Sara Hurwitz is the first officially ordained “rabba,” in Orthodox Judaism. She is the rabba at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and the dean of Yeshivat Maharat, also in Riverdale, N.Y.
After emigrating with her family from South Africa, she spent her teenage years in Boca Raton, Fla. Her early affinity for religious community life was affirmed when she took a high school vocational test that recommended that she join the clergy. At the time, however, Orthodox women were not allowed to serve as rabbis, so she considered the suggestion impossible. Yet, Hurwitz’s relationship with Judaism continued to grow.
During her time as a college student at Barnard College, she helped lead several student Jewish organizations. Soon she began lecturing and teaching at conferences and synagogue meetings throughout the country. After graduation, she was accepted to the Drisha Institute’s Scholar Circle Program in New York City. Upon completion of her coursework at the Drisha Institute, Hurwitz began studying under the Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y. Over seven years, she received all of the training required of a rabbi, learning how to give spiritual guidance, issue legal rulings and counsel her congregants.
In 2009, Rabbi Weiss officially ordained Hurwitz, giving her the title “maharat,” and later converting it to “rabba” (a feminized version of rabbi) to more clearly convey her full rabbinic role. While Hurwitz’s ordainment caused a fierce backlash from some in the Orthodox community, she maintained her title and her leadership position. Seeing the hunger of other women to follow her path to the rabbinate, she helped found to Yeshivat Maharat, an organization whose goal is to train and integrate Orthodox women into the spiritual and halakhic leadership.