Culture, Israel, Sex & Gender

Breaking News: Hartman to Ordain Women Rabbis in Jerusalem

This just in:

In a step that marks a major change in gender roles within modern Orthodoxy, women will be ordained as Orthodox rabbis.
Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by Rabbi David Hartman, himself a modern Orthodox rabbi, will open a four-year program next year to prepare women and men of all denominations – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and also Orthodox – for rabbinic ordination.
Ordination will be provided within the framework of a teacher-training program that prepares graduates to serve in Jewish high schools in North America.
“For too long now we have been robbing ourselves of 50 percent of our potential leaders; people who can shape and inspire others,” said Rabbi Donniel Hartman, co-director of the institute and son of David Hartman.
“The classic distinctions between men and women are no longer relevant. People who come to the Hartman Institute to study are committed to making gender equality in Judaism a reality.”

Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David, perhaps the first woman ever to receive Orthodox ordination (from a private rabbi, Aryeh Strikovsky, on Pessah eve 2006), said she hoped what she termed Hartman’s rabbi-educator program would be “the first step toward full rabbinic ordination for Orthodox women.”
She asserted that the Hartman Institute was “stopping short” of “calling them rabbis” and said this was “annoying.” But, she added, “perhaps it is a political decision to start off with a half-title so as not to be too controversial and only later to give women the full title of rabbi.
“As people get used to seeing women in these positions they will open up to the idea of female rabbis,” said Ner-David.
Ner-David, who has a doctorate in Jewish Studies from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, said she hoped female rabbis would transform the entire rabbinic institution.
“Women’s voices are changing the way we practice Judaism. Ordination of female rabbis will not only bring these voices to the forefront, it will also change the way men serve as rabbis,” she said.

Full Story.
So, who’s applying for next year?
(by the way, they’ll be ordaining men, too)
(h/t to AS)

32 thoughts on “Breaking News: Hartman to Ordain Women Rabbis in Jerusalem

  1. Yasher koach to the Hartman Institute! By all accounts, they’re an excellent educational institution, so it’s good for the Jewish world that they’ll be ordaining rabbis, and particularly good that their program is open to women and men.
    However, this doesn’t change the basic reality that some streams of Judaism ordain (and accept) women as rabbis and others don’t. The difference may be that Rabbi David Hartman himself identifies as Orthodox, but others in the Orthodox world have been quick to disown him long before this latest announcement.
    Also, Rabbi Ner-David’s quote is 36 years too late:
    Ner-David, who has a doctorate in Jewish Studies from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, said she hoped female rabbis would transform the entire rabbinic institution.
    “Women’s voices are changing the way we practice Judaism. Ordination of female rabbis will not only bring these voices to the forefront, it will also change the way men serve as rabbis,” she said.

    If you want to see the effect of female rabbis, why not look around at those who have been around for decades, rather than just “hope”?

  2. With all the talk of “changing institutions,” a reality check is in order. What is being offered (an advanced degree for high school Judaic studies teachers) doesn’t seem to be ground-breaking, and if Ner David has it right, it doesn’t even come with the title, nor are any major changes in left-wing Orthodox practice or philosophy required to accommodate it.

  3. This is IMO great news and (at least in theory) is an important step towards removing one of the main barriers, that has kept people like myself (non-ortho Jews By Choice) from actually seriously consider, pursuing an Orthodox Conversion. However, what I’m curious about now is, as a non-orthodox Jew By Choice would I be allowed to enroll (in this trans-denominational rabbinic program) and if I successfully completed all the requirements would I receive simcha?
    I’m not trying to take away from this great news, but the question did pop into my mind as I read the article and I think it’s a fair question. I mean surely the “who is a Jew” question is something that’s going to come up in an institution run by an Orthodox Rabbi who is training Rabbinic students from and (presumably) on behalf of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Could such an institution in good conscience really participate in allowing a non-orthodox convert (like me) in to the rabbinate? Even a non-orthodox rabbinate?

