Ordaining of Orthodox women as Clergy is Here to Stay

It is always a stirring thing to be present when history is being made.

For everyone in the standing-room-only crowd who were privileged to be present at the ordination ceremony Sunday, June 15 of Yeshivat Maharat – the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as clergy – the feeling of history being made in our presence was palpable.  Together with Hazzan Jack Kessler, Director of the ALEPH Cantorial Program, I made the trip from Philadelphia to NYC to represent ALEPH and the ALEPH Ordination Program and witness the second graduating class of Yeshivat Maharat being called to their ordination.  We congratulate Rori Picker Neiss and Victoria Sutton Brelow who were welcomed onto the bimah to stand with the inspiring young women of last year’s very first graduating class by Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of the yeshiva, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Dean, Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, Rosh Yeshivah, and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, posek, and others.

The Power of Seconds

In his remarks Rabbi Weiss poignantly noted the power of “seconds.” What gives ‘second times’ their significance? Firsts are unique, of course, but can be one-time-only events. Once there is a second time, we know that something is here to stay. There is precedent and the presumption of more to come. As Rabbi Weiss proclaimed, the ordaining of Orthodox women as clergy is here to stay. Rabbi Sperber stepped beyond his prepared remarks to defend the religiously progressive ‘Open Orthodoxy’ movement, exemplified by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, which has recently drawn further ultra-orthodox condemnation. Far from being non-halakhic, as Rabbi Sperber noted, Open Orthodoxy should be commended as as faithfully halakhic, for halakhah, he reminded us, has always faced new challenges and is never static but is constantly developing and readapting itself to changes in society.

The Yeshivat Maharat curriculum is faithful to this vision, and prepares the women who graduate to be poskot (legal arbiters) within the boundaries of halakhah,  blending halakhic decision-making (psak), pastoral counseling, leadership development, and internship experiences. Graduates are conferred the title Maharat, a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality.

Opening the Tent of OHALAH

Several months ago, OHALAH leaders Rabbis Pam Frydman, Yocheved Mintz (both OHALAH past presidents) Rabbi Rachel Jurovics , chair of the OHALAH Membership Committee, and I in my capacity as an OHALAH membership consultant, brought forward a motion to the OHALAH Board, which was approved unanimously, to invite ordained graduates of Yeshivat Maharat to apply for membership in OHALAH and to welcome them and students of Yeshivat Maharat to attend the OHALAH Conference.

“Maharat” and “maharat student” have been added to OHALAH applications for membership and subscriber-ship at http://ohalah.org/become-a-member/ohalah-rabbis/ and in our conference information at http://ohalah.org/annual-conference/.

We applaud and celebrate the groundbreaking Yeshivat Maharat graduating class of 2014!

Rabbi Marcia Prager
Director and Dean of the ALEPH Ordination Program