Women rabbis and Torah scholars

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Women rabbis and Torah scholars. Top row: Regina Jonas, Malke Bina, Ray Frank. Middle: Tamara Kolton, Kinneret Shiryon. Bottom: Alysa Stanton, Floriane Chinsky, Alina Treiger

Women rabbis are individual Jewish women who have studied Jewish Law and received rabbinical ordination. Women rabbis are prominent in Progressive Jewish denominations, however, the subject of women rabbis in Orthodox Judaism is more complex. Although Orthodox women have been ordained as rabbis,[1][2] many major Orthodox Jewish communities and institutions do not accept the change.[3][4][5] In an alternative approach, other Orthodox Jewish institutions train women as Torah scholars for related Jewish religious roles. These roles typically involve training women as religious authorities in Jewish Law but without formal rabbinic ordination, instead, alternate titles are used.[6] Yet, despite this alteration in title, these women are often perceived as equivalent to ordained rabbis.[7] Since the 1970s, over 1,200 Jewish women have been ordained as rabbis (see § Membership by denomination).

Historically, the roles of the rabbi (rav) and Torah scholar (talmid chacham) were almost exclusively limited to Jewish men. With few, rare historical exceptions, Jewish women were first offered ordination beginning in the 1970s. This change coincided with the influence of second-wave feminism on Western society. In 1972, Hebrew Union College, the flagship institution of Reform Judaism, ordained their first woman rabbi. Subsequently, women rabbis were ordained by all other branches of Progressive Judaism.[8] The ordination of women rabbis in Orthodox Judaism began in the 2000s, however its acceptance within Orthodoxy is still a highly contested issue.[9]

Historical background[edit]

Prior to the 1970s, when ordination of women began gaining acceptance, there were few examples of Jewish women who were formally treated as rabbis, rabbinic authorities, or Torah scholars. Rare, exceptional cases of women in rabbinic posts occur throughout Jewish history and tradition.

Biblical and Talmudic era[edit]

Mural depicting Deborah serving as judge

The biblical figure of Deborah the prophetess is described as serving as a judge.[10][11] According to some traditional rabbinic sources, Deborah's judiciary role primarily concerned religious law. Thus, according to this view, Deborah was Judaism's first female religious legal authority, equivalent to the contemporary rabbinical role of posek (rabbinic decisor of Jewish Law). Other rabbinic sources understand the biblical story of Deborah that her role was only that of a national leader and not of a legal authority.[12] Alternatively, other Rabbinic authorities understand Deborah's role to be one that advised Jewish judges, but she herself did not render religious legal rulings.[13]

The Talmudic figure of Bruriah (2nd Century) is described as participating in Jewish legal debates, challenging the rabbis of the time.[14][15][16] Recent research has complicated the narrative that women in the times of the Talmud did not study Torah. Close readings of various Talmudic passages point to the familiarity of Torah and rabbinic teachings among women in rabbinic families.[17]

Medieval ages[edit]

The history of medieval Jewish women as either rabbis or Torah scholars is one with several examples. The daughters of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, living in France in the 11th-12th Century, are the subject of Jewish legends claiming that they possessed unusual Torah scholarship.[18] In the 13th Century, a Jewish woman in Italy named Paula Dei Mansi served as a scribe and scholar.[19] In Germany, during the 15th Century, Miriam Shapira-Luria was known to have conducted a yeshiva (a higher institution for the study of central Jewish texts) and gave public lectures on Jewish codes of law.[20][21] Also in Italy, during the 16th Century, Fioretta of Modena was regarded as a Torah scholar.[22]

It is claimed that in one instance a medieval Jewish woman served as rabbi. In this case, Asenath Barzani[23] of Iraq is considered by some scholars as the first woman rabbi of Jewish history;[24] additionally, Barzani is the oldest recorded female Kurdish leader in history.[25] The title referred to Barzani by the Jews of Afghanistan was Tannit, the feminine equivalent of Tanna, the title for a Jewish sage of the early Talmudic rabbis.[26] According to some researchers, the origin of the Barzani story is the travelogue of Rabbi Petachiah of Regensburg.[27]

Hasidism[edit]

In Eastern European Hasidic Judaism, during the early 19th-century, Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, also known as the Maiden of Ludmir, became the movement's only female Hasidic rebbe,[28] however, the role of rebbe relates to spiritual and communal leadership as opposed to the legal authority of "rabbi". Other instances have been preserved of Hasidic rebbetzins (wives of Hasidic rebbes) who "acted similar to" Hasidic rebbes and were therefore de facto women Rebbes. These include Malka,[29][30] the daughter of Rabbi Avraham Twersky (1806-1889), the "Maggid of Trisk" (Trisk is an offshoot of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty), and Sarah Horowitz-Sternfeld (d. 1939), known as the Khentshiner Rebbetzin, based in Chęciny, Poland.[29][30][31][32] In the second half of the 20th Century, the only recorded instance of a de facto woman Rebbe was Faige Teitelbaum (1912-2001) of the Satmar Hasidic community who assumed a leadership role following the death of her husband, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, in 1979.[33]

Modern age[edit]

San Francisco Chronicle article (October 19, 1898) announcing Ray Frank as a "woman rabbi"
Ray Frank-Litman (1900) (The American Jewish Historical Society, colorized)
Martha Neumark (1920) first American female rabbinical student
Rabbi Regina Jonas, the first ordained woman rabbi in modern times. Ordained in Germany in 1935 where she served until her death in 1944 at the Auschwitz concentration camp.[34]

The first formally ordained female rabbi in modern times was Regina Jonas, ordained in Germany in 1935.[34] Jonas was killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust and her existence was mostly unknown until the 1990s.

In the United States, there were several early examples of Jewish women leading congregations in various capacities, although without formal ordination. In the American West, during the 1890s, a young woman named Rachel ("Ray") Frank assumed a religious leadership role, delivering sermons, giving public lectures and reading scripture. She was referred to as a woman rabbi in the American Jewish press, however, she appeared to have avoided claiming such a title.[35] In another early instance of an women in the United States serving as a pulpit leader of a Jewish community without formal ordination was Tehilla Hirschenson Lichtenstein who led the Society of Jewish Science from 1938 to 1972. The group was a Jewish spiritual movement and was originally led by Rabbi Alfred G. Moses, and later by Morris Lichtenstein. After Morris Lichtenstein's death in 1938, Tehilla Lichtenstein assumed leadership.[36] In a similar instance, during the 1950s, there one example of a woman serving as a rabbi in an American Reform synagogue. Paula Ackerman (nee Herskovitz) was the wife of a Rabbi William Ackerman who had served the Temple Beth Israel in Meridian, Mississippi. After her husband's death in 1950, Paula Ackerman accepted the role of acting rabbi from 1951 to 1953. At the start of this change, Ackerman received approval from Maurice Eisendrath, then president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Although Eisendrath later withdrew his support, nevertheless, the congregation leadership upheld the appointment. In some press, Ackerman was dubbed "America's first Lady Rabbi".[37][38] The first American Jewish woman to be admitted to a rabbinical school was Martha Neumark who in the early 1920s was accepted to Reform Judaism's Hebrew Union College. Her action led to a 1922 resolution from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) that allowed women to be ordained, however, in 1923, the governing board of Hebrew Union College voted to bar women from receiving ordination. Neumark withdrew from the rabbinical program after completing seven out of the nine years required for the completion of the program.[39]

Beginning in the 1970s, this status quo gradually began to change, with women being ordained as rabbis within each Jewish denomination. The first such ordination of this period took place in 1972 when Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi in Reform Judaism.[40] Since then, Reform Judaism's Hebrew Union College has ordained hundreds of women rabbis.[41] The second denomination to ordain a woman rabbi was Reconstructionist Judaism with the 1974 ordination of Sandy Eisenberg Sasso.[42] Since then, over 100 Reconstructionist women rabbis have been ordained. This trend continued with Lynn Gottlieb becoming the first female rabbi in Jewish Renewal in 1981.[43] In 1985, Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism.[44] In 1999, Tamara Kolton became the first rabbi of any gender within Humanistic Judaism.[45] In 2009, Sara Hurwitz became the first Orthodox woman rabbi, however, the situation within Orthodoxy is still debated today (see below: § Orthodox Judaism).[9]

Similarly, there have been many other notable "first women rabbis" from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities (see: Timeline of women rabbis).

Membership by denomination[edit]

Since the 1970s, over 1,200 women rabbis have been ordained across all Jewish denominational associations and institutions with the majority associated with American institutions:

  • Reform Judaism - Over 700 women rabbis are associated with Reform and Progressive Judaism worldwide:
    • Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) - as of 2016, 699 (32%) of the association's 2,176 member rabbi were women.[46]
    • Israeli Council of Reform Rabbis (MARAM) - as of 2016, 18 (58%) of the 31 the association's rabbis officiating in congregations were women. Of the group's total membership at the time, 48 (48%) of 100 rabbis were women.[46]
    • Progressive Judaism in Europe - as of 2006, the total number of women ordained at the Leo Baeck College was 30 (19%) out of all of the 158 ordinations completed at the institution since 1956.[47]
    • Progressive Judaism in Australia includes 7 women (50%) out of the group's 14 practicing rabbis.[48]
  • Conservative Judaism - Around 300 women rabbis are associated with Conservative Judaism worldwide:
    • Rabbinical Assembly (USA) - as of 2010, 273 (17%) of the 1,648 members of the Rabbinical Assembly were women.[49]
    • Conservative Judaism in Israel - as of 2016, 22 (14%) of the Israeli Masorati movement's 160 rabbi members were women.[46]
  • Orthodox Judaism - Over 70*[50] women rabbis are associated with Orthodox Judaism worldwide:
    • Yeshivat Maharat (USA) - from 2013 to 2020, the "Open Orthodox" Yeshivat Maharat ordained 43 women rabbis, however, the titles Rabbi, Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, and Darshan are used interchangeably by the program's graduates.[51][52]
    • Misc. (Israel) - private institutions in Israel have ordained 30 women rabbis,[51] these include 6 women rabbis of a total 13 graduates from Beit Midrash Har'el;[53]
  • Reconstructionist Judaism - At least 50 women rabbis are associated with Reconstructionist Judaism worldwide:
    • Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (USA) - between 1973 and 1996,[54] a total of 73 women (40%) were ordained as rabbis from a total of 184 ordinations during that time.[55] By 2021, more than half of all affiliated Reconstructionist congregations are led or co-led by women rabbis.[56]

Statistics by denominational association[edit]

  • Overall figures — The following table summarizes the total number of women rabbis associated with a denominational institution or association (estimate dates range from the late 1990s to the late 2010s, see § Membership by denomination).
Denomination Total
Reform / Liberal 784
Conservative / Masorti 295
Orthodox 73*[50]
Reconstructionist 73
Humanistic Not published
Renewal Not published
Total 1,225
  • Regional figures — The following table summarizes the total number of women rabbis associated by denominational institution and rabbinic association, listed according to the location of the institution or association (estimate dates range from the late 1990s to the late 2010s, see § Membership by denomination).
Denomination USA Israel Europe Australia Total Rabbinical Institution / Association
Reform / Liberal 699 48 30 7 784 USA: Central Conference of American Rabbis
Israel: Israeli Council of Reform Rabbis
Europe: Leo Baeck College
Conservative / Masorti 273 22 295 USA: Rabbinical Assembly
Israel: Masorti Movement in Israel
Orthodox 43 30*[50] 73*[50] USA: Yeshivat Maharat
Israel: Various
Reconstructionist 73 73 USA: Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Humanistic Not published USA/Israel: International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
Renewal Not published USA: ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Total 1,088 100 30 7 1,225

Development by denomination[edit]

Reform Judaism[edit]

Since its formation during the 19th century, the denomination of Reform Judaism allowed men and women to pray together in synagogues. This Jewish ritual decision was based on the egalitarian philosophy of the movement. Subsequently, in 1922, the topic of women as rabbis was discussed formally by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). In the end, the CCAR voted against the proposal.[57] The topic was raised again in the subsequent decades and in 1972, Sally Priesand became the first female Reform rabbi.[40]

In 1982, ten years after the movement's first ordination of a woman rabbi, Rabbi Stanley Dreyfus, a prominent Reform rabbi, presented a report to the CCAR, outlining the extent of acceptance of women rabbis. Dreyfus found that initially, many congregant were reluctant to accept a woman officiant at Jewish funerals, or to for her to provide rabbinic counselling, or to lead prayer services. However, notwithstanding these initial qualms, Dreyfus found that a decade after the movement's acceptance of the ordination of women rabbis the Reform community had, in general, "fully accepted" the new reality.[58]

Outside the United States, the history and presence of women rabbis in Liberal (Reform) Judaism varies:

  • Europe — The Jewish community in the United Kingdom has maintained a growing number of women rabbis since the 1970s. The first British woman rabbi, Jacqueline Tabick, was ordained in 1975, three years after the first Reform women's ordination in the United States in 1972. By 1989, there were 10 women rabbis in Britain. By the 2000s, there were 30 women rabbis which represent half of the Progressive Rabbinate in the United Kingdom.[59][60] By contrast, elsewhere in Europe, appointments of women rabbis occur infrequently. In France, in the 2010s, the Progressive Jewish community in Paris had just three women rabbis, Pauline Bebe, Delphine Horvilleur, and Floriane Chinsky.[61][62][63][64][65] In Italy, the first woman rabbi was appointed in 2004.[66][67][68] Poland's first woman rabbi was appointed in 2007.[69] In terms of training women rabbis in European rabbinical schools, as of 2006, the number of women rabbis ordained through Leo Baeck College was 30.[47]
  • Israel — The first ordination of a woman rabbi in Israel occurred in 1992, twenty years after the first American ordination. The Israeli branch of the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College provided the ordination.[70] However, the Israeli Reform movement faces structural challenges due to its lacking of state recognition and funding. Reform rabbis have no legal authority to conduct Jewish weddings, divorces, or burials. This situation has caused significant marginalization of Israeli Reform congregations.[71] Nevertheless, according to the Israeli Council of Reform Rabbis (MARAM), as of 2016, there were 18 women rabbis officiating in Reform congregations in Israel.[46] While the Israeli Reform movement (Yahadut Mitkademet) is situated in the Israeli context, its adoption of egalitarian policies indicate that it tends to follow the lead of American Reform Judaism.[72]
  • Australia — In the late 2010s, the Progressive Jewish community in Australia included seven practicing women rabbis. This figure represented half of the total 14 practicing Progressive rabbis in the country.[48]

Conservative Judaism[edit]

In the late 1970s, following the decision within the denomination of Reform Judaism to accept women rabbis, the debate extended to Conservative Judaism. In 1979, the Faculty Senate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America adopted a motion recognising that the topic had caused severe division among Conservative rabbis, and that the movement would not accept women rabbis. The motion was passed 25 to 19. The resistance to women's ordination was couched in the context of Jewish Law, however, the JTS resolution contains political and social considerations as well.[73] During this same period, the Conservative movement appointed a special commission to study the issue of ordaining women as rabbis, The commission met between 1977 and 1978, and consisted of eleven men and three women.[74] In 1983, the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, voted, without accompanying opinion, to ordain women as rabbis and as cantors. In 1985, the status quo had formally changed with the movement's ordaination of Amy Eilberg, admitting her as a member in the Rabbinical Assembly. After this step, the Conservative movement proceeded to admit Rabbis Jan Caryl Kaufman and Beverly Magidson who had been ordained at Reform movement's Hebrew Union College.[49] Some scholars observe that the inclusion of women rabbis within Conservative Judaism has had the effect of allowing greater inclusion for Neo-Hasidic practices within the movement.[75]

  • Israel — The Conservative movement in Israel (Masorti) has adopted egalitarian policies and has accpted women rabbis in congregational and organizational leadership roles, however, while they generally follow the lead of Conservative Judaism in North America, on some gender issues the Masorti movement has taken a more traditionalist stance.[72] The first Conservative ordination of a woman rabbi in Israel occurred in 1993, one year after the first such Israeli Reform ordination.[70]

Orthodox Judaism[edit]

The status of women rabbis in contemporary Orthodox Judaism began to change in the mid 1990s and early 2000s. Positions and views on the matter vary by subgroup within Orthodoxy. Additionally, there are regional differences on the acceptance of the change. Notwithstanding the developments that have taken place, the subject is still a contested matter within Orthodox Judaism.

In terms of the first women's rabbinical ordination within Orthodoxy, some early individual cases involve ordination without public knowledge, without a formal title, or for a woman serving a non-Orthodox congregation. In the case with Mimi Feigelson, a student of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was reportedly ordained in 1994 by a panel of three rabbis after Carlebach's death. The ordination was kept secret until 2000.[76] Also in 2000, Orthodox rabbi Jonathan Chipman ordained Eveline Goodman-Thau in Jerusalem.[57] Goodman-Thau later went on to serve as the first female rabbi in Austria for a liberal congregation.[77] In 2006, Dina Najman was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Sperber and was appointed to perform rabbinic functions for Kehilat Orach Eliezer in Manhattan, New York, using the title of "rosh kehilah," not "rabbi."[78][79] Similarly, in 2006, Haviva Ner-David[80] was privately ordained by Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky in Israel.[81] In 2009, the status quo was further altered with the public ordination of Sara Hurwitz. Hurwitz was ordained by Rabbis Avi Weiss and Daniel Sperber. Although Weiss headed the rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Hurwitz was trained at Drisha, an all-women's institute. Other key elements to Hurwitz's ordination was Weiss's formally founding of Yeshivat Maharat as a new rabbinical institution for the purpose of training Orthodox women as clergy which would be headed by Hurwitz. Additionally, Weiss, Sperber and other rabbis issued rabbinic responsa concerning women's ordination within Orthodoxy.[82][83][84] Hurwitz's rabbinic title was initially "maharat", an acronym of manhiga hilkhatit rukhanit Toranit, (authority of Jewish law and spirituality).[85] Hurwitz later came to use the title "Rabba".[82][83] Hurwitz is the first woman rabbi in American Orthodox Judaism and is thus often described as the first Orthodox woman rabbi.[86][87][88]

