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Two Orthodox Rabbis Launch New Training Program for Women

Two modern Orthodox rabbis are starting a training program for highly educated Orthodox Jewish women that could bring them one step closer to rabbinic ordination.

But even one of the project’s organizers emphasizes that the program’s immediate goal is not the ordination of women.

Saul Berman and Avi Weiss, New York rabbis who are well-known as halachic authorities on the progressive end of the Orthodox spectrum, are establishing a program that will train women to deal with the ideological and pragmatic aspects of working in positions of Orthodox religious and educational leadership.

The program, which Berman said he expects to begin in September, will meet once a week and have a dozen to 15 students. The program does not yet have a name, he said, and is being partly funded in part by Edah, a recently established organization devoted to teaching rabbis and other Orthodox Jews about modern Orthodox ideology.

The new program will teach women about the halachic issues involved with the propriety of women functioning as leaders and of women working as decisors of Jewish law, witnesses and judges, Berman said in an interview.

The program will be open to female graduates of institutions such as Drisha, a school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Founded in 1979, Drisha four years ago established a three-year program to train women in Talmud and halachah at an advanced level.

Three women have gotten certification and six now are learning in the program with Rabbi Dovid Silber, the school’s founder.

There are a handful of small schools, such as Matan in Jerusalem, doing similar work, and one Orthodox rabbi there reportedly is working with a woman whom he expects to privately ordain.

They train women to answer questions about Jewish law in limited areas, such as family purity and kashrut.

The new term that has been developed for these women is “poskot,” the female parallel to the term “poskim,” which means an authoritative interpreter of Jewish law.

The new program will definitely not be women’s ordination, Berman said.

“We do not believe that ordination is appropriate for women” because no woman currently has the education and training required of a rabbi and because women are barred by Jewish law from working in some of the roles required for ordination, such as that of a witness.

The day is quickly coming when a woman will have the training she needs to be eligible for the Orthodox rabbinate, Berman said, but the other obstacles are more daunting.

“While it would theoretically be possible to define ordination without those specific requirements, I don’t think that it’s productive or useful for the Orthodox community to think in that direction,” Berman said.

It is more productive “to think about utilizing the strengths that a generation of extremely well-educated women are bringing rather than muddy the waters by trying to define titles,” he said.

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