When I first heard that our synagogue was considering hiring a Maharat (female spiritual leader), I was neither for nor against. As a baby boomer who was not particularly interested in participating in traditional male ritual (wearing tefillin, leading tefillah, or reading from the Torah), the need for a Maharat was not something I craved or felt was on my list of religious priorities.
In hindsight, I guess I did not know what to expect and, without any personal need, the decision was of little interest. Almost eighteen months after the talk began, our synagogue has just extended the contract for our Maharat and I am ECSTATIC!! Why have I jumped on the bandwagon?
• I am totally impressed with the knowledge, capabilities and humility of our Maharat. She is learned, speaks extremely well and is not afraid to say she doesn’t know something when that is the case.
• Being a Maharat does not mean she has to define herself by copying traditional male ritual. She doesn’t put on tefillin, she doesn’t lead tefillah and doesn’t read from the Torah.
• She is a shining example of overall female leadership for my granddaughters, who also attend my synagogue. They are growing up witnessing that female spiritual leadership is normal, that a d’var torah can be given by a woman, and that questions of religious belief, understanding and legality can be answered by a male or female. This also applies to the male children in our community, for whom a Maharat is now the norm.
• She is available to the women of our community who have questions about the laws of family purity — questions that I always prayed would never arise for me and require me to consult a Rabbi!
• She leads discussions that are just for women, such as those that have recently taken place due to the Rabbinic scandal that has overwhelmed the DC community.
• She comforts female mourners, at graveside and at the shiva. I look back on the occasions when I was in mourning and wish I had the comfort of a Maharat to talk to at a time when one’s faith can be shaken.
In an age, when every new profession entered by women is attributed to feminism, I am delighted that I don’t ever feel that our Maharat is a feminist or leading a feminist movement. What she is leading is a natural evolution of traditional Jewish society that began educating its women over a century ago, and now understands that such education warrants female leadership along with that of men.
I look forward to the time when every modern orthodox community hires a Maharat or the equivalent and reaps the benefits of their leadership as the National Synagagoue does today.
Thank you, Mrs. Zakheim, for your “from the heart” article.
It is a Thanksgiving Day gift for me, the proud, loving grandmother of your Maharat!
Well put, Barbara! I pray for the day when the feminist movement is out of style, because we will have reached the point where individuals are valued for what they do and who they are — without any gender bias. Meanwhile, I applaud Jewish feminists who brought us to this stage.