June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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Yeshivat Maharat Ordains New Class

On June 15, the second-ever class of Manhigei Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit, were ordained in the Kraft Center, giving women a greater representation among Orthodox leadership in the Jewish community. Victo­ria Sutton and Rori Picker Neiss joined Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Rachel Kohl Finegold, and Abby Brown Scheier as the fourth and fifth Maharat ever ordained. After the ordi­nations of Sutton and Picker Neiss, in which they were each told that they had “been found worthy and granted the authority to teach and determine halachic rulings for the Jewish community and [had] been ordained as a spiritual leader” by Rabbi Jeffrey Fox and Rabbi Daniel Sperber, R’ Sperber, a professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, assured eve­ryone that the titles were deserved.

“I want to assert very clearly, that I ex­amined these women very rigorously and found them highly motivated, extremely in­telligent, very discerning, and with a very ca­pable knowledge of the sort of material that they need to have in order to fill the role as halachic and spiritual leaders,” he said. “Of late, there’s been a resurgence of criti­cism on the part of many renowned and re­spectable talmidei chachamim both in Isra­el, England, and here in the United States… The main argument was that these innova­tive directions constitute a breach with tra­dition. I wish to state very clearly, that quite the contrary is true. Innovation is the hall­mark of Jewish halachic tradition…Halacha comes from the route halach, to move, to step forward, to progress. That is how hala­cha has to function.”

In addition to the ordination of the two new Maharat, one of their teachers, Devo­rah Zlochower, was conferred with the hon­orary title of Chachama. Eleven years ago, Zlochower spoke at the Drisha graduation of Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Dean of Yeshivat Ma­harat; she then spoke again at Hurwitz’s or­dination six years ago, just before Hurwitz founded the school with Rabbi Avraham Weiss.

In accepting her honor, Zlochow­er spoke of the challenges women who want to learn have faced and continue to face.

“We still face significant obstacles. Many Batei Midrash are not open to women. It is not a simple matter to find superb teachers of Torah and it is even harder to find our own place as recog­nized teachers of torah and religious leaders and yet we are here and here to stay,”

Zlochower said before addressing the two graduates directly. “The three of us have in common that our seats in the beit mid­rash are not something any of us take for granted. You have indeed earned your spots in the beit midrash.”

Prior to their studies at Yeshivat Ma­harat, Sutton attended Mechon Hadar and Barnard while Picker Neiss attend­ed the Macaulay Honors College at Hunt­er College and the Drisha Institute. Sut­ton has worked as an educational intern at SAR high school and taught at the Dri­sha High School and Women’s Collegiate Programs. In addition, she has worked as co-chair of the BJ/SPSA homeless shelter, as a Victim Intervention Advocate at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and has done a variety of interfaith work. Sutton also works at Ohav Sholom in Merrick, NY.

“It was exactly one year ago that I was sitting, surrounded by hundreds of people in Ramaz, eagerly awaiting the graduation of my colleagues,” Sutton said. “At that mo­ment, I knew in my heart that I was in the right place,” she added.

Picker Neiss has spent the past year as Director of Programming, Education and Engagement at Bnai Abraham in St. Lou­is, MO. In the past, she has worked with Religions for Peace-USA, the Jewish Or­thodox Feminist Alliance, the American Jewish Committee, and the Internation­al Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. She is also currently on the board of the Leadership Council of the International Council of Christians and Jews, a member of the Religions for Peace Global Youth Network, a CLAL Rab­bis Without Borders student fellow, and a co-editor of InterActive Faith: The Es­sential Interreligious Community-Build­ing Handbook.

“It is because of you that our voice of Torah is coming to into the world. And not only our Torah, but the Torah of all the people who we teach, all of the people who see us and recognize that there are no barriers to Torah,” Picker Neiss said after her ordination.

As per her address, everyone received a portion of Torah at Sinai and it is only with the acceptance of women into the world of learning that all those portions of Torah can be revealed.

“The first is the breakthrough; the 2nd gives permanence to the breakthrough…,” Rabbi Weiss said in his closing remarks. “Our second Smicha ceremony sends a message that smicha for women, b’ezrat Hashem, is here to stay.”

By Aliza Chasan

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