The American Orthodox rabbi who paved the way for the ordination of women invited members of a British audience to study at his institutions and “join in the dream”.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of the women’s seminary Yeshivat Maharat in New York, said there was “no barrier to whatsoever to women being ordained, women becoming rabbis as men”.
One of the leaders of what is known as Open Orthodoxy”, the left-wing of modern Orthodoxy, and founder also of a men’s yeshivah, Chovevei Torah, Rabbi Weiss spoke at a London event organised by JW3 and the UK branch of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance last Thursday.
The first woman ordained at Yeshivat Maharat, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, graduated in 2009. The seminary currently has one student from Britain, Dina Brawer, scholar in residence at Hampstead United Synagogue, who is half-way through her course.
“What title you use, that’s up to the graduate, together with the community,” Rabbi Weiss said.
When Sara Hurwitz was ordained, he recalled, “you’d think I was a mass-murderer, the criticism, the pushback, was so brutal.”
His response, he said, was to try “changing the facts on the ground. So when there is a pushback, my reaction is recruit more students.”
The Rabbinical Council of America, which represents centrist Orthodox rabbis in the USA, reaffirmed its opposition to women’s ordination last year.
More than 100 rabbis have been trained at Chovevei Torah including three Britons; Rabbi Ben Elton is now rabbi at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, while Rabbi Daniel Silverstein serves at the Hillel of one of America’s leading universities, Stanford in California.
So far 15 women have graduated from Yeshivat Maharat.
Rabbi Weiss also said that LGBT must be welcomed in Orthodox communities and that one of the “great moments” in his synagogue was when same-sex couples with children were accepted as full members.
He added that he believed “in a Judaism that somehow is going to find a way within halachah where people can live betzelem Elohim [in the image of God] and find a way towards intimacy”.