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Can someone tell me what’s wrong with having a woman as shul president?

Dov Bear has a post about a shul in Syracuse (I know the rabbis kids from yeshiva, and have davened there many times) that is being kicked out of the NCYI National Council of Young Israel, because it has a woman president. I always thought that Young Israel was supposed to be “modern” orthodox, yet they have such a rule on the books. Can anyone really say it’s wrong to have a woman as shul president? It just sounds like another rule to prevent women from being leaders in orthodoxy. Although I doubt having the ability to get up at shul and announce the times for mincha that week would be justified as being a leader.

{ 54 comments… add one }
  • Ben June 23, 2010, 6:14 PM

    For Shaarei Torah, the president is hardly a position of power.

    The president can authorization the purchase of up $250 for the shul in cases of emergency without the approval of the rest of the board.

  • Menachem June 23, 2010, 6:29 PM

    We had a female shul president for 2 years. And we’re a Chardal shul in Israel! Our Rav, a major Talmid Chachom, took some heat for it in the beginning, but then all was quiet.

  • E. Fink June 23, 2010, 6:32 PM

    > Our shul has a woman co-president.

    > The problem with a woman president is a halachic problem, not hashkafic. The Rambam and others codify the rule as a prohibition against “serara” which means “leadership”. It is derived from the law prohibiting a woman from being the Jewish monarch. It is hard to fault a frum organization for following established halacha. Perhaps, as DovBear suggests, a leniency could be found…

    • Bubba Metzia June 23, 2010, 9:03 PM

      What about queen Shlomtzion? or Devorah?

      • Chris_B June 26, 2010, 8:33 AM

        Seems to me that just because there’s Torah prescient doesnt mean the folks from Chumraberg dont have a counter argument.

  • chabad June 23, 2010, 6:33 PM

    My Aunt was President for years at her Chabad shul in S. California. Now that she doesn’t live there anymore there is another woman who is the shul president.

  • Reb Mendel June 23, 2010, 6:42 PM

    Because it might lead to mixed dancing!

    • Anonymous June 24, 2010, 11:15 AM

      If you are joking, I commend you for making me laugh. If you are not joking, I am in shock. Either way, you have been successful. 😛

  • Tired of it June 23, 2010, 7:52 PM

    I know of a New Jersey Y.I. that had a female president a few years ago. The NCYI was not happy about it. If you take note, they also ban Gerrim from being president. Someone suggested electing a female convert as president to test the waters. The dirty little secret is that the NCYI has an ironclad hold on the individual shuls so that they cannot withdraw or breakaway from the NCYI.

    • Sergey Kadinsky June 25, 2010, 6:06 PM

      How do they justify gerim from being shul presidents? If a convert can become a rabbi, why not a shul president?

      • Prili June 27, 2010, 12:36 PM

        Yeah! And whatever happened to the idea that a ger or a georess are on a higher level than the rest of us. They’ve com a lot farther and given a lot more up to follow the torah path.

        • Anonymous June 27, 2010, 12:52 PM

          a. Theres no such idea
          b. Even if they were on a higher level that wouldnt preclude the halacha that prevents them from being in a position of “leadership” just as it doesnt preclude women from that prohibition although they ARE on a higher level than men.

  • Chuckie D June 23, 2010, 8:13 PM

    The salvation of the world will come through women. Their true value will hence shine forth. The moon will be as great if not greater then the sun. Remember they are here to fix us slobbs. Get off your high chair machEEsmatic bullies. Halachik manipulation won’t hold em down forever.

  • chosid June 23, 2010, 8:17 PM

    For someone that has no obligation to be in shul 99% of the days of the year, what need is there for a female president?

    Not to mention there is the issur of serara mentioned earlier.

    This feminist nonsense can only come from a lack of proper jewish education which inculcates in girls an appreciation for the tremendously important role that women play as the akeres habayis.

    • Shimon June 28, 2010, 2:42 AM

      For somebody who has no obligation to be in shul 82% of the hours of the year (assuming services take up 30 hours/week), what need is there for a male president?

      The role of homemaker, with the advent of modern appliances, now takes less and less time to do, allowing women more time to spend on things like learning Torah or being shul president.

  • Joe June 23, 2010, 8:27 PM

    Melech vlo malka is a drosha in the Gemara . Women should not be in public leadership positions. It’s not modest. Period

    • yo moma June 27, 2010, 12:41 PM

      Hey have you ever read Oz Vi-hadar Levusha? You should! Then you can tell us what else we can’t do. Like talking on a public telephone. Because you know, thats not modest either. Devorah probally should have gotten karat for being a navi. Maybe G-d also, because He allowed her to have it. Don’t be the jerk who spouts a line from the gemorah and expects women to understand. After all, your the ones who wont let us learn it.

  • blanquita June 23, 2010, 9:59 PM

    Joe, just curious, do you also think that Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and I don’t know, Tzipi Livni, should allow a men to take their positions? Is it also immodest for women to lead businesses, schools, or governments?

    • Steve June 23, 2010, 11:19 PM

      First of all, what position does Sarah Palin exactly have? I know what you meant though. As far as a leader in a goyish government, I’m not sure. This also applies to Israel, as it also does not have the din of a real Jewish government.

  • plonit almonit June 23, 2010, 10:00 PM

    This is in response to chossid’s comment, declaring that having a female president is “feminist nonsense”.

    I know the situation in Syracuse quite well. The shul is very small and is constantly struggling. The reason why they have a woman currently serving as shul president is because ALL of the eligible men in the shul have already served at least one term (including the husband of the current president, many years ago). There are no more men left in the shul who want to take on the position of president. It has nothing to do with feminism at all – it is purely a practical issue. If the NCYI has such a problem with there being a female president of the shul, perhaps they can find some male volunteers to move to Syracuse? I’m sure the community wouldn’t object to some young blood.

  • blanquita June 23, 2010, 10:00 PM

    Oops, I meant to say men, I pressed submit before I could edit out the “a.” I apologize.

    • Spelling Nazi June 23, 2010, 10:52 PM

      How dare you.

  • Rabeinu Bleich June 23, 2010, 10:26 PM

    Here is the official article on the subject http://www.scribd.com/doc/13998036/Women-on-Synagogue-Boards

  • H.E. Pennypacker June 23, 2010, 11:03 PM

    ya rav shachter from YU has a whole psak on it. i know its in this shuir http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/721810/Rabbi_Hershel_Schachter/Shiur_43

  • Anonymous June 23, 2010, 11:14 PM

    the question for each shul first is if it is serarah – in this case it does not sound like serarah but merely a ceremonial position. but the bigger issue is that this shul withdrew from NCYI 2 years ago and is not a YI branch anymore, so they have no right to boss them around.

  • Sam June 24, 2010, 2:57 AM

    Obviously, if women were shul presidents, they’d menstruate illogic all over the board meetings, and devote precious shul resources to cooking, breastfeeding and being emotional. Also, if a woman can make decisions for an entire shul, it might make women think that they are meant to have some autonomy over the decisions that affect their own lives. I’m not sure that’s conducive to getting them to be quiescent baby-makers who have an “even more special place than men” in the community. Well, two special places, actually, if we divide the home into separate rooms.

    Of course, this is putting aside the fact that I already get a little aroused during shul announcements as it is. Now if Mrs. Goldfarb were doing the announcements…yowzers.

    • Esther June 24, 2010, 9:23 AM


    • Rachel June 24, 2010, 3:43 PM


    • Hannah June 24, 2010, 3:48 PM

      See, but this is the attitude – though you’ve turned it into something amusing here. this is yet another reason that I cannot ever practice the religion I was born into.

  • Joel Katz June 24, 2010, 4:23 AM

    Check out Rabbi bans women from public office for some news here in Israel.

    “Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, chief rabbi of the Elon Moreh settlement in Samaria, has prohibited female residents from running for the office of community secretary.”

  • Menachem June 24, 2010, 8:27 AM

    Spoke to my rav to make sure I was clear on why he allowed it. Basically he said that on a shul board the “president” is not really a “melech”. Here in Israel it’s referred to as a “Yoshev Rosh” (or in our case a Yoshevet Rosh). Basically, the person is just the organizational head of the “vaad” or committee with no real extra “powers”.

    Just so you understand, like I said before, he’s a major Talmid Chachom with a tremendous grasp in many areas of halacha. He was also a talmid of the Rav for 13 years and has much of the Rav’s Torah on demand. He even mentioned that the Rav didn’t have a problem when Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister. His basic feeling was that in a democracy the “leader” is more like an Eved than a Melech.

    • Anonymous June 24, 2010, 4:15 PM

      You do realize your major talmid chahcam rabbi agrees that there is a problem with a woman in a postiton of leadership. He maintains that the president in your shul isnt a real postion of leaderhip. This paints quite a different picture than your first comment. In fact it relegates your first comment into mere trivia about your shul.

      • Menachem June 24, 2010, 4:25 PM

        You can look at it that way if you want to. But that’s really counterproductive. There ARE issues brought down in halacha. If you don’t want to work within the framework of halacha then you are free to do whatever the heck you want. On the other hand if you want to be true to halacha but are afraid to innovate then you remain stuck in the 19th century. However, if you want to move forward WITHIN the framework of halacha then you can do as my Rav did.

        Within Halacha there are limits. A Levi or Yisrael can’t do Birchat Kohanim. You can innovate your ass off, but it ain’t gonna happen. I’m a big proponent of making sure women get as far as they can go, but there will be hard limits.

  • Puzzled June 24, 2010, 8:37 AM

    First, it might not be on topic, but I note that it seems to be accepted in most communities that we have to ‘take turns’ being president rather than electing the most qualified person. Second, as Heshy notes, the president gives money and makes announcements.

    More to the point, though, halachic pronouncements do little to address the issue. It is not surprising that when you don’t allow women to make halachic decisions, there will have been decisions made over the years that favor men. Now men are angry that anyone dares question these decisions, they’ve come to a sense of entitlement much as bankers fume at the thought that they shouldn’t be handed money whenever they demand it. This is quite clear and obvious if you drop the magical thinking.

    • Zachary Kessin June 25, 2010, 9:32 AM

      As for taking turns I would imagine in part this is to prevent burnout. Its not practical to have one person doing the same (unpaid) job for years and years. At some point they may wish to do something else with their time.

  • MalachHamovies June 24, 2010, 10:09 AM

    Because it might lead to mixed dancing!

    That’s why charedeim don’t have sex standing up !!

  • tesyaa June 24, 2010, 12:24 PM

    If it’s true that a Ger is banned from being a YI president, that is euqlly nauseating; actually more so. What’s the religious justification there?

    • Mahla June 24, 2010, 12:39 PM

      I was thinking the same thing. How in the world do they justify it?!

      • GiyoresToBe June 25, 2010, 8:02 AM

        There is a ban on “s’rarah” (serarah, srara, whatever), which is deemed as a certain kind of leadership (kingship, i.e. having the power of coercion) for converts and women. the reason for converts given by Rambam (and Rambam is by far the only authoritative source suggesting that serara applies as broadly as he says) is that “you should not appoint over yourselves a foreign man who is not your brother.” the word ger (fem. ‘giyores’) means both ‘convert’ and ‘stranger,’ and is often used to denote ‘foreign’ although obliquely (“for you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim [Egypt, but not contemporary egypt]”

      • GiyoresToBe June 25, 2010, 8:05 AM

        Oh, and Rambam also bars ‘butchers, barbers, bath-house attendants and leather workers,’ even if they only did it for a day, because their job is so ‘low’ that people will disrespect them, even though they may be qualified.

