I haven’t read this whole article yet…I just wanted to post this quickly before Shabbat, so I can come back to a host of comments from the Israeli Jewliciousers Saturday night. (That is, if anyone comments on my posts anymore, which isn’t a given, apparently.)

In the article “For the Sake of Righteous Women,” the Jerusalem Post announced that an Orthodox woman has earned the title of rabbi.

Haviva Ner-David is an Orthodox feminist who has been a leader of some of the most prominent struggles in Jewish women’s lives. Just before Pessah, she received her PhD in Jewish studies from Bar-Ilan University. And then, on the eve of Pessah, Ner-David was ordained as a rabbi in Jerusalem.

Ner-David, who has journeyed through feminism, Judaism and social action for the betterment of the status of Jewish women, admits that she is still not completely aware of the tremendous significance of these two events. She knows that some Orthodox Jews will not accept her ordination and will not acknowledge her religious and social status as a rabbi.

Yet this young and quiet resident of Baka and mother of five says she is neither hesitant nor frustrated: the dream she began to cherish some 12 years ago is coming true. “I am not the same woman I was at the beginning of this 12-year journey,” she says reflectively. I have discovered a lot about myself and what it means to be a woman rabbi at the beginning of the 21st century.”

For anyone in touch with the Orthodox community in Israel, this comes as no real surprise. Over the past several years, Ner-David has had her name in the media many times for her simultaneous commitment to Orthodoxy and feminism. It has been a long road, and Ner-David has taken a path that few of us, for all our feminism or commitment to Judaism, would undertake.

And now the journey’s not over. Undoubtedly, her path will be obstructed by those who think she’s not qualified to make halakhic decisions, or that she is ineligible because she’s a woman. But whether you accept this ordination or not, it marks a great academic achievement for Ner-David, and I hope that before the contentiousness of the Orthodox community rallies in protest, she will be able to revel in what she’s accomplished.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.


  • Please note she’s not the first. I believe we posted about this once before.

    However, a hearty MAZAL TOV to Haviva Ner David and congratulations to those men who had the courage to ordain her.

  • Just out of curiosity, who gave her smicha? By definition, it could not have been an Orthodox institution.

  • From the article:

    Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky, well-regarded in modern Orthodox circles, signed Ner-David’s ordination, mentoring and guiding her through her process of study. He is, he tells In Jerusalem, a strong believer in women’s capacity for study and their ability “to swim in the ocean of the Talmud.”

    Strikovsky notes that the ordination that he gave to Ner-David is not the same as the more common ordination given to men.

    “It is more of an official recognition of her achievements in her studies, that covered exactly the tractates and the issues men have to master in order to get an ordination,” he explains.

    “Practically, it is the same, since there is no objection to Ner-David providing answers and religious rulings to women who would come to ask her halachic questions, but in the Orthodox world and society it is not acceptable yet to ordain a woman.”

    Strikovsky acknowledges that the ordination was not granted in a particular ceremony. Yet he also says that Ner-David’s knowledge and mastery of Jewish law are remarkable.

    He further says that he would be “more than happy to see more and more women entering the world of Torah and Talmud. The only difference between Ner-David and any Orthodox rabbi is that it is not acceptable. But in all issues related to her learning and abilities, I see no difference.”

  • I know both Haviva and Rabbi Strikovsky. Rabbi Strikovsky is a real posek and pillar in the religious world. Haviva, despite the media circus she attracts, and perhaps despite her own writing, is a modest and serious woman in person.

    Like many other issues at the heart of woman and public roles, the problematic factor is the issue of kavod hatzibur. While not casually dismissed, this issue is often overruled by other conflicting halachic considerations, such as kavod habriyut. We are not talking about the far more serious problem of agunot. Many years of study have been done and are being done about the issue.

    There really is no problem with an “Orthodox” woman rabbi at this point other than it not having been done, like bat mitzvahs were not done, or like men wearing pants wasnt done (until it was).


  • Yay! I was gonna post on this too, but I’m glad you got to it first.

    middle – what we posted on before was somewhat different, if what you are thinking of is the ordination at nishmat.

    Nonetheless, maybe now statements on this blog implying that the essence Orthodox Judaism is a stubborn refusal to grow, change or adapt to new situations can finally cease.

    The educational opportunities that have been opened to orthodox women in recent decades has been nothing short of a revolution, and this is it’s inevitable outcome. May other women continue to be inspired to wrestle with the texts, to whatever end it leads them.

  • My, oh my, how sure we are of victory. Just you wait, my pretties, this war is far from over.

    In the mean time, I figure if Ner-David can pretend to be Orthodox, I can pretend to be Conservadox. After all, who says you can’t be Conservadox AND be insensitive to women’s issues; not hold with what R . Halivni says about anything; and have a sense of humor?

    After all, Conservadoxy has to evolve. We have to move past suburban feminist halachic process, and embrace other aspects of Judaism.

    If Ner-David is an Orthodox Rabbi, I am president of JOFA.

  • Laya, I am also obviously encouraged by this news. This is an important first step, but as far as I’m concerned Orthodoxy as a whole is still change-resistant, as Yehuda pointed out–the real reason this (or any other major change) “can’t” be done is because it has never been done before. Opportunities have increased, yes, but not to the point that the movement as a whole is accepting. And not to be cynical, but in a week that also saw the Chief Rabbinate in Israel “refusing to accept conversions performed by several leading Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) rabbis” (and those are leading Orthodox rabbis, kids), I’m not exactly predicting that Ner-David and Strikovsky will be met with garlands and parades.

    I would LOVE to be wrong on this one, though. So if you spy any of the aforementioned garlands or parades, please tell me, and I’ll retract my cynicism immediately.

  • Without commenting on the rest of his comment, but for those who are confused by Kelsey’s acronym-speak, JOFA is the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

  • Anybody care to address the following question: Is the Israeli Rabbinate one of the key reasons that many people who were not born strict Orthodox tend to float away to other movements?

    Is it Orthodoxy or is it some of the people running the show?

  • With out giving an opinion, here are a few other sources to check out:

    And of course, to tie this back into our Pay to Pray thread discussion. Here’s some articles about Ner-David and her take on the Kotel and her involvment in Women of the Wall: http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=2134

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, here’s a link to the Conservative Yeshiva’s Faculty page where you can see she’s on the faculty: http://uscj.org/israelcenter/yeshiva2005/faculty.php

    Sorry about all the links. I’m still trying to formulate my own opinion for response on my blog, but I figured I’d share sources.

  • uhh,. yes middle, I did read the whole article, what is your point? That because there is resistance to change, change doesn’t happen at all? You didn’t give me much to go on.

    Esther – granted, but like yehuda also said, nothing ever happened until it did. However, things like this prove beyond a doubt that change does indeed happen. Remember, despite platitudes about equality in “religious privileges and duties” dating from 1846, the first reform woman rabbi was not ordained until 1972. Conservative Judaism ordained their first in 1985. So orthodoxy gets theirs in 2006, are we complaining?

    change happens slowly, and often starts small and continues if and when it has proved successful. I think parades would be expecting a little much.

    She’s a test balloon. As Ner-David and the trickle that will surely follow her continue to prove themselves, their knowledge of our texts, commitment to our tradition and show their benefit to society, it will slowly become more and more valued.

    RE: the question about the Israeli rabbinate being a key reason people move away from orthodoxy, no, not in my experience, but I’m sure that must be some people’s reasons. If you are sincere in your interest, I will extrapolate.

  • No Laya, it wasn’t the Nishmat post, it was one where we talked about two other women, one of whom was a Carlebach disciple or family member if I recall.

    Anyway, you wrote,

    “Nonetheless, maybe now statements on this blog implying that the essence Orthodox Judaism is a stubborn refusal to grow, change or adapt to new situations can finally cease.

    The educational opportunities that have been opened to orthodox women in recent decades has been nothing short of a revolution, and this is it’s inevitable outcome. May other women continue to be inspired to wrestle with the texts, to whatever end it leads them.”

    I don’t think that position is what the article tells us at all. In fact, her rabbi did not give her an official smicha and she does not consider herself an Orthodox rabbi. If you read virtually every link Purim Hero provided (thanks, PH), nobody in the Orthodox community accepts her either. On the contrary, as you read their comments, she is perceived as an enemy and far from a rabbi, despite the dozen years of study on her part. To make matters worse, they are not disputing her abilities or intelligence, they simply reject her because she’s a woman they say this is a violation of halacha.

    Let’s praise Haviva Ner David for her accomplishment (an incredible one because she did it with 5 children to care for), but let’s not begin any festivities with respect to Orthodoxy. If anything, her non-smicha elevation to Rav is merely causing some serious retrenchment and highlighting already existing battle lines between the majority reactionaries who are in control and the weak and powerless group trying to change things.

