Hundreds of friends, and family, and numerous rabbis took their place beside Nishmat Founder and Dean, Rabbanit Chana Henkin, in welcoming the first cohort of American-educated Yoatzot Halacha to their historic new place of leadership in Jewish life, on October 27, 2013 at Congregation Shearith Israel, The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York. The five women, Dena Block, Nechama Price, Lisa Septimus, Tova Warburg Sinensky and Avital Weissman, studied with Nishmat faculty for two years, under the aegis of Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center. The graduates studied 1,000 hours of Talmud, Codes and contemporary Responsa alongside an intensive curriculum in women’s health including fertility, gynecology, and sexuality, as these interface with Jewish Law.
“We’re witnessing the emergence of a historic rabbinic consensus around Yoatzot Halacha, who vastly enhance the quality of Jewish women’s lives,” said Rabbanit Chana Henkin. “This graduation is a landmark and these are the women of the hour,” she said. "Zeh hayom asah Hashem, this is no less than a miracle."
The new Yoatzot Halacha have won backing from a wide swath of American rabbinic leaders. Over 40 were on the Honorary Rabbinic Committee for the graduation, and more than 20 RCA rabbis showed their support at the event itself, despite numerous rabbinic commitments on a Sunday. Rabbi Yona Reiss, Av Bet Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, who delivered the keynote address, enthusiastically endorsed Yoatzot, offering
“These remarkable women are poised to play a pivotal role in promoting appreciation of taharat hamishpacha, facilitating happy and healthy marriages, and enabling the birth of more beautiful Jewish children in the world… It is incumbent upon us, to express our support publicly for their accomplishments and to provide them with the necessary encouragement and resources to enable them to carry out their mission.”
Rabbi Reiss also stressed the importance of rabbinic leadership adapting to the times, continuing,
“In each generation there are different needs and different opportunities, and one of the jobs of Torah leaders, the dor dor v’dorshav, is to determine how to address those needs in accordance with our halakhic traditions and principles in order to be responsive to the realities of our times.”
Including the five women certified on Sunday, Nishmat has graduated a cadre of 85 Yoatzot Halacha worldwide. They have collectively answered over 200,000 questions on Nishmat’s Golda Koschitzky Hotline, on www.yoatzot.org, and in their home communities.
Positions have already been created for the graduates as Yoatzot Halacha of Great Neck Synagogue (NY), Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Mt. Sinai Jewish Center (Manhattan), The Five-Towns (NY), Greater Philadelphia (PA), and Plainview (NY). The new graduates join three Yoatzot, Bracha Rutner, Shoshana Samuels and Sarah Cheses, educated at Nishmat in Israel and already practicing in the United States. The three split their time between 16 synagogues and schools, lecturing, teaching, and responding to questions (15,000, so far).
“The questions Yoatzot answer, the