Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center, a branch of the Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women in Jerusalem, has a U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program, which is hosted at Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls. This month, the program is holding its second-ever graduation, certifying seven women who will join only 10 Nishmat-certified Yoatzot Halacha who are employed by synagogues in America, the first of whom, Bracha Rutner, was appointed in 2003.
“These are seven amazing, highly sensitive Orthodox leaders,” said Atara Eis, director of the U.S. program at Nishmat. “This is a fitting tribute to the Jewish community in Bergen County because they have raised such wonderful leaders.”
Virtually all of the 2015 graduates have strong connections to the Bergen County community, and they join two Yoatzot Halacha, Shoshana Samuels in Teaneck and Nechama Price from Englewood, who are serving as yoatzot here. Samuels studied at Nishmat in Jerusalem, while Price, as well as Dena Block, originally from Teaneck, and Tova Warburg Sinensky, originally from Englewood, were part of the first class of the U.S. program. There are now 100 Yoatzot Halacha currently certified by Nishmat since the inception of its Yoatzot Halacha Program in Israel in 1997.
The commencement event, which will be keynoted by Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, will be hosted at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan. “Thousands of women who never before asked questions now feel comfortable doing so, knowing that they will get answers informed by deep halachic wisdom and thoughtful sensitivity. And, furthermore, it enables learned and religiously committed women to have a real, direct and meaningful impact on Jewish lives in our community,” said Rabbi Schacter.
Yoetzet Halacha Deena Zimmerman, MD MPH IBCLC, will speak on behalf of Nishmat Founder and Dean, Rabbanit Chana Henkin, who is in mourning for her son and daughter in law, Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists two weeks ago. Dr. Zimmerman, the first woman certified as a Yoetzet Halacha, is a practicing pediatrician, and also directs Nishmat’s Women’s Health and Halacha websites www.yoatzot.org and www.jewishwomenshealth.org.
Eis explained that the event celebrates the fellows having spent two years mastering information related to women’s observances of the laws of family purity, as well as completing a period of review and study, before facing individual oral testing with four different rabbanim. They also studied associated medical and psychological information. The U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Program itself consists of an opening week at the Nishmat campus in Israel, and then the fellows study full time at Ma’anayot for three summers, while meeting each Sunday morning and Tuesday afternoon for the remaining two years. The twice-weekly schedule was put in place to work around the schedules of the fellows, who generally also work full time as educators in various Jewish institutions in the tri-state area.
“Our yoatzot are a valuable resource for communities that need them. We work hand in hand with rabbis. We have incredibly strong rabbinic support,” said Eis. Fifty Orthodox rabbis serve on Nishmat’s Rabbinic Advisory Community.
Eis added that Nishmat’s U.S. program commenced in 2011 in response to the “dire need of this leadership position,” for U.S.-based women interested in becoming Yoatzot Halacha, who may not have the freedom or time to take two years away from their families or work to study in Israel.
One such graduate who might not have been able to become a Yoetzet Halacha without this program is Rookie Billet, who served as the principal of Ma’ayanot for many years. Billet is also the rebbetzin of the community of Young Israel of Woodmere. She has taught kallah classes for decades, and as a grandmother, decided to go back and learn. While studying, she has concurrently been the principal of the Shulamith School for Girls (Middle Division) in Long Island. “The rabbis who tested her have been inspired by that. Her involvement was very inspiring for everyone involved in the process. She had been a kallah teacher for many years, and decided to go back and learn this on a deep level. Everyone was able to benefit from her experience,” said Eis.
Other local graduates include Julia (Straus) Baruch, from Englewood, who is now working as the Yoetzet Halacha at Kehilath Jeshurun and West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan. Shira Donath is the rebbetzin and now Yoetzet Halacha of Congregation Darchei Noam in Fair Lawn. Shiffy Friedman is originally from Teaneck, attended Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, and is now an OU-JLIC campus educator at Columbia/Barnard Hillel and teacher at SAR Academy. Talia Furleiter, also from Teaneck, is a graduate of The Frisch School, and works as an OU-JLIC campus education at Queens College Hillel. Dalia Shulman grew up in Fair Lawn and attended the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies (BCHSJS), and is serving as the Yoetzet Halacha for Westchester County. The other graduate is Ilana Gadish, who has become Yoetzet Halacha for six Manhattan synagogues.
To learn more about Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halacha Program, or to attend the event on October 25 at 1pm, visit http://afnishmat.org/yhusgraduation/meet-our-newest-yoatzot/, or contact Genene Kaye at 201-525-5101 or Atara Eis at 914-294-3584.
By Elizabeth Kratz