OPINION: I’m grateful my kids can say ‘my mum the rabbi’

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OPINION: I’m grateful my kids can say ‘my mum the rabbi’

Change is happening and women are increasingly being empowered to teach and lead across the Orthodox world

Miriam Lorie
Miriam Lorie

On 3 June, I’ll become a rabbi. In New York, at Yeshivat Maharat, I will watch as a parchment certificate is signed by a panel of my teachers. Later that day, in a ceremony attended by hundreds, I’ll walk under a banner bearing the Hebrew words said to our matriarch Rivka as she set off to join the Jewish family: “Our sister, may you grow into thousands of myriads.” 

Becoming a rabbi was beyond my wildest dreams as a girl growing up in an Orthodox shul. Rabbis are men – that’s how it will always be in Orthodox Judaism, it seemed; until the first Orthodox Jews started asking why. Orthodox halacha (Jewish law) is certainly not egalitarian when it comes to leading prayers and the obligation to keep certain mitzvot.

But when it comes to the job of a rabbi, which in many cases is entirely one of education, pastoral care and halachic advice, there are no reasons why a woman cannot play these roles, even in an Orthodox community. Ask your Orthodox rabbi and they will struggle to give you any reason beyond “it’s just not the way things have been done”.

And so the first few women began to undertake the study and receive semicha (ordination), at first a trickle, but now with more than 100 Yeshivat Maharat graduates and current students, four living the UK at the moment, Orthodox women rabbis are part of the future landscape.

Miriam Lorie

The course covers the same as Orthodox men’s rabbinical training , which is predominantly Jewish law and Talmud. Maharat also provides thorough training in pastoral care, leadership skills, sermon-writing skills and practical rabbinics.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of this wave of change. Being a rabbi brings together my passion for Torah learning and teaching, my love of pastoral care and being with people at their happiest and hardest times, and the challenge of shaping a vision for a community and bringing meaning to people’s lives.

I’ve been able to put my rabbinic work into practice alongside my studies for the last couple of years, serving as the rabbi-in-training for Kehillat Nashira, a flourishing Partnership Minyan community in Borehamwood.

In this time I’ve had the joy of conducting bat and bar mitzvahs, stone settings, simchat bat and brit milah ceremonies (not as the mohel though!) and numerous shul services. I’ve taught scores of b’nei mitzvah students, engaged couples and adults. This work is an absolute privilege. I am deeply grateful to be alive at a time when it’s possible, and deeply grateful for my family’s support, particularly when my sons aged nine and six proudly say “my mummy is a rabbi”.

Change takes time, and I am under no illusion that Orthodox shuls will have 50 percent of their rabbinic positions filled by women anytime soon. But change is happening, and women are increasingly being empowered to teach and lead across the Orthodox world.

In the past few weeks, I’ve met with several Orthodox rabbis. All have been delightful, and wished me hatzlacha (good luck) which has meant a great deal. I’m a big believer in meeting, knowing one another, and being collegiate. After all, we’re all in this work for the same reasons.

After graduation, I’m looking forward to continuing the work and growing my community. I’m looking forward to leading my first wedding, and when sadly necessary, funerals.

So when I walk under that banner next week I’ll be taking a step further in a career that I love, and a step forward for a community that I love. I hope that many more women in the UK will take their own steps under that banner.


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