Another Step Towards Messianic Women Rabbis

I just returned from Hartford, Connecticut where I attended three days of annual business meetings for the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC). As in years past, this year’s meetings introduced further discussions and decisions on matters of great importance to our movement. Every year I am reminded of what an incredible honor it is to be a part of such a tremendous group of colleagues and friends. I am also reminded of the historical weight and responsibility we carry.

We are living at a time when we are experiencing the prophetic rebirth of a Jewish movement for Yeshua. And the MJRC is the first rabbinic/leadership body to emerge in nearly 2,000 years tasked with wrestling with the issues and dynamics of Jewish life – from a perspective that is “rooted in Torah, instructed by Tradition, and faithful to Messiah Yeshua (from MJRC mission statement).” Although other groups exist, the MJRC is really the first body of Jewish Yeshua-followers since the early Jerusalem Council  to be wrestling with halachah, establishing standards of Jewish observance, and in dialog with our wider Jewish community. Specific individuals and congregations helped pave the way for the establishment of such a council – but whether you agree with the standards and vision of the MJRC or not – this is a momentous reality.

A Note About Our Process

Before I proceed with some of this year’s specific discussions and decisions, I’d like to clarify a little about our process. The MJRC’s standards of observance are not arrived at overnight, or arrived at haphazardly. In many cases it has taken many years to reach some of our current conclusions. There is a rigorous process of research and discussion that goes into each issue, which includes the taxing work of subcommittees even before it is discussed and voted on by the entire council.  That is also why our current standards are somewhat limited as we are still in process (and always will be – until Mashiach returns – may it be soon!).

Most people who are aware of the MJRC immediately jump to our standards documents without first knowing anything about our process. That is why I strongly encourage everyone to read our Introduction to the standards followed by our thoughts on Halachah and our process of arriving at conclusions before moving onto the standards themselves.  This way you will understand the priorities we place on Scripture, our approach to rabbinic interpretation, and also our openness to divine inspiration. Understanding our thought-process is as much, if not more important, than the conclusions themselves.

History of Women’s Ordination in Messianic Judaism

It may also be a helpful to first give you a little background about the ordination of women within the Messianic Jewish world.

Discussions regarding the ordination of women have been stewing for some time. In October of 1993 (nearly 20 years ago), Dr. Kay Silberling presented a position paper regarding the ordination of women to the theology committee of the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS). In 2001, Rabbi Dr. Ruth Fleischer wrote an article in support of women rabbis which appeared in the book Voices of Messianic Judaism, edited by Reform Rabbi Dr. Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Also in 2001, Dr. Kay Silberling published an article supporting women’s ordination that appeared in Kesher, a Messianic Jewish scholarly journal.

However, despite the ongoing discussions of the issue, both the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) and the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS), which together represent the majority of affiliated Messianic congregations around the world, still do not ordain women as rabbis. Despite this fact, like their female counterparts within Orthodoxy, there have been a few women within the Messianic Jewish movement who have received semikha through private ordinations.

Another Step Towards Women Messianic Rabbis

The possibility of women serving as rabbis has been one of the topics of discussion since the establishment of the MJRC. Out of our own convictions arrived at over time, and the recognition that someone must be the first to push the envelope, in 2010 the MJRC released our definition of what a Messianic Rabbi should be. And in the accompanying commentary we included wording of “his or her.” Then in May of 2011, the MJRC passed historic resolutions recognizing the ability of women to serve as rabbis and that it would welcome them as full members of the council:

1.2.3 – In concert with the example of Messiah Yeshua and the teaching of scripture concerning the leadership roles of men and women, we affirm the ordination of women as Messianic Jewish Rabbis.

We also recognized that this alone was not enough. Therefore in our meetings this last week we passed two more resolutions towards women’s ordination. The first was further language explaining the resolution above, and the second was a resolution to establish a process of ordination – wherein those who qualify, including women – may receive semikha from the MJRC.

Therefore, beginning next year it may be possible for a woman to finally receive semikha as a rabbi from a Messianic Jewish organization – we would be the first American institution to do so.

As many of you already know, my wife and I (as well as many others) have been on the forefront advocating for women to become rabbis for a number of years. For me personally, the recent decisions of the MJRC gives me so much naches to finally see this become a reality. Although there is not necessarily a particular immediate candidate in mind to become the first women Messianic rabbi to be ordained in America (by an organization), it will now be a possibility. And the fact that it is now an option makes all the effort worth while.

Another issue we discussed this year included who we will recognize as a Kohen or Levite for ritual purposes and participation in life-cycle ceremonies (like Pidyon HaBen). So check back soon with the MJRC website for that, as well.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Another Step Towards Messianic Women Rabbis

  1. Joshua says:

    Has the MJRC discussed at all other terms besides “rabbi” for women clergy in Messianic Judaism? I know that similar discussions have taken place with Rabbi Avi Weiss surrounding the semikha of Sara Horowitz. I would like at some point to see a comprehensive defense for women rabbis from the MJRC or members therein (such as yourself). I am not completely against the idea, but to be honest it still makes me uncomfortable.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      Joshua,

      The MJRC will be posting follow-up commentary on the above quoted resolution on our website soon. Also, there will be papers available on the issue for even further consideration. I myself recently revised a paper I originally presented at the Young Messianic Jewish Scholars Conference a few years ago. If you are interested I am more than happy to email it to you.

      And as far as titles, to my knowledge it has not been heavily discussed, largely because the prior precedence has favored the title “rabbi” despite the fact that the title “Rabba” was used for Sara Hurwitz and is the recognized title in Israel (as it is simply the female form of ‘rabbi’).

  2. Pingback: Another Step Towards Messianic Women Rabbis |

  3. Zuzu's Petals says:

    Even if the ordination of female Rabbis is now kosher, there’s remains the more pragmatic matter as to whether a congregation would ever appoint one. I recently played a role in the hiring/appointment of a new rabbi at our congregation, and I can say from experience (even if a viable female candidate had presented herself) it would have been a complete no-go just as a matter of congregational politics. An MJ congregation is in the precarious position of having to be–by necessity of usually being the only one in the phonebook–big tent communities. Would the leaders ever risk a congregational split by appointing a female rabbi? If they did, would it not be a signal that they differ from other congregations in the Body of Messiah virtually to the point of being a different denomination?

    That being said, I respect that the MJRC’s decision puts the option on the table to meet the ideological background of its congregants it attracts or hopes to attract, and that the question shouldn’t be “Does God want a female rabbi leading a synagogue?” but “Does God want this person who happens to be female as a rabbi leading our synagogue?”.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      Zuzu’s Petals,

      There are already a couple congregations with women leaders, and a couple women who have previously received ordination (privately, not through one of the mainstream Messianic Jewish organizations). Although there may be challenges, I also think that there are congregations who would be open to hiring a woman rabbi – especially in an Associate or an Assistant capacity.

      Don’t forget, this was originally the same challenge within the Reform and Conservative movements. In 20 years it will not be as much of an issue.

      • BrightHouse says:

        In order to be a Female Rabbi do you have to be Hebrew-Jew
        Interested let me know and Thank

        BrightHouse

        • Rabbi Joshua says:

          Hello BrightHouse,

          To answer your question, yes, a person needs to be Jewish to be ordained as a rabbi. However, much of the program of study is available for Jews and non-Jews.

  4. TamaraF says:

    Great article. Do you know of any egalitarian congregations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area?

  5. Rabbi Joshua says:

    TamaraF,

    I’m sorry, the closest thing I know of is a chavurah in Cape Coral lead by Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman.

Leave a Reply to TamaraF Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *