New Modern Orthodox rabbinic group holds first conference
Conversion and role of women among topics
By Cindy Mindell
In April 2008, a group of 75 Orthodox rabbis convened in West Palm Beach, Fla. to discuss issues relevant to the movement. When the question of conversion was raised, nearly all the attendees agreed that the local rabbi, not a centralized rabbinic bureaucracy, should be responsible for the process.
This discussion marked the first formal conference of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF).
Co-founded by New York Rabbis Avraham Weiss of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Marc D. Angel of Congregation Shearith Israel, the IRF is a broad coalition of more than 150 Modern Orthodox rabbis who represent the spectrum of the world Modern Orthodox community. They are from several yeshivot including Yeshiva University and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in the U.S. and Yeshivat HaMivtar in Israel. Many are members of other Modern Orthodox rabbinic organizations as well. Rabbi Yitzchok Adler of Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford serves on IRF’s board of directors.
At the 2008 conference, American rabbis upset by the increasing hierarchal approach in the Modern Orthodox community were joined by leading Israeli rabbis who expressed similar concerns about the hierarchal Israeli chief rabbinate.
In June, the IRF held its annual conference at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center near Baltimore, Md. Rabbi Yossi Pollak of Beit Chaverim Synagogue in Westport was the only Connecticut rabbi in attendance. The group voted on and adopted several policies and resolutions meant to guide Orthodoxy’s future.
The IRF officially established a conversion committee, or Va’ad Giur. Comprised of several American and Israeli rabbinic scholars, the committee will oversee, guide, and ensure the thoroughness of conversions performed by IRF members.
“The Va’ad Giur will serve to ensure that each rabbi retains the proper ability to care for and guide their own candidates for conversion,” says IRF president, Rabbi Barry Gelman. “The IRF giur (which means “conversion” in Hebrew) process, which includes a very important mentorship component, guarantees that candidates for conversion will be well prepared and that the rabbis are provided with ongoing guidance and support.”
The group also adopted Orthodoxy’s broadest resolution to date regarding the role of and opportunities for women working in rabbinic capacities in Orthodox synagogues.
“Observant and committed Orthodox women who are learned, trained and competent should have every opportunity to fully serve the Jewish community,” the resolution reads.
IRF adopted guidelines to be considered by Modern Orthodox communities, recognizing that each community and its rabbinic leadership retain the authority to determine what is appropriate.
The roles proposed for Orthodox women include:
Teachers of Torah, in all its breadth and depth – Shebikhtav, Shebe’al Peh and Practical Halakha – to both men and women;
Persons who can answer questions and provide guidance to both men and women in all areas of Jewish law in which they are well versed;
Clergy who function as pastoral counselors – visiting the sick, helping couples work through relationship difficulties, taking care of the arrangements for burial, speaking at life-cycle events, and giving counsel to individuals and families in distress;
Spiritual preachers and guides who teach classes and deliver divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) and derashot (sermons), in the synagogue and out, both during the week and on Shabbat and holidays;
Spiritual guides and mentors, helping arrange and manage life-cycle events such as weddings, bar- and bat-mitzvah celebrations, and funerals, while refraining from engaging in those aspects of these events that Halakha does not allow for women to take part in.;
Presidents and full members of the boards of synagogues and other Torah institutions.
For more information on the IRF and its mission:www.internationalrabbinicfellow- ship.org