spiritual leaders
Rabbi Brander speaks

The following remarks were delivered in Hebrew by Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, at the graduation ceremony of Rabbanit Dr. Hannah Hashkes, Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis, and Rabbanit Chamutal Shoval from the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) on June 2, 2021 at Midreshet Lindenbaum. *** מַאי …

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Rabbinical Seminary students

Preparing Jewish Rabbinical Leadership for the Modern World “Ohr Torah Stone’s rabbinic training is about so much more than learning the halakha,” enthused Aviel Javesky, a student in Ohr Torah Stone’s Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary. “I also learned philosophy, psychology, and gained the skills I will need to be an effective rabbi. The …

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Rabbanit Amira Raanan (pictured, right) and Rabbanit Navit Zaddik were certified as Manhigot Ruchaniyot and Morot Hora’ah on Wednesday, May 16, by the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), an advanced 5-year program for female scholars at Midreshet Lindenbaum, under the leadership of Rabbanit Devorah Evron and Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner.

Rabbanit Raanan teaches in advanced Torah institutions including the Jacob Herzog Center, the Be’erot Yitzhak preparatory program, the Ohr Torah Stone hesder Yeshivat Machanaim and teacher training courses, and is also a graduate of the yoetzet halakha track at Nishmat and the Matan Talmudic institute.

Rabbanit Zaddik, mother of nine, holds a BA and a teaching certificate in Education and Judaism. She is a guide for brides, a graduate of the Talmud Torah Institute in Matan, and is involved in educating and leading women in Beit Midrash and preparing the next generation of women studying Torah.


A third WIHL fellow was also recognized at the event: Rabbanit Yael Shimoni, who completed a three-year track and received the title of spiritual leader, is leaving the program to pursue a dream opportunity of establishing a new yeshiva for women.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin told an audience of about 250 people, “I was privileged to administer an oral examination to Rabbaniot Amira and Navit. I assigned the exam a certain amount of time, but in the end I sat with them for three and a half hours and just wanted more. I thank you for making me so happy, this is the best thing that can be, and I thank God, because when we started, there were people who question the idea of giving this recognition to women, but today, in this country, it’s no longer a question.”

OTS Co-Chancellor Rabbi David Stav affirmed: “The Torah was not given to one group, it was given to the entire nation; to men and women. It is only natural to seek within the framework of Torah and tradition that there will also be women involved in the transmission of the Torah tradition. ‘My son, heed the discipline of your father, and do not abandon the teaching of your mother,’ [Proverbs 1:8]. “Our mothers’ teaching is part of the Torah that we wish to convey in this generation. We are happy that there are women who have decided to dedicate their lives to Torah study, not only to study it but to teach it to the various parts of Israeli society in which we live and work,” Stav said.

In her remarks, WIHL Director Rabbanit Devorah Evron said, “In order for there to be effective leadership which recognizes every man and woman, we must also incorporate our up close knowledge of life experience, what we have learned from others and what we have taught, because only someone who ‘sits within her people’ will be able to truly face the unknown difficulties and challenges she will meet along the way. Women today study Torah and Mishna, Gemara, Agadda and Halakha. The entry of women into the world of Torah compels us to act responsibly. We do not have the privilege of only learning Torah; rather, from the moment we received permission to learn we also took upon ourselves the obligation to act,” she said.

“I came to the WIHL to acquire knowledge of halakha, its practical implementation, and its current rabbinical rulings,” said Zaddik. “But it was no less important to me to enter the realm of beit midrash study and understand the process by which halakhic conclusions are attained. I believe that the Torah was given to us with tremendous wisdom and logic. Only if we immerse ourselves in the world of Torah can we understand the wisdom and logic of this Godly creation,” Zaddik remarked.

“Over the past five years, we have dealt quite a bit with the concept of halakhic rulings (psikat halakha),” noted Raanan. “The dictionary definition of ‘psika‘ is stopping; standing in place. Halakha [from the root holekh] means walking, stepping, progressing, moving from one place to another. Ostensibly, this is a contradiction. A person who is required to rule on halakha must both stand in one place while at the same time advancing. A halakhic ruling should be rooted, but not stuck in place. On the one hand, it must keep the tradition of the ‘father’s home,’ and on the other hand it is innovating a new floor in that house. Stopping and walking, at the same time,” she said.

“We do not seek, God Forbid, to uproot the role of the synagogue rabbi or to compromise the tradition of the rabbinate throughout Jewish history,” said incoming OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Kenneth Brander. “On the contrary; our goal is to enable the sea of Talmud to become a part of ‘Torat imecha,’ our mothers’ teachings. Women who are able to encounter and intellectually engage with Ravina and Rav Ashi, Rava and Abaye, Rabbanu Tam, the Ravad and the Rambam.  Women who, with their deep Torah knowledge, can provide guidance to others in all aspects of halakha.

