Weiss will not ordain Orthodox female rabbis

NEW YORK (JTA) – Rabbi Avi Weiss has backed away from the idea of ordaining women as Orthodox rabbis under the term “rabba.”

Weiss, a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi who guides the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx, had taken heat from the Orthodox community since he made the announcement in January that he would use the feminized version of rabbi for his student, Sara Hurwitz, who had been using the title "maharat."

The Rabbinical Council of America, an umbrella organization consisting mostly of Modern Orthodox rabbis, had been considering expelling him from the organization, The New York Jewish Week reported, though the veracity of that report is still under debate. 

But Weiss, the founder and leader of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school, and the RCA apparently have reached an agreement.

“It is not my intention or the intention of Yeshivat Maharat to confer the title of ‘Rabba’ upon its graduates,” Weiss said in a statement Friday. “Yeshivat Maharat prepares women for positions of religious leadership in the Orthodox community. Each student who completes its course of study in Tanach, Talmud, Halacha 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).”

The RCA concurred in its own statement, which it issued in conjunction with Weiss’.

“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,” the organization wrote.

Hurwitz has served seven years at the Hebrew Institute, performing some rabbinic duties but not others because of her gender.

Weiss had been criticized by a leading haredi organization, Agudath Israel of America, which declared that by taking such a step and insisting it was tantamount to rabbinic ordination, Weiss had placed himself outside the bounds of Orthodoxy.

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