Despite continued opposition from his right flank, in 2013 Avi Weiss witnessed the coming of age of two of the groundbreaking Orthodox institutions he created. This summer, Weiss presided over the first graduation ceremony of female clerics at Yeshivat Maharat, and smoothly passed the reins of his flagship rabbinic school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, to a successor.
Weiss earned notoriety for ordaining the first female rabba, Sara Hurwitz, in 2009. But the June graduation of the first class of Maharats may prove to be a longer-lasting legacy of Weiss’s pluralistic vision for so-called Open Orthodoxy. Despite opposition from America’s largest Modern Orthodox rabbinical association, the Rabbinical Council of America, Yeshivat Maharat’s ceremony marked the beginning of the institutionalization of women’s communal leadership roles.
“It’s not always that dreams are fulfilled in our lifetime, but here we are,” Weiss, 69, told the 500-strong crowd at the graduation ceremony.
All three Maharat graduates, Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Rachel Kohl Finegold and Abby Brown Scheier, immediately secured jobs at North American Orthodox synagogues. Their graduation was followed a few months later by the official installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as president of YCT. In true pluralistic fashion, Lopatin’s installation ceremony, in October, included a panel discussion titled “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation,” featuring leaders from the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. The event was boycotted and harshly criticized by Orthodox leaders, showing that even though YCT is now independent of Weiss, the school will continue his tradition of pushing the bounds of Orthodoxy.