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May 3, 2013

Finegold to be first Orthodox female clergy

CHICAGO — For a dose of girl power, 12-year-old Shayna Lopatin and her friends at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel look to contemporary superstars like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lady Gaga.

But unlike other Orthodox Jewish girls their age, those at Anshe Sholom have a trailblazer in their own lives: Rachel Finegold. At 32, Finegold is about to become the first ordained woman hired as clergy at an Orthodox synagogue. In June, she will leave Anshe Sholom, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Lakeview, to join the clergy at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal.

Though she will go by the title maharat, a Hebrew term, like rabbi, that means “spiritual leader,” Finegold has shattered — or at least cracked — the glass ceiling that has barred Orthodox women from becoming clergy for centuries.

“There is no Jewish law on the books that says a woman cannot be a rabbi,” said Finegold, who serves as the director of ritual and programming at Anshe Sholom. “It simply hasn’t been done before.”

Finegold and two other women make up the first class to graduate from Yeshiva Maharat, a modern Orthodox seminary opened in New York City in 2009 to train and ordain women as clergy. As Finegold prepares to move closer to in-laws in Montreal, U.S. synagogues are courting two other women from the school.

But the traditional Orthodox Jewish establishment does not recognize the ordination of women. The Rabbinical Council of America has reiterated its duty to uphold Jewish law, thought, tradition and historical memory.

For that reason, the assembly said it could not “accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate.”

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