Rabbi Scheier Defends Appointment of Maharat, Hails Women Who Lained Megillas Rus in Riskin’s Shul

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rabbi-adam-scheierRabbi Adam Scheier, the senior rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, is proud of his upcoming installation of a “Maharat” – female rabbi – in his synagogue and dismisses a recent statement by the RCA  opposing such ordination.

As reported by Matzav.com in April, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim announced that it is appointing 32-year-old Rachel Finegold as “director of education and spiritual enrichment” at the shul effective August 1. Among her duties will be speaking “periodically” from the pulpit, leading Torah text classes and visiting the sick and elderly, as well as developing programs for youth and young families.

Finegold is one of three women who will graduate in June from the “Open Orthodox” Yeshivat Maharat in Riverdale, NY, which was founded in 2009 by Rabbi Avi Weiss, who is also the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

Rabbi Scheier’s wife, Abby Brown Scheier, is one of the other two soon-to-be Maharat graduates.

Rabbi Scheier, who calls himself Orthodox, has been at Shaar Hashomayim since 2004, after graduating from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

Rabbi Scheier, in a sermon he gave on the second day of Shavuos this past week, defended the selection of a Maharat in his shul.

Among the things mentioned by Rabbi Scheier in his speech were “the women who, just yesterday, read Megillat Rut for the men and women in Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s community in Israel.”

Rabbi Scheier’s full speech can be read here:

Yes, We Are Orthodox, and

Yes, We Hired a Female Member of Our Clergy!

Rabbi Adam Scheier

Shavuot 5773 (May 16, 2013)

Et chata’ai ani mazkir hayom1 – Today, I confess my iniquities to you.

A few years ago, I participated in a panel discussion at a fundraising dinner for my rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. As part of the program, we fielded questions from the audience. Of the questions asked, two made an impression on me. The first was, “If Bernie Madoff walked into your shul, and was observing yahrzeit that day, would you give him an aliyah?”…but that’s not our topic today.

The second question was, “Do you support the notion of women spiritual leaders (I don’t remember if the word ‘rabbis’ was part of the question) for the Orthodox community?” The rabbi seated to my left answered, “Absolutely. It’s about time.”

The rabbi seated to my right said, “Without a doubt. I believe this is an ethical imperative.”

I don’t know if I was simply being contrarian, or if I spoke out of principle, but I answered: “No. This is not something that I, as an Orthodox rabbi, am ready for.

And I don’t believe that it’s something that my community – which is a very traditional community with Orthodox leanings and Orthodox sensibilities and Orthodox proclivities – is ready for.”

Friends, after a few years, after two or three daughters have been born, and after I’ve stood by proudly as my wife has completed a course of study that parallels the most rigorous of Orthodox men’s rabbinical schools, I admit that my answer has changed. I am ready, and I believe we are ready.

There is a beautiful teaching in our tradition2 that differentiates between a wise person and a fool. It enumerates the seven attributes of a chacham, a wise person:

1) He does not make declarations before one greater than he in wisdom or in age;

2) He does not interrupt the words of his fellow.

3) He does not answer hastily.

4) He asks relevant questions and thereby enables accurate and relevant answers.

5) He discusses first things first and last things last.

6) About something he has not heard he says, “I have not heard”.

7) He acknowledges truth.

V’chilufehem b’golam. The inverse, the Mishna says, is true with the golam, the boor.

In other words, a wise person is not only defined by acquired knowledge. A wise person is one with whom it is easy to have a productive conversation; a wise person is thoughtful, responds on topic, is sufficiently open-minded to entertain new ideas; a wise person might even consider the possibility that he or she is wrong.

We have been blessed to see a great deal of wisdom as of late. We have engaged in a thoughtful conversation about the role of women in Orthodox Judaism, and we should be proud that, on an international level, Shaar Hashomayim has played a central role in this conversation. We have played a role because our members care about the place of women in Jewish leadership, and we have played a role because we are congregation that adheres to the practices and teachings of Modern Orthodoxy.

