Sara Hurwitz adopts the title of Rabbah
January 27, 2010
After a year of working in what was essentially a rabbinic position at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York, Sara Hurwitz was given the title of “rabbah” (sometimes spelled “rabba”), the feminine form of rabbi.
In early 2009, she completed the same coursework and exams required of male rabbinic candidates. The idea of ordaining a woman rabbi is highly controversial in Orthodox communities, so the title “maharat” was created on her behalf. It was derived from the acronym for “manhiga,” “hilchatit,” “ruchanit” and “toranit,” loosely translating to mean a leader in religious law and spiritual matters. The term, however, did not catch on.
According to Avi Weiss, Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, “maharat” was unclear, and in some cases it was used disrespectfully. It was also problematic because outside of the Hebrew Institute, no one knew what it meant. Hurwitz explains, “It became difficult to function as a rabbi and do rabbinic duties. When I walked into a funeral home, it was easier to say ‘rabbi’ than explain what a maharat is and go through the whole discussion.”
Participants at a Summer 2009 Kolech Religious Women’s Forum Conference in Jerusalem agreed that “rabbah,” a feminized version of “rabbi,” was the best term to describe Orthodox clergywomen. A statement issued by Weiss’ office announced that Sara Hurwitz’s title would be changed from maharat to rabbah: “This will make it clear to everyone that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff, a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”
See also: "Mazel Tov Sara Hurwitz!", "Maharat to Rabbah", "Top 10 Moments for Jewish Women in 2010" and Celebrating the First Lights of Women Rabbis" on Jewesses with Attitude; Sara Hurwitz in Cool Jewish Women; video clips of an interview with Sara Hurwitz from the MAKERS project.
Sources: “Todah ‘Rabba?’” The Jewish Week; “Orthodox Woman Clergy Member To Get ‘Rabbah’ Title” from JTA, The Forward.