JOFA’s Zelda Stern to Invest in First Clergy position for Yeshivat Maharat Graduate at D.C.’s National Synagogue

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and Yeshivat Maharat have jointly paved the way for a member of the first graduating class of Yeshivat Maharat to begin her career as a full member of the clergy at Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.  Leading feminist philanthropist and JOFA board member Zelda R. Stern will partially underwrite this new position for Ruth Balinsky Friedman, a graduate of Yeshivat Maharat, who begins her tenure at Ohev Sholom beginning in July 2013.

This marks the first time in history that an Orthodox synagogue has hired a woman who has been institutionally ordained as clergy to serve the community in a halachic leadership position.

"My longstanding involvement with JOFA fueled a fierce passion in me to empower and dignify women,” Ms. Stern said. “With that has come an increasing certainty that I would put my money toward my passion; this is what I have done and will continue to do".

Ms. Stern’s commitment represents a monumental step toward opening professional avenues for Orthodox women to become spiritual leaders, and comes at a time of tremendous historic significance for Jewish women: Yeshivat Maharat will graduate its first class of religious leaders on June 16. “JOFA and Yeshivat Maharat are aligned in our missions and efforts to help women to be able to serve as full members of the clergy,” said Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Dean of Yeshivat Maharat. “It is our hope that Zelda’s gift will help inspire other synagogues to create positions for more women to serve the Jewish community in synagogues, and for funders to step forward and support these new positions.” 

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, is also excited about bringing soon to be Maharat  Balinsky  Friedman  into a leadership position in his congregation. “Orthodox female spiritual leaders are vital to a strong future for the Jewish community,” he said. “We need to recognize that a male spiritual leader is effective with some segments of the population, but less effective with others.  The path of Yeshivat Maharat is the path of the future.”

This initiative reflects the successful formation of a strategic partnership between Yeshivat Maharat, The National Synagogue and JOFA. 

“Yeshivat Maharat is doing the critically important work of rigorously training Orthodox women to be spiritual leaders,” JOFA President Judy Heicklen said. “At JOFA, our job is to make sure that the Orthodox community realizes how crucial women leaders are for the future of the Jewish people. We believe that this initiative, and especially Zelda Stern’s generosity and vision, will help advance that understanding.”


Rabba Sara Hurwitz 718-796-0590                or         Dr. Elana Sztokman   212-679-8500
Yeshivat Maharat                                                   JOFA
3700 Henry Hudson Parkway                                   520 8th;Ave, Fourth floor
Bronx, NY 10463                                                   NY, NY 10018

About the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA)

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance is the leading organization advancing social change around gender issues in the Orthodox Jewish community. JOFA expands the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halachah (Jewish law), by advocating meaningful participation and equality for women in family life, synagogues, houses of learning and Jewish communal organizations to the full extent possible within halachah. The core JOFA belief is that fulfilling this mission will enrich and uplift the entire Jewish people.

About Yeshivat Maharat

Yeshivat Maharat is the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as clergy to serve as spiritual leaders and halachic authorities. Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud, halachic decision-making (psak), pastoral counseling, leadership development, and internship experiences, our graduates will be prepared to assume the responsibility and authority to be poskot (legal arbiters) for the community. Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality.

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