    Oh, and Ner David is apparently a clear supporter of communal prayer among women at the Kotel. She also reads from the Torah and has aliyot at her shul. In other words, Laya, if she belongs to any movement, it is actually…yup, Conservative. Of course, she denies belonging to any movement, but what is she going to do after so many years of hard work, acknowledge that the group to which she would really like to belong cannot even perceive the possibility of her being an actual rabbi?

  • I don’t even know how to begin responding to this, and I don’t want to give a response in the traditional sense so much as I want to give the rabbis that ordained her a hatchet wounds on the face. They’re idiots on so many levels, that I feel almost overwhelmed. Science can learn a lot from people that stupid.

  • Yehuda, I wouldn’t call anyone who teaches at Pardes a “pillar in the religious world”. I mean lets just be realistic here. He’s well learned but then again, so was Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and just as Schechter-Shalomi took a ride on the wild side, so did Strikovsky.

  • Do you remember where that link was? It might be interesting to compare.

    You say that “no one in the orthodox community accepts her”, but I do, Yehuda does, the orthodox rabbi who ordained her does, her orthodox egalitarian shul does and in the article it talks about how her community has been calling her rabbi even though she herself does not use the title. While many in the orthodox world don’t accept her (as is to be expected), there is a strong undercurrent which does. Don’t ignore that just to see the glass half empty.

    But you really have to stop bestowing everyone the label conservative when you like what they do, or when what they do does not fit in with your perception of what orthodoxy can be.

    Like I said, she’s a test balloon, you are being unreasonable if you expect parades and total unequivocal acceptance.

    So what will she do now? well, seeing as how she helped start a shul which is orthodox and egalitarian (no, that doesn’t automatically render it actually conservative) she may very well stay there, among the progressive orthodox community in that neighborhood which accepts her, and maybe branch out slowly. I don’t know why you would assume she would want to leave it. We can reasonably say she is a smart woman and knew what lay ahead of her. If she wanted to be a conservative rabbi, presumably she would have taken that route.

    Nothing interesting ever happened by people who needed to be accepted by everyone around them.

  • well, seeing as how she helped start a shul which is orthodox and egalitarian

    Having women lead some parts of the service (while reserving other parts for men only) doesn’t make it egalitarian. Egalitarian means equal.

  • “Haviva Ner-David is an Orthodox feminist who has been a leader of some of the most prominent struggles in Jewish women’s lives. ” I’m not aware of anything she leads or anywhere she teaches. She seems to be the Chauncey Gardner of Jewish feminism. Perhaps I’m just put off by the Proustian airs of someone completing the second volume of her autobiography before reaching the age where one may begin studying kaballa.

  • While I know how services are divided, but I believe shira hadasha defines itself as “halachic egalitarian”. Correct me if I am mistaken.

  • It will be interesting to see if and how this affects the established shules and communities, or if this is a one off. I would hope that she will be taken seriously. I am not sure what her immediate goals are; to pasken, to have a pulpit??

  • What is most interesting to note here are: a) reactions from people who reject women rabbis without having attended halachic discussion on the subject or receiving a p’sak, b) reactions from people who accept women rabbis without having attended halachic discussion on the subject or receiving a p’sak, and c) the American centric idea that there is Orthodox and there is Conservative, and never the twain shall meet.

    If a posek decides to paskin Heter Mechira, some poskim accept it and some poskim reject it. That is the way halachic practice works. Any posek who flat out accepts it or rejects it without reading the teshuva is no halachic practitioner.

    Yet here we have a slew of people who are quite willing to say that so and so is wrong without every having studied a single source, just because they want to say so. And here is a whole ‘nother bunch of people who say it’s right, without having studied a single source, just because they want it to be so.

    Academics don’t make halachic decisions, poskim do. You can come up with lots of contradictory reasons why something should be or should not be in halacha, with tons of sources to justify it, but it won’t make it so. Community standards are important. So is the impact on the Jewish world, how people will accept or reject the decision, sensitivity to people and their desires, shame, moral conduct, intention, and a slew of other things.

    Rabbi Strikovsky is a posek. The discussions for and against the issue about women being rabbis extend for two thousand years. A single posek can make a p’sak, and his opinion may or may not be accepted. So be it. There are thousands of examples of this in the gemara. On the other hand, in the right circumstances, his opinion may be accepted. Again, thousands of examples.

    This is not a popularity contest, nor a political statement. It is the halachic process.

    There is no Orthodox in Israel, neither is there a Conservative or Reform (with a very tiny exception of a few synagogues here and there).

