The first graduation of a class of female Orthodox clergy from the upstart Yeshivat Maharat has brought condemnation from one of the largest rabbinic professional associations, the Rabbinical Council of America, or RCA.
The RCA’s statement says that the graduation is “a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.”
This should surprise many, as the RCA had previously made no statement condemning the ordination of Rabba Sara Hurwitz with the then-newly-coined title of “Maharat” in 2009. Indeed, even the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel didn’t condemn the ordaining of Hurwitz then. It was only after Hurwitz was re-titled as “rabba” in 2010 that the Agudath Israel condemned her ordination.
After the new title of “rabba” was announced for Hurwitz three years ago, the RCA negotiated with her ordaining rabbi, Rabbi Avi Weiss, to never have it happen again, explicitly endorsing the title of “maharat” while doing so, in a statement declaring that, “We are gratified that during the course of these conversations Rabbi Weiss concluded that neither he nor Yeshivat Maharat would ordain women as rabbis and that Yeshivat Maharat will not confer the title of ‘Rabba’ on graduates of their program.”
So why is the RCA condemning the Yeshivat Maharat graduation, when the yeshiva is quite clearly not using the title “rabba” for its graduates now?
The opening paragraph of the RCA’s statement suggests why:
In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the ”ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated [...]
Where did the RCA get the statement that Yeshivat Maharat is claiming to ordain “rabbinic leaders”? It’s not in any press release I could find, nor any quote from the yeshiva’s leaders, in some quick research, which is what you’d expect if the yeshiva were to make a change in language that would obviously alter its public reception.
No, that language is instead found on the yeshiva’s second page of its website, in the second paragraph:
Yeshivat Maharat is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders. Yeshivat Maharat represents a natural evolution towards a pluralistic community, where women and men, from every denomination, can enhance the Jewish world.
Here’s the odd thing, though: Yeshivat Maharat leaders would have known, or certainly should have known, that the word “rabbinic” could raise eyebrows. Why would they use that word, when they’re explicitly using “maharat” instead of “rabba” as the title for their graduates?
Interestingly, for most of that page’s history, they didn’t. Snapshots of that page from March 6, 2012 through October 25, 2012 show a very different page. Sometime after that latter date, it changed into its current state.
Was this language approved by higher-ups, including Hurwitz? I’ve e-mailed her with that question, and will update here if/when she replies.
In the meantime, keep an eye on that page to see if it changes again.