“It is critical for us to realize we are part of an entity known as Am Yisrael, part of a metaphysical unit that requires our individuality to surrender to the mesorah (tradition) of our people and its halakhic framework,” Rabbi Brander continued. “It is this commitment to the halakhic framework that guides our personal and professional goals – including our aspirations to enable women to serve as manhigot ruchaniyot and morot hora’ah; as Torah personalities continuing the legacy of Devorah the Prophetess.  At the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership, we wish to add a unique light increasing the illumination of Torah to our people: men, women and children as well as to the rest of humanity,” he said. (Read Rabbi Brander’s blog in the Times of Israel, based on the full text of his remarks.)

“The WIHL was founded a decade ago with the mission of training female scholars to take part in the complex and intense halakhic discourse and to provide them with the tools they require to serve institutions and communities of klal Yisrael from a perspective of halakhic and spiritual leadership which is attentive, wise and significant,” summarized WIHL co-Director, Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner. “There is no doubt that this evening, and the success of our new Morot Hora’ah and Spiritual Leaders Rabbaniyot Amira Raanan and Navit Zadik represent an important milestone in fulfilling the vision.”

20170103_221304Mazal tov to the two newest graduates of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Rabbanit Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld and Rabbanit Shira Zimmerman.

Both Zimmerman (left) and Rosenfeld – whose internship of the past two years as a Spiritual Leader in Efrat recently turned into a paid position – received certification as Spiritual Leaders and Arbiters of Jewish Law (Morot Hora’ah) in a January 3rd ceremony, after successfully completing five years of intense study and then passing exams equivalent to those taken by male semikha students in the laws of kashrut, Shabbat, family purity, mourning, marriage and divorce, and conversion.

Participating in the ceremony were Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone (OTS); Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, Director of Hebrew-language programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum; Rabbanit Chana Godinger Dreyfus, head of the Midreshet Lindenbaum Beit Midrash; Rabbi Shuki Reich, Head of the WIHL; and Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, WIHL Director.

The ceremony featured a panel discussion on various models of female communal leadership and challenges unique to women spiritual leaders; amongst the panelists were Rabbanit Meira Welt-Maarek, who was certified by the WIHL in 2015, and Mrs. Shani Taragin, senior faculty member of Midreshet Lindenbaum and the WIHL.img_9740

A New Model for Emulation

“Certifying women to serve as spiritual leaders and arbiters of Jewish law is important, even revolutionary,” said Rabbi Riskin, “but it’s something that should have happened already a long time ago. To our great satisfaction, today’s girls and women have a new type of role model to look up to and emulate. I sincerely hope that the integration of female spiritual leaders will grow, so that greater numbers of women will be given positions in synagogues, communities, and other institutions, both in Israel and in the Diaspora,” said Riskin. “And it will happen,” he declared.

Words from Rabbi David Stav, co-Chancellor of OTS, were read aloud. “Rabbi Stav was here to personally congratulate tonight’s graduates, but unfortunately had to leave the ceremony a few minutes ago in order to perform a wedding,” explained WIHL Director Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, who shared Stav’s formal blessing to the rabbaniot: “We have merited to live in an era in which women are learning intently and achieving status of talmidot chachamim and morot halacha, [women who have permission to make halakhic rulings]I am pleased to bless you with the prayer that you will continue to sanctify God’s name, that you will merit to increase holiness and promote Torah within the hearts of the people of Israel, and that we will all merit to strengthen and glorify the Torah.”

An Additional Outlet

img_9535“Inclusion of women in the world of the Rabbinate provides society with an additional outlet for questions and understanding,” according to Chana Godinger-Dreyfus, the head of the Midreshet Lindenbaum beit midrash. “The partnership of women in positions of leadership creates by its very definition a new opportunity for identification and personal connection, in addition to bringing a new hue of perception and perspective to the field. May it be G-d’s will that we be blessed with ever-greater numbers of women scholars, and that ever-greater numbers of communities will seek out female Torah leadership,” said Godinger-Dreyfus.

Rabbi Klitsner noted the fact that in this, the WIHL’s third certification ceremony, the recipients are both women who made aliya to Israel. “Midreshet Lindenbaum began as a beit midrash for women from the Diaspora, infusing them with the Torah of Eretz Yisrael,” he said. “It is symbolic, therefore, that while the first graduates of the WIHL were native Israelis, this year’s graduates were born in the Diaspora, showing the melding of the worlds of Israeli Torah study and world Torah learning.”

For the Sake of Learning

img_9674Rabbanit Shira Zimmerman delivered a short shiur highlighting differences in approaching Torah learning lishma – for its own sake – and Torah learning lo lishma – for a practical purpose – after which she shared elements of her own personal journey toward full time immersion in studying halakha and, eventually, spiritual leadership.