And we should be proud of both of these. We are unapologetically Orthodox, while at the same time a home for Jews of all levels of observance; and we are unapologetically modern, embracing the social challenges presented to us by our Canadian values and society.

And we should be proud of the chochma inherent in our conversation. We respect the wisdom of our ancestors. We listen. We respond thoughtfully. And we progress forward.

Part of this progress has led to the hiring of a Mahara”t, a Madricha Hilchatit Ruchanit v’Toranit, a guide in matters of Jewish law and spiritually. A recent editorial in the Canadian Jewish News “applaud[ed] Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Congregation, which snapped up Rachel Kohl Finegold, one of Yeshivat Maharat’s first three graduates…Shaar Hashomayim (is) blazing the trail of the future.”

With all of the incredible support, and with all of the voices that have applauded this significant step for our congregation, it is important to acknowledge that not all have enthusiastically supported us.

Consider that, over the past few months, there have been two avenues of opposition to our decision. The first has been to discredit us as an institution that cares about Jewish Law. The second has been to discredit the overall initiative to promote women’s involvement in the spiritual leadership of the Orthodox community.

A few months ago, an article was posted on the internet which asserted that Shaar Hashomayim should stop billing itself as a ‘traditional’ congregation: Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, they have a mechitzah and use the orthodox siddur, but that’s where it stops…The rabbi there, Adam Scheier, is a product of Chovevei Torah, the controversial rabbinical seminary headed by Rabbi Avi Weiss (of “Rabbah fame – he gave a woman Semicha”).

I believe that it’s been quite some time since my “controversial” rabbinical school, of which I am proud to have been a member of the first graduating class, entered the mainstream of the North American Orthodox conscience. Included in its graduates are rabbis of major Orthodox congregations in North America, countless Orthodox educators in school, Hillels, and other organizations, and even the Chief Rabbi of Finland. Each and every day, tens of thousands of individuals are being inspired and are learning from compassionate, Open Orthodox rabbis. The only thing controversial – no, scandalous – related to the rabbinical school is the reluctance of the Rabbinical Council of America (the Orthodox Union’s rabbinic arm) to accept these rabbis into its club of Orthodox Rabbis. But I am proud that, in my nine years in Montreal and in my nine years as a member of the Rabbinical Council of Canada, my courageous Canadian Orthodox colleagues have never questioned my Orthodoxy, nor have they considered me particularly controversial.

The article continues:

Scheier recently attended the installation ceremony of the new “rabbi”… at Montreal’s reform Temple… Even worse, Rabbi Scheier recently invited her to lecture at the Shaar’s adult continuing education program.

In other words, as proof to the fact that I – that we – are not traditional, that we arerebellious reformers of Jewish law, that we are dangerous threats to the unbroken chain of halakhic tradition, they cite something that I’m so deeply proud of. To have respectful relationships with colleagues of other denominations is a value of Open Orthodoxy. Upholding the value of am Yisrael, unity amongst the Jewish people, doesn’t detract from our Orthodoxy – rather, it enhances and strengthens it.

Rabbi David Hartman would often speak to us, to his students who were rabbis, about how Orthodox rabbis who willingly engage in dialogue with other denominations demonstrate tremendous faith in their Judaism.

Our Judaism, he would remind us, is one that won’t crumble under the influence of divergent opinions. He suggested that those who withdraw from dialogue believe that the moment one allows outside influences to compete with the life of Torah, the Torah will lose. But those of us who know and love our tradition, our halakha: we know that our tradition will not only survive any challenge or change, but will grow stronger from it.

The article continues:

On the home page of their website, the Shaar says that they adhere to traditional halacha! Just to add to the confusion, Rabbi Adam Scheier’s wife is attending Rabbi Avi Weiss’s seminary for women “rabbis.” (he now calls them Maharat, which is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law, Torah and spirituality).

Years ago, when there was a particularly painful comment made about me on a charedi website, I turned to a colleague from another denomination for moral support. He said something that comforted me. He said, “take it as a compliment…they don’t criticize me like that.”

