Rabbi Menashe East of Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph is among the founding members of a new Orthodox organization promoting women in leadership roles and other reforms of an Orthodox establishment they consider “top down” and authoritarian.
The International Rabbinic Fellowship was established this month by Rabbi Avraham Weiss of Riverdale, NY, and Rabbi Marc D. Angel, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan.
Both lead what they are calling “open” Orthodoxy, which has challenged the traditionalist Orthodox establishment in creating new roles for women leaders and resisting changes in the system for accepting converts to Judaism.
“This is a very important organization. It fills an absence — there isn’t an inclusive group of open modern Orthodox rabbis meeting in a group,” said East. “But there are many modern Orthodox synagogues through the country and the world looking for support from colleagues to tackle important issues.”
About 120 rabbis attended the fellowship’s inaugural convention Nov. 17-18 in Baltimore.
Leaders of the new group hope to create new requirements and processes for Orthodox conversion by June. Weiss has complained that new rules instituted by the Rabbinical Council of America reflect the influence of Israel’s fervently Orthodox rabbinical authorities and threaten to invalidate conversions performed in the past under Orthodox auspices in the United States.
“Conversion is not being dealt with in a broad way by Orthodox rabbis. It’s very important to provide a different voice,” said East.
The new organization also hopes to formulate criteria to potentially include women as full members by June. Earlier this year, Weiss launched a yeshiva to train women in all areas of Jewish law and pastoral guidance, synagogue functions traditionally reserved in Orthodox circles for men. Several women who hold the title of “maharat” and serve in rabbinic capacities at a handful of Orthodox congregations were present at the conference. No other Orthodox rabbinical group has entertained the possibility of admitting women as full members into its ranks.
“Women are half the population,” said East. “These super-talented scholarly women are absolutely necessary at the table. They should definitely be given full standing in the organization and have a vote on any questions at issue.”
Underscoring his support, Mount Freedom Jewish Center will welcome Maharat Sarah Hurwitz, who serves at Weiss’ Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, on Dec. 20. She will lead text study and speak about her personal journey and women in Jewish leadership.
The other IRF members from New Jersey are Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton University and member of IRF board of directors; Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro, Congregation Beth Shalom, Red Bank; Dr. Eugene Korn, Anti-Defamation League director of interfaith affairs, Bergenfield; and Rabbi David Glicksman, Wilf Campus for Senior Living, Somerset.