Rabbi Avi Weiss sparked plenty of controversy with his announcement in January that his student Sara Hurwitz would now be known as rabba — a feminized version of rabbi, replacing her previous title of “maharat.” He declared in a statement that the name change “makes it clear that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff” at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx where he is the spiritual leader.
The Agudath Israel of America declared that by taking such a step and insisting it was tantamount to rabbic ordination, Weiss had placed himself outside the bounds of Orthodoxy. More importantly — at least from the perspective of Weiss and the students at his Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school — The New York Jewish Week recently reported that the Rabbinical Council of America was considering expelling Weiss.
Our sources say such a step was never under consideration — though some were pushing for a clear declaration that Weiss had crossed the line.
Either way, the RCA and Weiss have reached an agreement of sorts. Weiss will not be handing out the title to anyone else. And, we’re hearing, it’s not even clear if Hurwitz will keep the title (or if Weiss will continue to insist that she is essentially a woman rabbi). The buzz is that he will address the issue this Shabbos.
Here’s the coordinated statements that they are releasing today (with an intro from two important RCA members):
Please see the statements below, which are the result of quiet efforts over the past few weeks, as approved by the RCA Officers.
They will be shared shortly with the RCA membership, and thereafter with the media.
These statements represent a first major step in bringing this matter to closure in a fashion which avoids a damaging battle in the public arena.
We expect continued discussion to resolve other outstanding issues.
Moshe Kletenik and Shmuel Goldin
Over the course of the last several weeks, at the request and initiative of Rabbi Avi Weiss, the leadership of Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Avi Weiss have engaged in discussions concerning the issue of ordaining women as rabbis. We are gratified that during the course of these conversations Rabbi Weiss concluded that neither he nor Yeshivat Maharat would ordain women as rabbis and that Yeshivat Maharat will not confer the title of “Rabba” on graduates of their program.
We are delighted that we have been able to resolve this matter in adherence with Torah principles and in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of peace and unity within our community. We are confident that continued dialogue of this type will enable us to resolve other important issues facing the Jewish community today.
The RCA reaffirms its commitment to women’s Torah education and scholarship at the highest levels, and to the assumption of appropriate leadership roles within the Jewish community. We strongly maintain that any innovations that impact the community as a whole should be done only with the broad support of the Orthodox rabbinate and a firm grounding in the eternal mesorah of the Jewish people.
Letter from Rabbi Avi Weiss to RCA President Rabbi Moshe Kletenik
Dear Rabbi Kletenik,
This has been a most challenging time. The change in title from “Maharat” to “Rabba” has precipitated a level of controversy in the Orthodox community that was neither expected nor intended. In light of the tension caused to our greater community and my commitment to the principle of gadol hashalom, I share the following:
It is not my intention or the intention of Yeshivat Maharat to confer the title of “Rabba” upon its graduates. Yeshivat Maharat prepares women for positions of religious leadership in the Orthodox community. Each student who completes its course of study in Tanakh, Talmud, Halakha and Jewish Thought, and is deemed fit by her faith, knowledge of our Mesoret, ethical integrity and temperament to assume positions of religious leadership in Orthodox institutions will be confirmed as manhigah hilkhatit, ruhanit, toranit (Maharat).
They will have been prepared to provide varied forms of communal and synagogue leadership in accordance with halakha. They will also have been trained in pastoral counseling, as well as having the ability to answer questions of halakha to those who seek them out, as has been recognized and well established in both classical and contemporary halakhic sources.
I hope that good will emerge from all of this, and that some of the meaningful conversation and communication that has taken place these past few weeks between myself and yourself as the President of the Rabbinical Council of America, might continue. I thank you for your candor and your receptiveness.
In the prayer that we all continue to work for the betterment of Am Yisrael–
UPDATE: Flyer from Weiss’ shul:
"Reflections on Rabba" with Rabbi Avi Weiss
The change in title from Maharat to Rabba has precipitated much discussion in our community. Rav Avi will address these issues tomorrow, Shabbat afternoon, at 4:00pm in the Lower Level Beit Midrash. Please attend to learn and be part of the discussion.