Training Women To Become Orthodox Spiritual Leaders

From a JTA blog (link):

Rabbi Avi Weiss announced last week he was creating Yeshivat Maharat, "an Orthodox Yeshiva of Higher Learning … [to] train women to become Orthodox Spiritual Leaders – full members of the Rabbinic Clergy – in Synagogues, Schools, and on University Campuses." The products of said yeshiva won’t be rabbis, though, they’ll be Maharats…

Hurwitz told me the school is planning to open in September and will train women to "function as rabbis" — that is, it will provide a full complement of religious and halachic instruction, including pastoral duties and a synagogue internship. The instruction will be part-time to start and the entire course of study will take four years. After that, she hopes to help place women in positions much like hers — the only problem is, there barely are any positions like hers.

"You have to start somewhere," she said. "We have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward and I think that the community will follow."…

Ben Bayit writes Hirhurim: If you read the subtext of all these articles it’s pretty clear that there is nothing really spiritual about this movement and it is really just an issue of job opportunities and aligning pastoral tax benefits amongst men and women.

Jaded Topaz posts: Ben Bayit, if you read the subtext carefully i’m not quite sure what this Maharat position even is.

Can Maharats lead synagogue prayers,serve as a judge on a bais din (conversion/monetary/matrimonial), officiate at a wedding.

If they cannot, what precisely can they do with their semicha.

If they can, wonderful.

Is there a yadin yadin and yoreh yoreh track at Yeshivat Maharat.

Is there a Dayanat track for the more intellectual liking individuals as opposed to the rabbinic social worker track.

MAHARAT POSTS: The big deal should be pushing YCT to call their Rabbis Maharat, not that the women Rabbis should be called Rov.

The point of YCT is not to train Talmide Chakhomim, but rather to train communal workers with who are somewhat familiar with Rabbinic sources. In a similar vein, a Maharat is not objectionable; it is claiming a pastoral rather than religious role. I merely suggest that for the sake of consistency, the YCT men call themselves Maharat, and leave the Rabbi-ing (pesak Halakha, serious Torah writing and teaching) to others. Of course, this is no impediment to them sharing their limited knowledge with bale battim, women, or children. Or for them to lead a congregation pastorally.

READER POSTS: stern, for a while now, has had the graduate program in talmud. other modern orthodox synagogues, for a while now, have had women participating in many areas of religious and jewish communal life which are not "synagogue prayers,serve as a judge on a bais din (conversion/monetary/matrimonial), officiate at a wedding". many of these women, in fact, are graduates of the stern program.
it seems to me that in its simplest form, this yeshiva is just putting 2 and 2 together (i.e., advanced religious training for women + communal leadership roles for women). as much fun as everyone seems to be having with their clever reading between the lines for subtext, etc., the reality remains that this ‘yeshiva’ is nowhere near the chiddush everyone would like to pretend that it is.

LAWRENCE KAPLAN WRITES: The key question in my view is whether they will pasken shaylot and have the functional equivalent of Yoreh Yoreh. As for Yadin Yadin, most rabbis only receive Yoreh Yoreh. That does not mean that these rabbis are only spiritual social workers.

REJEWVENATOR POSTS: There are a collection of egal solutions to issues around gender and sexual orientation. For example, having governments recognize only civil unions, be they hetero or homosexual, and leaving marriage to religions. Or having men insist on there being ten women present for a minyan (ie the men would stop andd not say barchu if ten women were not present).

I think the suggestion that men refuse to style themselves as rabbi, but instead embrace the title of Maharat is similar, and I think it’s a great idea.

ROCCO POSTS: It seems that this was likely result on the insistence of Talmud study amongst the women. The newsworthy element is the fact that it took so long to come into fruition.

MECHY RESPONDS: no. i’m sure mr. rocco is wrong about that. i’m convinced it all started when they abandoned the tzenoh renoh in favor of those new fangled educational theories which, afroh l’fumeh, ignored our mesorah and the rov minyon and binyon of g’dolim to teach some women to read hebrew ouside the siddur, r"l. and now look at where we have, entirely predictably, snowballed into. talk of a slippery slope.

Y. AHARON POSTS: Rocco, the real antecedent for womens’ advanced torah education and knowledge is to be found in the authorization of formal Jewish education for girls and women by such figures as the Chofetz Chaim and the Belzer and Gerer rebbeim. Once you start teaching Chumash and Rashi to girls, look where it can lead. To my knowledge, Satmar still doesn’t teach girls from a sefer, and the late rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel didn’t approve of their learning Mishpatim with Rashi(too much TSBP). Too bad the latter views have not gained ascendancy in Jewish education. We could have kept women totally dependent on men for spiritual and halachic guidance. Of course, the attractiveness of the modern world would have insured that such loyalty to holy tradition would be fairly uncommon. A traditional world without traditional women is kind of limited in longevity.

ROCCO RESPONDS: You reiterated the previous fellow’s argument with the addition of the rationalizations for its existence. Like I said before, the Beis Yakov system never evolved into a Taulmudic format. Only the educational formats that took stressed Talmud and gender equality have produced Maharats. The distinction is clear.
The obvious question was whether the promoter of Talmud studies amongst women foresaw such an evolvement and what his opinions on it where.

MJ POSTS: 1) R. Avi Weiss is not the right person to establish this kind of program. The problem is that he is viewed as a political rabbi, in the fullest sense of the word, not as a rabbi’s rabbi. So, I imagine that many people will be thinking, "oh, here goes Avi Weiss, making another statement." Statements can be good, statements can be important, but they are not self-evidently substantive.

2) What’s missing from these discussions again and again is the recognition that the what motivates feminist discourse within Orthodoxy is the fact that the traditional position of women within orthodoxy is a) theologically problematic and b) practically untenable within the ranks of the modern Orthodox.

People occasionally mention b), but very few, not even R. Avi Weiss as far as I can tell, seems interested in making a) an explicit part of the discussion over creating parity in the structures of religious authority.

About Luke Ford

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