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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Orthodox Yeshiva Graduates Class of Female Leaders

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.
Sara Hurwitz, dean of Yeshivat Maharat.

Sara Hurwitz, dean of Yeshivat Maharat.

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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.

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18 Responses to “Orthodox Yeshiva Graduates Class of Female Leaders”

  1. Congratulation ladies.

  2. This is a great step forward!

  3. I assume Maharat is part of Chovevei..kol hakavod RavAvi for once again…getting SO CLOSE to the fence!!

  4. Lisa Liel says:

    Buh-bye. Do the honest thing and admit that you're no longer Orthodox.

  5. Have to agree with you, Lisa. The tough part is that I would never deny that a woman is capable of learning, or being learned. However, they are rare, and not truly part of our tradition. To have an occasional woman who is learned come to the fore is not an issue. But to establish a full school for that purpose? And remember, men were not suitable for the Sanhedrin if they were childless, or unmarried.

  6. Lisa Liel says:

    It isn't even the ordination thing. This has been a long time coming; the ordination of women is just a landmark turning point kind of thing. The whole Partnership Minyan, JOFA, YCT radical left wing of Modern Orthodoxy has really left Orthodox Judaism already hashkafically. Things like this are just like big banners saying, "See? I'm leaving!"

  7. Andy Marcus says:

    My shul hired one of the first graduates. I am not in favor of the concept as a general principle. Nor would I say that cranking out 14 "maharats" is a good idea – just yet. That said, I do believe we are still Orthodox. And time will tell how it goes by us. Is this the beginning of a slide out of Orthodoxy for my shul? I don't think so. But time will tell. I can say that if it had not been for my Rav, I doubt I would be Orthodox. And I trust his judgment.

  8. I do not think it's "no longer Orthodox" for women to perform the roles these women will be performing. Everything these women are doing is OK by halacha. There is a LOT women can do within the context of Orthodoxy in a leadership role. I have no issue with this–in fact, I think it's progress that these women are able to do what they will be doing.

  9. Andy Marcus says:

    I don't think Lisa is saying halachah. I think she is talking haschachah and normative Orthodox practice. There is no denying that she is right there – nor is it typical for a change of this nature to be made in this manner.

  10. Eric Leibman says:

    Andy, your shul hired one of them? Do me a favor and tell me the name of your shul so I can make sure to never set foot in it.

  11. Yori Yanover says:

    Lisa Liel – I'm not sure I accept your all-or-nothing approach. In the area of men and women the sages have left us a very complex bag of majority and minority opinions, and I believe there's plenty of room for more than a few, central or right-wing positions to develop. The argument you're using was, strangely enough, used against the Chassidic movement in the early 19th century, and less than a decade ago, against Lubavitch. The fact is that the Rabbinic umbrella is surprisingly wide and one can be considered an observer of mitzvot even with a 10-tefachim mechitza and women's minyanim.

    I also believe it was the intent of the Shulchan Aruch to provide a legal ground for women's participation — otherwise it wouldn't have included the famous "Hakol olim le'minyan shiv'ah" that says women are permitted to get an aliyah in shul, but we don't do it. He could have just ignore this citation from massechet Megillah.The Rambam ignores it. I believe he kept it there for future use.

  12. Jennifer Badani says:

    Tefillin for Women: Eiruvin 95-96

    In Talmudic times, it was common for one to wear tefillin all day long. As the Torah does not limit its observance in any way, there would seem to be no reason to limit time spent wearing them to a few minutes a day. Even the exemption from wearing tefillin at night and on Shabbat is subject to much Talmudic dispute, with many asserting that "Shabbat z'man tefillin hu", Shabbat is a time for [the wearing of] tefillin").

    The Talmud (Eiruvin 95b) at one point goes so far as to claim that "kulei alma", the entire world, agrees that one must wear tefillin on Shabbat. One of the proofs brought for this view is from the fact that "Michal the daughter of Shaul wore tefillin, and the Sages did not protest about it" (ibid 96a). As women are exempt from positive mitzvoth that are time-dependent, the fact that Michal wore tefillin must demonstrate that there must be an obligation to wear tefillin at all times, including Shabbat.

