Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has launched his most significant initiative for women by creating a new qualification for them to serve in Orthodox synagogues.
He is introducing the post of “ma’ayan” to enable women to take up roles both as advisers on Jewish law in the area of family purity and more generally as adult educators.
The 18-month part-time training course is the first of its kind in the UK and is designed to give women a formal position of their own within centrist Orthodox congregations.
Rabbi Mirvis said that “this is an exciting programme which we have been planning for some time and I am delighted that we are now in a position to finally invite applications from outstanding candidates.
"There are large numbers of women in our communities who, for a variety of reasons, feel more comfortable asking a woman for advice or guidance on personal matters and related aspects of Jewish law. We have a responsibility to provide for them and this programme will help us a great deal in that regard."
The course, he said, would also provide "an extremely valuable educational resource for our communities, with graduates who are able to design and deliver the very best learning programmes.
"In our ongoing endeavours to cultivate religious commitment and educational excellence, we are now working towards a future which could see a ma’ayan in every flourishing Jewish community to help us to realise that goal.”
Ma’ayan, meaning “spring” or “fountain”, is a new term, a contraction of the phrase meirat einayim, “enlightening the eyes” – which is taken from a reference to the Torah by King David in the Psalms.
In an information pack to recruit candidates, the Chief Rabbi explained that communities should be able to harness the talent of such women "to enlighten the eyes of those around them”.
Jacqui Zinkin, co-chair of US Women, said its executive congratulated the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din on the initiative. "We hope that it will prove to be an important first step on the way to producing an exceptional cadre of women educators who will enrich Jewish knowledge and education not only for women but for the whole community," she said.
United Synagogue president Stephen Pack said the programme was "a great credit to the Chief Rabbi. It is a truly significant development for the United Synagogue and for the future of UK Jewry.”
While at Finchley Synagogue, Rabbi Mirvis was the first US rabbi to appoint a female adviser on family purity , three years ago.
She is known as a yoetzet halachah, adviser on Jewish law, a term pioneered by the Nishmat Institute for women in Israel.
The Chief Rabbi will teach part of the ma’ayan course himself on training to be an adult educator.
Dayan Shmuel Simons of the London Beth Din will lead sessions on Jewish law, while experts from the University College London Institute for Women’s Health will deliver the medical topics.
The family purity module will cover issues relating to contraception, miscarriage, abortion, infertility as well as the use of the mikveh.