Yeshivat Maharat students attend a graduation ceremony in New York, June 17, 2019. (JTA/Shulamit Seidler-Feller/Yeshivat Maharat)
Yeshivat Maharat students attend a graduation ceremony in New York, June 17, 2019. (JTA/Shulamit Seidler-Feller/Yeshivat Maharat)

New grants pay Orthodox synagogues to hire women as spiritual leaders

A new initiative is paying Orthodox synagogues to hire female spiritual leaders.

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance announced Sunday that it is giving grants of up to $10,000 per year to synagogues that hire women in newly created positions as spiritual leaders.

Synagogues can receive a matching grant equaling half of the money that they commit, meaning that they would have to commit $20,000 to receive the maximum $10,000 grant per year. Synagogues can receive funding for two years. The funds for the project were donated by Ann and Jeremy Pava of West Hartford, Connecticut.

The ordination of women as rabbis and spiritual leaders is fraught in the Orthodox world.

A decade ago, Yeshivat Maharat opened in New York as the first Orthodox institution in North America to ordain women as clergy members. The institution has faced pushback from many in the establishment Orthodox world, including the Orthodox Union. Ordinees go by a variety of titles, including maharat, rabba and rabbanit. The Yeshivat Maharat was founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss after he gave a personal ordination to Rabba Sara Hurwitz, who is now the dean of the school.

At the Modern Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, Yeshivat Maharat graduate Maharat Victoria Sutton serves as director of education and community engagement. Her position was initially funded by a donation from Zelda Stern, a founding board member JOFA.

The Conservative, Reform, Renewal and Reconstructionist movements have been ordaining women as rabbis for decades. The first was Rabbi Sally Priesand, ordained by the Reform movement in 1972. The first known woman rabbi was Rabbi Regina Jonas, ordained in Berlin in 1935. She died in 1944 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

JTA

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