Orthodox Schism Over Role of Women Widens After Graduation of Maharats

Despite Enthusiasm, Opposition Remains Unyielding

Gang of Four: New graduates from the groundbreaking Yeshivat Maharat join Rabba Sara Hurwitz, whose 2009 ordination helped blaze a trail for the women who are now joining the ranks of Orthodox religious leaders.
robert kalfus
Gang of Four: New graduates from the groundbreaking Yeshivat Maharat join Rabba Sara Hurwitz, whose 2009 ordination helped blaze a trail for the women who are now joining the ranks of Orthodox religious leaders.

By Anne Cohen

Published June 20, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
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“People have been so supportive of me and have been responsive and positive,” Brown Scheier added to her husband’s statement.

Although some are excited at the thought of welcoming the maharats, Orthodoxy as a whole does not share their enthusiasm.

Goldin said that the RCA believes women should be limited to specific roles within the faith and cannot be full-fledged religious leaders.

“We encourage their participation as educators [and] women who [are] specifically learned in the areas of marriage and family purity,” he said.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at the Haredi umbrella organization Agudath Israel of America, also rejected the ordination. He was particularly scathing about calling the women maharats, which supporters see as a semantic olive branch to traditionalists.

“The formal designation of a woman as a quasi-rabbi is something that is considered inappropriate,” Shafran wrote in an email. “So the enterprise of such ‘ordination’ itself is improper.”

Echoing Goldin, Shafran encouraged Orthodox women to stick to the “same leadership roles they have traditionally played.”

“There are certainly leadership roles that Orthodox women should be playing,” Shafran wrote in the email. “Namely (among other things) teaching other women or girls, counseling them and setting the proper example for other Jews, men and women alike.”

Goldin pointedly dismissed support for the maharats from more progressive Orthodox institutions, like the progressive Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, which both sent representatives to the graduation.


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