In a first, NJ Orthodox synagogue hires woman with ‘rabbi’ title
Mt. Freedom Jewish Center welcomes Lila Kagedan to staff
The first graduate of an “Open Orthodox” yeshiva for women to take the title “rabbi” has been hired by Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph.
Rabbi Lila Kagedan, 35, who was ordained last summer by Yeshivat Maharat, the seminary in the Bronx created by Rabbi Avi Weiss to train Orthodox female clergy, told the London-based Jewish Chronicle last week that she was recruited to join the staff of a congregation she declined to name.
MFJC and Yeshivat Maharat announced her appointment Jan. 11 in a news release, saying she will be “joining the spiritual leadership team.” Her responsibilities are to include teaching Torah, providing learning opportunities for adults and children, and connecting with young families. She will also “participate in life-cycle and pastoral needs alongside Rabbi Menashe East.”
She will work part-time, commuting from Boston, where she lives.
“MFJC and the Morris County area are very fortunate to welcome Lila to the community,” East, a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, another seminary associated with Weiss, said in the statement. “Lila brings a breadth of knowledge and a passion for Yiddishkeit that we know will inspire young and older. I look forward to working with Lila on behalf of the Mount Freedom community and for the benefit of all the Jewish people.”
Graduates of Yeshivat Maharat have so far eschewed taking the title rabbi, though the school is explicit that its mission is to train female Orthodox “clergy.” Most have taken on the title maharat, an acronym that translates roughly to “female spiritual leader.” Kagedan reportedly is the first graduate to call herself a rabbi.
The news release did not use the word “rabbi,” instead referring to Kagedan as a “Yeshivat Maharat graduate.”
“Lila does go by the title of Rabbi. She studied the requisite texts under the tutelage of excellent teachers at YM that rabbis must learn, must know, and must apply to real-life situations,” wrote East in an e-mail interview with NJJN (see sidebar).
As of June 2015, Yeshivat Maharat has ordained 11 students. Six are currently serving in Orthodox synagogues across North America. The remaining five graduates are working at schools, international educational institutions, and other community organizations.
In the interview with the Jewish Chronicle, Kagedan, a native of Canada, acknowledged that “change is difficult and frightening. We are very much used to a certain aesthetic when we say ‘rabbi.’”
This fall, the Rabbinical Council of America, the main Modern Orthodox rabbinical group, formally adopted a policy prohibiting the ordination or hiring of women rabbis.
Sharon Nessel, MFJC’s board president, said, “As one of the growing shuls in Morris County, we try to balance new and dynamic opportunities while honoring our shul’s rich, 90-year heritage and Orthodox tenets. We are delighted to welcome Lila, a talented graduate of Yeshivat Maharat, to work with us and enhance our spirituality and offerings to our congregants and the entire Jewish community.” She starts Jan. 22.
With reporting by JTA