NEW YORK (JTA) – Rabbi Avi Weiss has launched a yeshiva to train Orthodox women to "function as rabbis."
Known as Yeshiva Maharat, the school is expected to be up and running in September and will offer women part-time instruction in all areas of Jewish law, pastoral training and a synagogue internship.
Its name is taken from an invented title conferred in March upon Sara Hurwitz, previously the “spiritual mentor” at Weiss’ synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Maharat is a Hebrew acronym that stands for spiritual, halachic and Torah leader.
“We’re training women to be rabbis,” Hurwitz told the Forward. “What they will be called is something we’re working out.”
Weiss was said to be considering calling Hurwitz a rabbi at the urging of several Orthodox feminist leaders.
The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance called Hurwitz’s "ordination" and the new school’s establishment a “historic moment.” In a hint of disappointment, JOFA noted that another milestone will be reached with the ordination of Orthodox female rabbis.
Hurwitz acknowledged that graduates of the new program may have trouble getting jobs. At present, only a handful of Orthodox synagogues employ women in positions in which they function more or less as the equal of male rabbis, with the exception of performing public ritual roles during worship services.
“You have to start somewhere,” Hurwitz told JTA. “We have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, and I think that the community will follow.”