New program to train Orthodox women as non-rabbis (UPDATED)


Rabbi Avi Weiss announced last week he was creating Yeshivat Maharat, "an Orthodox Yeshiva of Higher Learning … [to] train women to become Orthodox Spiritual Leaders – full members of the Rabbinic Clergy – in Synagogues, Schools, and on University Campuses." The products of said yeshiva won’t be rabbis, though, they’ll be Maharats.

As I reported in March, Weiss was rumored to be seriously considering ordaining Sara Hurwitz, previously the "spiritual mentor" at his synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, as a rabbi. But he balked, instead inventing a new title for her: MaHaRat — an acronmy for "manhiga hilchatit ruchanit toranit," or halachic, spiritual and Torah leader. Now, Weiss is starting a whole school to train more of them.

Hurwitz told me the school is planning to open in September and will train women to "function as rabbis" — that is, it will provide a full complement of religious and halachic instruction, including pastoral duties and a synagogue internship. The instruction will be part-time to start and the entire course of study will take four years. After that, she hopes to help place women in positions much like hers — the only problem is, there barely are any positions like hers.

<!–{124457983 "You have to start somewhere," she said. "We have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward and I think that the community will follow."

Weiss is aiming to start a revolution — actually several revolutions, but we’ll focus on the feminist one for now. From the Bronx, it has already spread to a handful of shuls, and perhaps, once the first Maharats graduate, some more will follow. What’s amazing to me is that Hurwitz didn’t get called rabbi because Weiss has a wary eye cast on the right-leaning Orthodox world, not wanting to get himself — and his YCT graduates — completely cast out in the cold. But it’s really the left that’s all excercised about Hurwitz, and about her not getting the title they think she deserves. The ultra-Orthodox, to the extent they’re paying attention at all, don’t really seem to care.

Jonathan Mark, writing last month in the Jewish Week, seemed to sum up the mood with this piece of advice:

So hey, YCT, I’m going to give you a clue: If some of you aren’t getting hired by OU shuls, or not getting admitted to the RCA, it’s not because of Sara Hurwitz. So you might as well call her rabbi, if that’s what you really believe. You’re already known for being a left-wing yeshiva. Be radical and proud. Some people might admire your guts. Calling her Alta Maharat won’t fool anyone. You’re already in a street fight with OU-YU. Why get cute?

UPDATE: YCT’s Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot says Mark is wrong. "More than a dozen YCT graduates proudly serve as rabbis and assistant rabbis in OU synagogues throughout the country. These include such prominent synagogues as Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun (NYC), East Denver Orthodox Synagogue (Denver, CO), Congregation Beth Shalom, (Potomac, MD), Kehillat Kesher (Engelwoood,NJ), Congregation Shearith Israel (Nashville, TN),Congregation Beth Israel (Berkeley, CA) and Congregation Beth Israel, the only Orthodox synagogue in the reemerging city of New Orleans, LA."

See Helfgot’s full response here.

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