In recent years there has been much discussion, and controversy, about expanding opportunities for women to serve as clergy and educators in Orthodox institutions, with some advocating for the ordination of female rabbis or the introduction of new roles and titles specifically for women. Sarah Rindner, while sympathetic to such measures, draws on the Bible to caution against the tendency of arguments about the subject to lose sight of what is most important:
Instead of the movement for female leadership expanding our collective sense of the many forms leadership can take, we are asked to view events through the paradigm of victory or frustration: a woman has been assigned this or that position, or such a position has been denied or declared off-limits. These milestones may in fact have significance, but there is also something retrograde about a religious conversation that places so much stock in the acquisition of titles and authority. Although great leaders are identified and praised in the Jewish tradition, most of them male and some female as well, in many cases this authority is interrogated, criticized, and ultimately viewed as [being of secondary importance]. In stark contrast to the epic heroes of other traditions, Jewish heroes, even as they achieve external greatness, are praised for their humility and devotion to God. . . .
There have always been powerful women in human history, just as there have always been female public leaders in Judaism. . . . To vehemently oppose . . . such female leadership is strange and misguided. But any support for such leadership needs to be balanced by an equally weighted recognition that the substance of one’s character is far more important than the position of authority one holds, regardless of sex. When it comes to spiritual leadership, it’s not what you accomplish or how many followers you amass that matters, it’s who you are. Any movement advocating for female Jewish leadership needs to keep this at the forefront of its priorities. . . .
[The final chapter of the book of Proverbs, which] at first seems to be a song in praise of various over-the-top accomplishments of a phenomenal Jewish woman, also raises the implicit question of where true virtue lies in general, and whether external accolades are an appropriate way to recognize such virtue. It is perhaps for this reason, among others, that the Jewish sages view Eishet Ḥayil, [as this chapter is known], not only as a poem about one woman, or womanhood, but also as a divine allegory with multifaceted religious significance. The model of the Jewish woman here is in some ways a template for the entire Jewish people to strive for and emulate.