MAKERS Profile

Sara Hurwitz

First Female Orthodox Rabba

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Hurtwitz on becoming a first in the Orthodox community, the backlash, and what keeps her going.
Sara Hurwitz is the first officially ordained “Rabba,” in Orthodox Judaism. She is the Rabba at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, also in Riverdale, New York.   After emigrating with her family from South Africa, she spent her teenage years in Boca Raton, Florida. Her early affinity for religious community life was affirmed when she took a high school vocational test that recommended that she join the clergy. At the time, however, Orthodox women were not allowed to serve as rabbis, so she considered the suggestion impossible.   Yet Hurwitz’s relationship with Judaism continued to grow. During her time as a college student at Barnard College, she helped lead several student Jewish organizations. Soon she began lecturing and teaching at conferences and synagogue meetings throughout the country. After graduation, she was accepted to the Drisha Institute’s Scholar Circle Program in New York City.   Upon completion of her coursework at the Drisha Institute, Hurwitz began studying under the Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York. Over seven years, she received all of the training required of a rabbi, learning how to give spiritual guidance, issue legal rulings, and counsel her congregants. In 2009, Rabbi Weiss officially ordained Hurwitz, giving her the title “Maharat", and later converting it to “Rabba” (a feminized version of rabbi) to more clearly convey her full rabbinic role.   While Hurwitz’s ordainment caused a fierce backlash from some in the Orthodox community, she maintained her title and her leadership position. Seeing the hunger of other women to follow her path to the rabbinate, she helped found to Yeshivat Maharat, an organization whose goal is to train and integrate Orthodox women into the spiritual and halakhic leadership.

More From Sara

Three Red Lines
Hurwitz outlines the three specific things she abstains from doing as a female rabbi to keep with Orthodox Jewish law.

Why Women Rabbis?
Hurwitz lays out why it's valuable to allow women to be rabbis and how Rabbi Weiss, who ordained her, came to that realization.

What's in a Title
Being officially titled "Rabba" isn't for ego or show, it has enabled Hurwitz to better serve her community.

Leaving South Africa
Hurwitz recalls how her parents' decision to leave apartheid South African sent her a strong message about equality and justice.

An Unconventional Prediction
Although she laughed it off back then, an early vocational test was eerily prescient for Hurwitz.

Devoted to the Orthodox Tradition
Hurwitz explains why she didn't simply convert to Reform Judaism in order to follow her ambitions to be a rabbi. 

Moving Past Frustration
Hurwitz on putting aside her intellectual frustration with her limitations as a female rabbi, and moving forward day-to-day.

What God Looks Like
Hurwitz talks about whether God has a gender and how she discusses it with her young children.

“Mom’s a Rabbi”
Hurtwitz's young sons live in a very different world when it comes to gender than she did growing up, but some battles linger. 

Debt to Groundbreakers
Hurwitz talks about her gratitude to the feminist movement and her religious pioneering forebearers.