A Modern Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn has hired as its spiritual leader Michal Kohane, a former staffer at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the latest in a handful of Orthodox synagogues to hire a woman to a clergy position.
Prospect Heights Shul hired Kohane as its interim spiritual leader to serve alongside Senior Rabbi Ysoscher Katz. Her title, rosh kehila, translates as “head of the community.”
Because the synagogue is Orthodox, Kohane will not lead services, nor will she have the authority to rule on matters of Jewish law. A Sept. 5 news release from the synagogue said Kohane will host community events and serve as a “teacher and spiritual guide.”
“Michal has all the essential qualities necessary for successful spiritual leadership: she combines knowledge of Torah, passion for Yiddishkeit, and extreme sensitivity to others,” Katz said in the news release.
Kohane, one-time executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, served as director of the S.F. Federation’s Israel Center. She lost her job there after writing an essay in eJewishPhilanthropy in June 2013 that criticized the emphasis Jewish institutions place on young adult engagement while downplaying the needs of those over 40.
As of May, four Orthodox synagogues in the United States employed women as clergy, including Maharat Victoria Sutton at Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley. All are graduates of Yeshivat Maharat, a liberal Orthodox seminary for women, where Kohane is a student set to graduate in 2020. She is also pursuing a doctorate in organizational psychology.
“Combining Jewish learning and community work has been central to my life since very early on,” Kohane said in the news release. “And I’m extremely honored and excited to begin the New Year as Rosh Kehila of this vibrant shul.”
Since its founding in 2009, Yeshivat Maharat has drawn controversy. Although the school’s graduates eschew the title “rabbi,” the Orthodox Union has ruled that women cannot serve as clergy and has asked those serving in clergy roles to change their titles. The Rabbinical Council of America also opposes women serving as clergy.