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A New ‘Rabba’ In Riverdale
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The number of women in America with the title “rabba” (female for rabbi) is poised to double next week.

The Academy of Jewish Religion in Riverdale, a 55-year-old pluralistic seminary, will bestow that title on Kaya Stern-Kaufman, 47, of Great Barrington, Mass., at a ceremony on May 12.

Avi Weiss, an Orthodox rabbi in Riverdale, conferred the same title last year on Sara Hurwitz, who studied for three years at the Drisha Institute and five years with Rabbi Weiss.

Stern-Kaufman said she follows seven generations of Orthodox rabbis in her family and felt “uncomfortable” with the prospect of having the same title they held — “rav” (rabbi) — conferred upon her.

“It is a masculine term that has been used for 2,000 years to describe a male rabbi,” she explained. “It’s important for me to be acknowledged for the contribution I hope to make as a woman rabbi.”

Married and the mother of two teenagers, the rabbinate will be Stern-Kaufman’s third career following stints as a clinical social worker and as a Feng Shui consultant in architecture and interior designing. But throughout those careers she worked part-time as a Jewish educator. Her strong Jewish background enabled her to complete the five-year seminary program in four years.

Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the academy, said a few of last year’s graduates had asked to be ordained with the title of “rabba” but that “we were not prepared as an institution” to do that.

“We needed time to study it and consider the ramifications,” Prouser said. “We ultimately decided that we think there is enough validity to this title that we want to give our students a choice to be ordained in English as ‘rabbi’ or in Hebrew as ‘rabba.’”

The academy’s decision came in January. Stern-Kaufman noted that about a year ago the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Israel officially entered the word “rabba” into the Hebrew language.

She noted that she is the only one of the seven women in her class who has chosen to be ordained using the word “rabba.”

“It is very important to some women that they have the same title as a man who is doing the same job, just as a woman doctor should not be called something different than a male doctor,” Stern-Kaufman said. “Creating a gender for the word ‘rabbi,’ they felt, would in some way diminish the authority of the office.”

Last Update:

05/24/2011 - 22:51

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It is amazing to read the sexist comments regarding her neck line. Get a life. Get a problem. Rabbis should be judged -- male or female -- on their ability to teach and not on their blouse. The top she is wearing is very modest by 2011 standards. This is not 1850 Poland.

This article is simply being disingenuous: Rabbi Avi Weiss may have invented the title, but he isn't giving it to her. He has already agreed not to award it any more.

Her title is coming from a pluralistic NON-ORTHODOX seminary, so this "ground-breaking" news might as well be announcing that she was to be called "Cap'n"!

Pluralistic schools have long been awarding women the title of Rabbi & Cantor, so Rabba is actually a step DOWN!

The term Rabba is absolutely NOT an orthodox term for a female Rabbi- it is a hebrew term for female Rabbi and has been used by several non-orthodox women Rabbis in Israel for the last several years. Rabbi is a non-gendered English term.

I wish the authour had explained the term "rabba" as a specfically Orthodox term for 'female rabbi'.

The rest of us use the term 'rabbi' for all rabbis.

I am thrilled to see this. I grew up next door to Kaya since I was a toddler, so if anyone aside from her family knows how wonderful she is, it's me. Kaya will make an outstanding Rabba. She has always been learned in every field she touches, her compassion is second to none and I that the people she touches in her work will be better of for it. But, you'll have to be jealous of me...I have over 40 years of knowing her.

This news is a gift to the Rabbinate (the Rabbanite?) and to the Jewish People.

Now, I need to address the person whop wrote "What a tragedy - she is not even dressed modestly. Her neck line is far too low - and what really communicates an air of scholarship in Judaism."

Unsurprisingly -- you are Anonymous. That's to be expected as people are usually a little (or a lot) shameful of their positions like this and feel they may be chastised for them. Iin this case, rightfully so.

You see, Anonymous, while you think you are preserving the religion, you are in fact, pushing people away from their religious heritage. You want to know why less and less people are involved in their Judaism, religion and spirituality? Frankly, because of people like you.

