(JTA) – In a first for an Orthodox congregation in Israel, a woman has been hired as a spiritual leader at a Jerusalem synagogue.
Karmit Feintuch will serve at the Ramban Synagogue in the Old City alongside Rabbi Benny Lau, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday. She will have the title “rabbanit.”
A committee of the religious Zionist synagogue in the Katamon neighbourhood unanimously approved the hiring earlier this month, according to the Post. Feintuch, who has served as an educator at the Migdal Oz seminary in the West Bank since 2008, is expected to start in September.
She will deal “with all aspects of the spiritual life of the community and the connection between man and God,” Lau said.
Feintuch will be the first female communal leader at an Orthodox synagogue in Israel, according to the Post. In 2015, Jennie Rosenfeld became the first female communal spiritual leader to serve the Orthodox community of a town, the West Bank settlement of Efrat.
Since the establishment of Yeshivat Maharat, a New York seminary ordaining Orthodox women spiritual leaders, a number of modern Orthodox synagogues in the United States have hired women for leadership positions.
In January, the Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph, New Jersey, made history when it hired Rabbi Lila Kagedan, a Yeshivat Maharat graduate who is the first to adopt the title of “rabbi.” Rabbi Kagedan grew up in Ottawa.
Many Orthodox Jews are vehemently opposed to the idea of women rabbis, and several mainstream Orthodox rabbis and institutions have ruled that ordaining female rabbis violates Jewish law.
Last October, the main association of modern Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition and barring member rabbis from hiring women with clergy-like titles.
The haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America has said that institutions like Yeshivat Maharat that support female rabbis “reject the basic tenets of our faith, particularly the authority of the Torah and its Sages.”
Lau told the Post that Feintuch will help the synagogue grow.
“All congregations must, like a tree, renew themselves, grow and develop,” he said. “Karmit is going to help our community grow bigger, sweeter and more beautiful fruit and this is why we have made this appointment.”
Asked if he was concerned about a conservative backlash against the appointment, Lau told the Post: “I am not really interested in what people will say.
“More than 50 per cent of the community are women, so why shouldn’t there be a woman in a leadership role?” he said. “So this isn’t something we feel is a radical step.”