Rabbi Simcha Krauss, a leading figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism who was a forceful advocate for women’s rights within Orthodoxy, died Jan. 20 at 85.
Krauss’s efforts, which included creating a rabbinical court to support women whose husbands refused to divorce them, frequently earned him scorn from traditionalists within Orthodoxy. But many others saw him as a “gentle giant” who wielded his years of study and experience to fight for women’s rights in Jewish law.
Krauss was born in Romania and came to the United States in 1948. He attended City College in New York and earned a master’s degree from the New School and later taught political science at St. Louis University and Utica College of Syracuse University.
Coming from a long line of rabbis, Krauss studied at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner in 1963, and later studied with the Modern Orthodox luminary Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Krauss served as a congregational rabbi for decades, first in Utica, N.Y., and later in St. Louis and in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Queens, where he led the Young Israel of Hillcrest for 25 years.
During his years in Queens, Krauss taught Talmud at Yeshiva University and began to get more involved in issues related to the role of women in Orthodoxy. In the 1990s, he began supporting the practice of women’s prayer groups, in which women gathered to worship together without men and often to read from the Torah together, a ritual traditionally only performed by men in Orthodox communities.
When the Va’ad of Queens, a local rabbinical council, met to discuss the issue ahead of a bat mitzvah in the community in which the girl was set to read from the Torah, Krauss defended the practice.
”Some people want something. We are rabbis. We are guardians of the law. Other people want something, and it’s a quest for spirituality, a yearning to be closer to God, and if we can say yes, we should say yes,” Krauss said, according to an article from the time in the New York Times. The Va’ad voted to denounce the practice, but the bat mitzvah went ahead as planned.
—JTA News and Features