On Friday, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) officially enforced a new policy that forbids hiring or ordaining female rabbis.
The decision comes after a vote within the RCA organization, it said.
“RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of limudei kodesh [religious studies] in an Orthodox institution,” the RCA said in a statement.
“This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halachah (advisors on Jewish law), community scholars, Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Study, and non-rabbinic school teachers,” the resolution continued. “So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as maharat is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.”
The term maharat, in Hebrew, refers to a female leader in Torah, spirituality and religious law, and is granted by New York-based Yeshivat Maharat, a Jewish institution for women founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss. The yeshiva has oft been embroiled in controversy, particularly within the religious community. In June of 2013, after the yeshiva ordained three women as “spiritual leaders and halachic authorities,” RCA president Rabbi Shmuel Goldin stated that the organization could not “accept the ordination of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of their title.”
Goldin added that the RCA encourages females to study the Talmud, but that an ordination of a female would be a direct violation of Jewish law.
According to Sara Hurwitz, one of the three women who graduated, the ordination was a simple yeshiva graduation, nothing more.
“The RCA and I entered into a conversation after I was ordained and we came up with an agreement that our yeshiva wouldn’t give the title of maharat and we respected that. We feel we have upheld our end of the agreement,” Hurwitz said in an interview. “We are trying to remain squarely within the old-fashioned community. There is nothing to prevent an Orthodox woman from being a spiritual leader and I think everything we do is in tremendous modesty. The areas we stay away from very clearly demonstrate that we stay within orthodox Judaism.”
According to its website, Yeshivat Maharat is “the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders,” and is “changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders, representing a natural evolution towards a pluralistic community, where women and men, from every denomination, can enhance the Jewish world.”
The RCA’s decision comes amidst a growing movement calling for gender equality within Judaism, with the most vocal advocates being the Women of the Wall organization. The group continues to push for equal rights for females, particularly the right to read from the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.