Maharat and Rabba from an Inside Perspective

One of the great things about the Tikkun Leil Shavuot in our community is that in each time slot there are at least two and sometimes as many as six classes going on at once. One of the offerings in the second time slot (around 1:30 a.m.) was about the Maharat program from someone who is in it. Full disclosure: I know her and knew she was in the program, but somehow, hearing what she said in a public forum was really interesting as well.

She started with an explanation of the situation – basically, that although Rabbi Weiss had conferred the title of Maharat over a year ago to Sara Hurwitz without too much fuss, the change of the title to Rabba a few months ago caused the most amazing tumult in the Orthodox Jewish community. Rabba is one of the feminized titles of Rabbi that have been thrown around in the last few years (also including Rabbanit, but that is usually used as Rebbetzin in Hebrew), and they thought that the relatively simple change of title would better allow what she does to be recognized by the outside world.

It soon became clear that the matter of title matters a lot. While she was still doing the same job as before, a lot of people reacted very badly to the R-A-B-B letters. So, what to do? As it stands at the moment, Rabbi Weiss rescinded the change of name and promised he wouldn’t do it again, while the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis in America, recognized the importance of formal participation of women in the life of synagogues.

There were a number of things that I thought were particularly interesting.

  • Ms. Hurwitz has said that she thinks that women and men should have different titles because they have different roles, especially in the Orthodox community. That being said, the differences in what they do don’t make them better or worse, just different. Women clearly bring things to these roles that men don’t.
  • The women in the Maharat program that started after Sara was conferred have been following all of this clearly. As of right now, no one knows exactly what they’ll be called when they graduate, but they are really enjoying the program. One of the main differences between the Maharat program and other programs, such as the Drisha program that R attended previously, is that this program is a professional program – the women learn about a funeral, and then do a funeral practicum. Fascinating.
  • The issue of title isn’t a little thing. Being able to have one single title is important, but things are still developing. Hopefully, especially when there’s more than one graduate of the program, the issue of title and all those things will be easier to deal with. This is important to the women themselves, but also to those girls out there who are looking at what’s happening with an eye to their own futures.

I am really looking forward to seeing how things continue to develop in the coming years.


2 thoughts on “Maharat and Rabba from an Inside Perspective

  1. Perhaps the women trained to do rabbi-like things could have a different title. In the Reform movement, the women rabbis (a majority of those at HUC the last few years) do things differently than the men, for the most part. Not to stereotype, but they tend to be more intuitive thinkers, more caring and less ego-driven, concerned with women’s issues that men cannot or will not understand. Generally, I think they are better rabbis than men, but as a man myself, I can see an argument for separating the genders in prayer situations, as the Orthodox do. I would hope that the women in rabbi-like positions would demand to be paid at least as well as male rabbis.

  2. Great point, Barry. Female rabbis deserve equal pay for the same (if not more demanding, as you pointed out) work.

    I’m also fascinated by this, as I didn’t realize that Ms. Hurwitz had been “ordained” in some way. That’s very exciting, especially coming from a traditional perspective. I hope you’ll keep us all updated on the situation with the other participants in the Maharat program and the title business as well.

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