New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
Way In

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’

Last month, three Jewish women were ordained as Orthodox members of the clergy in the inaugural graduation ceremony of Yeshivat Maharat, the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and authorities on the Halakha (the collective body of religious laws in Judaism).

While the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements of Judaism have been ordaining women since the 1970s, the Orthodox community has so far resisted.

These female graduates will not be granted the title of 'rabbi', however (nor 'rabba', the controversial feminised alternative). The trio will instead be ordained with the title of 'maharat,' a Hebrew acronym for manhiga hilkhatit rukhanit toranit, meaning 'female leader of Jewish law, spirituality, and Torah.'

Rabbi Daniel Sperber, who administered the graduates' exams, says: 'The question of the title is a difficult question. On the one hand, people live by titles. Institutions live by titles. Many positions require a title - a BA, for example. On the other hand, they are politically explosive. So, it must be a gradual process. I think it would be good to give full respect to the women for what they are and know and have accomplished without challenging the Orthodox establishment. Which is exactly what the word 'maharat' is intended to do.

The ordination remains contentious within the community but interestingly the three women have already secured jobs in pastoral roles at Orthodox synagogues. The maharats won't count in a minyan (the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations) and can't be a witness at a wedding, but their positions were open only to clergy. 'People get caught up with the title,' says the first graduate Kohl Finegold, 'but for me, it's about the function, what I do.'