Rabbi David Hartman (Orthodox) Launches Program To Begin Ordaining Women

WOW! Very cool indeed!!

According to the Jerusalem Post Rabbi David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute is set to begin training women for Rabbinic Ordination.

I’m a huge fan of Rabbi Hartman as well as the Shalom Hartman Institute and to be honest I’m not all that surprised he has started training women for the Rabbinate. I kind of saw this coming last summer, based on a few things he said in a video lecture of his that I watched.

Anyhow this is IMO great news and (at least in theory) is an important step towards removing one of the main barriers, that has kept people like myself from actually pursuing an Orthodox Conversion. Not that I’m planning to pursue anything at this point in time, but who knows down the road?

Also I have to admit that this news is a little ironic in light of my last post and it certainly provides a little balance in terms of my recent perceptions of Orthodoxy.

Here is a chunk of the J-Post article:

In a step that marks a major change in gender roles within modern Orthodoxy, women will be ordained as Orthodox rabbis.

Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by Rabbi David Hartman, himself a modern Orthodox rabbi, will open a four-year program next year to prepare women and men of all denominations – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and also Orthodox – for rabbinic ordination.

Ordination will be provided within the framework of a teacher-training program that prepares graduates to serve in Jewish high schools in North America.

“For too long now we have been robbing ourselves of 50 percent of our potential leaders; people who can shape and inspire others,” said Rabbi Donniel Hartman, co-director of the institute and son of David Hartman.

“The classic distinctions between men and women are no longer relevant. People who come to the Hartman Institute to study are committed to making gender equality in Judaism a reality.”

Hartman said the institute was not trying to make a political statement by ordaining women as Orthodox rabbis, but rather was fulfilling a real need for “master educators” who could take on leadership roles in education in North American high schools.

Why would an institute that runs an Orthodox middle school and high school for boys, and that will open an Orthodox girls’ school next year, decide to provide rabbinic ordination to women despite the controversy it will arouse in Orthodox circles?

“Hartman has been multi-denominational for the last 12 years. We make no distinctions between men and women here. Our latest decision is a natural evolution of our existing policy,” David Hartman said.

“We think the title ‘rabbi’ is important because in the Jewish tradition, the highest level of educator was given the title rabbi, which literally means teacher. Today, the top-tier educators seek the title of rabbi to reflect their status as well,” he said.

During the four-year course, participants will receive a master’s degree in Jewish Philosophy from Tel Aviv University and intensive training in teaching techniques and theory.

“This is a smicha [ordination] program that is not built around the classic learning of Jewish law, rather on the ability to communicate the central ideas of Judaism in an inspiring and meaningful way for the next generation of youth,” Hartman continued.

Traditional Orthodox rabbinic training programs focus exclusively on text learning and the acquisition of legal knowledge. They do not devote time to teaching skills that Hartman believes are desperately needed.

Hartman will be the first institute to offer Orthodox rabbinic ordination to women.

In all non-Orthodox streams, being female is not an obstacle to becoming a rabbi. The Reform Movement began ordaining women in 1972, Reconstructionists began in 1977 and the Conservative Movement began in 1983.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a leading modern Orthodox rabbi and head of the Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva, said in response to the Hartman Institute’s announcement that he opposed giving women the title “rabbi.”

“I think it is degrading to tell a woman that she won’t be respected and appreciated unless she adopts a man’s title,” Aviner said. “Throughout the generations there were always scholarly women who were highly respected. Jewish law dictates that a man must stand before a learned woman just as he must stand out of respect for a learned man.”

Aviner said he was more concerned with the idea that Orthodox Jews would study together with their Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist brothers and sisters.

“Learning Torah is like getting married,” he said. “It is not just an intellectual exercise, it is a Jew’s life. To learn with a totally secular Jew is permitted, but learning with Reform and Conservative Jews is problematic because they do not believe as I do, they do not have a fear of God.”

You can read the rest of the J-Post article here.

I think it’s impressive that all of this is happening within a trans-denominational learning environment. One which will be not only ordaining Orthodox Rabbis, but Rabbis in to all the major streams of Judaism, including Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist. However, what I’m curious about now is, as a non-orthodox Jew By Choice would I be allowed to enroll (in this trans-denominational rabbinic program) and if I successfully completed all the requirements would I receive simcha?

I’m not trying to take away from this great news, but the question did pop into my mind as I read the article and I think it’s a fair question. I mean surely the “who is a Jew” question is something that’s going to come up in an institution run by an Orthodox Rabbi who is training Rabbinic students from and (presumably) on behalf of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Could such an institution in good conscience really participate in allowing a non-orthodox convert (like me) in to the rabbinate?  Even a non-orthodox rabbinate?

I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Anyhow, hat Tip to AS via the folks at JewSchool.

