One of the first three graduates of Yeshiva Maharat will serve in a clergy position at an Orthodox congregation in Washington, D.C., thanks to a grant from a board member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
Ruth Balinsky Friedman, who will earn the title maharat at the yeshiva’s graduation on June 16th, will join the staff of Congregation Ohev Shalom – The National Synagogue, working with Rabbi Shmuel Hertzfeld.
Maharat is an acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality. Friedman’s position will be partially underwritten by Zelda R. Stern, a JOFA leader and philanthropist. In a statement, JOFA said the grant would allow Friedman to serve “as a full member of the clergy,” beginning in August.
“She’ll be teaching and guiding and working with people of all ages, helping our congregation become closer to Hashem,” Rabbi Hertzfeld told The Jewish Week. “Everything will be in accordance with interpretation of Halacha.”
Last week, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America released a statement welcoming greater halachic study and participation in religious life by women but declaring that women as clergy is “a violation of our mesorah,” or tradition.
In response, Rabbi Hertzfeld said “They never called me to ask what she is doing. If they did, I would say everything is in accordance with mesorah.”
He said Friedman as maharat could have a role at events such as weddings or funerals, as permitted by halacha, but could not lead prayer services. “We are not egalitarian,” he said.
Friedman, who currently lives in Washington Heights, said in a phone interview she is “excited about joining the community. Everyone has been so welcoming and supportive of us.”
Asked if she views herself as a trailblazer, Friedman said “I see myself as someone who is doing what she loves, teaching Jewish texts, which is where I found my path in life.”
Another Maharat graduate, Rachel Kohl Finegold has accepted a position at congregation Shar Hashomayim in Montreal. Another Maharat student, Rori Picker Neiss, who will graduate next year, has accepted a position at Bais Abraham in St. Louis.
The third graduate in this year’s class is Abby Brown Scheier.