Bronx-based rabba helps break down barriers for women rabbis

Crystal Cranmore Image
Friday, May 31, 2024
NYC-based rabba helps break down barriers for women rabbis
Crystal Cranmore has the story on a Bronx-based rabba.

THE BRONX (WABC) -- A Bronx-based rabba for nearly 15 years has helped open new doors for women who want to pursue a career in rabbinic leadership.

Rabba Sara Hurwitz is believed to be the first orthodox woman rabbi publicly ordained in the United States, and her journey led her to co-founding Yeshivat Maharat -- the first institution in the United States to ordain orthodox women as clergy.

"Orthodox women have spent too many years sort of sitting in the background," said Hurwitz, who also serves as the president at Maharat.

The school, which Hurwitz helped opened in 2009, is about to graduate its largest class yet next month -- an accomplishment she is very proud of.

"I have noticed that there is an uptick in general of women wanting to pursue a career in rabbinic leadership," she said.

Hurwitz didn't always dream of being a rabbi but was drawn to the leadership after college. She knew she wanted to make a difference in her community.

"My parents took us out of apartheid South Africa in 1989, and by doing so sent my sister and I a really strong, profound message of equality," Hurwitz acknowledged.

With no precedent for an orthodox female rabbi in the synagogue, Hurwitz mastered Jewish texts and took exams all under the private tutelage of Rabbi Avi Weiss who ordained her.

"In those early years, I received a lot of pushback," said Hurwitz. "That felt very painful."

But Hurwitz turned that pain into a movement, opening doors for dozens of orthodox Jewish women, including Yeshivat Maharat graduate Rabbi Erin Smokler.

"I come from, I suppose a line of rabbis, both my grandfathers were pulpit rabbis," Smokler said. "And so it was something that was in my blood, but not something that was on my horizon."

Hurwitz says next year she expects to have 100 ordained women in the world since opening the school.

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