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Friedman, 28, will be taking her place at Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue, in Washington, while Kohl Finegold and Brown Scheier, 35, will both be heading to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, in Montreal. Brown Scheier, married to Shaar Hashomayim’s Rabbi Adam Scheier, will continue in her role as educator in Jewish after-school programs, as well as within the congregation. Kohl Finegold, 32, will be starting in August as director of education and spiritual enrichment.
The graduates aren’t the first women to take up the mantle of religious leadership within the Orthodox world. But they are the first to do it with a defined set of professional skills, and within an institutional setting.
Kohl Finegold said the graduation of the maharats is part of a natural process of reform that has been going on within Orthodoxy for decades.
“This is one more step along that continuum,” Kohl Finegold said. “In the ’70s and ’80s, women were opening Gemaras, for the first time and learning. And there have been women in religious leadership roles without a degree. This is formalizing what has existed in other congregations. In some ways, this is a watershed moment, and in other ways, it’s just one more step.”
Rabba Sara Hurwitz played a big role in the process of opening up Orthodoxy to women leaders. Her 2009 ordination as the first Orthodox rabba inspired Weiss to found Yeshivat Maharat. But it was much more private, because she was the only person graduating.
The graduation at Yeshivat Maharat, on the other hand, marked a new beginning, she said.
“This is now an institution that was started with the entire mission of graduating Orthodox women leaders,” Hurwitz said.
Rabbi Adam Scheier of the Shaar Hashomayim stressed the importance of this newly defined role as the reason for his community’s interest in the maharats.
“This is not something we’re allowing or tolerating, but this is something we believe in,” he said. “We’re going to make it a priority as part of our religious community.”