A New Voice Within The Orthodox Clergy
Growing up, Rabbanit Hadas “Dasi” Fruchter often said she wanted to marry a rabbi.
Her dream was to become a Jewish leader and make a home like that of her parents, or Abraham and Sarah — “open on all four sides,” deeply caring and rooted in tradition.
In the modern Orthodox suburbs of Maryland where she grew up, it was the rebbetzin — the wife of the rabbi — who was in charge of all the things for which Fruchter yearned: making the physical home, shaping the spiritual home and deciding the details of life cycle events.
Fruchter never thought becoming a spiritual leader was a possibility for her as an Orthodox woman. Yet Fruchter, who turns 29 this month, got ordained at Yeshivat Maharat in The Bronx, New York, and has made plans to move to Greater Philadelphia to start her own synagogue.
“I think we’ve seen, even in the last five years, a huge uptick in the professionalization in female positions in shuls,” she said, noting that even women who aren’t ordained, like rebbetzins, are getting support. “It’s just a different world, where we’re just honoring the full professional capacity and spiritual leadership capacity of women. I think it’s really exciting.”
But it hasn’t been easy — others have struggled to accept her current role as assistant spiritual leader at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Maryland.
“It’s taken a lot of patience for me to help people through managing their fear about [being led by a woman],” she said. “Some people are excited right away, but for most, it’s not the Orthodox Judaism that they know. I just have to keep showing up and breathing through it.”
Fruchter decided to go by “rabbanit,” a title that traditionally meant “wife of rabbi,” she explained, but has recently been reclaimed by female scholars in Israel who are not necessarily married to rabbis. It was the title chosen by her “personal spirit guide,” Hannah Rachel Verbermacher. Also known as the Maiden of Ludmir, Verbermacher was a female Hasidic rebbe in 1880s Ukraine, and it’s after her Fruchter hopes to name her Philadelphia shul.
She loves her job at Beth Sholom, and in some ways, starting her own synagogue feels like taking a step backwards — having once again to justify her role. But to her, it’s rewarding to bring her love of organizational work to a new place and establish a new community.
“To me the message is, we need to be privileging voices in our community that we don’t usually hear, because that really enriches it,” she said. “That is the women, that is the people with disabilities, that is the Jews of color. I love that for me, my spiritual leadership journey is able to represent lifting up voices that are not usually heard.”
— Alyssa Fisher