Ironic: Woman To Lead Halachic N.Y. Shul

Rabbi David Weiss Halivni left the faculty of Jewish Theological Seminary in 1983 over the decision to ordain women as rabbis in the Conservative Movement. For serveral years, he has served as the rabbi of a small congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that was named after the former chancellor of JTS, Louis Finkelstein, who was also opposed to ordaining women as rabbis.

Well, irony of ironies, Rabbi Weiss Halivni has been replaced at Kehilat Orach Eliezer by a woman! Here’s the article from the New York Jewish Week.

Move by Upper West Side congregation pushes gender boundaries.
Elicia Brown – Special To The Jewish Week

With the hiring of a woman as spiritual leader, an Upper West Side congregation – largely Orthodox in practice though not in name – may be charting new territory in the terrain of religious practice.

In a decision that could be seen as fracturing the stained-glass ceiling or at least rendering a tiny fissure, Congregation Kehilat Orach Eliezer (KOE) has hired Dina Najman-Licht, a scholar of Jewish law with an expertise in bioethics, as its rosh kehillah, or head of community.

She is scheduled to officially start serving the community on Selichot night, Sept. 16.

KOE has confirmed the arrival of women to places of leadership in the Orthodox community,” said Devorah Zlochower, a dean at Drisha, an Upper West Side institution for women’s study of Jewish texts.

This is something we have been hoping for and pushing for,” said Carol Newman, the president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which will mark its 10th anniversary in February.

Najman-Licht succeeds Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, the rabbinic authority of the congregation since its founding in 1992, who retired last year.

Jonathan Sarna, a keen observer of American Jewish life, sees the decision as “part of a larger trend in Orthodoxy of pushing the boundaries. In liberal Orthodox circles people are trying to find out what the maximum is that women can do, and that entails narrowing what is the exclusive purview of the rabbi,” says Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University.

The development at KOE follows in the footsteps of an expanding universe of roles for women in Orthodoxy from the toanot, or advocates in Israel’s rabbinic courts, to the yoetzot halacha, who answer questions on family purity law, to the groundbreaking position of Chaviva Ner-David, who was ordained this spring in Jerusalem after years of study by the Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky.

Najman-Licht, 38, appears to be a beneficiary of the revolution in women’s study of Jewish text. She is a former Drisha fellow, a former Torat Miriam fellow, a graduate of Michlalah yeshiva for women in Jerusalem as well as a former student of Nishmat’s niddah program training women in matters dealing with menstruation and mikveh. She has also taught at both Drisha and Nishmat, developed halachic source material for the Halachic Organ Donor Society, and has developed and taught classes on Jewish law at two Jewish high schools in the area, Ma’ayanot and SAR. [more]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |