In honor of my favorite of Jewish Holidays and the one time you’re sure to find me in Shul, I would like to introduce two amazing things: Religious Teenage Heartthrobs and Rabba Sara Hurwitz. For the best video ever consult the unbelieveable “One Mitzvah at a time” care of Youtube. Thanks Boys!
Now onto the “Rabba”
i’m late picking up on this (what’s new?) but in my journeys through the world wide waste of time, I found a list of America’s top 50 Rabbis and thought we’ll jeez, I better find out who these guys are, right? Well, I’d only made it to number 18 when something caught my eye- Rabbi Avi Weiss was famous for ordaining one Sara Hurwitz as a Rabba or as close as modern orthodoxy has come to letting a woman into the club. I had to find out more!
I started with an interview with her in Heeb Magazine and then went a little deeper…
There is something special about creating change from the inside out, a certain respect for establishment and tradition. I dig that. I also really dig her conferral speech and it’s mention of female Jewish scholars from back in the day. It reminded me of my mom reading out the women resistance fighters who died in the Shoah and to whom we dedicate a cup on Passover.
Here’s an excerpt from the text:
While women in positions of spiritual leadership are still somewhat uncommon in the Orthodox community, there is precedent for this phenomenon. The Pitchei Teshuva Choshen Mishpat quoting the Hida 7:5 records that “even though a woman is disqualified from being a judge, a woman who is wise and learned is fit to render a ruling.” If women are well-versed in law, they can become authorities on any subject matter. אשה חכמה יכולה להזרות הוראה
Furthermore, the Sefer Hachinuch, published anonymously in 13th Century Spain, in commenting about the ban of entering the Beit Hamikdash in a drunken state, extends the prohibition restricting a drunk man from giving rulings, to a woman from giving psak in this state. That is to say that in a sober state, a wise (learned) woman is fit to render a ruling. “ ”.וכן באשה חכמה הראויה להורות
Now, I am not going to focus on the (shakla v’tarya) halachik debate of whether a qualified woman can render halachik rulings or not (although it is clear that the halachik literature supports this). I want to know: who were all these “nashim chachmot? Clearly, the Sefer Hachinuch and the Hida, commenting in the Pitchei Teshuva (R Hayyim Yosef David Azulai) were dealing with a reality—with capable learned women, who were in a position of “rendering rulings.” And I believe that in every generation there have been “nashim chachamot” who have felt a spiritual calling and dedicated themselves to the service of their communities.
A few such wise learned women who come to mind:
Devorah Haniviah—Devorah the Prophetess who judged and served the Children of Israel in Sefer Shoftim.
Bruriah, the Tannait, about whom the gemara in Pesachim 62b says that she studied 300 laws in one day.
Yalta, wife of R. Nachman who through her expert knowledge in laws of niddah, managed to influence psak.
The wife of Jonah the prophet who it says in Talmud Eruvin 96a, attended the pilgrimage festival, and the Sages did not prevent her.
Or, Hannah Rochel Verbermacher, the maiden of Ludmir, living in the 19th (1815-1892) century, who built her own synagogue and preached led prayers and developed quite a broad following.
Or Osnat Barazani, daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Barazani, living in the 17th century who taught in her father’s yeshiva.
And these are just a few examples of nashim chachamot, of wise and learned women. I can only imagine that there were many others, who had a calling for spiritual leadership, and who despite the barriers blocking their way to achieve a public position of spiritual leadership, mastered halakha and quietly ministered to others.