The Beth Din of America, the country’s preeminent Orthodox religious court, invited “several women” to join its board.
The organization began an initiative to “repopulate” the board in 2012, said its director, Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann. “We’re looking for new board members that represent the broad swath of the Jewish community,” he said.
One of the women is Michelle Friedman, founder and chair of the Department of Pastoral Counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a Modern Orthodox rabbinical school. The school espouses an "open” and “non-dogmatic" approach to Orthodoxy, according to its website. Friedman is also an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital.
The names of the other women invited to the 30-member board are not yet public, Rabbi Weissmann said.
The Beth Din of America’s board members “do not play a day-to-day role in the function of the Beth Din” and have “no role in formulating halachic [legal] policy or halachic decision-making,” Rabbi Weissmann said. Rather, board members oversee “governance and fundraising.”
“The board is not the face of the Beth Din — the face of the Beth Din is the rabbinic leadership,” he said.
The news of the inclusion of women in the organization’s leadership follows on the heels of the Rabbinical Council of America’s decision last week to appoint a new conversion committee including five female members, a first in the RCA’s 80-year history.
The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest council of Orthodox rabbis worldwide, founded the Beth Din of America in 1960. The Court adjudicates on issues of divorce, conversion, and arbitration.
Together with the RCA, the Beth Din of America also oversees the Geirus Protocols and Standards for its national network of rabbinic courts overseeing conversion, although the Beth Din of America does not itself perform Jewish conversions.
The new conversion committee is intended to review the current Geirus Protocol and Standards conversion process and suggest safeguards against possible abuses.
The committee was formed in response to the Oct. 14 arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, of Washington, DC, which "brought to light the need for a review of the GPS process," the RCA notes on its website.
Note: This story was updated on Nov. 7 at 12 p.m. to reflect the fact that several women, not just Friedman, were invited to join the board.