Ethics and Community

Title: Bride and groom stand in front of the chupah, with the ketubah displayed on the right Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/1134330696/in/photostream/Another major challenge inheres in the fact that, according to the Bible, only a man can initiate divorce proceedings, as there is nothing in the Torah anticipating a woman divorcing her husband. Moreover, the treatment of divorce in Deuteronomy stipulates entirely subjective and exclusively male standards as constituting grounds for divorce. These problems were addressed through exacting rabbinical exegesis, which had the cumulative effect of narrowing the interpretation of "something unseemly" to sexual promiscuity or infidelity, and simultaneously widening the requirements for a valid "writ of separation" by creating elaborate scribal and juridical procedures governing the issuance of a legally binding divorce document, known in Hebrew as a get.

While rabbinic law was unable entirely to circumvent the biblical standard by which only the husband could initiate divorce proceedings, rabbinical courts since the early medieval period were provided with wide latitude to compel, even by physical coercion when all else failed, abusive or neglectful husbands to grant their wives a get. In the late 10th century, the leading rabbinical scholar of Franco-Germany, R. Gershom of Mainz, issued an ordinance against "throwing the divorce" at a woman against her will, which effectively required the wife's consent to accept the get in the presence of a rabbinical court.  R. Gershom also issued a universal Jewish ban on polygamy that has remained in force ever since among all Ashkenazic Jews.

Title: Orthodox Jewish couple in New York Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwilliamsphd/4294917084/Judaism has, since biblical times, maintained a generally positive view of licit sexuality. Sexual relations within marriage are considered not only entirely natural, but obligatory and even holy. In striking contrast to the more ascetic classical Christian sexual ethos, rabbinical Judaism encouraged regular sexual relations, in particular on Shabbat. Unlike those who enter Christian priestly or monastic orders, Jewish clergy are not celibate; quite the contrary, both rabbis and cantors are expected to marry and have families like all other members of the Jewish community.

While there is a variety of attitudes to, and religious interpretations of, human sexuality among both medieval and modern Jewish philosophers and mystics, there is no school of Jewish thought that advocates sexual abstemiousness in the name of any higher religious calling. While this positive attitude to human sexuality was generally beneficial to women, it did tend to prevent the emergence of women religious clerics, saints, or mystics, since Judaism rejected the very notion that a woman might abstain from her procreative duties to devote herself to a purely spiritual calling. On the other hand, the positive Jewish attitude to licit sexuality within the context of marriage resulted in Jewish law including, among the obligations of Jewish husbands, attending to the sexual satisfaction of their wives, an obligation considered on par with housing, physical protection, clothing, and financial support.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/keshet/3608157222/ title: a rabbi in CaliforniaWhile one of their earliest innovations was the initiation of "family-seating" at religious services—in contrast to the strict separation of the sexes in Orthodox services—it has only been since the last quarter of the 20th century that the Reform and Conservative movements have allowed for the ordination of women as rabbis. The first female Reform rabbi was ordained by the Hebrew Union College in 1972; and it was only in 1983 that the Conservative Movement's Jewish Theological Seminary ordained its first woman rabbi.  Since then, however, women have very rapidly risen in the ranks of Reform and Conservative rabbis and cantors. Today the numbers of women studying for both rabbinical ordination and cantorial diplomas at all the non-Orthodox seminaries exceed those of men.

While Orthodox Judaism does not sanction the ordination of rabbis and precludes women from chanting public services, within a small very liberal faction of Modern Orthodoxy, egalitarian congregations have begun to emerge. In these, women and men alternate in leading the services and preaching, although the women are not officially referred to as rabbis and cantors.  A few Orthodox synagogues in the United States and Israel today employ female "rabbinic interns," many of whose duties, such as teaching Torah and rendering halakhicdecisions, are the same as those of traditional rabbis. In March 2009, the controversial Modern Orthodox rabbi and activist, Avi Weiss of Riverdale, New York, conferred the equivalent of rabbinical ordination upon a graduate of the Drisha Institute, an Orthodox women's seminary in New York City. While the future of women as spiritual leaders within Orthodoxy is impossible to predict with certainty, the gender-egalitarian trends of the larger society are clearly impacting this most traditional wing of Judaism.

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