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“Why it’s easier to ordain Orthodox women in Israel than the US”

by Ben Sales 11/10/2017

JTA — Ever since Rabbi Avi Weiss began training female clergy and appointing them to leadership positions, he’s been mired in controversy.

Graduates of his women’s seminary in Riverdale, New York, have been banned from serving as clergy or in a position of spiritual authority by two umbrella Modern Orthodox organizations. Weiss left the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America in protest of its policies. Rabbis to his right frequently question his Orthodox credentials.

Rabbi Shuki Reich (L), seminary head of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership, and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (C) present Rabbanit Shira Zimmerman with her certification as a Spiritual Leader and Arbiter of Jewish Law. (Nurit Jacobs-Yinon/ Aluma Films)

What if a rabbi in Israel did something similar? After all, Israel has a Haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, a growing Haredi population and government policies that discriminate against liberal Jewish movements. The backlash would be even worse, right?

Wrong. Actually, Israel might be the friendliest environment for Orthodox women seeking something on par with rabbinic ordination. The country has a parallel to Weiss’ organization — an educational network that advances Orthodox women headed by a prominent, outspoken liberal Orthodox rabbi — and it’s enjoyed greater acceptance and had less backlash than the efforts by Weiss.

After five years of study, the women take the same tests as the men and, Riskin told JTA, graduate with the ability to “teach and direct Jewish law, just like a rabbi.” It’s not that different from Weiss’ seminary, Yeshivat Maharat, whose four-year curriculum gives women the “necessary skills to be confident and compelling spiritual leaders in the Jewish community,” according to its website.

“Studying Torah and developing leadership within Torah is part of every human being,” Riskin said. “Men and women equally are created in God’s image, and one of the miracles of our generation is Torah learning for women.”  … Click here to read more