Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz, a “Unique” Woman Rabbi

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This week the Jewish Channel covers a few Jewish stories in its weekly update, including the official appointment of Sara Hurwitz as the Mahara”t of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a Modern Orthodox institution. If you don’t recognize the term Mahara”t, you’re not alone—Rabbi Avi Weiss made it up especially for Sara Hurwitz. It’s an acronym for Manhiga Halakhtit Ruhanit Toranit, which means Leader in Halakha, Spirituality and Torah. Rabbi Weiss was looking for a way to give Hurwitz the title Rabbi, without actually giving her the title Rabbi, and thus causing more uproar within Orthodoxy. In an interview with TJC Hurwitz says that Mahara”t means rabbi, so this isn’t exactly a covert effort at skirting the semantic insanity of the greater Orthodox world.

I honestly feel all of this is a bit silly. As far as I’m concerned a person has either learned enough to be called a rabbi or he/she hasn’t, and the presence of a Y chromosome has nothing to do with it. But I’m not particularly concerned either way. If Hurwitz is happy with the title, then I wish her the best. What I found offensive was a separate quote from Rabbi Weiss, in which he says that Hurwitz should be considered, “a full member of the clergy, leading with the unique voice of a woman.”

Perhaps Rabbi Weiss doesn’t fully understand what unique means. Unique means ‘one of a kind.’ Hurwitz’s voice may, literally, be unique, but it’s not because she’s a woman. Women are not, as a group, unique—there are billions of us. That statement by Weiss is a perfect demonstration of how hard he is trying to straddle the fence of Orthodoxy. Either Hurwitz is a unique situation, or all women have the opportunity to gain the same position as she has, if they complete the learning obligations required.

I think what Weiss is getting at is actually that bringing a woman’s voice into the leadership conversation of a modern Orthodox institution is an important and beneficial thing for both the woman in question and the congregation. And perhaps more importantly that women’s voices are underrepresented in these congregations. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t mean that Hurwitz has “the unique voice of a woman.”


Posted on March 29, 2009

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5 thoughts on “Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz, a “Unique” Woman Rabbi

  1. Pingback: This Is One Of Those Moments | Jewschool

  2. Elana

    This is more than “silly.” It’s systematically establishing women as an inferior population subset. Imagine if women were to enter a PhD program and at the end of the program be given some title, other than doctor, because they are women. Yes, you study, but you will never “finish” and be properly acknowleged. Can’t enter the club. Or imagine, I don’t know, say, Italian Jewish men, taking an entire course of study and being told at the end that they cannot be rabbis because they are Italian. It’s systematically suppressing women as a group and sending the message that women are and always will be LESS — less what, exactly? Less smart? Less spiritual? Less capable of leadership? Less a lot of things….
    Women are way too tolerant of this insult. Way too tolerant.

    Elana Sztokman

    PS I recently posted a blog on this same issue and there was a bit of a discussion about it.

  3. matthue

    Not to be a grammar nerd — but I will.

    “[T]he unique voice of a woman,” if you’re analyzing it literally (which you are) within that specific sentence, uses “unique” as a modifier for “the voice of a woman” — saying, effectively, that a woman’s voice is unique, or, in other words, dissimilar to the voices of non-women. The words that Rabbi Weiss is actually saying seem to indicate that introducing this voice, which right now is unique, is a good thing.

    Yes, there is totally the potential for negative sentiment there. But, geez — there’s enough in contemporary Judaism to attack without slinging around accusations based around false semantics.

  4. Tamar Fox Post author

    Unique does not mean dissimilar. It means one of a kind, like no other. And my issue here is that “a woman’s voice” isn’t one of a kind. There are billions of women in the world, and just because this man hasn’t chosen to include them before doesn’t mean that they’re unique.

    It might be unique for this setting, but that’s just because they’ve intentionally excluded women up to this point. What if MJL hired, say, a Malaysian guy, and then Daniel was all, “This man brings the unique voice of Malaysia to MJL.” That would be ridiculous. Malaysia doesn’t have a voice. Malaysian *people* have voices, but they’re not unique if we’re talking about the collective voice of a huge group of people. What he means to say is, I think, that it’s nice to have a voice that’s diverse from the others he’s used to hearing. That’s fine, but since he’s the one who decided not to give such an honorable title to any other women before, he’s patting himself on the back for doing something that could have been done years ago.

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