Why the Orthodox Union’s Ruling on Female Clergy Won’t Change Anything

Feb. 16 2018

The Orthodox Union (OU)—Orthodox Jewry’s major American organization—recently issued an ultimatum to four congregations that had violated its policies by hiring female rabbis, giving them three years to find a way to comply or to face expulsion. Since then, vigorous debate about the question of whether women can be rabbis has re-erupted in Orthodox circles and in the pages of Jewish publications. But, argues Gil Student, the decisions of the OU, or the rulings of its rabbinic advisers, are not, in the end, what will determine the direction taken by Orthodox Jewry:

In past centuries, Jewish communal organizations ruled in a literal sense. They had governmental authority to set rules, levy taxes, and punish disobedient members. . . . If a pre-modern Jewish communal body disallowed a synagogue practice, all of the synagogues under its authority had to cease the practice immediately or face punishment. People would not dare set foot in a defiant synagogue. In those days, excommunication meant expulsion from the community. . . .

But the Jewish community is no longer organized in a fashion that allows for excommunication. If the OU expels a synagogue, will that synagogue operate any differently? Will people stop attending that synagogue? Not necessarily. People affiliate voluntarily. They can join whichever community they want, start their own communities, or choose to live a life without a formal religious community. People make their own decisions on how, or if, they observe their religion and which synagogue, if any, they attend. . . .

In sum, while the OU may revoke the organizational membership of a synagogue with women clergy, it cannot expel the synagogue from Orthodoxy. . . . [In this case, the threatened] expulsion, for all intents and purposes, already occurred before the OU’s announcement.

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More about: American Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Open Orthodoxy, Orthodox Union, Religion & Holidays

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy