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Maharat is a term for a female leader in Judaism. The word maharat is a Hebrew acronym for words manhiga hilkhatit rukhanit Toranit (Hebrew: מנהיגה הלכתית רוחנית תורנית) denoting a female "leader of Jewish law spirituality and Torah". Maharat, as a clergy title, is awarded with smicha to the graduates of a 4-year-long program composed of profound studies of Jewish law, Talmud, Torah, Jewish thought, leadership training, and pastoral counseling.
In 2009, Rabbi Avi Weiss ordained Sara Hurwitz. She was the first woman to receive the title. That same year Weiss founded an Orthodox yeshiva (religious school) for women: Yeshivat Maharat in New York, where Hurwitz serves as dean. By 2014, 5 women were ordained after graduating of this school. In 2015, the title of maharat was granted to a European for the first time: Miriam Gonczarska of Poland.
There is an ongoing debate in the Orthodox Jewish world whether women can be called rabbis. Sara Hurwitz with smicha has received a rabbi title. However this created strong protests from Orthodox rabbis, so it was accepted that she would be called rabba (feminine version of rabbi), but all her followers could receive only the maharat title. However, in 2015 Yaffa Epstein was ordained as Rabba by the Yeshivat Maharat, which Weiss founded and which is located in New York. Also in 2015, Lila Kagedan was ordained as Rabbi by that same organization, making her their first graduate to take the title rabbi.
In 2015, the Rabbinical Council of America passed a resolution which states, "RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution." Also in 2015, Agudath Israel of America denounced moves to ordain women, and went even further, declaring Yeshivat Maharat, Open Orthodoxy, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and other affiliated entities to be similar to other dissident movements throughout Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of Judaism.
Avi Weiss has continuously tried to advocate for the right for female clergy to use the rabbi title. In protest of those denying this right to women, Weiss resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America.
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