  4. wow, orthodox women rabbis… given that orthodox dogma prohibits women from taking on/having certain obligations (e.g. positive timebound), I wonder how this is within the pale… i suppose it depends what you mean by ‘rabbi’.
    women as poskot: http://www.responsafortoday.com/vol4/11.pdf
    in weddings: http://www.responsafortoday.com/vol4/10.pdf
    women as rabbis: http://www.responsafortoday.com/vol5/vol5.htm
    english: http://www.responsafortoday.com/engsums/5_1.htm
    The Masorti movement (as opposed to Joel Roth…) is willing to separate out the roles of the rabbinate:

    A rabbi is a person who has learned the tradition and is therefore worthy to continue the tradition and to teach it to others. The title does not grant any ceremonial or ritual status.

    Which R’ Golinkin methodically, as usual, breaks down into

    1) May a woman hold public office?
    2) May a woman study and teach Torah?
    3) May a woman decide halakhic issues?
    4) May women be counted in the minyan, serve as cantors, read the Torah, read the megillah, blow the shofar, and perform positive time-bound commandments?
    5) May a woman perform a marriage?
    6) May a woman serve in a bet din and especially in a bet din for conversion?
    7) May a woman serve as a witness and sign ketubot and gittin?

  5. “Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David, perhaps the first woman ever to receive Orthodox ordination (from a private rabbi, Aryeh Strikovsky, on Pessah eve 2006),” unless they mean “in Israel” this is incorrect. There are/were actually quite a few women who received private Orthodox ordination prior to Ner-David. This lessens her accomplishment not at all, but it is important to know that there are actually probably about a dozen rabbis out there with Orthodox ordination – not just one.

  6. Oh yeah, one more thing: what it is, probably is the first institution which offers Orthodox ordination to women. HOwever, this doesn’t seem to be the kind of smicha that is offered by most Orthodox institutions, anyway….still, every crack in the plaster helps.

  7. the terms we’re using are too fuzzy.
    1. Does anybody really think that if David Hartman and/or the institute says “this woman is an orthodox rabbi” that anyone – especially the orthodox – would care?
    2. The program doesn’t include the traditional “orthodox” material for smicha (the laws of kashrut), so it would be technically prblematic to call it “orhtodox ordination”
    SO what we have here is yet another group of well meaning people who are offering other well meaning people the chance at training to be leaders in well meaning Jewish communities. THis is a wonderful thing, and not much more.

  8. Reb Mimi Feigelson received Smicha, in Jerusalem, from Orthodox rabbis quite a few years before Haviva Nir David.
    But it is not a contest for bragging rights as to who is first.
    It is about doing the right thing.
    This may be a blow for the Machon Schechter Rabbinical School. All things considered Hartman will be a more open place to study.
    It seems that Hartman and Schechter exist in two different time zones. One lives in the twenty first century and is moving forward (Kudos for the new program). The other lives in the 19th century and in the dark ages with regard to Gays and Lesbians.

  9. Will Hartman ordain queer students? And it’s not worth giving the 20th century so much credit (or the 21st century) with regard to Gays and Lesbians. Just because we may want our religion to be progressive doesn’t mean when it isn’t that it’s behind the times. It just means it isn’t taking the stands we want it to take.

  10. Just a clarification from a Hartman representative I heard speak: Hartman will be offering nondenominational ordination to Orthodox women (as well as to Orthodox men and all other sorts of women and men), not specifically Orthodox ordination. I think this is similar to what Hebrew College does–they won’t ask rabbinical students hwo they personally affiliate, nor will the ordination one gets there be particularly denominational. The ordination program won’t affiliate with any denomination, and indeed, the entire Hartman Institute has not affiliated Orthodox for a dozen or so years.
    That said, the fact that other parts of the Hartman Institute do affiliate Orthodox (the aforementioned high school among them), I’d wager that the ordination granted there will be recognized as somehow related to Orthodox, at least informally. This says nothing about how useful it’ll be, how widely accepted, etc.
    (This is all hearsay from a talk I heard from a representative–and I am sure more of this will become clearer over the coming months/years.)

  11. Hartman will be offering nondenominational ordination to Orthodox women (as well as to Orthodox men and all other sorts of women and men), not specifically Orthodox ordination.
    What does this mean? “Orthodox ordination” just means ordination from an Orthodox institution or individual. It doesn’t say “Orthodox” on the certificate. So is this just another way of saying that the Hartman Institute doesn’t identify as Orthodox?

