Orthodox Women Still Abuzz Over Appointment of Rabbanit
The latest breakthrough for Orthodox women has set Jewish Facebook groups abuzz with the news that a woman has been appointed the sole spiritual leader of an Orthodox congregation for the first time in Israel’s history.
After serving the community unofficially for several years, Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis was elected by the membership on April 27 as the spiritual and halachic leader of Kehillat Shirat HaTamar, a small modern Orthodox synagogue in Efrat. News quickly spread to Facebook groups dedicated to liberal Jewish ideals and women’s roles in Judaism, including Year of the Jewish Woman, Seat at the Table — a Forum for Orthodox Feminism, and Torah Trumps Hate. While most members of these groups understand that the Orthodox world still has a way to go with regards to the inclusion of women, this move is being hailed as a triumphant step in the right direction.
“I have thought that this would happen eventually, but I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime,” commented Jerry Barrish.
“I love this! I’m so tired of being forced to choose between validating my daughters’ Jewish existence and my religious practice,” wrote another commenter.
Daphne Lazar Price, the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, spoke for many modern Orthodox women when she told Hadassah Magazine: “For nearly a quarter of a century, JOFA has been advocating for expanding women’s rights and opportunities within the framework of halacha to build a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community. The hiring of Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis as spiritual leader at Shirat HaTamar congregation in Efrat is an important and exciting step in the right direction.
“The value added by creating a space for women spiritual leaders who will serve as role models in Orthodox synagogues is incalculable,” she added. “The positive ripple effects will benefit community members, both young and old for generations to come and we charge other Orthodox synagogues to follow the positive example being set by Shirat HaTamar.”
While this is a first for Israel, in the United States, a few modern Orthodox congregations have named female rabbinic leaders in recent years. They include Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter at the South Philadelphia Shtiebel; Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman at the Kehilah of Riverdale in the Bronx and Rosh Kehilla Dr. Mijal Bitton at the Downtown Minyan in Manhattan. Mirvis received her training at Or Torah Stone’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership.
In Israel, a lawsuit brought by ITIM: The Jewish Life Advocacy Center, Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women, and Koleich is asking that women be legally permitted to take the same state exams to be qualified as a rabbi and receive the same state benefits as their male counterparts. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has agreed that the current system is legally problematic. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the Israeli Rabbinate does not recognize these women as rabbis or even as individuals with any halachic authority.
Rishe Groner, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary who grew up in an ultra-Orthodox community in Australia, was among those who hailed Mirvis’s appointment. “I cried with joy seeing this news, how it gave me hope for my 14-year-old self who never knew where she’d fit in, and for all the little girls. It’s an amazing thing for all female clergy no matter the denomination, in terms of finally building communities that are resilient and inclusive!”
Many rabbinic leaders in other denominations, and especially women, are also reacting enthusiastically. Reform Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, editor of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, said she wishes Marvis “every success as she joins a select group of rabbinic firsts. I am excited that Israelis will have access to all the unique gifts women bring to the rabbinate. And how thrilling it is that all Israeli children will see the rabbinate as a potential calling.”