Orthodox Women Reach Another Milestone
Originally published on The Jewish Week on May 28th, 2013.
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.
To a certain degree, this is not really news. Women have been working in Orthodox clergy position for years. And a handful of women have been privately ordained by Orthodox rabbis over the years. But next month’s graduation will mark the first time Orthodox women will be formally and publicly ordained with institutional recognition for the profound role women rabbis can play in Orthodox communities.
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Maharat women will perform virtually all the same pastoral and spiritual functions as men, plus a few. Orthodox women are often more comfortable approaching women about personal, intimate issues than they are approaching men. Maharat women will deal with those issues and have the potential to re-engage women in communal life — women who until now have felt that they have no leaders. As one young Orthodox woman recently told us, “When my husband doesn’t come to synagogue, the rabbi asks about it. But when I don’t come, he doesn’t even notice. I need a woman rabbi who I can connect to, who can take an interest in my spiritual life.”
Still, despite this demonstrated need and desire for women leaders, the Orthodox rabbinical seminaries have been intensely reluctant to ordain women.