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 aloneâ€”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 Iâ€™m concerned a person has either learned enough to be called a rabbi or he/she hasnâ€™t, and the presence of a Y chromosome has nothing to do with it. But Iâ€™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, â€œa full member of the clergy, leading with the unique voice of a woman.â€
Perhaps Rabbi Weiss doesnâ€™t fully understand what unique means. Unique means â€˜one of a kind.â€™ Hurwitzâ€™s voice may, literally, be unique, but itâ€™s not because sheâ€™s a woman. Women are not, as a group, uniqueâ€”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 womanâ€™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 womenâ€™s voices are underrepresented in these congregations. This is certainly true, but it doesnâ€™t mean that Hurwitz has â€œthe unique voice of a woman.â€