“After my first encounter with gemara, I studied for two years and for three years and still felt that I needed more time on the benches of the beit midrash,” she related. “Even as a teacher, I felt that lacked the breadth necessary to provide my students with a full picture, so I came back to the study of halakha.

“The yearning of women to achieve fulfillment in Torah study has brought women to discover that there is, indeed, halakhic permission for them to do so,” she said. “In a short period of time we advanced in our discovery and sought to explore the traditions and sources of our heritage, and we are finding our voices in a new spiritual dialogue, where the point of origin is a halakhic way of life. We are exposing the emotional and intellectual subjects which give life to the texts which resonate so deeply in our lives.”

Ironically, Zimmerman noted, “in a world that so quickly judges women and questions their motivation in studying ‘men’s’ subjects, I found it interesting that everyone would ask me, ‘but what are you going to be getting out of this?’ And because I came to learn for learning’s sake, I didn’t really have a good answer. But I have discovered that there is an importance to attaining certification,” she said. “There are women who want to share religious ideas with halakhic women, who want to discuss subjects that are important or intriguing to them while in the playground. Without definition and a title of religious authority, they will not know that there are learned women whom they may approach and ask.”

Zimmerman concluded: “I want to thank God for allowing me to be born at a time when women do not just watch, but also act and teach.”

Fulfilling a Dream

img_9904Rabbanit Dr. Rosenfeld also expressed gratitude for changes in women’s learning and leadership which enabled her to “be fulfilling a dream that I never really dared to dream, even when I studied in the Midreshet Lindenbaum overseas program many years ago,” she said. “I would never have dared to think about a “poseket halakha” – a female who can render Jewish legal decisions – or of acting in a rabbinical role, because when I was growing up that simply did not exist in the Orthodox world,” Rosenfeld stated.

“For the past two years I have merited to work in Efrat as a spiritual leader under the guidance of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin; a position which began without definition, as a pilot project – and it has been an incredible experience. There are four major areas in which I work: teaching Torah in the synagogues, also during the week; visiting houses of mourning and answering questions in that realm; answering halakhic questions in individual meetings and phone calls; and managing the Religious Council’s Financial Claims Court. In all of these areas, I feel I have contributed by virtue of being a woman. With the passage of time, I have been receiving greater numbers of questions from men in the community, such that today, I really feel that I am not there as a woman for women, but rather for the entire population.”

Rosenfeld concluded her remarks by looking at her two daughters and blessing them: “I hope that when you grow up, the world you grow into will be one which is more open to accepting female spiritual leadership.”


Scroll down for photos, courtesy of Nurit Jacobs-Yinon/Aluma Films

New Spiritual Leaders

After five years of intense study, two women were certified as spiritual leaders and morot hora’ah (arbiters of Jewish law) at a ceremony which took place on 20 October, 2015 at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Chana and Yaacov Tilles Campus.

(Translated from Hebrew post-graduation press release)

The magnificent Linda and Murray Laulicht Beit Midrash provided a worthy backdrop to a ceremony last week in which Chana Klein-Ravhon and Meira Welt-Maarek were certified spiritual leaders and morot hora’ah by the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), a program of Midreshet Lindenbaum, an Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) institution.

The WIHL is a unique five-year program which features in-depth study of halakha on a broad scope and at the highest of levels. Graduates have covered extensively the sources pertaining to Shabbat, kashrut, conversion, mourning, family purity, marriage, ritual baths and more. After passing exams equivalent to those administered by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to men, they are certified to serve as spiritual leaders and arbiters of Jewish law.

Present at the ceremony were Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, founder and Chancellor of OTS and Chief Rabbi of Efrat; Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, Chief Rabbi of Shoham and newly-appointed Co-Chancellor of OTS; Yinon Ahiman, Director General of OTS; Rabbi Shuki Reich, Head of the WIHL; Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, Director of the WIHL; Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, head of the Israeli programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum; Rabbanit Anat Novoselsky, one of the WIHL’s first two graduates who currently heads the women’s beit midrashShaalina” in Modiin; graduates, their families and guests.

“I stand before you excited, emotional and thankful to G-d,” said Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and Chief Rabbi of Efrat.  During his remarks, Rabbi Riskin cited a host of halakhic sources showing that women can judge and make halakhic decisions, mentioning Deborah the prophetess who judged Israel, the Sefer Ha-chinuch, in which it’s written that a woman can and should make halakhic decisions, and the Choshen Mishpat, in which it states that a woman can judge. Rabbi Riskin also quoted former Israel Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, who stated that a woman can be a leader, even a spiritual authority and instructor of halakha.

“My blessing for you is to be in fearful awe of the halakha,” said Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, Chief Rabbi of Shoham and newly-appointed co-Chancellor of OTS. “By fearful awe I do not mean you should be afraid of ruling,” he explained, “but rather that you be in awe of the halakha, that you know and understand what must be said and what our Torah says before you answer. When a person comes to you for a ruling, first and foremost you must always remember that our discourse is one of Torah scholars, a discourse which is rooted in the sources of Jewish law. This is true for males who rule on Jewish law; all the more so for females. With God’s help, may your fountains spill over, and may we merit greater numbers of women who study Torah, grow in Torah and are capable of bringing God’s words to all who are thirsty.”

Rabbi Shuki Reich, head of the WIHL: “Improving the status of women is a part of the making sure that the Jewish legal system relates to the reality of the whole, rather than just the individual,” he maintained. “We must sharpen, expand and update the significance of our being because we are here, in the state of Israel. We must understand that Judaism is coming out of a deep freeze that lasted for 2000 years and is emerging in a new era, and that we must refresh in order to be relevant and significant in the world. As such, today we have exposed in our beit midrash two women who have dedicated their lives to rigorous, exhausting and time-consuming study, and who have developed and grown as a result. Although the process will take a long time, their progress is one of the signs that we are on the right track. I hope that we merit to see additional fruits borne from this beit midrash, that we merit to see a better world, and that we merit to be able to continue to teach and glorify the Torah.”

The WIHL’s director, Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner said, “During the course of their studies, the women had to be extremely motivated and dedicated to conquer tractate after tractate, clause after clause. In order to march on a narrow road, which is not considered to be the property of women, and to strive toward a professional horizon which in the best circumstances still doesn’t exist and in most cases will need to be created, one must be blessed with a pioneering nature and a brave, groundbreaking spirit, like Chani and Meira.”

Graduate Meira Welt-Maarek shared some of her thoughts and feelings with the attendees: “From a very young age I was attracted to the world of Torah learning as a means of getting closer to God and as an answer to the questions that arose within me as a person who abided by the Torah’s commandments,” she said. “After many years of Gemara study I wanted more, and this desire to learn pushed me and others like me to Midreshet Lindenbaum. As opposed to academic work, the training to become a Spiritual Leader is work with people and for them. The voices from outside, therefore, don’t represent a distraction but rather an invitation to continue the halakhic discourse, to be involved in ongoing, daily matters and to have a public influence. In Torah study there is an element of discovery through which framework your basic principles and expectations are shattered and rebuilt anew, like with labor pains. For me, it’s the significance of the acquisition: that God’s Torah becomes mine. As a woman I am, indeed, an outsider in the discourse, but at the same time being an outsider provides me with sensitivity and empathy for others in the same situation, for example converts or the newly-observant.” Meira maintained that “the problem of women studying Torah is not the glass ceiling, but rather the obstacles constantly placed on the road, and in particular the lack of equality at the final destination. Where every male with a beard is already considered to be half a rabbi, the lack of recognition accorded to serious women’s study programs translates into the inability of women to apply for positions of spiritual leadership which require a formal degree. As visionaries, Rabbi Riskin and Rabbi Stav are training women for professional positions which do not yet exist, but you have the power to turn them into a reality,” she said. Welt-Maarek concluded her remarks with a blessing of praise to God for the great merit of being able to immerse herself in Torah study and the innovation inherent in doing so.

The evening’s second new graduate, Chana Klein-Ravhon, added “An appropriate halakhic response exhibits its power at the right time and place, and that power transforms the words of Torah into a person’s needs. Each person has a leaf in the Torah, a place that is special just for him, and when the Torah surrounds him like a vine it carries him along with its fruits and wisdom. The core of human strength is in thought; the more deeply one thinks, the more one acts valiantly. The more people are included in the thought process and the more people utilize the tools of discourse, memory, decision and arbitration, the more power we have to act valiantly.” Klein-Ravhon ended her comments with thanks to everyone present, especially to OTS for “building a place which enabled her to flourish and merit to taste the discourse of Torah.”

Rabbanit Anat Novoselsky, who graduated from the WIHL four years ago and today heads the “Shaalina” women’s beit midrash in Modiin, pointed out that the ceremony transported her back in time to when she received her degree, as one of the first two women to complete the WIHL’s grueling five-year program. “The certificate-granting ceremony was extremely emotional at that time,” she recalled, “but it was very modest and suppressed. In the evolutionary process taking place in women’s place in religious life in general and in the realm of halakhic rendering in particular, it’s possible to say that tonight was the placing of another significant milestone.” Novoselsky lauded the new graduates for not being shaken by the intense workload nor by the time schedule during the course of study: “That’s how it is when one is motivated to study by a tremendous love of Torah learning, an understanding of how rare the opportunity is and an appreciation of the crucial need for women arbiters of Jewish law,” she concluded.

Photos: Nurit Jacobs-Yinon: Aluma Films