lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
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Notes from Limmud 2010

"It'll Never Happen Here!"—Female Spiritual Leaders and Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy

Dr Tamra Wright


Sarah Schenirer (1883-1935): Founded the Beis Yaakov school system for girls. Very conservative by today's standards, but until then there was no formal Jewish training for girls. Until then training of girls was essentially mimetic: doing what your mother did.

Schenirer wasn't particularly well educated herself; she was a seamstress. There was extreme segregation in the alter heim: The young men studied in yeshiva but had no secular education; the young women were studying in gymnasia in Poland but getting almost no Jewish education. She realised if nobody did something soon, a whole generation of women would be lost to Jewish education.

Regina Jonas (1902-1944) was the first female rabbi, ordained in Berlin in 1936. She was ordained by Rabbi Max Dieneman; it was a private ordination (not taking place under the auspices of a rabbinical college), and he was not an Orthodox rabbi. She worked with Leo Baeck (who co-signed her ordination certificate later on in Auschwitz) and Victor Frankel, but they never spoke about her after the war. She practised as a rabbi in an old age home in Berlin.

Martha Neumark (1922) was the daughter of David Neumark the philosopher. She wanted to be ordained, and completed the course of study, but it was refused by the (Reform rabbinical) board.

Sally Preisand (1972) was the first female rabbi ordained in the USA, by the Reform movement. (Hence it took fifty years between the first woman to complete her rabbinical studies in the US and the first to actually be ordained.) (And in 1975, Jacqui Tabick, the first female rabbi in the UK.)

Amy Eilberg (1984) was the first female Conservative rabbi, ordained by JTS.

Mimi Feigelson (1994/1996) was an Orthodox woman ordained by an Orthodox rabbi: Shlomo Carlebach. Afterwards, she got another group of three rabbis to give her semichah again, just to make sure. She is now a teacher of rabbis in Los Angeles at the American Jewish University (i.e. for the Progressive movements!). She also now teaches at Drisha, and is referred to there as Reb.

Sharona Margolin Halickmann (1997) was the first rabbinic intern at an Orthodox shul (Lincoln Square Synagogue). This doesn't mean she had semichah; she doesn't, but she had a role that would ordinarily be done by a rabbi.

Eveline Goodman-Thau (2000) received semichah from an Orthodox rabbi, Jonathan Chipman, privately; and worked as a rabbi in a non-Orthodox community in Vienna.

Haviva Ner-David (2006) received private ordination as an Orthodox rabbi, and now lives on Kibbutz Hanaton, working towards ordination in the Masorti community. She considers herself post-denominational.

Dina Najman (2006) did not have semichah, but is extremely halachically knowledgeable. She is rosh kehilla of a Modern Orthodox congregation in New York.

Sarah Hurwitz (2009) has received semichah, works at Avi Weiss's shul in Riverdale Hebrew Institute. There was a controversy of her title: she was the first maharat: מדריכה הילכתית רוחנית ותורנית. She had an ordination ceremony in 2009 but rather than being given the title "rabbi" her ordainer made up this title for her.

Why with this history of Orthodox women being ordained by Orthodox rabbis, what's different with her? She has a job where she wanted: in the Orthodox community, working as co-rabbi in a shul.

Unfortunately, "maharat" hasn't taken off as a title, and later Avi Weiss decided to call her "rabbah". When she was ordained as "maharat", the Orthodox world didn't blink an eye; but she he called her "rabbah", the Orthodox world exploded. Weiss then took a step back and reverted to "maharat", but Sarah Hurwitz, having been granted the title "rabbah", has continued using it.

Institutions and Programmes

Beruria/Midreshet Lindenbaum (1976): Set up by Rabbi Brovender, the first place to teach women Gemara.

Drisha (1985).

Toenot: Rabbinical court advocates, trained by Midreshet Lindenbaum. They have studied lots of rabbinical law, particularly in the field of family law; but they have not completed the programme necessary for semichah.

JOFA—Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (1996)

Kolech (1998)—an Israeli organisation similar to JOFA.

Riverdale Hebrew Institute and Lincoln Square Synagogue; rabbinic interns (1998)

Nishmat: yoetzot halacha—trains women to act as halachic advisers in the field of תהרת משפחה, 1999.

Hartman Institute, Melamdim (2008). Postdenominational; intended to train women of all denominations towards semichah in their own denomination, but nothing has come out of it to this date.

MaHaRat institute: 2009

Is there a coming rift between Modern Orthodoxy and the Chareidi community, and is the women's issue going to push this to a crisis?

At present there are a few "elite" communities pushing the boundaries (e.g. Shira Hadasha), and women with more involvement generally; but against that a growing Chareidi movement, and even people from a Modern Orthodox background going off to study in institutions in Israel where feminism is not on the agenda.

Is it going to be possible to have the authority structures run primarily by more Chareidi people? The speaker doesn't know.

Why is the UK so far behind the rest of the world in this regard? Again the speaker doesn't know, but the more United Synagogue type people who come to Limmud, the more possibility there is for change.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2012-12-13 08:05 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
This is very cool, having a systematic timeline like this! I remember arguing with your father in the mid-2000s, and he was very adamant that absolutely no way would we see a female Orthodox rabbi in our lifetime. (I didn't know about R Feigelson at that time.)


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