JTA: Pioneering class of female Jewish law advisers graduates

published in JTA, October 30, 2013

NEW YORK (JTA) — The first American class of “yoatzot halacha,” or female advisers in Jewish law, has graduated.

The five graduates — Dena Block, Nechama Price, Lisa Septimus, Tova Warburg Sinensky and Avital Weissman — trained for two years under the aegis of Nishmat, a Jerusalem-based Torah study center for women. They each studied 1,000 hours of Talmud, Codes and contemporary response alongside an intensive curriculum in women’s health, including fertility, gynecology and sexuality.

Nishmat officials say the program has graduated 85 yoatzot halacha worldwide, who collectively have answered more than 200,000 questions on Nishmat’s hotline and in their home communities.

Positions have been created for the five U.S. graduates at synagogues on Long Island, N.Y., and in Manhattan and Philadelphia.

The yoatzot halacha graduation comes three months after the Bronx-based Yeshivat Maharat ordained its first class of Orthodox female halachic and spiritual leaders.

While Maharat has been criticized by the mainstream Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, the Nishmat program enjoys greater acceptance. Twenty RCA members attended this week’s graduation ceremony, and Rabbi Yona Reiss, dean of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, delivered the keynote address.