I believe a red line has been crossed, and people should be informed of the true nature of the Shaar and its rabbi. They are definitely NOT traditional. Tevye the milkman said it best: “Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!”

Friends, change is inevitably scary. But part of being a chacham, of engaging Jewish wisdom to ensure the relevance of Orthodoxy, is being open to new ideas, and being open take an honest, close look at our tradition.

Take, for example, the festival of Shavuot. Our rabbis teach that today is the moment in which we commemorate and celebrate Matan Torah, when we stood as one around Sinai.

But who, exactly, stood at Sinai? At first glance, the women weren’t there. We know that the women – and the children, and others – were part of the Exodus.

We know that the women left Egypt. However, a simple read of the Torah indicates that the Revelation at Sinai was only for the men.

The Midrash5 presents a powerful tradition that claims otherwise. When the Torah says, ko tomar l’veit Yaakov v’taged li’vnei Yisrael6, Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the Children of Israel.

The Midrash notes the unusual dual description of the Jewish people. First, they are the House of Jacob, beit Yaakov; then, they are the children of Israel, b’nei Yisrael. The Midrash then says something very simple, but revolutionary: it says, Bnei Yisrael, the sons of Israel, refers to the men; Beit Yaakov, the ‘House of Jacob,’ refers to the women.

Meaning, at first glance, one might assume that only men were present, only men received the law, and only men passed down the law to the next generations. But, if you look closely enough, the women were there all along.

Many have opposed Yeshivat Maharat and this new era of Orthodox women’s leadership by saying that it is a break from tradition. In fact, the rabbinic wing of the Orthodox Union, the RCA, recently published a statement7 opposing Abby and Rachel and their classmate Ruth’s upcoming ordination from Yeshivat Maharat.

The final sentence of the statement is the following:

The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.

Friends, don’t be fooled. This is a not a break from tradition. If you look closely enough, the women have been there all along. It’s just now that we’re recognizing their presence, and it’s just now that we’re stepping aside just a little bit to create a place for that voice to be heard in our Beit Midrash, from our pulpit, and from the other areas of Jewish life which are not halakhically limited to men, but have been traditionally perceived as the domain of men.

If you look closely enough, you learn about Asnat Barazani, the late 16th/early 17th Century female head of a Yeshiva in Kurdestan. Barazani wrote, “I was raised amongst scholars and was loved by my father. He taught me no trade or work except for service of Heaven. To fulfill what it says, “you shall meditate on this diligently day and night.” (Joshua 1:8)…He made my husband promise that I should do no other work except [avodat ha-kodesh]. And he fulfilled my father’s command.” If you look closely enough, you’ll learn about the Maiden of Ludmir, the 19th Century female hassidic Rebbe. If you look closely enough, you’ll read the tradition that states that our Matriarch Sarah’s level of prophecy exceeded that of Abraham8. If you look closely enough, you’ll read about 16th-Century Marat Hava Bachrach, whose grandson wrote that she studied the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Midrash, and Halakhic Responsa, she would sit with students and discuss Halakha9. If you look closely enough, you’ll read about so many women throughout the ages, right up to Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the Orthodox dean of Yeshivat Maharat who has served for many years in a rabbinic capacity at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a synagogue affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

And if one rejects change simply because it’s change, then one rejects the Beis Yaakov schools, the once-controversial initiative that opened up Jewish education to girls in Poland, in 1917. And one rejects the Zionist movement, which gave birth to the State of Israel. And one rejects the concept of Torah U’Madda, which is the cornerstone of Modern Orthodoxy. And one rejects rabbis’ delivering sermons in English. And one rejects girls studying Talmud at Maimonides School in Boston. And one rejects women participating in Jewish ritual according to halakha – such as the many who participate in our congregation, and such as the women who, just yesterday, read Megillat Rut for the men and women in Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s community in Israel. And one rejects Yeshivat Maharat, which educates Orthodox women to assume positions of spiritual leadership in the Jewish community.

All of these initiatives have, at one point in history, been challenged as being too far off, too scary, too much of a challenge to the traditional way of thinking and the traditional way of identifying as an Orthodox community. And I admit that I have been one who has issued such challenges.