    The Conservative attempt to coopt what we call Masorati is a huge failure, and the overwhelming majority of Israelis want nothing to do with them, secular or traditional. Frankly that is a shame, because while I wouldn’t trust a Conservative Jew in America to know what Shavuot is, most Conservative Jews I know in Israel are halachic Jews that would rival or exceed many American Orthodox Jews I know in religious practice.

    In Israel, we have halachic Judaism, and that’s it. Some people follow all of it. Some follow some of it, and we call those Masorati. Some follow little of it and we call those secular.

    We have more people studying in yeshiva and getting a Jewish education in Israel than ever studied in every yeshiva over the last 2500 years combined, period, and that includes the post-second temple period.

    As a result, the depth of learning has produced wide ranges of Jewish communities, all halachic, but with varying adaptations of humras and kulas as required by the community. In some shuls, a woman will give a d’var torah during shul; this is a minority opinion, but halachicly valid. In some, the woman will give a d’var torah only after mussaf; this is another halachic opinion. How many shuls in America have women giving divrei torah at all? Is it because of halachic p’sak, or because no women are learned enough to give a d’var torah, period?

    I know dozens of shuls with women giving divrei torah. Not one simply decided to do it. All of them sat with a posek, learned through the sources, and received a p’sak specific to their community. That’s the way halacha works.

    There are lines in halacha; no posek is going to permit you to eat pork. But there are a lot of lines that were simply p’sak for ignorant commnuities in the previous generation, and not for specific communities in this one.

    As a halchic Jew, my acceptance of a p’sak depends neither on political support, nor unjustified condemnation from people who have never looked up a mechilta.


  • “Nothing interesting ever happened by people who needed to be accepted by everyone around them.” -Laya

    This is a keeper Laya.

  • Yehuda, thank you for your excellent analysis. In America, you do not have too many shules where a bat Mitzvah girl would give a dvar Torah during the services, at any time. Some will have it afterwards before the kiddush, but that is only on request, it is not a shule standard. There are some exceptions of course, but imo, what happens in an Orthodox shule in North America depends on the Rabbi’s affiliations and independance. If this is his only job, then he will likely allow more. If however, he also teaches or is involved in other endeavours, he will likely maintain the status quo for fear of offending the sensitive right wingers out there.

  • “Some people follow all of it. Some follow some of it, and we call those Masorati. Some follow little of it and we call those secular.”

    Sounds like Orthodox, Conservative and Reform…

  • DeisCane… It’s really not like that in Israel. I heard a great quote today. It said more or less this:

    Orthodoxy’s evolution is inevitable, but whatever happens is going to happen first in Israel. This is because Israel doesn’t have stratified movements like they do in America. In America, a liberal Orthodox Rabbi is going to be branded Conservative, and not taken seriously. In Israel it’s Just Dati or Chiloni. A Dati Rabbi who’s more liberal will still be seen as Dati, because if he’s following Halacha, he’s clearly not Chiloni.

  • well put PH. In North America, there is a kind of elitism w/ being in a Jewish community in general, and particularly w/in the frum communities. This really ties into the thread topic, bec. there is more concern for self- preservation in the Diaspora, so that many issues are thrown aside, in the interests of maintaining, the status quo, so that one can recognize and more importantly, be recognized as a frum person and community anywhere, something akin to branding, whereas in Israel, you just are, you are a law abiding, productive person, either chiloni, or Dati or Masorati, the latter one, not referring to the conservative movement but to the type of Israeli who is knowledgable, can daven if he/she has to, observes or is familiar w/ the vast majority of the traditions. In Diaspora, they are by necessity forced to be overly conservative( in the political-social sense), for fear of being mis-branded. I believe there is a Yiddish term called ‘Chenyuki’, that describes this well in the Diasora, they strive to be Chenyuki.

  • Nice responce Yehuda!
    From what I’ve studied, most people who tried to make a change while keeping within Halacha, did it and had no problem, but they then quickly made other changes which broke Halacha….. which led to their group being cut off from the observant community.

  • Nice seeing you too taltman. But while Regina Jones got a “private smichah” by Rabbi Max Dienemann in 1935. Leo Baeck (Chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism) was personally supportive but did not publicly endorse her struggle for recognition as a full rabbi.

    Just sayin is all …

  • Hehe, I’m fine! Sorry for the incommunicado. But, you know what they say, “absinthe absence makes the heart grow fonder”. 😉

    Just got back from March of the Living, so I’ll try to get back up to Jewlicious speed.

    Shabbat Shalom!

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