May I suggest reaching out more to those around you and that you be more open-minded, Anonymous. Instead of working to make the world a better place to be or instead of working to end oppression of people (like that the Jews have suffered for centuries) you decide that the most important thing to focus on is a neckline. Really? Seriously? Of all the problems on earth you're worried about a woman Rabba and a sweater that shows 10 square inches below the neck? Nuclear meltdowns in Japan, hundreds killed by tornadoes in the US, millions starving in famines, hundreds of thousands of people being killed in war, and Israel facing huge challenges and the best contribution you can make is "Oh. My. G-d. Did you see her neckline?" Oy vey.

If you want to know why the numbers are on a downward trend, call Anonymous. If you want to have a loving teacher, Rabba, friend, counselor and Kaya.

I am lucky enough to have met Kaya so early in my life. I can assure you that this earth is a better place because she dwells upon it.

By your logic, if we ordain more women, G-d will smite humanity with fewer natural disasters?

Could it be, perhaps, that G-d is striking us with these plagues precisely because we've become so lax in our modesty and values? (Just a thought...)

What's turning people off from religion are not the devout Jews but rather the 'Progressives' who feel compelled to normalize every depravity the West foists upon the Jewish community.

Thousands of young Jews have made their way back to observance because they are disgusted by the effort to dilute Judaism from its holy traditions.

Modesty in dress is a very important indicator on how seriously one is in preserving the Jewish values that have kept us intact as a nation.

she isn't dressed modestly according to halacha, how in the world (or rather, why in the world) can a woman be a rabbi.

can a man give birth?

i know some might feel that we men are trying to keep the power to ourselves but thats not true.

the torah has never allowed a gay couple although some in todays day can ask whats wrong with being gay? who says its wrong?

OK, some might say Miriam was a prophet....

Good Luck,

your only accepted by the unacceptable

I see you wrote this awhile ago, so you may not see my response..but had to respond anyway. As the proud congregant of one of the graduates and new rabbi/raba...I feel sorry for your limited/limiting view of what is real...
can a man give, but he can be a parent. Is a woman who adopts less of a mother because she didn't birth her child? I think not. What a closed minded view of reality.

If I'm not mistaken, rabbi means teacher... and both women and men can be teachers. And the Torah has never said only men can be rabbis...that's just tradition.. and traditions change with time.

If this makes me unacceptable to a person like you, then I'm proud to be's a club I'm happy to be in.

Rabbi Avi Weiss is a very nice man, but is not an Orthodox Rabbi. He is happy to have that accreditation, so he doesn't officially disassociate himself from the Orthodox. His practices are not in line with the Orthodox, as is clear to all.

Hold it....this is not Avi Weiss' school....this is the Academy for Jewish Religion a 55 year old pluralistic seminary which trains both men and woman to become rabbis and cantors. Both Yeshivot are located in Riverdale. Let the confusion stop here.

Congretatulations to the Academy for Jewish Religion for studying this issue and taking this bold step.

What a tragedy - she is not even dressed modestly. Her neck line is far too low - and what really communicates an air of scholarship in Judaism. I am sorry that Avi Weiss is taking this path - it is really bad news!

This story seems to be a story of the Academy for Jewish Religion, and not about Rabbi Avi Weiss. AJR is a proud institution which ordaines male and female rabbis for 55 years.... and the real issue is a grammatically one. Rav in masculine is Rabbah for feminine.

Huh? It's not Rabbi Weiss, it's the Academy for Jewish Religion which is ordaining this person. After fifty five years, it's about time a woman's title for the position of rabbi is being offered.

The important thing about "Rabba" is that it affords woman choices rather than having titles imposed upon them. It appears that the Academy of Jewish Religion, which seems to be an established and esteemed place of study, has given this matter extensive consideration. The title Rabba is already used in Israel and is linguistically more correct for a woman than the word "Rabbi." Hopefully other seminaries will empower graduating women with options such as this.

What a wonderful story. It is fantastic that Rabbi Weiss and his Riverdale Congregation has adopted a progressive socialist agenda. We must congratulate this community for advancing the Socialist cause in Orthodox cirlces. It is beyond our most joyous dreams that an Orthodox community has finally become a progressive movement for social change. We must support this progressive movement and welcome them to join with the Humanist and Progressive community.

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