The Jewish Week staff report
Rabba Sara Hurwitz of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, who was invited to speak at the Young Israel of Hewlett on a Shabbat several weeks ago, has come and gone. But a flare-up over her title continues to reverberate in the Five Towns community, prompting rabbis and others there to lash out at each other.
Writing in the Five Towns Jewish Times the week after her appearance, Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst repeatedly described the invitation to Rabba Hurwitz as a “great bizayon haTorah [disgrace to the Torah], the degradation of the gedolei Torah [rabbinic sages] that took place in our community.”
Noting that some may be angry at him for “stirring the pot,” the rabbi said he was speaking out because leading Torah scholars have condemned the appointment of a woman to a rabbinic position as “a breach of tzniyus [modesty] and mesorah [tradition].”
Rabba Hurwitz was given her title, seen as an upgrade from maharat, earlier this year by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Riverdale congregation. In a subsequent agreement with the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Weiss consented not to give anyone else the title of “rabba.”
Rabbi Ginzberg wrote that his criticism was not personally directed at Rabba Hurwitz, who he referred to as “Ms.” But he noted that while she may be an expert in Talmudic studies, “I am highly doubtful.”
Rabbi Ginzberg concluded his essay by asserting that as a result of this breach of Jewish law, “we will have something else to cry about” on Tisha b’Av, the upcoming fast day which marks the destruction of the Holy Temple.
That final comment was too much for Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, who says he was “particularly taken aback by the last line. At a time of civil strife between brothers in Israel and blood libels against Israel, this is what we should be mourning about?”
In a sermon to his congregation, Rabbi Billet described the Ginzberg essay as “trash.”
Even Rabbi Heshy Blumenfeld, whose Hewlett congregation hosted Rabba Hurwitz, would not call her by her title in introducing her, according to attendees at the Shabbat lectures, though he praised her scholarship and potential.
While she may not be playing well in the Five Towns, Rabba Hurwitz this week was named by Newsweek magazine as one of its 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America.