But I would argue, as a proudly Orthodox rabbi, that our open and modern Orthodox identity is enriched and deepened by the trailblazers, by those leaders who saw and acted upon the need to do things just a little bit differently than had been done in the past. And it is following their example that we can proudly say, “Yes, we are Orthodox, and yes, we have hired a female member of clergy!”

Chag Sameach!

[End of speech]

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Well, the gauntlet has been thrown, that any conversation here should be with thought, calm (divrei chachamim b’nachas nishma’im, after all), and civility.
    However, I am disturbed by his violation of his first point, One “does not make declarations before one greater than he in wisdom and in age.” Does he really believe that he, and those who support YCT, are greater than the aggregate RCA? What is truly the more scandalous assertion?

  2. Not sure why this is news at all. Who cares and why should this be posted? We don’t keep tabs on conservative or reform…let alone print their speeches!…what’s the difference?

    Women play a major role in Orthodox jewery!
    Their are plenty of orthodox Rabbis to speak to regarding the vital role they play in frum circles. No need to get influenced from the secular world… Who know what group this “Rabbi” will accept next.

  3. This article is too long for me. My attention span can’t handle such a long piece. Can you break it down into 1 paragraph?

  4. Say WHAT? Look, it was others who applied the term “Orthodox” to Torah-observant Jews in the first place. I suppose taking the term back to give it a makeover and then applying it to something else is no less frivolous.
    Now the rest of us just need to know the difference.

  5. One paragraph is even to long. Giving him exposure is wrong
    Key point is his wife is one of the three graduates. Guess she will find a pulpit somewhere else. But hey we are orthodox lol.

  6. “…part of being a chacham, of engaging Jewish wisdom to ensure the relevance of Orthodoxy, is being open to new ideas, and being open take an honest, close look at our tradition…”

    To ENSURE the relevence of Orthodoxy?!? Oh, really?!

  7. this rabbi could have been part of the sanhedrin if it still existed. he can prove a sheretz is kosher from the torah.

  8. He says twice that he’s Modern Orthodox:
    “we are congregation that adheres to the practices and teachings of Modern Orthodoxy.”
    “But I would argue, as a proudly Orthodox rabbi, that our open and modern Orthodox identity is enriched and deepened by the trailblazers”

    All other times, he refers to himself and his synagogue as “Open Orthodox”, which is the term that Avi Weiss came up with. At least he doesn’t always refer to himself as Modern Orthodox all the time, because doing so is an insult to the real Modern Orthodox. Open Orthodox is Orthodox about as much as Jews for Jesus is Jewish. I haven’t heard anyone complaining that J for J is not really Jewish – they just ignore it. Let’s just ignore Avi Weiss’s Open Orthodox and teach our children that it’s not really Orthodox.

    Modern Orthodoxy has taken this stance. The RCA announced its opposition to ordaining women, and they don’t allow YCT “Rabbis” into the RCA. Other than that, they just ignore them. Yes, there are some people who were “grandfathered” into the RCA (such as Avi Weiss himself – and there was actually a discussion on whether he should be expelled, although they decided not to be that drastic). There are also synagogues (I won’t refer to them as shuls) that were grandfathered in, such as the one in Denver which has mixed seating. No new shuls are accepted unless they conform to halachic standards, and I predict the existing one (the Denver one is the only one left) will eventually be forced to conform or it will be expelled from membership.

  9. They had a woman layn Megilas Rus? I’m pretty certain that’s a violation of a halacha called “kol isha”.
    I don’t know what they consider to be Orthodox, but to me it’s following (or at least making an effort to follow) halacha. To violate halacha and consider oneself Orthodox is an insult to people who are actually Orthodox.

  10. #1 & #11 – you guys are my speed!
    All this talk – WoW, maharatz etc. is all these koukes want! Publicity! And we’re all members of their keheelos since we’re enamored by the stories. If Matzav and the other..… gives them no exposure; guess what! They’ll stop! They just want to be in our faces!

