The Orthodox Union Says It Wants Female Leaders. So Why Stop Us From Leading?
Since our inception in 2009, Yeshivat Maharat has been no stranger to questions and concerns that have been raised by some in the Orthodox community. Despite the excellent work being done by our students and graduates across North America, every few years there have been attempts to halt the flourishing of female leadership. We have always responded by continuing to improve our curriculum and recruit stellar students, fulfilling our mission of creating a credentialed pathway to ordain Orthodox women to serve the Jewish community.
Our graduates are having a profound impact in over 40 communities across the country. Through our annual survey in 2016, we found that our alumnae personally impacted over 6,500 individuals, and 2017’s survey showed an increased impact with over 2,500 additional individual interactions with community members and students.
This is work that the OU themselves is beginning to advocate for as well. We are heartened to hear that many of the issues that we have been advocating for over the past ten years are now placed squarely on the OU’s agenda, including, as the OU outlines: “developing appropriate titles for women of significant accomplishment, holding professional positions within the synagogue thereby acknowledging their achievement and status.” Yeshivat Maharat welcomes the opportunity to continue this conversation with anyone who wishes to engage.
While the OU met to try to articulate the appropriate role for female clergy, we were meeting with our board to dream even bigger. Today, we have 19 women out in the field and 28 on the path toward ordination. The students, faculty and leadership of Yeshivat Maharat are constantly thinking about how we can further support Orthodox women’s ritual involvement, how we can engage young adults who feel alienated and are opting out of the community, and how our students can lead the way in ensuring that people are practicing an authentic and deeply educated, yet modern, Judaism. We continue to ask these big questions and do the work that we know is crucial.
Women are already functioning as spiritual leaders in the Orthodox community and there is widespread support for women serving as community leaders. Indeed, a recent survey by Nishma Research on Modern Orthodox Jews found that 53% of all respondents and 65% of respondents between 18 and 34 supported expanded roles for women in Orthodox clergy. We intend to continue, as we have been over the past 10 years, to meet the needs of the Jewish community.
Today, there are eight women serving in OU synagogues, and another two who are serving in non-OU pulpits. Others are serving as spiritual leaders at Hillels, schools and synagogues, and we continue to receive requests from multiple communities for graduates to serve as scholars, interns and full-time clergy. My colleagues and I will continue to focus on matters that need our attention: creating religious communities that emphasize keeping our children safe, listening to the needs of the next generation, teaching Torah and wrestling with tough halakhic questions, representing the Jewish community at national times of tragedy, and standing next to women saying Kaddish.
Yeshivat Maharat is training leaders who model a vibrant and living version of Judaism for the entire Jewish community. Orthodox Judaism can now draw upon 100% of the pool of talented leaders, regardless of gender. We are confident that now that the OU has taken on this mission in earnest they will realize that there is more that unites us than divides us. We all want the best for the Jewish community and for there to be an abundance of strong, learned and compassionate Orthodox Jewish leaders. Our community is better off with men and women serving in partnership with one another, leading the way to a better, more committed community. We are eager to continue working to build a dynamic Jewish future.