Erin Leib Smokler, Bringing a unique dimension to spiritual leaders’ training.


Erin Leib Smokler, 33

Erin Leib Smokler’s description of her life’s work is concise: She’s helping teach “the next generation of Orthodox spiritual leaders.”

Orthodox female spiritual leaders.

As director of spiritual development at Yeshivat Maharat, Rabbi Avi Weiss’ “Open Orthodox” institution that prepares women to serve in rabbinic or para-rabbinic roles, she’s expanding the students’ pastoral training beyond the traditional clinical or text-based models. Smokler focuses on a God of “solidarity” (who anthropomorphically sympathizes with peoples’ suffering) rather than a “God of salvation”; her students learn to emotionally “accompany” persons in crisis rather than try to serve as a problem solvers.

“It’s reframing the narrative we tell … [it’s] a pioneering approach, especially in an Orthodox setting,” says Smokler, a frequent speaker at Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conferences. “We’re teaching halacha through a lens of spiritual sensitivity.”

An Upper West Side resident with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, Smokler is completing her work for a Ph.D. in modern philosophy and Jewish thought from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought. She also teaches philosophy at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in Manhattan and serves as a private tutor for individuals interested in conversion to Judaism.

All her interests, including her studies in post-Holocaust theology, she says, come from the same source: “I’m interested in issues of existential doubt. You can live in the face of uncertainty.”

Writing background: A prolific author, Smokler worked as assistant literary editor at New Republic magazine for two years a decade ago. Her writing and editing dealt with her favorite topics, “faith and doubt.” Peaceful name: She and her husband, Daniel, named their 8-month old son Shalev, Hebrew for serenity. His full name is Shalev Shaked [almond] Pinchas; he’s named, one relative told her, for “an idea, a tree and a person.”