Orthodox Women Rabbis
by Any Other Name

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From left to right, at the June 16 Yeshivat Maharat ordination ceremony in New York: Rabba Sara Hurwitz (dean of Yeshivat Maharat), Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold, and Maharat Abby Brown Scheier. Photo by Joan Roth with permission of Yeshivat Maharat.

It happened! On June 16 three Orthodox women were ordained as clergy by an Orthodox religious institution.

I am not a superstitious person but I mentally spat three times to ward off the evil eye and forestall enraged Orthodox males – and females – from attacking the three women ordained with the title of “maharat” in Manhattan on the gloriously sunny June 16 Sunday afternoon. Of course such misogynist religious violence – think the physical attacks on Women of the Wall in Jerusalem –could never happen here. Really? It could but hopefully won’t.

For sure these three women will be Orthodox role models. And for sure they’ve picked up inspiration along the road to maharat from Blu Greenberg, woman of grace and wise determination. Founder of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) in 1997, for years she’s been predicting we would see Orthodox women rabbis in our lifetime. Activist Rabbi Avi Weiss turned Greenberg’s words “Where there’s a rabbinic will, there’s a halakhic way” into a new kosher reality.

They certainly have pastoral powers but defining maharat remains a work in progress. They cannot count in a minyan or act as witnesses in a Jewish court or in signing Jewish documents. According to the head of Yehisvat Maharat, Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, “They are only permitted to lead services or read Torah within the framework of Halakha.” Will a rabbinic court (men only) determine the framework?