By: Nechama Lowy | Opinions  | 

Change in Mindset

Since Dean Nissel released a statement on Friday, March 23 announcing the implementation of a new minyan that will allow women to speak from the pulpit, there has been a strong response by the Wilf campus student leaders calling for the Yeshiva University administration and RIETS to consider the student body’s needs before taking action on their own accord. While I wholeheartedly support this notion, it is not just the external permissions that need addressing, but the internal mindset that is clearly prevalent among the RIETS administration.

The recent statement reaffirmed what the rabbis of RIETS have already made clear—they do not parallel a Modern Orthodox yeshiva atmosphere with women in leadership positions and that is the exact mindset that needs changing. The reason they are not changing Klein@9 to fit the needs of the community is because they have not shown any intention of normalizing women in leadership roles in minyanim as a “yeshiva norm.”

I state this with confidence, having experienced Klein@9 firsthand and speaking with leaders of the minyan, as well as researching the background and dialogue behind the policy that women cannot speak from the pulpit. Several RIETS rabbis explicitly stated that women were not allowed to speak after davening and the fact that the issue was not resolved after one woman spoke, until multiple articles and discussions were published, shows that they had no intention of including women anytime soon. The university acted upon community pressure when creating the new minyan that they announced a few weeks ago, not their own values. Perhaps it would have been more plausible to assume that the rabbis of RIETS support women in leadership roles in minyanim had they taken this opportunity to differentiate between their personal stricter views and the needs of the community to create an inclusive environment. However, after speaking with multiple leaders of the minyanim, no such statement was made, aside from reasserting the policy that disallows women from speaking after davening. There is no reason to believe that they supported women speaking prior to the incident and creating an entirely separate minyan shows that they do not support it now.

While I understand Yeshiva University’s desire to accommodate the range of opinions among the student body, in truth, they are not working to accommodate, but rather to prevent a positive change that would encourage both men and women to truly embrace and participate in their Shabbat experience. The administration needs to cease the mindset that exclusion is a tolerable status quo because of how they deem the typical “yeshiva minyanim” to operate. Yeshiva University claims to be the flagship institution for Modern Orthodoxy, yet their actions seem to imply otherwise.

While Yeshiva University has failed to properly acknowledge the improvement regarding accepting women leaders within Modern Orthodox communities, many of our diverse communities continue to show their support for participation. I attended a seminary where my female Talmud teacher taught women’s law at the yeshiva nearby. My high school Tanach teacher, a Stern alumna, taught Tanach and Jewish Thought to the high school boys. Orthodox life on many other college campuses takes pride in women serving as gabbait, giving the dvar Torah, and taking on leadership roles.

Women continue to become more involved and take on more roles in their respective communities and Yeshiva University should not only recognize this, but wholeheartedly support and condone the actions taken by leaders of minyanim to include women. In failing to do so, they will not only further isolate students, but stunt growth and acceptance within their diverse communities.

The unfortunate truth is that Yeshiva University is not ready to accept the necessity of women in yeshiva leadership roles, and until they release a statement equalizing and validating the minyanim that are more open to women as aligned with the Modern Orthodox yeshiva norm they claim to represent, we have no reason to believe otherwise.