The committee of seven male rabbis was crystal clear in its report: “A woman should not be appointed to serve in a clergy position.”
That stance has been the rule in Orthodox Judaism for thousands of years. But in recent years, a few pioneering Orthodox women have pursued credentials as Jewish spiritual leaders — and four synagogues, including two in the Washington areas, have hired them as clergy.
Now, since those seven rabbis published their report in February, the Orthodox Union that serves as the organizing body for this most religiously traditional branch of Judaism is putting pressure on the four synagogues, urging them to modify the female leaders’ roles or face possible expulsion.
At Ohev Sholom, the Northwest Washington congregation that calls itself “the national synagogue,” the clergy insist they won’t change the role or title of their female leader, Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman.
“Our maharat is a beloved, beloved figure in our community, and people are inspired and in deep appreciation of her spiritual talents,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld. “It’s not even negotiable.”
Yeshivat Maharat, a school established by liberal-leaning Orthodox rabbis, began graduating female clergy in 2013, giving them the title “maharat” — instead of “rabbi,” which has been conferred on women in the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism for decades but remains reserved for men among the Orthodox.
Ohev Sholom became the first American synagogue to hire a maharat. Three more in the Orthodox Union — Potomac’s Beth Sholom, and synagogues in Los Angeles and New York — followed suit.
Herzfeld and Friedman said that the Orthodox Union…