  11. This is no different than the changes and progressiveness of the Conservative movement 100 years ago. Look at where it led vs. what their initial intentions were.

    Rabbi Shimon said: Ha-ro-eh es ha-nolad. One who considers the outcomes of a deed.

    Only a fool would not see what the outcome of this is going to be.

  12. Just to clarify..Until the last 10 years, the Sha’ar (as it is known) was affiliated with the conservative movement. They are officially now unaffiliated with that movement nor with any orthodox group. They define themselves as traditional with orthodox rituals.
    I guarantee that even the most modern Jew would find it difficut to relate to the style and method of the davening there. Perhaps, someone familiar with the UKs United Synagogues would relate –but even they would find some of the Shaar’s practices far beyond the pale of orthodoxy. It is thus not surprising that they have adopted a decidedly unorthodox position. It should not offend the orthodox sensibilities any more than mixed seating at a conservative synagogue or altering of traditional prayers that offend modern sensibilities at reform temples. They are completely irrelevant to orthodoxy.

  13. Korach also gave brilliant and invigorating lectures and was well learned, however he was innovative in going against the established Mesorah.

    The above-mentioned intellectual and innovative cast of characters are going on the path of Korach.

    It is up to the Orthodox Union,the Young Israel and the RCA to properly deal with this threat to the established Mesorah and we hope that they do it soon.

  14. Enough already. YCT is not a Torah-true institution, and its graduates – of both genders – are not Torah-true Jews.

    When was the last time Matzav posted a Reform or Conservative drasha?

  15. #1, 3, 9, it is posted so that we are aware and can protect ourselves and others. I had never heard of them before, and (as opposed to the reforms etc. who clearly state their position) these people disguise themselves and try to gain followers among honest but unlearned people.

    Truth be told, those articles are also useful for having something to read where studying is forbidden.

  16. I had to travel to a city where there was 1 shul led by a YCT Rabie and a Chabad presence. Only Chabad made a minyan during the week and the YCT Rabie was nowhere to be found.

  17. By reporting this long non issue for us frum yidden, is giving credence to something we cannot fathom much less care about! In simple English Who Cares? Why does Matzav continuously report on this nonsense…Stop the exposure….

  18. open orthodoxy is just a diguise for the word reform. what’s with all these new wolves’s wearing sheeps clothing.

  19. 4. Comment from 3rd Grader
    Time May 20, 2013 at 10:00 AM. IN SHORT: It is just another tragic display of Distortion, perpetrated by people who want to distort the TRUE Torah way of life, to push their own agenda. It is the old story of a Pig sticking out its foot, claiming to be KOSHER. ONE HASHEM, ONE TORAH, ONE NATION. This poison, of brainwashing people that, there are BRANCHES or STREAMS of Judaism, is causing GREAT DAMAGE. WE have to do our part even more, beseeching the Boreh HaOlam, to answer our Tefillos.

  20. The cynicism of all you commenters is very loud, but has an undercurent of amusement. I, who live in Montreal, am not amused. The Shaar Hashomayim is a beautiful shul that bears an old time elegance. Many frum simchas are held there because of the shul’s size (very large) but also because of its class. The shul itself caters to a distinctly traditional segment of the Jewish community, and has done so for over 100 years. As the generations have changed, even in the “traditional” sectors, sadly the shul has changed as well. But what Rabbi Scheier has done with this “innovation” is take his entire congregation far away from its very source. Now the shul is exclusive — in a negative sense. Perhaps he doesn’t realize how he has lost face and credibility. Maybe he doesn’t recognize how modernity conflicts so angrily with the Torah world. NO, this isn’t cause for cynicism — this is cause for tears. Tears from all of us here in Montreal.

  21. Just throwing this out there without siding with Rabbi Schier: Rebbetzen Kanievsky A”H was a powerful spiritual leader, for woman and man alike. Many men came to consult with her on a myriad of issues, as well of course as serving as spiritual leader for countless women. The many books that appeared about her following her passing attest to her remarkable stature as a true Torah leader. Why is this case so different?

