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Meet the First Female Orthodox Jewish Rabbi

Orthodox Judaism is not known for being particularly progressive—women and men are typically not allowed to sit next to one another if they aren’t married; women abide by strict dress codes; women haven’t been allowed to hold the highest title of rabbi in congregations. In fact, they still aren’t, but Rabbi Lila Kagedan doesn’t give a shit.

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CNN reports that Kagedan, 35, of Mount Freedom Jewish Center, is the first female rabbi to serve in an Orthodox congregation. She is one of a handful of female students who have studied at the Yeshivat Maharat in the Bronx, N.Y., the first yeshiva, or Jewish school, to allow women to ordain female clergy in Orthodox Judaism. Since its founding in 2009, 33 women have enrolled in the yeshiva’s programs, and 11 have been ordained.

There have been several women to take the title “rabba,” notably including Rabba Sara Hurwitz who co-founded Yeshivat Maharat, but none took “rabbi” until Kagedan.

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“I knew that I wanted my title to be the most accurate description of my training,” she told CNN. “I didn’t want to walk into a room or a space and have there be ambiguity of what it is that I was there to do. What my training was. What my skill set was.”

The Rabbinical Council of America stands in staunch opposition to the ordination of women. Upon the graduation of the first three students from Yeshivat Maharat, the RCA put out a statement:

In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010... The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.

The RCA then resolved to “educate and inform” its community that it is forbidden for Orthodox institutions to ordain, hire, or ratify women as rabbis, “regardless of the title used.” Women are allowed to teach, “so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status.”

“Women need to see other women in these leadership positions to keep them motivated in their Judaism, to have leaders that they can relate to, that they can feel comfortable with in different ways that they might not feel comfortable with their male leadership,” Kagedan told CNN.

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“I guarantee you only positive outcomes will emerge from having men and women working in the rabbinate and being accessible to the community.”

Go Kagedan, go Yeshivat Maharat, go Mount Freedom Jewish Center. The RCA can get a clue.

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Senior Editor, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

randilynbeginagain
randilynis...

One of the most significant memories I have of my grandfather centers around his support of a female Rabbi. He grew up in an Orthodox family and with some degree of discomfort joined a Conservative Temple that was started by my Grandmom’s family (with others, of course). In 1978, when I was 14 my grandmom, aunt, father and I were able to convince him to endorse, lobby for and with much arm twisting, plenty of charm and some brilliant arguing convince the board of directors to accept. During the journey he and I spoke at length. I was a nascent feminist but so young. Looking back I am amazed and humbled that he sought my counsel. Quite a few families left the congregation. There was plenty of infighting and she didn’t have an easy time of it. She taught and arranged Bat -Mitvahs for a group of women (including my grandmom) in their 60', 70's and even 80's (which received a fair bit of local publicity) and grew the day school to epic levels. When she retired she singled out my grandfather. When he spoke he shared the story of how his beloved “girls” had brought him to a better place and how it was one of the greatest transitions of his life. She came out of retirement to lead the Memorial service for him.