    The underlying assumption of the Gemara is a most fascinating one; namely, that one who is exempt from a mitzvah is forbidden to perform it. One must either wear tefillin on Shabbat, and women, too, are obligated in this mitzvah; or one should not wear tefillin on Shabbat, turning it into a time-bound mitzvah, exempting women and–at this stage in the Talmudic discussion–forbidding its performance.

    While it may sound strange to forbid the voluntary performance of mitzvoth–and this view is in fact rejected–it is an honour, a privilege, and a great responsibility to perform mitzvoth. If G-d does not obligate us to perform a mitzvah, perhaps it is a chutzpah to do so. Torah is compared to fire, and one plays with fire at one's own risk.

    Lest one think that this applies to tefillin only, the statement about the Sages' acquiescence to Michal wearing tefillin is immediately followed by, "and the wife of Yonah [the prophet] would go on aliyah leregel[1] and the Sages did not protest [2]". While there is seemingly no reason to prohibit women from going to Jerusalem for the three pilgrim festivals, if not for the fact that the Sages considered it obligatory for women to do so, it would have been just that.

    The Talmud rejects this line of reasoning; while Shabbat may not be a time that one is obligated to wear tefillin, thus exempting women, Michal wore tefillin voluntarily. The Talmud notes that this must be so, as the mitzvah of aliyah leregel is undoubtedly time-bound and nevertheless, the rabbis did not protest when Yonah's wife did so.

    Jewish tradition in general encourages one to perform mitzvoth voluntarily. The Tosafists quote Rabbeinu Tam's position that not only can women perform mitzvoth for which they are not obligated, they should recite the blessing "asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav", thanking the One who commanded us in mitzvoth, even though they themselves are not commanded in this particular mitzvah. His proof is from Michal who, Rabbeinu Tam assumes, not only wore tefillin but made a bracha on them.

    Ironically, the one exception for women who volunteer to do mitzvoth today is that of tefillin [3]. Because tefillin requires great concentration, something almost all of us lack, we have greatly limited the wearing of tefillin for men to the few minutes it takes to daven shacharit. To wear tefillin all day is considered yuhara, religious arrogance [4]. It's almost as if the rabbis would prefer that the men of today not wear tefillin at all–but what can they do, it's a Torah requirement, leading the rabbis to limit it to a few minutes a day. Thus, we strongly advise that women, who are exempt, do not volunteer for this particular mitzvah.

    Performing mitzvoth is the raison d'etre of the Jew. We should seek out as many opportunities as we can to perform mitzvoth; and do so with the desire to get closer to G-d[5].

    [1] The mitzvah to visit the Temple on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

    [2] It appears that the Talmud's example of the wife of Yonah is most instructive. Yonah tried to run away from G-d, boarding a boat at Jaffa to escape from the land of Israel, in keeping with the notion that there is no prophecy outside the land of Israel. How appropriate and redeeming that it was his wife who would journey to Jerusalem, where the Divine Presence is most manifest!

    [3] While a women wearing a tallit would be frowned upon in contemporary Orthodoxy, the reason for such is not totally clear. The Ramah (Orach Chaim #17:2) states that women may wear a tallit and make the blessing; he then adds a 'but' – since even a man who does not own a four-cornered garment does not need to buy one, for a woman to do so "looks like yuhara".

    [4] Interestingly, the other exception to volunteering to perform additional mitzvoth is the area of chumrot, stringencies, where the issue of yuhara is a most serious one. Unless one is performing the entire range of mitzvoth properly, one should be very careful before taking upon oneself an activity that is required of none.

    [5] In case anyone is wondering how a discussion about tefillin appears in mashechet Eiruvin, it stems from the Mishnah that discusses the procedure to be followed if one finds tefillin on the street on Shabbat in a place where there is no eiruv.

  13. Lisa Liel says:

    Plagiarise much?

  14. Lisa Liel says:

    Yori Yanover You know, when the Conservative movement started out, they were also *technically* within the bounds of halakha.

  15. Jennifer Badani says:

    The Conservative & Reform Chumash has no Rashi commentaries. It's replaced by modern Rabbi's commentaries.

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