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IRF Statement on Local Rabbinic Authority and Women's Spiritual Leadership

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The IRF expresses its disappointment regarding the recent vote by The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC) to adopt a by-law that restricts the rabbinic authority of its individual members in regards to the realm of female spiritual leadership.

Our disappointment is predicated on two primary values:

1. The IRF promotes the importance of local rabbinic autonomy. Based on the principle of the ‘Mara D’Atra’(1), it is our firm conviction that the spiritual leaders of each individual synagogue are best qualified and solely responsible to determine halakhic practice for their synagogue and its members.
2. The IRF supports the expansion of synagogue spiritual leadership positions for women and the inclusion of female voices in communal policy decisions. It is our firm conviction that the Orthodox community must create more positions and opportunities for women based on the broad range of halakhic approaches to female spiritual leadership and other communal decisions. (2)

The IRF recognizes that the RCBC has played a critical role in fostering the remarkable growth of the Bergen County community by “enabl[ing] its member Rabbis and Shuls to work together in promoting Orthodox Jewish life in Northern New Jersey.”(3)

It is therefore particularly regrettable that, regarding women’s spiritual leadership, the RCBC has chosen to function as Bergen County’s communal gatekeeper rather than as its communal facilitator. Instead of devoting time, resources, and by-laws to promoting and supporting diverse female spiritual leadership in each of its member congregations, the RCBC has focused its efforts and by-laws on restricting female leadership.

The IRF will continue to wholeheartedly support the men and women dedicating their careers to avodat hakodesh, including the clergy targeted by this by-law. We will continue to promote the values of local rabbinic autonomy and the inclusion of women in synagogue religious leadership. In that spirit, the IRF calls on the rabbis of the RCBC to reconsider their decision and to partner with us and with the many other fine rabbinic and lay organizations in promoting the growth of Torah and Mitzvot in Bergen County and beyond.

(1) For a brief sketch of this idea, see http://traditionarchive.org/news/originals/Volume%2027/No.%204/MaraDe-Atra.pdf
(2) See previous statements: http://www.internationalrabbinicfellowship.org/irf-statement-womens-leadership-roles
http://www.internationalrabbinicfellowship.org/news/irf-statement-congratulating-graduates-yeshivat-maharat
http://internationalrabbinicfellowship.org/news/irf-reaffirms-support-women%E2%80%99s-spiritual-leadership
http://www.internationalrabbinicfellowship.org/news/irf-reaffirms-its-perspective-womens-leadership-roles-orthodoxy
http://www.internationalrabbinicfellowship.org/news/irf-reacts-recent-ou-statement
(3) See https://www.rcbcvaad.org/