By Jackie Engel
When a student asks a question there are two levels that require a response simultaneously (at least). One is with relation to the content, the information, knowledge and broader hashkafa and the second is the emotional level, ones fears (where the yatzer hora is waiting to pounce), ones hopes, dreams, vision of themselves, and the life they want to create. When giving a response to a kiruv question it must make sense intellectually and they must find a place to put it internally, and experience some sort of emotional resonance for it to be accepted.
This can and often is a delicate balance but this focus is what should be going through a kiruv Rabbi/Rebtzns head when answering. What response (that is true) would speak to this person on both levels. What do they need to hear? Which part of Torah can I show them now that would help them to connect more, open more to the wonderful heritage that is theirs.?
With regards to women being Torah leaders, the likelihood of a student wanting to seriously go in this direction is extremely small. They are really asking to find out if Judaism can accommodate their need to be respected, valued as an intelligent sophisticated woman on par with the world that they know (emotional resonance). Once they know they 'could' be leaders if they really wanted to, (even in a minority of cases ) it gives them permission not to and to open more emotionally -- to feel that there is space, flexibility and dignity in this new found path they are wanting to explore more deeply.
The answer needs to be one of psychological intuitiveness and to help them work through their emotional resistance-- It's not an issue of practicality per se in by far the majority of cases
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Esther Wein has over 20 years of experience as an educator. She offers ongoing classes to adult women on both the weekly Torah portion and Prophets, in Lawrence, where she lives with her husband and children. Her class on the Torah portion can be heard via podcast weekly on ou.org radio and TorahAnytime.com.