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EXCLUSIVE: Sara Hurwitz of Yeshivat Maharat Explains Recent 'Ordination' Controversy

The Dean of the Avi Weiss-heralded Academy stresses the importance of female spiritual leaders in the Jewish community

By: Daniel Koren
Published: June 24th, 2013 in News » World
Sara Hurwitz and the graduates from Yeshivat Maharat 2013

2013 has been a significant year for female leaders of the Jewish community.

Consequently, it's also been a monumental year for religious controversy.

As the Women of the Wall continue to make international headlines for their equal gender rights movement, which has been criticized and refuted by religious leaders across the globe, another, much smaller group of female leaders in the world of Jewry have received a bit of negative attention as well.

Though for them, it was never quite their intention.

Last week - on June 16th to be precise - three female members of the Yeshivat Maharat, a New York-based Orthodox academy founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss in 2009, celebrated the Academy's first graduation ceremony, and their ordination as 'spiritual leaders and halachic authorities.'

This was the title that accompanied their ordination, as Weiss had feared a repeat of an incident that occurred three years prior when he ordained a woman with the title "rabba."

His compromise, however, did not seem to impress the Orthodox Jewish community.

The woman, Sara Hurwitz, was originally given the title 'maharat' by Weiss, which in Hebrew translates to a 'female leader in Torah, spirituality and religious law.' When he ordained Hurwitz with the title 'rabba' (a feminized version of 'rabbi'), orthodox organizations across America condemned him for the action.

"After I was ordained, the old fashioned Orthodox community was very surprised and it was right away seen as controversial," Hurwitz explains to me. "So this year, in anticipation of the June 16th graduation, we spent a lot of time travelling through communities, educating people that all we are trying to do is allow orthodox women to serve their community side by side with male partners and answer questions on our role as Jewish women. I feel people are always searching for this kind of knowledge, and, as it is very important for us to remain within the the boundaries of Jewish law, it's just as important to help people understand that women should be allowed to be leaders of the community."

Related articles: Avi Weiss, Yeshivat Maharat, Sara Hurwitz, New York, Ordination, Female Rabbi
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