It’s little secret that Orthodox feminist circles were pulling hard for Rabbi Avi Weiss to give teeth to his reputation as the thorn in the side of the rabbinic establishment and ordain a woman as an Orthodox rabbi. But he didn’t, which might explain why the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance took nearly two months to issue a statement following Weiss’ conferral of the invented title Maharat on Sara Hurwitz.
The statement duly celebrates the development, calling it a "historic moment" and describing Hurwitz more than once as "a full member of the Orthodox clergy." The only hint of disappointment comes in the very last sentence of the release:
We will reach another milestone when the official title of Rabbi, that truly reflects what they have learned and how they will serve, will be bestowed equally upon all qualified men and women.
Click below for the full statement.
JOFA Celebrates New Orthodox Female Clergy
New York, NY – JOFA celebrates an historic moment for the Jewish people – the ordination of Sara Hurwitz as a full member of the Orthodox clergy followed by the establishment of a new school to ordain female rabbinic leaders. We are grateful to Rabbi Avi Weiss who has recognized the need to formally acknowledge the growing learning and assumption of communal and synagogue responsibilities by women today.
Sara Hurwitz’s appointment as Mahara”t – leader in halakhic, spiritual and Torah issues – recognizes her position in the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale as a rabbi with the authority to answer questions of Jewish law. She has passed the same semikhah behinot (tests required for rabbinic ordination) that entitle men to be called Rabbi. We trust that Yeshivat Mahara”t will offer this same opportunity to other qualified women so that they can take their rightful position in Orthodox leadership.
This milestone did not occur in an historical vacuum. It is another step forward on a long road traveled by many outstanding women before Sara Hurwitz. It goes back in time to Devorah the prophetess, Bruriah, Nechama Leibowitz, Sarah Schneirer and countless other women through the centuries who learned and taught Torah. Sara Hurwitz’s accomplishment underscores the realization that the continuity of the Jewish people requires learned women who can contribute to the leadership and education of our communities. Yeshivat Mahara”t is a natural outgrowth of many excellent institutions of higher learning that exist today for women all over the world. This latest stage in the evolution of Orthodox leadership follows many firsts – the first female congregational interns, to’anot, yo’atzot halakhah, women teachers of Talmud, Rosh Kehillah and Rosh Beit Midrash. We look forward to the day when more female rabbinic leaders join Sara Hurwitz as full members of the Orthodox clergy.
The new position of Mahara”t challenges us to ensure that all female teachers and congregational and communal leaders have the same opportunity as Sara Hurwitz. We applaud the establishment of a yeshiva which will offer an institutionalized system of learning and behinot, so that women who qualify receive the title of Mahara”t. Our fervent hope is that as we travel further along the path of spiritual growth in Torah, more women will fulfill the traditional yeshiva requirements of semikhah and be accorded the same respect for their achievement as men. We will reach another milestone when the official title of Rabbi, that truly reflects what they have learned and how they will serve, will be bestowed equally upon all qualified men and women.