Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Women’s History Month Spotlight: An Orthodox Woman Rabbi?

with one comment

Since I do American Jewish history, I figure I would honour Women’s History Month with a post about the recent ordination of a woman as an Orthodox rabbi. This article in The Jewish Daily Forward describes Orthodox “rabbi Avi Weiss’s decision in January to confer the title of ‘rabba’ upon Sara Hurwitz and make her a full member of the rabbinic staff at his Bronx synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. According to Jewish law, rabbis can ordain other rabbis, so a rabbinical degree is not a requirement.

The long struggle for women to become rabbis began in 19th century America. Historian Pamela Nadell’s excellent book Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination, 1889-1985 documents the efforts of the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements. Those efforts have been tremendously succesful. The cantorial students in the Reform and Conservative movements are now the majority, and some speculate that soon a majority of non-Orthodox rabbis will be women, leading to a feminization of the rabbinical profession.

The feminization critique is obviously bullshit, though I think the prediction that rabbinical schools will become majority female is probably correct. If some Orthodox rabbis continue to ordain women, it strikes me those rabbas will merge with the growing egalitarian Orthodox movement.

In any case, I take this a positive development for feminism and for Judaism.


Written by David Weinfeld

March 5, 2010 at 15:51

Posted in gender, Jews, religion

One Response

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  1. rabba has been taken back, with the original title of maharat instead taking its place.

    although its disappointing its important to realize that the fight is not about the role but the title which is extremely interesting.

    one of my best friends is in the program, and she personally is pleased because she felt the controversy was overtaking everything and threatening to destroy her ability to make a difference in more right-wing places.

    why do you not buy the feminization critique? i don’t think its a reason to deny women equal rights etc but it is an issue that in several areas, whether it be college or the rabbinate that men are joining in decreasing numbers. not sure if i have any solution, however, that isn’t sexist–ie recreating the old boys club of judaism yore.



    March 5, 2010 at 16:23

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