“‘Every Title Is on the Table’ as Advisers at Women’s Yeshiva Consider Degrees”


avi-weissThe following article by Debra Nussbaum Cohen appears in The Forward:

A new debate looms over what to call Orthodox Jewish women trained in rabbinic texts and serving theJewish community as religious leaders. And the ‘R’ word has once again reared its disruptive head.

Yeshivat Maharat, the institution that is training women to work as Orthodox religious leaders, has formed its first advisory board and tasked that board with deciding what to call the yeshiva’s graduates and what to name the degree they will earn.

“Every title is on the table, including ‘rabba,'” said Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, the yeshiva’s rosh yeshiva, or academic head, referring to the title that the yeshiva’s founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss, conferred on pioneering Orthodox spiritual leader Sara Hurwitz last February.

But soon after, other Orthodox rabbinic leaders forced Weiss to promise not to use that title or the term “ordination” for any more women trained in rabbinics and spiritual leadership. In a telling indication of just how sensitive that matter remains, Fox later called back to tell the Forward: “None of us wants to enter into a debate about titles with or without an R and two Bs in them. It’s just a waste of communal energy.”

On its website, Yeshivat Maharat describes its mission: “to train women to be fully integrated into the Orthodox community as spiritual leaders and halachic authorities.” Fox noted that women studying at Yeshivat Maharat, which was established in 2009, would not graduate for another three years.

Just how distracting the issue of what to call such women has been was made evident last March after Weiss changed Hurwitz’s title to rabba, having originally ordained her as maharat,” a Hebrew acronym meaning leader in spiritual matters. The Rabbinical Council of America, the professional organization of centrist Orthodox rabbis of which Weiss is a member, took Weiss to task, and he agreed not to ordain other women as Orthodox rabbis either personally or institutionally through Yeshivat Maharat, where Hurwitz now serves as dean.

At its annual conference the following month, the Orthodox rabbinic group followed up with a resolution formally rejecting the title and further stating, “We cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of title.”

The RCA did not invoke Halacha, or Jewish law, as the basis for its position, but instead referred to upholding “sacred continuity.”

In the wake of the RCA flap, a number of Orthodox rabbis expressed strong support for Yeshivat Maharat and its mission, Fox said, which led to the formation of the advisory board. The board will counsel the Midtown Manhattan-based yeshiva on policy matters.

Of the advisory board’s 21 members, 15 are Orthodox rabbis. Most of these are RCA members, including Weiss, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of the B’nai David-Judea congregation in Los Angeles, and Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago’s Anshe Sholom-B’nai Israel Congregation.

Israeli rabbis Daniel Sperber, Mendel Shapiro and David Bigman are also on the advisory board, as well as Hurwitz of Yeshivat Maharat and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where Weiss is senior rabbi and she is a member of the clergy. Blu Greenberg, founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, is also a member.

Asked how his group would respond to a decision by Yeshiva Maharat to confer the rabba title on its graduates, should that be its advisory board’s recommendation, the RCA’s president, Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, said, “Rabbi Weiss has made a very clear commitment in writing not to use that title, and we have a clear policy that women are not to be ordained and titles the equivalent to ‘rabbi’ not be conferred, and we would expect our members to abide by that.”

Pressed further about the possibility, Kletenik said, “We really don’t like to delve into hypotheticals, but if the situation arises, then we would deal with it through our established processes.”

Weiss, when contacted by the Forward, said that notwithstanding the statement he signed, “The issue of title… has to evolve from the students as well leaders” of Yeshivat Maharat. “It’s a nonissue right now anyway,” he said. “We’re in the beginning stages of [Yeshivat] Maharat, and the focus has to be on training women.”

The issue’s continuing sensitivity appeared evident when Fox called to amend his earlier remarks to the Forward after Weiss contacted him following the latter’s interview.

“I’m aware that Rabbi Weiss made the commitment to the RCA not to use the title rabba, which is why we’re leaning on the advisory board members and leaders to come up with the right title,” Fox said in his follow-up call.

One advisory board member, Rabbi Marc Angel, objected to the RCA’s influence on internal Yeshivat Maharat discussions.

“The RCA should not be intruding into decisions of other institutions,” he said. “If RCA members have an opinion that differs from that of the RCA governing board, that doesn’t disqualify them from being a member of the RCA. Orthodoxy can’t be defined by a self-directed inner group.”

Angel, rabbi emeritus of Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel, founder and director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and a former RCA president, added: “To say that women can’t have any title that in any way resembles religious leadership, that’s a mistaken attitude. Women are taking positions of leadership, and the phenomenon won’t turn back. If the RCA has better suggestions as to what titles women should have, let them offer them.”

Read more at The Forward

{The Forward/Matzav.com}


  1. This issue isn’t going anywhere…actually it might be going to a shul near you if you don’t live in Flatbush or Lakewood. If you live in an out of town community this issue can be so divisive that it can splinter small communities.

    It should be dealt with and stopped at the get go.

  2. True, the issue isn’t going anywhere. But the underlying concept (the high quality Torah education institution for women, not the smichah) is appealing. Shouldn’t our daughters be taught halachah from original texts by competent and qualified teachers that can provide them with a woman’s perspective on how to apply the law in everyday life?

    I don’t know enough to make a reasoned evaluation of the smichah for women idea, but I think that high level Torah education for women – that included some kind of certification and degree – that enables them to be truly knowledgeable instructors for our daughters is essential. It long time that we have qualified women educators!

