Jewish Journal

Yeshivat Maharat: Facts on the Ground

by Rabba Sara Hurwitz

December 31, 2009 | 5:14 pm

Yeshivat Maharat is a pioneering venture, founded in 2009 to be the first institution in Jewish history to produce Orthodox women rabbinic authorities.
Although there are currently many valuable institutions that provide a place for women to engage in serious study, our institution has gone one step further.  Yeshivat Maharat has a formal curriculum to train women to be rabbinic leaders, bestowing upon women the authority to be poskot (legal arbiters).  Yeshivat Maharat will advocate for women’s full participation in the community as spiritual leaders.

Yeshivat Maharat is dedicated to giving Orthodox women proficiency in learning and teaching Talmud, understanding Jewish law and its application to everyday life as well as the other tools necessary to be Jewish communal leaders.  “Mahara”t” is a Hebrew acronym for manhiga hilchatit ruchanit toranit, one who is a teacher of Jewish law and spirituality.  YM’s students and graduates will inspire the community to realize the benefit of having women in these roles, using their talents and skills which up until now have been excluded.
Yeshivat Maharat accepts women as students who self-identify as Orthodox and want to serve the Jewish community in a leadership position, specifically that of rabbinic leader. YM has an Open Orthodox philosophy. This includes a religious worldview rejecting the approach of daat torah which relies on a small group of Torah scholars to decide all religious, social and political matters; a belief that all knowledge is part of a sacred world so secular culture and knowledge should be embraced; open support for the modern State of Israel; expanded roles for women; pluralism and the importance of political activism.

Yeshivat Maharat was founded this past summer by myself and Rabbi Avi Weiss, after Rabbi Avi Weiss ordained me, following seven years of study under his auspices and working as part of his rabbinic staff at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. YM’s entering class consists of four women studying full time and two studying for their pre-requisites at Drisha Institute. Two of the full time students follow an independent course of study and work with rabbinic staffs in congregations in Chicago and Montreal. They “skype” in for classes. YM is training its students using the best of traditional and innovative methods- a true combination of the ancient and the new!
The Yeshivat Maharat program is a four-year full-time course of training.

          Coursework: The YM curriculum is modeled after other Orthodox ordination programs, with the goal of providing all the necessary skills to be spiritual leaders in the Jewish community. Each graduate must be expert in Jewish law, Talmud, Bible and Jewish Thought and have rhetorical facility and counseling proficiency.
            Internship: In addition to study, the students will be placed in an internship in a synagogue, school or communal organization. This practical, hands-on experience will benefit the student and the community while also helping community members become accustomed to the idea of women in rabbinic leadership positions.
Job placement: The Yeshiva staff will advocate on behalf of its graduates to place them in positions of leadership in synagogues, schools, campus organizations and community centers.
For the immediate future, the Yeshiva will remain a small program, limited to six women in each one of the classes, who are committed to Orthodox Judaism, have a strong background in Jewish studies, are already proficient in Talmudic text and who want to serve the community in a rabbinic capacity.

If you would like to apply for Yeshivat Maharat, please let me know.

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