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 As it stands at the moment, Rabbi Weiss rescinded the change of name and promised he wouldn’t do it again, while the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis in America, recognized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.

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Different Days, Different Relationships

Post by Melissa

As you are aware by now, last week we celebrated Shavuot and had a chance to do some great learning.  One of my favorite discussions, and one I thought our readers would appreciate, came from a session early in the night with my Rebbetzin, T.  The class was on Megilat Ruth.

T introduced the class by commenting on the juxtaposition of what we read on the different days of Shavuot.  The first day we read about the receiving of the Torah.  It is a big, loud and flashy moment, filled with thunder and lightening. The key players in this are God and Moses, and as such it is a true testament to manly strength.  Meanwhile, on the second day we read the story of Ruth (and Naomi) which contains a uniquely close style of relationship, most common amongst women. One of the key things this can teach us to value personal relationships.

So why do we read these two, vastly different, stories so close together? Perhaps, it is to remind ourselves of the necessity of both types of interactions.  That while the big stuff with bells and whistles is great, so too are the quiet moments at home with just one close friend or relative.  We know that there are commandments about how to behave in relation to Hashem, as well as how to behave in relation to people. Perhaps, we read these two stories so that we do not forget that both are important.  We have to focus on both the holy and mundane, on the macro and micro interactions in our lives.

While we have to maintain relationships with both Hashem and with the people in our lives, we must remember to balance them.  That one without the other, is somehow less meaningful.

Standing at Sinai

We will not have posts on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, as we too are standing at Sinai, celebrating the receiving of the Torah. We hope you enjoy the following poem from RitualWell as much as we did.

Chag Shavuot Sameach! A Happy Shavuot to all…


We All Stood Together

By Merle Feld for Rachel Adler

My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him

I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me there

It seems like every time I want to write
I can’t
I’m always holding a baby
one of my own
or one for a friend
always holding a baby
so my hands are never free
to write things down

And then
As time passes
The particulars
The hard data
The who what when where why
Slip away from me
And all I’m left with is
The feeling

But feelings are just sounds
The vowel barking of a mute

My brother is so sure of what he heard
After all he’s got a record of it
Consonant after consonant after consonant

If we remembered it together
We could recreate holy time
Sparks flying

What do we really get from learning all night?

Post by Melissa

As Jessica mentioned, there is a tradition of staying up all night to learn Torah and Jewish values the night of Shavuot.  The most commonly shared reason for doing this is so that we can be up and excited to receive the Torah.  Well, I have to be honest – after staying up all night learning, I am so tired – I don’t want to even stay at services long enough to hear the Torah read, let alone to be excited for it.  However, every year I feel the compulsion to participate in the tikkun leil Shavuot (the all night learning for Shavuot).  What do we get from this experience, and better yet, why do we feel compelled to do it year after year?

A woman in my Rosh Chodesh group mentioned that she heard from a Rabbi recently, that Hashem gave us the Torah in the dessert, because that was exactly when we needed it.  While many people think that what we would have needed most to survive was food and water, Hashem knew that what we needed was Torah.  Torah is the food and water for our soul – so just as we need food and water for physical replenishment, we need Torah learning for spiritual rejuvenation.  So while it may seem difficult to learn all night, or even to make it to one learning session mid-week with other obligations at home – we must.  We have to learn Torah, just as we have to have food and water.

So this Shavuot, as we frantically prepare for meals and two days of chag in the middle of the week, let us all be guided by this thought.  Even if you cannot make it to a local learning session, take some time Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to do some learning. Take an extra moment talking to your children about Hashem and the Torah before they go to bed on Tuesday night.  Start yourself thinking about the meaning of receiving the Torah and what the experience was like for those who were at Sinai.  There are countless learning opportunities available to you, if you just reach out and create the time for them – just as you would create the time for dinner or a glass of water.

So step away from the cheesecake baking, and think about what this holiday has to offer you for spiritual rejuvenation and how the Torah can better guide your life, even when other things seem to be more important.  Likely those are the times you need it the most.

Community All-Nighter

post by Jessica

As a natural born night owl (I was probably one of a few 8 year olds who watched the 10 o’clock news regularly), you’d think that the tikkun leil Shavuot, or the tradition of staying up all night studying on the evening before Shavuot, would have been my Jewish event. In fact, it’s only really been in the last three years that I’ve had a real appreciation for what it could be.

Every year, they have a multi-denominational   tikkun leil shavuot, every year the same yet different. Being later in the spring or early summer, the holiday doesn’t start until 8 or 9pm and so the night starts late to begin with. Classes continue until about 4 a.m. at which point the group splits to egalitarian and Orthodox. The Egalitarian minyan prays by the lake, and the Orthodox minyan goes back to their synagogue, since the actual event doesn’t take place there.

I can honestly say that this event is one of my favorite things that this community does. Not only is there a full schedule of programming almost right through the night (the programming at 3AM is a lot smaller, since the group is a lot smaller) but then in the morning, we enjoy the hush of the beginning of the day.

Last year, I joined the egalitarian minyan at the lake in the morning. We walked for quite a while as a group, dragging prayerbooks and tallitot (prayer shawls) with us, but it didn’t matter. We arrived just as it was started to really get light enough to see outside, and so we started to pray. I must admit that I really did not get a lot of formal praying done. I have never really been an inattentive participant in prayer, but I could not force myself to look down.

I had the glory of the world spread out before me. The weather was perfect – not a breath of air disturbing the lake, the sun rising without a cloud in the sky. As the beautiful orange orb lifted itself out of the water, the fish were jumping and making ripples in the lake. I could not look down at the printed words in front of me. Even if it were the less familiar Shavuot prayers, I could not look down and miss this. I could feel the true gratitude and joy well up inside of me, and even though I wasn’t praying with the words, I was doing the best I could to convey the amazing awesomeness in front of me, willing God to understand what I was seeing and my feelings as the best prayer I could give.

After the morning prayers, we returned back to the sanctuary to read the Torah scroll. The surroundings were less inspiring, and we were all tired in body by that point, after having been awake for nearly 24 hours. However, I tried to carry that spirit with me for the duration of the prayer, and the duration of the day. This year, maybe we won’t get perfect weather, or have the very real reminder of how beautiful this world is However, as I celebrate my birthday on the second day of Shavuot, I’m going to remember that feeling every year.