  3. Editorialized about this on my blog today:



    An article in the Forward makes it is quite clear that Rabbi Weiss is going full steam ahead on a path to train women for positions of spiritual leadership. They may not be using the word ‘ordain’ or call them ‘rabbis’ but they will in effect be training women for the rabbinate. Women will be studying the same material that male candidates for the rabbinate do, be tested on it, and if they pass will be considered on par with male rabbis. The title will really be beside the point.

    I do not believe that this was the intent behind the agreement hashed out between the RCA and Rabbi Weiss. Will the RCA continue to allow Rabbi Weiss membership? Or will they expel him? RCA president Rabbi Moshe Kletenik has said that he is not going to comment on ‘hypotheticals’ since no women are scheduled to be ordained from Maharat for a few years. But if their mission statement doesn’t say it all, nothing does.

  4. To TIDE: the infrastructure is there. Sems aren’t as teaching-oriented as they used to be but B”H I’ve seen ads for a new program for teachers to hone their skills. No need for semicha.

    The type of learning a good BY offers is quite high-standard, not geared to preparing the girls for gemara learning (obviously) but offers quite a lot, for those who want to take it. There will always be those who feel like square pegs, who aren’t agenda driven, and I have quite a lot of compassion for these women, but for the most part, the agenda-driven nature of this “anything you can do I can do too/better” movement is painfully obvious.

  5. I agree with TIDE yet as long as it is kosher. One may get a degree yet not learn gemera and judge and do things like men do yet to get some more recognition, degrees, credit forsure its necessary. Yet ‘AL PI HALACHA’

  6. If we ignore thse people, they’ll stop instigating and agitating. Avi Weiss thrives on conflict and machlokes in the community, and loves the publicity him and his proteges get in the media. They love being in the limelight, these people.

  7. They can do what they want but true Torah of the holy yeshivas like Lakewood,Mir etc they cannot touch! The mesorah will continue from Moshe rabeinu thru the yeshivos hakedoshos vehatehoros. These modern ortohconservareformadox type are nothing, they will not and cannot touch the heiligeh tora and mesorah. We do not care for them, they are just one of the many nuisances that we have survived and ignored thruout our history.

  8. As usual, Matzav is leading the way in exposing those who want to bring down Yiddishkeit. Matzav, keep up your heilige work! Yeyasher kochachem!

  9. Interesting that the 2 lead articles here are Avi Weiss and his latest antics and Abbas deligimitizing Israel. As long as we have reshoim like Weiss destroying the fabric of yidiskeit we will have reshoim like Abbas having power to hurt us.

  10. #3,

    “Shouldn’t our daughters be taught halachah.. by competent and qualified teachers… on how to apply the law in everyday life?”

    Competent would mean one who lives the law and the spirit of the law.

  11. What ever happened to Bachelors and Masters degrees in Jewish education, law philosophy?? Why do we need titles. A degree demonstrates knowledge and completion of a course of study. Why new titles??

  12. Tide:
    Before we focus on qualified women educators, we should focus on having male ones. I feel the education in the yeshiva system is lacking to say the least. The day school system seems to get more qualified instructors.

  13. Seems to me that Feminism is not “being more feminine”! It means being a MAN.
    Years ago men wore Jeans, drank beer, swore and burped! Now women wear Jeans, drink beer, swear and burp! (this is just a partial list of examples) So now we have more Masculine Females!
    They don’t want to do women things, they want to be more like men!

  14. We already have seen and have witnessed what happens when one or a group deviates from Mesorah. Those off the Path people will do what they want, and we will continue to strive to do Hashem’s Will. We have to continue to daven for Achdus. It is amazing how one person, like Weiss, can further weaken the foundations of Yiddushkite with his sh’tus. Obvious he draws, Headlines, with the backing of confused, weak crowds that are not satisfied, with Tradition. May Hashem have Mercy on Klall Yisroel.

  15. #16:
    I fully agree with you, though I dont think there is any reason to neglect the one in favor of the other. Indeed, in his famous realshule in Frankfurt, R. S.R. Hirsch was makpid that his teachers had to possess university degrees in the subjects they taught. This insures a breadth of knowledge and a depth of understanding so that students could be made to think about and understand topics and issues, rather than just memorize facts, figures and texts.

  16. Yes, our daughters need to know halacha, and B”H our school has a good halacha curriculum; as much as the kids observe in and absorb from the home, it’s not enough. In our case, serious bnei Torah, including a local posek, teach halacha l’maaseh; the women who teach tend to focus on inyanei d’yoma, like yamim tovim, and prepare a lot from the kitzur.

  17. There is indeed a problem of what to for women with exceptional minds, but this MO group is careening of the tracks at full speed. I remember seeing a halacha in the Ramban (which I looked for at present and didn’t find) that it is prohibited to appoint a woman for any position of authority of the public (serrara al hatzibur)from halachic decisor to dogcatcher. In my humblest opinion, this is also violated by BY and other headmistresses who are given free reign to toss out students. Of

  18. As a woman, I must agree that these women do not respect women at all, nor the crucial role they play in ensuring Jewish continuity.
    Instead, they want to be men, which is a slap in the face to all our mothers and grandmothers who ensured the generations would be erlich and filled with yiras shamayim.

    The emotional triggers that people bring people back to Yidishkeit are never because they remember an inspiring speech from a rabbi or Rabba. Rather, it it the warm feeling of the Shabbos table, the grandmothers challah or chicken soup, the warmth of Yiddishkeit that brings them back.
    We need women doing what Jewish women did for melenia: transferring the mesorah to the next generation and the hallmark chessed that makes us am kadosh.