Yeshivat Maharat, which trains Orthodox Jewish women to be religious leaders, held its first graduation ceremony.
Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, or leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters.
Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Rachel Kohl Feingold and Abby Brown Schier graduated Sunday in a ceremony in New York City attended by some 500 people.
Last month, the Rabbinical Council of America reissued a 2010 statement that said, “We cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.”
Yeshivat Maharat’s website defines it as “the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities. While there are institutions that provide a place for women to engage in serious Torah study, Yeshivat Maharat has taken an important step further. Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud, halakhic decision-making (psak), pastoral counseling, leadership development, and internship experiences, our graduates will be prepared to assume the responsibility and authority to be poskot (legal arbiters) for the community.”
Upon completion of Yeshivat Maharat’s four-year program, each graduate is qualified and equipped as a new kind of leader in the Orthodox community and beyond.
Each graduate of the New York yeshiva will use the title of maharat rather than rabbi or rabba — the title given to the dean of Yeshivat Maharat, Sara Hurwitz, when she was ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss.
This year, Yeshivat Maharat has fourteen students enrolled in the program, and they expect their enrollment to continue to grow.
To fully prepare students for careers in Jewish leadership, during the course of the program students complete internships in synagogues, Hillels, Jewish communal organizations and travel to new communities as visiting scholars.
The movement to confer religious authority on women in the Orthodox community, which began in 2009, remains controversial in the Orthodox community.
Some JTA content was used in this report.