Hartman To Ordain Women Rabbis; Or Not?

In a step that marks a major change in gender roles within modern Orthodoxy, women will be ordained as Orthodox rabbis. Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by Rabbi David Hartman, himself a modern Orthodox rabbi, will open a four-year program next year to prepare women and men of all denominations – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and also Orthodox – for rabbinic ordination.

Ordination will be provided within the framework of a teacher-training program that prepares graduates to serve in Jewish high schools in North America.

Why would an institute that runs an Orthodox middle school and high school for boys, and that will open an Orthodox girls’ school next year, decide to provide rabbinic ordination to women despite the controversy it will arouse in Orthodox circles?

“Hartman has been multi-denominational for the last 12 years. We make no distinctions between men and women here. Our latest decision is a natural evolution of our existing policy,” David Hartman said.

“We think the title ‘rabbi’ is important because in the Jewish tradition, the highest level of educator was given the title rabbi, which literally means teacher. Today, the top-tier educators seek the title of rabbi to reflect their status as well,” he said.

During the four-year course, participants will receive a master’s degree in Jewish Philosophy from Tel Aviv University and intensive training in teaching techniques and theory.

“This is a smicha [ordination] program that is not built around the classic learning of Jewish law, rather on the ability to communicate the central ideas of Judaism in an inspiring and meaningful way for the next generation of youth,” Hartman continued.

Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David, perhaps the first woman ever to receive Orthodox ordination (from a private rabbi, Aryeh Strikovsky, on Pessah eve 2006), said she hoped what she termed Hartman’s rabbi-educator program would be “the first step toward full rabbinic ordination for Orthodox women.”

She asserted that the Hartman Institute was “stopping short” of “calling them rabbis” and said this was “annoying.” But, she added, “perhaps it is a political decision to start off with a half-title so as not to be too controversial and only later to give women the full title of rabbi.

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