June 2018 MJRC Ordinations

smicha June 2018Today was a momentous occasion as Vered Hillel and Isaac Roussel received rabbinical ordination. Vered is the first woman to receive s'mikhah from the MJRC. Below is an excerpt from our standards manual outlining our policy of ordaining women as Messianic Jewish Rabbis.

(Link from the Standards Manual)

1.2.3 In concert with the example of Messiah Yeshua and the teaching of scripture concerning the leadership roles of men and women, we affirm the ordination of women as Messianic Jewish Rabbis.

In issuing this standard, the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) welcomes women to use their God-given spiritual gifts in our community as leaders, rabbis, and teachers.

Scripture contains a number of examples of women who hold significant roles in leading and shaping the life of the people of Israel and the early community of Yeshua's followers - Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Junia (Romans 16:7), and Phoebe (Romans 16:1) to name a few. Scripture often describes these women as having significant positions of leadership within the community: judges, prophets, deacons, emissaries, etc. We regard these women leaders in the Tanach and Apostolic Writings as models rather than as exceptional cases reflecting communal disorder or the lack of men of sufficient caliber to serve as leaders in the community.

In the case of Deborah, the book of Judges describes her as both prophet and judge, roles which Jewish tradition understands as central to the position of rabbi (Judges 4:4). Traditional interpretation of Deborah's work as judge views her as a paradigm of the role a woman can have in Jewish religious life (see the Tosafot in b. Gittin 88b; b. Baba Kamma 15a; b. Nida 50a; cf. Sefer haChinuch 158). According to these opinions, a wise woman (Ishah Hachamah) can teach and instruct, and a community may accept such a woman as its spiritual and halakhic guide, which are central communal roles of a rabbi.

In addition to the cases where women are explicitly named, scripture may testify to women serving in leadership roles where groups of leaders are mentioned and scripture does not specify that the group only consists of men. In both ancient Greek and Hebrew, mixed groups of men and women are described with nouns, pronouns, and verbal suffixes that are marked as masculine (e.g., benei Yisrael = "children of Israel," not "sons of Israel"). Given Paul's reference to specific women serving as emissaries and deacons (e.g., Romans 16:1, 7), it may well be the case that when Paul speaks of broad categories of assembly leadership in other letters written by him that those lists include both men and women (1 Corinthians 12:28; Philippians 1:1; Ephesians 2:20; 4:11).

Additionally, Messiah Yeshua himself elevated the status of women in a highly patriarchal Greco-Roman culture. For example, he transgressed social boundaries by talking with the Samaritan woman at the well about theology, worship, infidelity, and eternal life (John 4). He also welcomed women into his circle of students and friends.

These women were the last at the cross (Mark 15:40–47). They were the first at his tomb and first to bear witness to his resurrection, the very substance of the besorah (e.g., Matthew 28:8–10). Messiah Yeshua’s first disciples continued this tradition of transgressing the dominant cultural norms of their day by elevating the status of women in their communities. Paul also makes no distinction between spiritual gifts given to men and women (1 Corinthians 12:1–31). In fact, the outpouring of the Spirit recorded in Acts 2:17–18 (quoting Joel 2:28–32) includes both men and women exercising spiritual gifts (in particular, prophecy) in partnership and equality in God’s kingdom.

We recognize that there are passages in the letters of Paul that historically have been interpreted to restrict explicitly women’s participation in teaching and communal leadership in settings involving men (1 Corinthians 14:26–35 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15). The broader trajectory of Scripture regarding women, the examples from the Pauline epistles of women functioning in leadership roles (including teaching) noted earlier, and Paul’s own teaching on the equality of spiritual gifts complicate such a reading. In the case of 1 Corinthians 14:34, we understand the specific injunction to be made to women who are in the position of learners not teachers and concerns their talking (lalein) disruptively while someone else is instructing the congregation. In the case of 1 Timothy 2:12, there is good support for understanding the restriction as being against women who domineer or usurp (authetein) proper authority (see Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ, 291–444). In this regard, the restriction is not against women exercising authority or teaching per se but in exercising authority in such a way as to usurp appropriately ordained or designated authority.

We make this decision to affirm the ordination of women because of the teaching of Scripture and tradition regarding this matter. Nevertheless, it is important to note that we are not alone in our affirmation of the ordination of women. There is in fact a great transition in the wider Jewish world to welcoming women to serve the community as rabbis (as well as women being ordained as ministers and serving in pastoral roles in a number of Protestant denominations). There are rare cases of women serving in rabbinical roles before the 20th century. For instance, in the 17th century Asenath Barzani served as a rabbi among the Kurds. In the 19th century, Hannah Rachel Verbermacher was a female Hasidic rebbe in Ludmir. The first formally ordained woman was Regina Jonas in Germany in 1935. In America, major streams of liberal Judaism have followed suit: Reform (1972), Reconstructionist (1974), Renewal (1981), Conservative (1985), and Humanist (1999). In general, the various streams of Orthodoxy have not embraced women’s ordination. Some leading figures and institutions in Modern Orthodoxy such as Rabbi Avi Weiss in America and the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem have founded rabbinical training programs in recent years that either include women or are specifically geared towards women. Rabba Sara Hurwitz was ordained by Rabbi Weiss in 2010. Some leading Orthodox rabbinical figures have issued teshuvot in support of women’s ordination including Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber, and Rabbi Joshua Maroof.

Consonant with the standards of the MJRC, we affirm that all Messianic Jewish Rabbis, male or female, should view the observance of the mitzvot as central to their rabbinical vocation. Women who are studying for the rabbinate or ordained as Messianic Jewish Rabbis should voluntary take upon themselves the obligation to observe time-bound mitzvot from which they have traditionally been exempted (i.e., Shema and Tefillin; m. Kiddushin 1:7; m. Berachot 3:3; see Section 4.3.6.2 “Men, Women, and Basic Practices Related to Prayer” of the MJRC Standards).