MARCHING ON THE GLASS FLOOR
Remarks delivered at the ceremony granting the degrees of Manhiga Ruchanit and Morat Hora’ah at Ohr Torah Stone’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership
July 5, 2020
13 Tamuz 5780
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone
I would like to congratulate the institute’s newest graduate, Rabbanit Shira Sapir, who has completed five years of in-depth, intense and serious study with great success. The consistency and dedication you have shown in this long journey is a testament to your character, to your colleagues in the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership and to your family. Throughout this journey, you decisively passed rigorous exams equivalent to those that men take in order to obtain rabbinical ordination, demonstrating impressive proficiency in the material. What’s more, you have also successfully passed an exam on Hilkhot Giyur, which is above and beyond the institute’s curriculum. We are very proud of you.
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Allow me to take this opportunity to lay out what I see as goals for the Jewish People with regards to the full integration of women into the world of Torah:
First, we strive for the integration of women into our Batei Midrash and synagogues. For this purpose, we, as communities, must make it priority to establish positions of halakhically-appropriate leadership for women in our synagogues and Batei Midrash, to strive for full representation and active participation of women in the Dati / Orthodox community. This is how we will build more enhanced communities that do not immediately write off half of its constituency.
Second, we must invest considerable resources in the political sphere in order to integrate women into positions of spiritual leadership in the public domain: the IDF, hospitals, and public institutions. All of these would be blessed by the presence of women’s religious-halakhic leadership, that could contribute greatly in halakhic policy and pastoral support.
Far too often, halakhic guidelines applied in the public sphere are presented as coercive or offensive. It is specifically you, those who are seated here and who study as part of WIHL here on a consistent basis, who have the power to show the depth and beauty of Jewish tradition and halakha.
Perhaps above all, the contribution of women Torah scholars is needed in the world of halakhic literature. Unfortunately, it would not be an exaggeration to state that even if we were to combine all the halakhic literature authored by women, we could not fill a single bookshelf in the beit midrash. This reality requires change. Therefore, during the five years of study at WIHL, we also focus on writing. We look forward to the day when we can fill shelves and libraries with the halakhic scholarship of sefarim authored by women.
Another arena that would be blessed by the presence of the halakhic energy of women is conversion, which I know is very close to your heart, Rabbanit Shira – so much so that you have passed a special examination on the topic above and beyond the requirements of WIHL’s curriculum, as well your authorship of an article on the subject. Women should play key roles in the teaching and accompaniment of those seeking to join the Jewish People, sharing the Jewish tradition and mitzvot with those who are thirsty to know. I know that you are doing this very successfully – with wisdom and compassion – and that your students are passing their conversion exams at a substantially higher rate than the national average.
In order for these dreams to become a reality, we must ensure that women have a place to sit and study in such a way that they can dedicate the time and resources needed in order to acquire the language of Torah scholarship, and acquire the rhetorical and pedagogical tools required to serve in public roles. To my delight and pride, we are on our way to doing so at WIHL, where we have built and maintain the most advanced program in the Jewish world for women’s study of halakha.
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I would like to thank all of those involved in this Melechet HaKodesh – holy work. To the rabbaniyot and rabbanim focused on the WIHL Fellows’ Torah learning and their progress; and to all who support and enable this endeavor, each according to his or her ability. Thank you.
In particular, I would like to say thank you to Rabbanit Devorah Evron, Rav Shmuel Klitsner, Rav Shuki Reich, Rav Ohad Teharlev and Rav Aviad Sanders. And, of course, to the entire staff of Ohr Torah Stone, and to its founder, Rav Shlomo Riskin, shlit”a, from whose scholarship and leadership we continue to draw inspiration.
A week ago, we received the news that the efforts and struggle for equality for women halakhic scholars has borne new fruit, and that the government will open a new path that will offer halakhic accreditation exams for women.
We are all hopeful that these examinations will be treated as equal to those taken by men for rabbinic ordination, and that they will open the door for many women to the gates of the Beit Midrash and the world of halakhic decision-making and halakhic leadership. We have no interest in supplanting the role of the Rav. Just the opposite: we are here to strengthen it and complement it with additional spiritual personalities in service to our communities.
The time has come for national recognition of your studies and your great efforts. They will serve as a public imprimatur of the knowledge and abilities that you have demonstrated, and as a sign that you have earned the right to the same employment opportunities and salaries as your male counterparts.
Rabbanit Shira: may Hashem bless you with success in all your endeavors. We stand here at your side and at your service on the journey that awaits you. Please know that there will always be a seat here for you at Midreshet Lindenbaum.