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December 6: Pioneering Women Rabbis

lawrencebush
December 6, 2015

1118021616_candle_lighting_-1Rabbis Sally Priesand, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Amy Eilberg, and Sara Hurwitz — the first ordained women rabbis from the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and contemporary or "open" Orthodox movements, respectively — gathered together publicly for the first time at Temple Reyim in Boston on this date in 2010. They lit khanike candles and "also discussed what they consider the greatest challenges facing the Jewish community today," writes Elizabeth Imber at the Jewish Women's Archive. "Priesand worried that true, intimate Jewish community could suffer if too much emphasis were placed on online pseudo-communities such as Facebook and Twitter. Sasso thought that while having a strong Jewish laity was commendable, congregations should continue to value the unique role and function of the clergy. Eilberg emphasized the importance of civil discourse in the Jewish community. Hurwitz said that justice is the most important tenet of humanity and that halakha should never be used as an excuse to avoid justice." Hurwitz was ordained as "maharat" by Rabbi Avi Weiss in 2009, who later changed the title to "rabba" to clarify her position as a full member of his Orthodox Hebrew Institute of Riverdale rabbinic staff. She remains the only ordained woman rabbi in Orthodox life; Weiss has said he will not bestow the title upon any more students, and the Rabbinical Council of America has ruled against the ordination of women as rabbis. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, there were, at the time, 167 Reconstructionist women rabbis, 237 Conservative, and 575 Reform.

"Hurwitz, whose ordination was met with a sharp rebuke in some Orthodox circles, is the only one of the four first female rabbis who does not embrace full egalitarianism. Women cannot perform some ritual roles in Orthodoxy, she said, such as leading certain parts of the prayer services. But, she noted, women can serve in significant rituals and lifecycle events, such as officiating at weddings and funerals." —JTA