Orthodox women to get pararabbinic preparation

NEW YORK — Two modern Orthodox rabbis are launching a training program for highly educated Orthodox women that could bring the trainees one step closer to rabbinic ordination.

But the program's immediate goal is not the ordination of women, says one of the organizers.

Saul Berman and Avi Weiss, two well-known New York Orthodox rabbis, are establishing a program that will train women to deal with the ideological and pragmatic aspects of working in positions of Orthodox religious and educational leadership.

The program, which Berman said he expects to begin in September, will meet once a week and have a dozen to 15 students.

The program does not yet have a name, he said, and is being funded in part by Edah, a recently established organization devoted to teaching rabbis and other Orthodox Jews.

The new program will teach participants about halachic issues concerning the propriety of women functioning as leaders, and of women working as witnesses, judges and deciders of Jewish law.

The program will be open to female graduates of institutions such as Drisha, a school founded in 1979 on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Four years ago Drisha established a three-year program to train women in Talmud and halachah at an advanced level.

Three women have been certified and six now are enrolled in the program with Rabbi Dovid Silber, Drisha's founder.

A handful of small schools, such as Matan in Jerusalem, are doing similar work, and one Orthodox rabbi there reportedly is working with a woman whom he expects to privately ordain.

They train women to answer questions about Jewish law in limited areas, such as family purity and kashrut.

The new term that has been developed for these women is poskot, the female parallel to the term poskim, an authoritative interpreter of Jewish law.

The new program will definitely not involve women's ordination, Berman said.

"We do not believe that ordination is appropriate for women" because no woman currently has the education and training required of a rabbi and because women are barred by Jewish law from working in some of the roles required for ordination, such as that of a witness, he said.