Most men don’t want to play in the NBA, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to play basketball.
Most men don’t want to be President of the United States, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to take the Constitution test or study politics.
Most men don’t want to cook, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.
Most men don’t want to spend time on grooming, therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to own mirrors.
The arguments above make little sense. Who cares if only a small percentage of elite athletes are actually talented enough to play for a professional basketball team? Many more men enjoy shooting hoops in their backyard or in amateur leagues for their own exercise and enjoyment. Why should the pros have all the fun? So what if a man doesn’t aspire to be the next American president? Does that mean he can’t take an interest in learning about the Constitution and how our government works? So a man doesn’t want to be a professional chef, nor does he have an interest in being the primary cook in his household? Does that mean he can’t learn a thing or two about basic cooking in case he needs to take over kitchen duties in a pinch? Maybe primping for a night out is a 2 minute affair for most men, but does it make sense to outlaw mirrors because beauty routines aren’t a high priority for them?
What about men who are gifted enough to make it into the NBA? How about those who do aspire to the Presidency and actually have a chance of getting elected? What about men who have a talent and passion for cooking and choose to focus on it as an art form, as a career, as a hobby, or as one of their household responsibilities? How about men who enjoy taking care of their appearance, and therefore need mirrors to accomplish their desired look?
Even if these kinds of men only made up a small percentage of the male population, would it be rational to prevent them from achieving their dreams because the majority of men won’t be affected?
That’s why this argument, when applied to women and expanding their roles within Orthodoxy, doesn’t make sense to me. I have literally heard people say that most women don’t want to wear tefillin, therefore it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to study Gemara, so it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to be called up to the Torah, so it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to dance with a Torah on Simchat Torah, so it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to be rabbis, so it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to lain, so it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to be a shul president, so it shouldn’t be allowed. Most women don’t want to serve on the board of an Orthodox institution currently made up of men, so it shouldn’t be allowed.
This excuse allows men to say that the reason why women aren’t permitted to have an expanding role is because they don’t want one. It’s an endless circle of women not having a precedent for leadership or involvement in public ritual, and the claim that the cause of that precedent is that women have never wanted greater involvement. When some women speak up that they do want more opportunities, the precedent of never having wanted them before is cited as the reason why they can’t have those opportunities now. Our female representatives have spoken, and they have declined progress. Polls will reopen in 3015.
Even if most women don’t want to do x, y, or z, why should the women who do want to do x, y, or z have to suffer? Also, I personally have always heard the excuse, ‘most women don’t want to,’ declared by men. I’ve heard women say, ‘I don’t want to,’ but most women will still acknowledge that there may be other women who do. It isn’t fair to prohibit larger participation of women in Jewish public life on the basis that most women aren’t interested in a larger role.
If you asked three different orthodox women their reasons for having no desire to be president of their local school board, you might get three different answers. One woman saying no might have many young children, and be in the throes of the exhaustion that comes with frequent pregnancies and round the clock parenting. Another woman declining might be devoting all of her energy working to support her married children and trying to marry off the remainder. Yet another uninterested woman might be heavily involved in being a kallah teacher and providing taharat hamishpacha outreach and education, and she feels her already large contributions to the community are enough without having to take on school board duties. However, if you asked three other women their reasons for wanting to become the president of their local school board, they might have equally compelling reasons related to their own philanthropy goals, dedication to an alma mater, decades of experience as an educator, grown children all out of the house, etc..
We also have to consider which women are being surveyed as the Electoral College determining interest. Most probably it’s the women who have the ears of the most influential rabbis. Meaning, the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of today’s gadolim. When you consider that many of the women whose voices are (unofficially) heard by rabbis regarding egalitarianism are those who enjoy the privilege of proximity to a highly respected rabbi, it’s even easier to see why polling women with yichus would make them even less likely to see a need for women to be granted official power.
Such women are often afforded a higher level of authority and respect than the average woman due to their husbands. These women might not even relate to Orthodox women feeling powerless or frustrated at a limited public role, because they themselves lead lives very much in the public and are constantly asked for guidance by their husband’s congregants/followers. Although their influence might be informal, their opinions might sometimes count more strongly than even a tribunal of rabbis hoping to influence the rebbe. Additionally, I am told it isn’t unusual for the more open minded rabbaim to have chavrusahs with such wives who are inclined toward a higher level of Jewish scholarship. Whether or not rabbis and their wives learn a blat of Gemara I can’t say, but such one on one private sessions could possibly allow their wives access to texts not permitted to women in a public classroom.
The bottom line is that making generalizations about “most women” when only taking into consideration the opinions of a few gives a flawed perspective. Cream rises to the top. Even if the general female masses aren’t interested in expanded opportunities within the Orthodox tradition, should we consequently prevent the advancement of all women, including the superstars who could be pivotal to the future of our people?