  12. As much as I’d like to agree with you, BZ, in this case I think there happens to be a qualitative difference in the ordination of Orthodox institutions as compared to ordination by other institutions. While other institutions have an academic rabbinic and pastoral curriculum and are centered around an academic institution (JTS, HUC-JIR, and Hebrew College come to mind – and now HArtman), Orthodox institutions will concentrate less on pastoral issues (Hovevei being the main exception, with YU a close second) and more on issur-ve-heter in a very practical, applied, approach. In the background will probably be an extensive education prior to the ordination studies (the Rabbanut requires six years of post-high-school yeshiva) in Talmud and related literature.
    This is not a value judgement; but the Orthodox community – who for some reason everyone thinks will embrace rabbis who just say “Orthodox” before every sentence – will be reluctant to accept anyone who is not skilled in this core curriculum, not to mention people without beards.
    I don’t understand why this is such a big deal anyway.

  13. As a student studying at Machon Schechter this year in Jerusalem, I can tell you that this issue has been abuzz for the past few days. Currently, Schechter is the only institution in Israel ordaining Conservative rabbis (with something like 18 students), and it is currently the home for the year program for the 30 Seminario, JTS, and AJU students here this year (it can be as many as 40 or so other years). In some ways, Hartman has the potential to arise in direct competition, as Schechter’s Jewish Studies Master’s program (with 500 students) go to a school that is is labeled “pluralistic.”
    Of course, it is no secret that Schechter has had quite a few challenges over the past couple of years in terms of figuring out its identity with where it stands as a Conservative institution, its rabbinical school curriculum, etc (especially in lieu of its decision not to adopt the stance of ordaining gay rabbis). We as students have more than occasionally felt this tension about pluralism in our classes and activities here at school. We as American students have also discovered that Schechter’s definition of pluralism is much more narrow than what we Americans are used to; I’m not sure if that is reflective of Israeli institutions in general.
    Thus, like many of you, I am curious what affect this will have on long-standing liberal American rabbinical schools (JTS, Hebrew College, HUC, RRC, AJU) and Israel (like Schechter). I am especially eager to see what affect it will have on the Hebrew College program, which preaches a similar philosophy.
    Also, it is no secret that Avi Weiss, if he was able to (halachically or politically), would likely start to ordaining women at Hovevei Torah in New York. Now that Hartman has taken the first step, will he follow suit?

  14. It seems that this program is really designed to train educators as opposed to Rabbis (by Rabbis I mean communal/congregational leaders as opposed to classroom educators). This is very significant given that the training one recieves in (most) liberal American Rabb. schools is not sufficent for pedagogic skill building that can translate into success in the classroom.
    I have personally struggled with going to Rabb. school and have put it off precisely because I am interested in being an educator and not a Rabbi. However I recognize the doors that the title Rabbi can open for an individual interested in Jewish professional life. I’ll probably apply.

  15. Dan, there’s no way that YCT (Hovevei) will ordain women rabbis in the near future, and i would say over the next decade as well. As it is, they’re fighting to be relevant to mainstream modern orthodox Jewry as RCA will not accept them- among other places on conversion batei din. i know a rabbi in my town who got YCT smicha but then had to get a differnt smicha as Young Israel basically told him to get another smicha or hit the road. there’s just no way YCT will rock the boat further at this point. I was having shabbos lunch with one of three ortho ordained rabbis (Reb Mimi, who got smicha from Rabbi Carlebach) and she was of the same opinion.
    The fact is, nothing in the Orthodox world is a lock even if the person (or the institution) doing the work is Orthodox. So YCT needs to dispell some negative opinions towards it before it can take the really huge step of ordaining women rabbis. i know that those of you not in the movement, or on the periphery of orthodoxy, could care less when the mainstream accepts anything, but I want a realistic chance for liberal modern orthodoxy to maintain it’s ties to orthodoxy, so these things take time.

