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Digest: Agunot Stats, Reading John Stuart Mill in Hebrew

The Sisterhood Digest:

• In the spring of last year, Sara Hurwitz became the first Orthodox Jewish woman to be ordained as a rabbi. Sort of. Her mentor and teacher, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, in the Bronx, didn’t call it an ordination; he called it a “conferral ceremony.” And he didn’t call her a rabbi, either; he called her a Maharat, a Hebrew acronym meaning “Leader in Jewish Law, Spiritual Matters, and Torah.” Now, Weiss and Hurwitz — who announced shortly after Hurwitz’s conferral ceremony that they were founding a new school to train Maharatot — say that the title just hasn’t stuck. Instead of Maharat, Hurwitz will now be known as rabbah. “This will make it clear to everyone that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff,” said a statement issued by Weiss’ office, “a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”

Breaking the Silence, an organization that collects first-person stories of soldiers who served in the Palestinian territories during the Second Intifada, has released a new booklet of testimonies from women soldiers. In interviews with more than 50 women, the organization found that “the girls try to be even more violent and brutal than the boys,” the organization’s director Dana Golan told Ynet, “just to become one of the guys.”

• The Israeli Rabbinical Court system just released statistics for 2009: Last year, 162 women, (formerly agunot, or “chained” women) were “unchained” from their husbands. Under religious and Israeli law, women may not be granted divorce papers, or gittin (the singular is get) without their husbands’ permission. As Arutz Sheva reports reported, of the 162 uncooperative husbands, 22 were located by private investigators, and 44 suffered legal sanctions, such as a ban on their ability to get a driver’s license, before they relented.

• January 22 marked the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legal abortion in the United States. The same day, the trial of Scott Roeder — the man who in May walked into the church of Kansas late-term abortion provider George Tiller and shot him point-blank in the head — began. Roeder admitted to the killing in open court, but his lawyers argued that he should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter, because he held, what Kansas law calls “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” Exactly one week after the trial began, the jury delivered its verdict, after only 37 minutes of deliberation: Roeder is guilty of first-degree murder and faces life in prison.

• The New Israel Fund this week launched a campaign to encourage haredi women to speak out against segregation and discrimination on buses and other public places. The left-leaning organization, which fights for the rights of non-Orthodox Jews and Arabs in Israel, helped to set up a blog and a hotline called Hashmi’eini, to allow women to call in with complaints. (The word, taken from a verse in the Song of Songs, means “make your voice heard to me.”) The Jerusalem Post quotes quotes one of the hotline’s managers as saying, “Since the hotline was launched this week, we have had six callers, five of them men, who have complained about various incidents.”

• Previews are now taking place in New York for MazelTov Cocktail, a one-woman show about “a Jewish woman as she juggles her job as a personal assistant, her cocaine-addicted (and recently jailed) brother and the neurotic parents who spawned them,” according to press materials. The show, at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre on the Upper West Side, officially opens February 3, and runs through the end of February.

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