Dina Brawer this week became Britain’s first female Orthodox rabbi after attaining her semicha (religious ordination).
Brawer, a rabbinical student at the New York-based Yeshivat Maharat, which was founded in 2009 as an Orthodox seminary for female leaders, made the announcement on her Facebook page on Monday.
“After an intense two-hour oral examination, Rabbi Dr Sperber signed my semicha certificate today, 22 Iyar, 37th day of the Omer, in Bloomsbury, London,” she wrote.
Speaking to Jewish News this week, Brawer confirmed she has chosen “rabba” – the feminine term for “rabbi” in Hebrew – as her official title. “I will describe myself as a rabbi, that’s what I’ve trained to do and that’s what I’m qualified to serve as,” she said.
While Brawer – whose husband Naftali is a former rabbi at Northwood and Borehamwood and Elstree United synagogues – does not intend to take up a communal position in the UK, her newly-qualified status means that she is can officially answer halachic questions, officiate at baby blessings, weddings and funerals, provide pastoral care and teach.
Many of these duties were already undertaken by Brawer as a rabbinic student, as well as serving as a scholar-in-residence at Hampstead Synagogue, from 2015 to 2016.
The latter, she said, is a role that “did not exist anywhere in the United Synagogue until then and is a credit to Rabbi Dr Michael Harris’ modern Orthodox vision”.
This year she has additionally served as a rabbinic intern at Netivot Shalom, in Teaneck, New Jersey, where Brawer regularly delivers the sermon and Friday night Dvar Torah.
Speaking about why she decided to pursue a rabbinical qualification, Brawer – who in 2013 founded JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) UK – revealed that she wanted to “expand the realm of what is possible for women and girls in religious pursuit.”
She explained: “Being a rabbi epitomises living a life fully dedicated to Torah study and the intense pursuit of ritual and a Torah-infused life.
“I wanted to be a role model to women and girls in the community, to show this is not something only possible as a man, but definitely possible as a woman and something women should aspire to.
“Young girls should become anything they want. You can be well-educated, you can get a PhD in any topic, but when it comes to Jewish studies and religious studies, there’s a limitation. Well, there’s definitely no limitation.
“My intent was to open it and make it possible so that it’s not an unobtainable goal. I believe there will be many more who will follow.”
Amanda Shechter, executive director of Yeshivat Maharat, said: ‘We are so proud that Dina has passed her semikha examination and now joins the ranks of clergy leadership for the Jewish people.
‘Dina has been a transformational Jewish leader for many years. Her attainment of semikha will enable her to extend her impact even more widely and deeply.’
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, which ordained Britain’s first female rabbi in 1975, offered her congratulations.
“Mazal tov Rabbi Dina – welcome to the wonderful world of the rabbinate!”
Meanwhile Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships, said: “We wish Rabba Dina Brawer a hearty mazel tov and welcome her as a colleague. This landmark moment for Orthodox Judaism in the UK is a recognition of all her hard work and dedication to the British Jewish community.
“Through her achievement, Rabba Brawer will have a huge influence on Orthodox Judaism and beyond – giving a generation of young Jewish girls and women another important role model to look up to.”
Brawer is set to leave the UK next month for the United States, where she will complete Hillel’s Office of Innovation Fellowship for Rabbinic Entrepreneurship, while Naftali will take up the position of executive director of Tufts University Hillel.
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