  16. To say that the Schechter definition of pluralism is narrow may be a real understatement.
    I get the feeling that most of the AJU students and many of the JTS students (the Gay issue aside) would not be acceptable to Schechter for their Rabbinic program.
    The narrow views of Rabbis Golinkin and Anat Ramon as to what is, and is not, halachic are felt day by day by the students.
    Views that are mainstream at AJU and at JTs are considered to be outside of the Conservative world.
    Schechter seems to care about academics but not about people.
    Free thinking – and certainly expressing free ideas (for visiting students)-is not appreciated.
    I now hear that Schechter is kicking JTS in the but with a new constitution that all but eliminates the say of Prof. Arnie Eisen.
    Now it may be good that an Israel institution stands independent of the Americans (we have screwed things up on our continent) but this is a deliberate rejection of views that are not Golinkin/Ramon.

  17. Reb student, are you denying Schechter the right to define its beliefs and/or policies? I don’t understand why you seem to say they have to agree with everything the American movement does or wants to do.

  18. If you look at my posting I wrote “Now it may be good that an Israel institution stands independent of the Americans (we have screwed things up on our continent).”
    I would hope that just as HUC, JTS, and AJU (all movement affiliated) exist to prepare rabbis (I realize that they have non-rabbinic programs too)to serve as leaders for their respective movements – so too should Machon Schechter.If they want to prepare rabbis for all Movements, or for work that is not movement affiliated, then they become Boston Hebrew College or the Academy for Judaism. Both places serve a good purpose. But is Schechter is Masorti/Conservative – then it can not be the Golinin/Ramon Rabbinical School.
    They certainly can set policy on the Gay issue that is different from the American schools. But they may not expect students from America to feel at home with an institution that seems divorced from both an American and an Israeli reality.
    Only a narrow viewpoint seems to be tolerated in staff and in Israeli students accepted. Those who do not tow the line are very unhappy.
    I agree that Schechter may set certain policies. But it exists to train rabbis for the Masorti/Conservative Movement in Israel. So their beliefs and policies need to reflect those of its Movement. JTS and AJU have faculty and students who with a wide variety of halachic views. JTS has a Neil Gillman and a Joel Roth.
    Having visited several Masorti congregations and spoken with several Masorti rabbis, I can say that Rabbis Golinkin and Ramon appear to have a vision for the Israeli Jewish community, that while maybe very commendable, seems out of line with the Movement they are supposed to serve.

  19. “Schechter seems to care about academics but not about people.” Boy, isn’t that indicative of the way people who want to move Conservative judaism outside of halachah see the world…

  20. “The classic distinctions between men and women are no longer relevant.”
    OK, whew, just regained consciousness. Must have fainted there for a second.

  21. *offering Y-Love smelling salts and a glass of water, also fanning with towel *
    I think he meant that halachically men and women are considered equally obligated, as opposed to earlier interpretations. I don’t believe he’s supposing that men have grown wombs or anything….
    🙂

  22. —BearsForIsrael wrote:
    “Schechter seems to care about academics but not about people.” Boy, isn’t that indicative of the way people who want to move Conservative Judaism outside of halachah see the world…
    No it has nothing to do with any halachic approach. Such an attitude can pervade any institution. One can care about halacha, academics,and people at the same time.
    While I feel that the David Golinkin/Anat Ramon approach may create an elitist institution that cares about a philosophic approach to Judaism that is out of touch with the needs of the community they supposedly serve – their approach could still be carried out in a way that is caring and mentchlekiet.
    If it were only that Gays felt unwelcome – Dayenu. That is reason enough to cry gevalat. But it is the right of Machon Schechter to set this policy. It is an acceptable Conservative approach.
    But if overseas students (the majority of students at Machon Schechter) feel unwelcome – then our Conservative Movement has a problem.
    If only students who fit the mold of Golinkin/Ramon are coming to study, then it will be a Hartman gain and Schechter loss.

  23. Reb Student in Israel writes:
    Schechter seems to care about academics but not about people.
    Now that’s not fair at all. The word on the street is that they don’t care so much about academics either.

  24. KRG writes:
    I think he meant that halachically men and women are considered equally obligated, as opposed to earlier interpretations.
    R. Hartman may or may not also believe this (I don’t know), but in context, I don’t think that’s what he was saying — I understood the quote to mean that men and women are equally fit to hold positions of leadership.

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