A new answer to the question of whether the RCA resolution forbidding Orthodox women rabbis is halachically binding upon members comes from R’ Asher Lopatin, who’s often seen as a leading liberal advocate within the group.
In response to an inquiry, he wrote me that, “When the resolution was
presented, it was presented as is – on purpose without a binding commentary
that would force you to understand it as halachic or not.” Lopatin said that if the resolution had been presented as halachic in nature, “I would have voted against it and argued against it.”
Full Q&A with Lopatin is after the jump.
1) Did the RCA represent the resolution to the membership as either halachic or non-halachic, or was there no statement about its halachic nature?
During the course of the conference, most speakers – including all those on a panel opening the conference – said that we were not dealing with a halachic prohibition. On the other hand, at least one major speaker said that it was a serious halachic violation. When the resolution was presented, it was presented as is – on purpose without a binding commentary that would force you to understand it as halachic or not. In other words, the resolution was written and presented in a way which was open to either interpretation.
2) Do you indeed think the resolution is not binding upon members as halacha?
Yes. I don’t even know what that means: Is the RCA a body that can “paskin” – rule – a halacha? In fact, a controversial halachic committee of the RCA was recently disbanded. The RCA is not a Beit Din nor a Halachic authority. It is a rabbinic organization devoted to furthering Torah.
3) If the RCA had represented the resolution as binding halacha at the convention, would you have opposed the resolution?
I would have voted against it and argued against it if it would have said that ordaining a women to be a rabbi was halachically prohibited. I follow the authorities who are leaders in the RCA itself who argue that it is not halachically prohibited.
4) What are your thoughts on the RCA’s representation to reporters of
the resolution as binding halacha?
Everyone is trying to do the right thing and keep a great organization and a great group of Orthodox rabbis united. I support that. I also think that every member of the RCA, and perhaps anyone reading the resolution, has a right to interpret it as they see fit. Nechama Leibowitz argued that it might be impossible to say there is one “pshat” of anything. Certainly, there probably is not one “p’shat” of this resolution. Everyone interpreting it, though, should recognize that in explaining it they are giving only their read of it, and they have to recognize that there might be
other legitimate interpretations. Frankly, it was clear at the meeting that that was exactly the way the document was written – to allow for a multitude of interpretations.