As First Maharats Graduate, Roles for Orthodox Women Take Leap Forward

Despite Some Objections, 500 People Gathered in Support

Graduates: The three graduates of Yeshivat Maharat pose with rabba Sara Hurwitz (far right) at the graduation.
Anne Cohen
Graduates: The three graduates of Yeshivat Maharat pose with rabba Sara Hurwitz (far right) at the graduation.

By Anne Cohen

Published June 16, 2013.
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Hurwitz was elated. “It was so beautiful,” Hurwitz told the Forward during the reception. “I’m so happy that I’m no longer alone.”

Despite the strong sense of female empowerment that reigned throughout the day, Kohl Finegold also acknowledged the men in the room. “There is a group of unsung heroes. These are the men who stand aside and support us. These are the male allies,” she said, giving special thanks to Rabbi Adam Scheier, whose congregation, Shaar Hashomayim, she will be joining as the Director of Education and Spiritual Enrichment.

She also thanked her husband Avi, who had flown in that very morning with their two-week-old daughter. “Everything that I am is yours too,” she said.

Avi Finegold wasn’t the only one to make a risky last-minute trip. Adam Scheier, whose wife Abby was among the graduates, drove through the night from Montreal with his four young daughters in tow to make it.

Once the opening remarks concluded, two current students unfolded a banner propped on poles, which served as a symbolic threshold for the graduates to step under after receiving their ordination from Weiss and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a member of the rabbinical advisory board.

“I feel very privileged to be a part of this moment,” Sperber. “It took many, many years for at least a small part of the Orthodox community to mature enough to lead us to this moment.” Sperber’s comment pointed to the continued reluctance from a large part of the mainstream Orthodox community, who feel that ordaining women is one step too far.

Despite this pushback from many in the Orthodox community, or maybe because of it, there was a sense of great solidarity among those who had made it. People from across denominations came to show their support, including Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College, his wife, Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, president of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and Rabbi Sally J. Priesand, who became America’s first ordained female rabbi in 1972.

Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of the progressive Orthodox school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, was also in attendance. “[The ceremony] was tremendously inspiring,” he told the Forward. “You could feel the support. The turnout — which was larger than I think anyone expected — really represents the support that this has in the community.”

Rabbi Jason Herman, executive director of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, the only Orthodox organization to put out a statement of support of the ordination of women as maharats, noted that this graduation represented the beginning of a new way of looking at women in leadership positions in the Orthodox world. At the very least, he added, it is “one very important step in that shift.”

This sense of community was present throughout the occasion. Hurwitz, beaming at the crowd and visibly moved, concluded the ceremony by congratulating the graduates once again, and encouraging them to move forward. “May you keep walking even when others become stagnant,” she said. “Walk boldly with courage and pride, and walk humbly remembering those who have come before you. [And] know that as you march forward, we, all of us, the entire community, walks with you.”


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