based their psak on?

Do most people not hold by R'Soloveitchik's view that a posek today is more like a teacher than a judge? Even in groups such as Yoetzot Halacha (the womens hotline for questions about taharas hamishpacha) 30% of the questions go to rabbis for an official psak. So, even though these women who answer the questions know the halacha very well they do not psak. But according to Rav Soloveitchik would they be able to from a halachic standpoint?

Now I am confused as to what a posek is! Did people have poskim in the Temple era? Or only judges? What is the difference between a sheila and simply giving over halacha? Is there a difference?

Thanks Rabbi, have a great shabbos!

Kol Tuv,
Amanda Hensley
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Rabbi Hershel Reichman
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« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2008, 04:59:23 PM »

Shalom Amanda,

In Parshat Shoftim, the Torah commands every Jewish town to appoint judges, that is, to set up a judicial system with courts of law called Batei Din.  This mitzva applies both in Israel and outside of it in Chutz L'Aretz.

The ideal system starts with a Sanhedrin HaGadol in Jerusalem, and works its way down to civil courts at a local level.  When the Shulchan Aruch says that a woman can not be a judge, he means that she cannot be appointed to be a member of a Beit Din, a Jewish court of law.  There are two possible reasons for this.  The first, in Gemara Shavuot 30, the Gemara states that the Torah disqualifies women from being witnesses in a legal case, as the Torah states that two men must be brought as witnesses for a given case, and one could apply the rule that people disqualified to be witnesses are also disqualified to be judges.
The second reason given is because of the rule that the Torah says one should appoint a king over Israel - a king and not a queen, or a male and not a female.  This rule is expanded to include any public position of authority. 
Outside the position of a court of law, when someone issues a halachic verdict, or what is called a psak, Rabbi Soloveitchik maintains that one is not acting as a judge, but rather as a teacher.  Thus, women can teach Torah as stated by the Tosfos which I quoted in my first response to you.

When someone goes to a posek and asks a sh'eilah nowadays, one is really asking for information and education, since the posek is not acting as a judge in a formal Beit Din, but rather as a private individual who is sharing his knowledge with the questioner.  However, a couple of important caveats apply:  First, if someone is a member of a community which has formally appointed a posek for that community, even though the posek is not a judge in the formal sense, his psak or teaching carries special weight.  The reason is because the Halacha states that a member of a community should not violate the rules and customs of that particular community.  So for example, a Belzer chassid should follow the rules, customs, and psak of his community, Belz.  This is stated in the mishna of pirkei Avot, which states 'al tifrosh min hatzibbur', do not separate from the community.  This rule may be a din of the Torah or a din of the rabbanim, depending on the various sources.

The second point to consider is the honor of the posek.  That means that if someone directly asks a question from a halachic authority, and gets the psak of that authority, it would be considered very disrespactful to violate the position of that authority, because of the honor due a Torah scholar.

If someone is just reading a halachic responsa, SHe'eilot and Teshuvot of various poskim, one is not necessariy bound to follow the psak of a particular posek except if it is the posek of one's community, or the posek was directly asked by the questioner.

I don't know the procedures for Yoatzot Halacha, but I would guess that they are referring more difficult questions to greater experts than a regular Yoetzet. You should be aware that many people, Rabbis and teachers, are aways advancing psak of what they think the halacha is in a particular situation, but only very few great Torah scholars achieve a level of knowledge which makes them poskim for the generation as a whole.  The very great poskim like R' Moshe Feinstein ztz"l, and R' Ovadia Yosef and R' Elyashiv, have achieved a reputation as reknowned Torah scholars and arbiters of Halacha.  They have achieved this not by any formal appointment as a judge to any court of law, but rather by the power and persuation of their vast knowledge and deep understanding of the Halacha. A local posek can disagree with a great posek, because it is really a matter of teaching but if all the great poskim agree about a certain point, the local posek will almost always lose the battle in the public arena.  Ultimately it is the Torah public which chooses which people have the intellectual and Torah authority to truly understand  and decide Halacha psak properly, and teach it properly.

An advantage of a local posek is that he knows the exact circumstances of the questioner, thus he can more acurately tailor the psak t the circumstances involved in the question.  It is always advisable for someone to have a local posek.  This posek should be an accomplished Talmid Chochom who is familiar with methodology of psak, and who is very responsible, and in particuar knows the exact circumstances of the question.  The local posek is expected to do the proper research necessary and to make the ultimate decision for that questioner. 

Shalom U'vracha,

Rabbi Reichman
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