It was a late spring-time graduation unlike any other, a landmark event in Jewish history. On June 16th, at the Ramaz School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, for the first time ever, with the bestowal of a parchment and the recitation of a specially chosen biblical phrase, three women became spiritual leaders and legal authorities within Orthodox Jewry: Our sister, may you become a multitude. (Genesis 24:60).
Not surprisingly, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade kicked up a great deal of dust. In early January, Planned Parenthood announced that it will abandon the term "pro-choice" to describe people who believe abortion should be every woman's right; on January 25th, tens of thousands of activists gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C. for the annual Walk for Life. One of our regular guest bloggers, high school student Talia bat Pessi, shares her thoughts on the issue.
In her final interview before leaving JOFA, Elana Sztokman talks about Orthodox feminism and JOFA. This is the second part of our three-part series, posting weekly. Read part one here. Read part three here.
Susan Reimer-Torn: Some of JOFA’s early financing came from progressive Jewish groups and some non-Orthodox women. Why do you think they were persuaded to contribute? How important is this alliance?
Today we are excited to publish the first installment of a three-part series on JOFA and Orthodox Feminism, posting weekly. After covering the JOFA conference for the Jewish Week, Susan Reimer-Torn found she had many timely questions to explore about the state and vision of Orthodox Feminism today. Her conversations with author and JOFA executive director Elana Sztokman confirmed that much needs to be shared about the conflicts, values, tensions, and goals of Orthodox Feminism. Elana's views, both as a thought leader and an organizational executive, illuminate dark corners and sound an inclusive note for all Jewish women interested in innovation and inclusiveness, regardless of religious affiliation.
I’m bracing myself for the inevitable storm of essays about Neshama Carlebach’s choice and what it says about Orthodoxy. It’s easy to read her decision to “make aliyah” to Reform Judaism as a triumph of the liberal values and inclusivity of the Reform Movement over the ingrained sexism of Orthodoxy. But the truth is that both movements are struggling with how to include women and a wider range of voices.
Although my friends usually come into the conversation unable to comprehend why nice, Orthodox girls would want to enter the rabbinate, I certainly hope they leave the discussion slightly more enlightened. They don’t have to agree with me at the end of the day; Judaism is very fluid, and no two people must come to the same conclusion regarding the interpretation of halakha. I just hope they can understand why women like the recent Yeshivat Maharat graduates may want to choose the rabbinate or a religious leadership role.
This was the first time that Orthodox women were ordained in an institutional setting. There was a profound sense that not only was this a big moment for the three women getting ordained, but also for the men who trained them. I could hear the pride in Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, the Rosh HaYeshiva’s voice, and how much this meant to Rabbi Avi Weiss. In particular, Rabbi Weiss emphasized the desire to give a professionally recognized title to these women (even if it is Maharat, rather than Rabba), and the absolute necessity of the support of the male rabbis who have welcomed these women into their congregations. For Rabba Sara, I had the profound sense that she was creating an exciting new cohort of colleagues for herself. It’s one thing to be a groundbreaker, but totally another to bring others along with you, to create a system and a path for future generations.
Orthodox women are making history in front of our eyes. On June 16, three women will be ordained to serve, in effect, as Orthodox rabbis, given the title of Maharat (an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters).
They will graduate from Yeshivat Maharat in New York City, the first and thus far only women to receive institutional ordination as religious and spiritual leaders in the Orthodox world.