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.
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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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“That’s not how Halacha works,” Goldin said. “There’s consensus that’s required, [and] there’s recognition of past practice that’s required.”

Goldin darkly warned that change without support of Halacha would only lead to “schisms within the Orthodox community.”

Another establishment Orthodox group to oppose ordination of women is Yeshiva University, the pre-eminent institution of Modern Orthodoxy.

Despite the opposition, the maharats and their supporters are optimistic that attitudes are changing, even slowly.

“The pushback is very different than when I was ordained four years ago,” Hurwitz said. “Now the Orthodox community is coming to expect that women have a voice.”

Hurwitz said that progressive voices within Orthodoxy are looking to push for change in issues like conversion, the decentralization of authority and, of course, women’s rights. “I think it’s those issues that are going to force a conversation about how we are working together,” she said. “It’s not going to be the women’s issues alone. “

Kohl Finegold’s hope is that as women start to enter Orthodox synagogues and communities as religious figures, they will be appreciated not just as women, but also as leaders.

“Some are excited because I’m a woman, and that’s great,” she said. “But I’m bringing so many aspects of myself. [My gender] is not indicative of all the work that I’m going to be doing. I’m not going to be standing there saying, ‘I’m female, love me!’”

In any case, the maharats insist they are here to stay, controversial or not. As they look to the future, the three graduates are only hopeful.

“My hope for the future is that this becomes something normal,” Kohl Finegold said. “This may sound weird, but I want people to say that the graduating class of maharats isn’t a big event.”

Speaking of her four daughters, Brown Scheier said they should know they can be any kind of Jewish leader they want to be.

“I feel like they’re going to grow up in a world where this is possible,” she said. “What’s better than seeing it firsthand?”

Contact Anne Cohen at cohen@forward.com


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