Woman who is breaking the Orthodox mould

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2015
Rabbi Lila Kagedan

Rabbi Lila Kagedan

The first Orthodox woman in North America to take the title “rabbi” has been appointed to a congregational post, she revealed in an interview at Limmud this week.

Rabbi Lila Kagedan received semichah (ordination) from the women’s seminary Yeshivat Maharat in New York in the summer.

The Canadian-born medical ethicist said that she was not yet in a position to disclose the name of the American Orthodox synagogue that has recruited her, having only just signed the contract.

Since it opened six years ago, graduates of Maharat have avoided the title “rabbi” and called themselves maharat, a newly minted term for a female spiritual leader, or, more contentiously, rabba.

The mainstream Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America reiterated its opposition to women’s ordination in any form in the autumn.

While she respected the choices of other colleagues, Rabbi Kagedan said that opting for “rabbi” was not “as innovative necessarily as may appear”.

The rules of Yeshivat Maharat, she explained, were that it conferred a degree of semichah on students but left it to individuals to take “the title that is most appropriate for them”.

“I wanted to take a title in a position of serving the community, so that people would know exactly what it is

I was trained to do and exactly in what capacity I was there to serve them,” she said.
She acknowledged that “change is difficult and frightening. We are very much used to a certain aesthetic when we say ‘rabbi’.”

While the past few weeks since she announced her decision had been “stormy”, she had also received “extraordinary support”, including from unexpected directions.

Despite the controversy, she felt that there was a growing willingness to appreciate the role that women like her were playing in communities “and not get so hung up on the title”.

Last updated: 11:12am, December 30 2015