  • North America — Orthodox Judaism in North America is the site where significant changes in relation to women's ordination have occurred, however, major North American Orthodox institutions, including the Orthodox Union,[3] the Rabbinical Council of America, and Agudath Israel of America do not recognize women rabbis and deem the change as violating rabbinic tradition.[89][90][4][5][91] Orthodox rabbinic opposition is not singular in nature and the rabbinical organisations invoke both Jewish legalism (halacha) as well as rabbinic tradition (mesorah) to maintain their position. Additionally, the invocation of rabbinic tradition which is understood as a "meta-legal" (meta-halachik) concern has become more prominant than the religious legal concern. However, the nature of the meta-legal argument is viewed as a uniquely modern argument developed by Orthodox rabbis to counter social pressures of the modern period.[92] Similarly, some scholars point out that the opposition of the Rabbinical Council of America is not explicitly based on Jewish law but on an opposition to the changing of norms in modernity.[93] The historical context for the opposition followed the changes adopted by the Reform and Conservative denominations in the 1970s and 1980s, when the question of women rabbis within Orthodox Judaism in North America also became subject to debate. Calls for Orthodox yeshivas to admit women as rabbinical students were initially met with total opposition. Rabbi Norman Lamm, one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), opposed ordaining women, arguing it would negatively distrupt the Orthodox tradition.[94] Other Orthodox rabbis criticized the request as contrary to Jewish Law, viewing Orthodox Judaism as specifically prohibiting women from receiving ordination and serving as rabbis.[95] In 2009, Rabbi Avi Weiss ordained Sara Hurwitz with the title "maharat" as an alternate title to "rabbi".[96][97] Since Hurwitz's ordination, and Weiss' founding of Yeshivat Maharat as a formal institution to provide ordaination, the number of Orthodox women rabbis has grown;[1][2] however, not all use the title of "rabbi" and instead use other variations such as "rabba", "rabbanit", maharat", and "darshanit".[9][98][99][100] In North America, the Orthodox Union, a central rabbinic organization of modern Orthodox Judaism has taken the position that it will not admit any synagogue as a new member organization if the synagogue employs women as clergy. However, four synagogues have been exempt from this ban as they are long-standing members of the Orthodox Union.[101] The opposition from the major rabbinic associations thas restricted Orthodox women rabbinical candidates and graduates to a few select institutions. Countering the position of the Rabbinical Council of America, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a collective of Orthodox rabbis, have affirmed a position to accept women in clerical roles and advocates for the phenomenon of women as rabbis to develop naturally among Orthodox Jews.[102] While Orthodox rabbinic associations are divided over the acceptance and the extent of opposition to women rabbis, the main Orthodox feminist group in North America, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), is in support of the change.[103]
  • Israel — In Israel, the position of modern Orthodox rabbis has changed over the 2010s. In the 2010s, a few Israeli Orthodox institutions began ordaining women. Beit Midrash Har'el, a modern-Orthodox institution based in Jerusalem ordained a cohort Orthodox men and women.[104] Additionally, several Orthodox women have been ordained as part of a pluralistic ordination program run by the Shalom Hartman Institute in partnership with HaMidrasha at Oranim.[105][106][107] The program, known as “The Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis,” ordained its first class in 2016 and is continuing to train additional classes of non-denominational rabbis.[108] In 2013, the founder of Tzohar, a major Orthodox rabbinic association based in Israel, reportedly left the possibility of women's ordination as an open-ended issue to be determined in the future.[109] Additionally, the main Orthodox feminist group in Israel, Kolech, is in support of the change.[103] In 2021, Shira Marili Mirvis of Efrat became the first Orthodox woman to lead a religious congregation.[110][111]
  • Other — In 2018, Dina Brawer, founder of JOFA UK, became the first UK Orthodox woman to be ordained.[99] In Australia, the first Orthodox women to be ordained were Ellyse Borghi from Melbourne who received Smicha from Har'el in 2019,[112] and Rabbanit Judith Levitan from Sydney who received her ordination through Yeshivat Maharat.[113][114] Levitan is a practicing legal aid lawyer and a founding member of the Jewish Alliance Against Domestic Violence.[115] Levitan is active in an Orthodox synagogue in Maroubra, New South Wales. The Orthodox Beth Din of Sydney reportedly applauded Levitan's commitment to Orthodoxy but reiterated that the issue of Orthodox ordination for women was still a matter of controversy.[112]

Alternate Orthodox approaches[edit]

Alongside this debate, a third approach within Orthodoxy has developed. Some Orthodox institutions have accepted women in alternate roles relating to Jewish law such as halakhic advisors (Yoatzot),[116] court advocates (Toanot) and congregational advisors. Examples of this trend gaining acceptance include the efforts of Rabbi Aryeh Strikovski of Machanaim Yeshiva and Pardes Institute who collaborated with Rabbi Avraham Shapira, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, to initiate a program for training Orthodox women as halakhic Toanot ("advocates") in rabbinic courts. Since then, seventy Israeli women were trained as Toanot. In England, in 2012, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the country's chief rabbi, appointed Lauren Levin as Britain's first Orthodox female halakhic adviser, at Finchley United Synagogue in London.[6] This distinction of women rabbis are ordained to rule on matters of Jewish law versus women as Torah scholars who may provide instruction in Jewish law is found in Jewish legal works.[117][118] Yet, despite this alteration in title, these women are often perceived as equivalent to ordained rabbis.[7]

