November 28, 2012 – Orthodox women rabbis? The debate is ongoing, but in the meantime, Yeshivat Maharat is in its fourth year of training Orthodox women for positions as spiritual and halakhic leaders – it is the only institution that is providing Orthodox women with a path to the clergy. Established in 2009 by Rabbi Avi Weiss, the first class of students from the institution will graduate in June 2013. And when they graduate, they will need jobs in communities that will welcome them. One challenge is that communities are not accustomed to women in this role. Targum Shlishi is supporting Yeshivat Maharat’s initiative, Promoting Orthodox Women Spiritual Leaders: Visiting Scholars Program, which is intended not only to give students the experience of visiting synagogues, campus organizations, and other Jewish agencies, but to accustom communities to the idea and reality of Orthodox women serving as spiritual leaders.
“The Visiting Scholars Program will introduce the unique talents and skills of our students and staff to various communities and audiences. We anticipate that this exposure and interaction will result in easier and more successful job placement following students’ graduation and ordination,” explains Rabba Sara Hurwitz, dean of Yeshivat Maharat. “Yeshivat Maharat’s Visiting Scholars Program will allow the institutions’ students and faculty to share our vision of religious inclusion, with the hope of inspiring communities to hire Orthodox women as spiritual leaders.”
Yeshivat Maharat has found that many communities and organizations are eager to welcome faculty and students as teachers and visiting scholars. Rabba Sara Hurwitz and the institution’s students recently have lectured, served as scholars in residence, presented at conferences, and participated in panel discussions at several venues such as: The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies; synagogues in Chicago, Montreal, Connecticut, New York, Denver, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Florida; and Hillels at NYU, Harvard, University of Illinois, and University of Maryland. Topics of lectures and discussions have included the need for expanded leadership roles, women as spiritual leaders, women’s role in Judaism, and the future of Jewish leadership. In response to a September, 2011 talk by Rabba Sara, one high school student wrote to her: “…I am so grateful that you are opening doors for girls like me through your work, especially with more advanced Torah learning. I hope one day to be able to reach as high a level of learning as you…”
“We applaud the efforts of Yeshivat Maharat and believe it is long past the time for women in the Orthodox tradition to become rabbis in both practice and name. As a father of three daughters who all had a bat mitzvah and all read from the Torah and led the women-only traditional service, I have given this a good deal of thought,” says Aryeh Rubin, founder and director of Targum Shlishi. “I’ve long felt that women – who tend to be better listeners, more focused, and more empathic than men, and who are equal scholars – would make excellent rabbis and be an important addition to Orthodox and traditional communities.”
The Visiting Scholar Program targets communities that are interested in hiring graduates of Yeshivat Maharat as spiritual leaders. Targum Shlishi’s funding helps the institution’s students and staff travel to opportunities in communities that are not able to provide travel stipends or compensation.
About Yeshivat Maharat
Yeshivat Maharat is the first institution to train Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities. Located in the Bronx, the institution was founded in 2009 by Rabbi Avi Weiss, senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder and president of Yeshivah Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Yeshivat Maharat’s dean is Rabba Sara Hurwitz, who was ordained by Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Daniel Sperber.Although there are many institutions that provide a place for women to engage in serious Torah study, Yeshivat Maharat has taken an important step further. Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud, halakhic decision-making, pastoral counseling, and leadership development, the institution’s graduates will assume the responsibility and authority to be poskot (legal arbiters) for the community. Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality. Upon completion of Yeshivat Maharat’s four-year program, having served as interns and visiting scholars, each graduate will be qualified and equipped as a new kind of leader in the Orthodox community and beyond. For more information about Yeshivat Maharat, visit its website at http://yeshivatmaharat.org/.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information about the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.