  22. CHaim Shmeil,

    Perhpas try reading the book again. I doubt you will find any similarity at all.

    I highly doubt that this fellow’s wife is anything remotely like Rabbanit Kanievsky.

    Rabbanit Kanievsky supported her husband so that he can focus exlusively on Torah. This fellow does not seem like his wife has been to supportive, rather it semms that she has been rather demanding. VDAL

  23. Chaim Shmiel,

    You can’t compare the two. Rebbetzin Kanievsky never spoke or said a tefila from the mens’ section of the shul during davening. She never carried the sefer Torah in shul, and she stood in the background of her great husband, Rav Chaim, Shlit”a. She didn’t try to blur the differences between men and woman as this female “rabbi” is trying to do.

  24. Mainstream Modern Orthodox synagogues already have Yoatzot Halakha (women who advise on questions of Taharat Mishpacha) and often have women teachers and lecturers, including women who speak at the pulpit after tefila. The only difference here seems to be the title and some of her duties (such as visiting the sick) which do not require semiha to perform. He is not saying she will sit as a dayan, for example. Why the outrage?

  25. To #32.
    In one word – the difference between Rebbitzens and all the noshim tzikonios throughout the ages (including the noshim that we always knew were at Har Sinai) and lehavdil these women – TZNIUS, both in self image as well as dress.
    Sorah Schnierer is an excellent case in point. It is well known that at the laying of the even hapina for her seminary she sat in the back with the other ladies, not on stage with the men.
    Do these women (and) men aim to fulfill the will of Hashem or do they think that they know better than He what will benefit the world?

  26. “Rabbi” Scheier claims “We are unapologetically Orthodox,”

    Everyone in Montreal knows this is so very far from the truth…this joke of a rabbi and his ilk apologize about everything in the Torah. But since they are ostensibly orthodox, they are so much more of a threat to Hashem’s Torah than the Deconstructionists, the Deformers and the Conservative.

    They are not Orthodox, no matter what they label themselves! Putting a Hechsher on chazer does not make it Kosher. The Rabbinical Council of Canada, if they don’t kick him out, have a lot of explaining to do.

  27. To #38, YonaLevi

    The Rabbinical Council of Canada (RCC) will never kick him out because some at the RCC sees nothing wrong in what he is doing.

  28. Rabbi Scheier writes “a simple read of the Torah indicates that the Revelation at Sinai was only for the men.” In Shemos 19:11,it says: “…ki bayom hashlishi yeireid Hashem l’enei KOL ha’am al har Sinai.” – “because on the third day Hashem will descend before the eyes of ALL the nation on Mount Sinai.”
    Obviously, he is falsifying the Torah.

  29. ‘They had a woman layn Megilas Rus? I’m pretty certain that’s a violation of a halacha called “kol isha”.’

    The Shulchan Aruch, based on an explicit mishnah, an explicit gemara, and the overwhelming majority of rishonim, rules that a woman can leyn Megillat Esther. Kal v’chomer Megillat Rut.

  30. #32, Chaim Shmiel: That is a stupid comparison. How can you compare Rebbitzen Kanievsky, a’h to these apikorsim? The Rebbitzen didn’t consider herself a ‘Rabbi’. There were many learned Jewish women and heroines in our history, but didn’t dare to even think of transforming Torah and being considered as if they were men. Being a teacher and educator is not a “RABBI”. Men and women in Judaism have equal but separate roles! Use your common sense.

  31. Not to turn this into a Chaim Shmiel (32) referendum, but it begs the point: it is possible for women to fully develop their potentials in their service to Hashem, their personal growth, their interactions with others, in the most traditional manners. Some have biographies dedicated to them – from Shvester Selma to Rebbetzin Dr. Grunfeld to Rebbetzin kramer (Holy Woman) and others. Some feature in biographies of their husbands – e.g. Rebbetzin Pam, Rebbetzin (Simcha) Wasserman – and others. Some are quiet or not so quiet heroines in their own communities. It’s patronizing to all these great women, and all those who look to them as models, to hold the Maharat model as the standard by which they were to measure up.


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