In Israel a growing number of Orthodox women are being trained as Yoetzet Halacha (halakhic advisers),[119] and the use of Toanot is not restricted to any one segment of Orthodoxy; In Israel they have worked with Haredi and Modern Orthodox Jews. Orthodox women may study the laws of family purity at the same level of detail that Orthodox males do at Nishmat, the Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women. The purpose is for them to be able to act as halakhic advisors for other women, a role that traditionally was limited to male rabbis. This course of study is overseen by Rabbi Yaakov Varhaftig.[120]

Since the 2010s, the Israeli-based modern Orthodox institution Ohr Torah Stone began training and certifying Orthodox women as "Morat Hora’ah U’Manhigah Ruchanit" (or "Morat Hora’ah") as teachers who are authorized to provide direction in matters of Jewish law. It is a position that is not formally listed as rabbinical ordination, but may be understood as a role that overlaps with the role of "rabbi".[121][122][123] These certifications are obtained by study at seminaries such as Midreshet Lindenbaum and its "Women's Institute of "Halakhic Leadership";[124] Without granting ordination, two other programs mirror the Rabbinate’s ordination requirements for men include Ein HaNetziv, which trains students as "Teachers of Halacha"; and Matan, for recognition as "meshivot halacha" or halakhic respondents.[125]

Support for women as Torah scholars is a cause backed by several Orthodox women's organizations. The Orthodox women's organization Kolech has supported the recognition of women as Torah scholars.[126] In 2016, Kolech launched an initiative called "Shabbat Dorshot Tov" which promoted women speakers and scholars in residence in dozens of Orthodox synagogues across Israel. The project was formed in collaboration with Midreshet Lindenbaum, Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies, Midreshet Ein HaNetziv, and the Beit Hillel association.[127] In 2018, the Hadran organization was founded to support Jewish women studying Talmud.[128][129] In 2020, the organization hosted the first women's celebration marking the completion of the traditional seven year cycle of Talmud study, an event which was attended by over 3,000 Jewish women.[130][131][132] While the rise of women Torah scholars is noted in some Orthodox communities, there is no consensus on which title such women should receive.[133] One approach found in the Sephardi and Mizrahi communites in Israel is to describe the public Torah study lectures offered by women as "speeches" and such events often accompany statements that these women have received support from community rabbis to conduct such speeches.[134] Another approach for some women Torah scholars has been to write and publish Jewish legal writings without overt challenges to male Orthodox rabbis.[135]

Hebrew terminology[edit]

While the English term rabbi is used for women receiving rabbinical ordination, Hebrew grammatical parallels to the title may include rabba (רבה) - feminine parallel to rav (רב) - or rabbanit (רבנית). The term rabbanit is used by some Orthodox women in this role.[136] For example, Sara Hurwitz, who is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi, was initially ordained with the title maharat (a Hebrew acronym that includes the title rabbanit)[137][138] but subsequently began using the title rabba.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Sperber, Daniel. Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, Rebbetzin: Women with Leadership Authority According to Halachah, Urim Publications, 2020. ISBN 9655242463
  • The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate edited by Rebecca Einstein Schorr and Alysa Mendelson Graf, CCAR Press, 2016. ISBN 0-8812-3280-7
  • Klapheck, Elisa. Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi, Wiley, 2004. ISBN 0787969877
  • Nadell, Pamela. Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985, Beacon Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8070-3649-8.
  • Zola, Gary Phillip. Women Rabbis: Exploration & Celebration: Papers Delivered at an Academic Conference Honoring Twenty Years of Women in the Rabbinate, 1972-1992 HUC-JIR Rabbinic Alumni Association Press, 1996. ISBN 0878202145