        Funny how that psak never gets mentioned.

  • John June 24, 2010, 4:21 PM

    Our religion is not fair, nobody claims it is. I dont get the first 2 aliyahs no matter how badly i want them.

    • John June 24, 2010, 4:25 PM

      Whats more, creation/evolution isnt fair either. I wish I could carry a child in my body for 9 months and I wish I could nurse. Too bad on me, those arent my roles, oh how i envy the seahorse.

      • Sam June 24, 2010, 4:39 PM

        Huh. Yeah, I can’t see any difference between who can bear children and who gets voted as shul president either.

        I mean, if one were a physical ability and one were a position for which one is elected based on other abilities, I guess you could differentiate the two cases. And in that case, it might seem discriminatory to ban a group from the position for reasons totally unrelated to their abilities to do the job. But as things are, yeah, the two cases seem the same to me.

        • John June 24, 2010, 4:50 PM

          thats funny, because i see a difference, thats why I never said they were the same

          • Sam June 24, 2010, 6:29 PM

            Right. What you said was, more or less, “Life’s unfair, ladies, so deal with it.”

            But in an ethical society, we try to limit the amount of inequity and unfairness around to that which is unavoidable. Your inability to have a child is a matter of necessary “inequity.” (As a side note: right, I’m sure you cry to sleep knowing you won’t need to bear children.) However, creating arbitrary rules barring some groups from some jobs is just plain discriminatory.

            If you decided that only people taller than 5’8″ can be shul presidents, that would be height discrimination–and you could not claim, “Life’s often unfair, so deal with it,” because height is unrelated to one’s ability to do the job. We would never tolerate that kind of inequity in our society under the guise of “life is unfair in some unavoidable ways, so let’s place some extra arbitrary, totally avoidable limits on some groups.”

            • John June 24, 2010, 7:53 PM

              well said. However You are making a mistake, Orthodox Jews dont have the same definition of ethical society as you do. We believe god created the world and gave us rules to follow, and roles to play (this is where my comment came in).

              • Sam June 24, 2010, 8:58 PM

                > well said.

                Well taken…

            • Puzzled June 28, 2010, 10:24 AM

              If only people 5’8″ and over could write the rules, do you really think this wouldn’t happen?

  • anon June 24, 2010, 11:59 PM

    Geirim have the same limitations on srara that women do. That’s the din.

    • Puzzled June 28, 2010, 10:26 AM

      Why do so many people fail to differentiate between a question as to what the halacha is and a question as to what ought to be done?

  • Elf June 25, 2010, 11:58 AM

    It just depends how you define serara. Women having the right to vote is serara, and there are those who would prohibit women from voting for that reason. Arguably a woman voter has more impact on world events than any shul president.

  • usydgirl June 26, 2010, 11:03 AM

    A respected Rabbi at an Australian Orthodox shul told me a few weeks back that he has no issues with women reading the Torah – as in aliya-reading-the-Torah, yes, at a service… Apparently there’s no halachic issue with it. I’m confused.

    • Puzzled June 28, 2010, 10:28 AM

      This goes back to the mishna. The mishna says that women are permitted to ‘go up to the Torah.’ In those days, the person called up for an aliyah also read, so it would seem based on that, that women can read and receive aliyot. It then goes on to say, though, that we don’t actually call them up, because it’s an insult to the congregation. This appears to mean that people will think all the men are stupid and can’t read, so they had to call a woman. My position (when I’m in a halachic mood) is that in our time, no one will think such a thing, and there is no insult to the congregation here. That’s premised on a larger society that expects scholars to be men. We don’t have that expectation in the larger society, hence this objection no longer applies.

  • Rina July 6, 2010, 6:57 PM

    funny i read this. i just read this article this morning… http://text.rcarabbis.org/?p=958
    talks about this exact issue

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