About the Author

Avi aka TG

Avi is a Jew by choice who converted to Judaism in the spring of 2006 after two years of study and participation in Ottawa’s Jewish community. Although he began his Jewish journey as part of a Reform congregation, he now calls the Conservative movement home. Read More

8 Responses to “ Rabbi David Hartman (Orthodox) Launches Program To Begin Ordaining Women ”

  1. Well, Avi, there’s one sure way to find out: Ask R. Hartman yourself. I heard him speak at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem 11 years ago, and he said then that if one of his children chose to marry a non-Orthodox convert, he would not object, but would only be concerned with what kind of household they would keep. He truly loves a challenge, and I think this one would be a corker. (He’s well-known as one of the scrappiest rabbis around, and very controversial, not surprisingly.)

    Please ask him, and publish his answer. I’d like to know what he tells you.

  2. Oy, one week in Florida without internet access and there are like six new EXCELLENT posts! Thanks for this one Avi, once again Rabbi Hartman is on the cutting edge of dedicated Jewish traditional observance, compassion, and modernity. He is truly a great sage of his generation, and he gives me reason to hope for our future as a People of the Book.

    kol tuv!

  3. ShimShonit:

    Thanks for the comment! Let me give some thought to idea of flying of an email to Rabbi Hartman asking him this question.


    Se what happens when you go away! You miss all the fun! Glad you liked the recent posting!

  4. “To learn with a totally secular Jew is permitted, but learning with Reform and Conservative Jews is problematic because they do not believe as I do, they do not have a fear of God.”

    And a secular Jew… does? I’m not quite sure the Rabbi here sees the irony in his own statement.

  5. B.BarNavi, I thought the same thing myself.

  6. I suspect R. Aviner believes, as many Israeli rabbis do, that in working with a secular Jew, one is working with a “tabula rasa” in terms of belief: someone who doesn’t believe or disbelieve in the foundations of halachic Judaism. Israeli rabbis see Reform and Conservative Jews as having belief systems in place already (which I’m sure you wouldn’t deny) that fundamentally and actively disagree with halachic Judaism, and that is probably the reason for his statement. In R. Aviner’s world, fear of God (yirat Hashem) is equated with acceptance of the yoke of halacha and mitzvot. You are free to disagree with him, but I believe this is what he meant to convey.

    Rereading what both Hartmans say about their program with greater scrutiny pointed out some problems for me in what they are doing. There are different grades of smicha (rabbinic ordination) given in Israel: some are for rabbis who adjudicate halachic issues (like a communal rabbi) and others are given to rabbis who are educators. (I think there are others as well, but don’t know all of the system’s intricacies.) A similar program exists in the U.S. at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts which is non-denominational and trains men and women to be Jewish educators who, it says, will be given the title “rabbi” when they’re finished. The difference between Hebrew College’s program and the Hartmans’ program is that Hebrew College doesn’t claim to be Orthodox and the Hartman Institute does.

    I am not sure I understand the reason why the Hartmans want to call what they’re doing rabbinic ordination. They’re training teachers, that’s all. There is nothing terribly rabbinic (in an Orthodox sense) about what they’re doing. (And to say that Orthodox rabbis only study texts and don’t learn how to become teachers is untrue–Rabbi David Hartman himself says “rabbi” means teacher, and most Orthodox rabbis teach as part of their job. He and his son are both Orthodox rabbis, after all.) The fact is there are many women in Israel who have studied one-on-one with Orthodox rabbis and have learned everything a man does to become a traditional Orthodox rabbi. These women are qualified to teach, be halachic decisors (poskim), and serve on town religious councils in Israel. The fact that they are not yet called “rabbis” will change over time, just as so much of Judaism (even in Orthodoxy) has changed over time.

    I applaud both Rabbis Hartman for the value they place on both women’s and men’s contributions to Jewish education. I’m not certain, however, that the way they are going about honoring these contributions has the honesty and integrity one normally expects of such leaders in the Jewish world.

  7. One last comment: I noticed that R. David Hartman said, “Today, the top-tier educators seek the title of rabbi to reflect their status…” Can this be the real reason they are conferring the title of “rabbi” on their graduates? Because of market demand?

    I suspect that the admission of liberal Jews into–and likely controversy in the Jewish world over–this program will result in its graduates getting the same kind of jobs they would have gotten even without the title “Orthodox rabbi”: teaching positions in non-Orthodox day schools and as non-Orthodox synagogue educators. An Orthodox institution is not going to hire a Reform or Conservative Jew to teach limudei kodesh (sacred subjects). Women they’ll hire (contrary to the Hartmans’ implication) but only if they espouse the educational institution’s mission and philosophy. The title “rabbi” matters less than the educator’s training, belief and practice. And that, I suspect, is also true of most liberal Jewish institutions.

  8. I want to thank and applaud Rabbi Hartman for his wise direction regarding the ordination of both men and women orthodox rabbis. As an old woman, I do not know how to express my heartfelt gratitude. Rabbi Hartman’s follows a path of wisdom and joy, compassion and common sense. A learned woman should have the same opportunity as a learned man to be called “Rabbi.” “If not now, when?”

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