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Yeshivat Maharat

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I remember my excitement upon hearing about Yeshivat Maharat’s  ordination of women. As a supporter of female Jewish leadership in all of its forms, I was thrilled at the idea. Evidently, Jessica Cavanagh-Melhado, a contributor to JWA’s blog, felt the same way. In June 2013, she wrote a piece entitled, We Begin to Become a Multitude. In the piece, she describes her experience attending the first ever ordination of women as open Orthodox female spiritual leaders. 

Holy Glass Ceiling

On June 13th, 2013, three women graduated from the Yeshivat Maharat and were ordained with the title of maharat, or female spiritual leader. Even then, the Rabbinic Counsel of America (RCA) refused to recognize these women as part of the Orthodox Rabbinate. This is a two steps forward, one step back situation. 

Rachel Kohl Finegold

One of the first women ordained by Yeshivat Maharat, a seminary for Orthodox Jewish women, Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold is the first woman in Canada to serve as clergy for an Orthodox synagogue.

Ruth Balinsky Friedman

One of the first graduates of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox seminary to ordain women, Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman is crafting a new model of religious leadership for Orthodox women and girls.

Lila Kagedan

The first Orthodox woman to claim the title of Rabbi, Lila Kagedan has worked to make Jewish learning accessible to all.

Sara Hurwitz

Upon becoming the first Modern Orthodox woman rabbi ordained in the United States, Sara Hurwitz took on the title “Rabba.”

Belda Lindenbaum, 1938 - 2015

In 2009, when Rabbi Weiss and I founded Yeshivat Maharat, the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as clergy, there was only one person who we knew would be crazy enough to dream with us. I went to see Belda, to ask for seed funding. I was nervous. Having only just been ordained myself, I was not a fundraiser. So I took Rabbi Jeff Fox, our Rosh Yeshiva, along with me. We sat together and talked about an Orthodox Jewish community where men and women could be partners in spiritual leadership. Then, Rabbi Fox asked her for a gift.

But Why Do They Have to be Rabbis?

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.

Maharats, Misogyny and Marching On

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).

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Yeshivat Maharat." (Viewed on January 17, 2018) <https://jwa.org/tags/yeshivat-maharat>.

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