Could the dam against women Orthodox Rabbis finally be breaking? Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale last month conferred the title of “Rabba,” or female Rabbi, on his student Sara Hurwitz. This has of course upset Aguda, the mouthpiece for the Ultra-Orthodox community in America. “Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox,” said the Aguda, considered the authoritative body of Ultra-Orthodoxy.
However, the more mainstream Orthodox institutions including the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) are currently negotiating with Rabbi Weiss over a possible compromise, since it is unlikely they will expel him from the body. RCA president Rabbi Moshe Kletenik reported denied a report that the RCA has even considered expelling Weiss.
Weiss, often in the headlines for various political protests, is considered to be on the left edge of Modern Orthodoxy, and has been trying for decades to establish a strong liberal base in contemporary Orthodox Jewry, even renaming his movement Open Orthodoxy. The flagship institution of the movement is Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, founded in 1999, which just recently moved from Manhattan to Riverdale. The Yeshiva, designed to train Rabbis in Orthodox Jewish practice, focuses especially on issues such as cooperation with the Conservative and Reform Movements and the issues of women and Judaism. Though Chovevei does not admit women, Weiss has opened a separate seminary called Yeshivat Maharat, designed to train women in Rabbinical leadership.
Weiss has also seen some criticism from fellow Rabbis on the left end of the spectrum as well. “Contemporary Orthodoxy has decided that this is not appropriate,” said Rabbi Michael Broyde, a judge in the Beth Din of America, “It is outside the bounds of normative Orthodox Jewish practice,” referring to the conferring of the title Rabba to a woman.
Broyde, while not speaking on behalf of the Beth Din of America, did emphasize that women should be trained as clergy nonetheless, just not given the title “Rabbi.”
Sources close to Weiss have said that in time, what he is doing will be accepted by mainstream Orthodoxy. As for now, he is getting a great deal of pushback and is trying to calculate just how far he can lean without falling outside the overall consensus.