When I first read Blu Greenberg’s book, "How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household", I was intrigued by the links she created between her traditional observance of Judaism and her conviction for feminist principles. The message I took from her is that it’s possible to live a life within halachic (Jewish law) guidelines and still embrace modern changes that recognize the changing roles of women.
One would be hard pressed to find an orthodox minyan led by a woman. If one even exists, it probably consists of all women. Nor is a woman’s orthodox ordination recognized in the orthodox world. It is quite a perplexing bind between the acceptance of the innate differences in the roles of men and women and the possibility of increased recognition for women within Judaism. After all, a woman with the same educational experience as a man will earn less because she does not possess the title of “rabbi”.
In the conservative and reform movements, women are permitted to become rabbis. But, there are some women in the orthodox sect who also wish to become rabbis.
Mimi Feigelson is one of those women. She received smicha (ordination) from her teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, in 1994 but kept it quiet for the seven years that followed. Rabbi Carlebach was known as “the singing Rabbi”. He observed traditional Judaism and appealed to many who had been disconnected from Judaism with his songs and his spirit.
Mimi Feigelson was born in America and moved to Israel when she was eight years old. At fifteen, she began studying with Rabbi Carlebach and, some fifteen years later, she asked him for smicha. In addition to the years of study she had already completed, she underwent more rigorous studies and tests before becoming a rabbi. She “officially” received her smicha from a panel of three rabbis shortly after the death of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
It does not appear as though Mimi Feigelson’s motivation for obtaining smicha was to express her womanly rights or to make a stand for women. Rather, she felt she deserved it after the studying and learning she had gone through. Receiving her ordination was part of the natural succession of her education.
For Eveline Goodman-Thau, the rational was different. She was born in Vienna in 1934. Her family fled to Holland and remained there until the end of the war. As an adult, she lives between Israel and Vienna. It is in Vienna where her passion led her to seek smicha.
Her efforts to revitalize the Jewish spirit in Vienna almost required it of her. The community members who follow her and have been inspired by her leadership asked her to do so.
Before receiving smicha, Eveline Goodman-Thau taught for twenty years. She studied Jewish philosophy and spiritual history. Her interests have included the feminine point of view toward ethics, political affairs and humanity.
In the year 2000, Evenline Goodman-Thau received her smicha from Rabbi Jonathan Chipman.
The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), a part of Yeshiva University in New York, has an unsurpassed training program for orthodox rabbis. Yeshiva University is the graduating spot for many – if not most – of the American Orthodox rabbis.
Haviva Krasner-Davidson (Haviva Ner-David) applied to the RIETS program, knowing it wasn’t likely that she’d be accepted. Her incentive was for future generations who may reap the benefits from a battle she would begin.
She did apply, and her application was rejected, but Haviva Ner-David and her family currently live in Jerusalem where she is studying for rabbinic ordination under an orthodox rabbi.
These women and others are forging the way into new frontiers. It is pure magnificence and deeply inspirational to see women – who uphold Jewish law to its end – taking a stand to ensure that a women’s role can grow within Judaism – that they can attain recognition for their accomplishments and be awarded with leadership roles, that they can use their talents to inspire others and help others lead a Torah-guided life.