She Calls Herself Rabbi

The Jewish Week’s Elicia Brown reports:

As an egalitarian Jewish woman and a chronicler of the Orthodox feminist movement, I would have been thrilled if the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s Rabbi Weiss had ordained Hurwitz as a rabbi (as rumors initially suggested might happen). But meeting Hurwitz in her tiny office space at the Hebrew Institute, where a baby’s bouncy seat rests beneath shelves of Jewish texts, I think perhaps others might be missing the miracle of the moment.
After all, as Hurwitz says, she “functions in the same capacity as a rabbi.”
When Hurwitz was 17, before she began Barnard College, her parents insisted that she take a vocational exam to determine what course of study to pursue. When the exam directed her to the clergy, Hurwitz laughed heartily, and then turned her attention to occupational therapy. It would be more than three years before even the first congregational interns would be hired, giving women a junior role alongside the rabbinic staff in Orthodox synagogues.
As an Orthodox woman, Hurwitz cannot serve as a religious witness or lead a complete service, but when she’s officiating at a funeral or filling the role of pastor at a hospital — or even when she’s getting a haircut, she calls herself “rabbi.” It’s simpler that way. “If you’re calling the funeral director and he asks, ‘Well, who are you?’ If you say, ‘I’m the rabbi here,’ the tone totally changes.”

….Hurwitz communicates frequently with the four other Orthodox women who hold leadership positions at American synagogues. As a group, they have requested inclusion in the newly formed association for Modern Orthodox rabbis, the International Rabbinic Fellowship.
“We’ve just been finally invited to participate, but not necessarily with full membership.”
That’s disappointing, I observe.
“It is,” she concurs, laughing gently. “I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. If I keep thinking about the barriers I don’t think I would be here.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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