Jewish Journal

Is It All in a Name?

by Rabba Sara Hurwitz

October 15, 2009 | 10:15 am

I am sitting on a panel tomorrow night with some of my esteemed female colleagues for a discussion about female spiritual leaders in the Orthodox community. (Beyond the Glass Ceiling: New Orthodox Leadership Roles for Women.)  I know that the question of title will come up. While I believe that the job – functioning as a spiritual leader, connecting with people, having the opportunity to teach Torah to others—is of primary importance, title is relevant.  It has been almost 7 months since the initiation of the title Mahara”t, and I am curious to hear people’s reactions now to the title.  I am still not sure if Mahara”t is simply a place holder for another more rabbi sounding title, like “rabah” or even “rabbi,” or if it has come to mean Rabbi, and thus will stick.  I know that for at least the people in my community, the title seems to carry with it some significance. It has been easier for me to appropriately respond and act in a rabbinic role, as people have associated the title with a certain level of scholarship and authority.  We have even called the new school that will ordain Orthodox women as rabbis “Yeshivat Mahara”t.”  At first, the criticism from the left was that we were capitulating to political pressure and selling ourselves short. Anything less than Rabbi would not do.  And yet, on the other hand, the title Mahara”t has allowed women from both ends of the Orthodox spectrum to dream, even realistically consider pursuing a path of religious spiritual leadership.  What do you think the future holds? Is the Orthodox community more likely to hire and accept Mahara”ts as their spiritual leaders? Or is the only legitimate path to advocate for women to be called rabbis?

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