Brooklyn Orthodox synagogue hires woman as spiritual leader

A modern Orthodox congregation in Brooklyn has hired a woman as its spiritual leader, the latest in a handful of Orthodox congregations to cross the gender line seeking a clergy person.
Prospect Heights Shul, a congregation in the neighborhood of the same name, has hired Michal Kohane as its interim spiritual leader to serve under Senior Rabbi Ysoscher Katz. Her title, rosh kehila, translates in English to “head of the community.”
Because the synagogue is Orthodox, Kohane will not lead services, nor will she have the authority to rule on matters of Jewish law. A news release Tuesday from the synagogue said Kohane will host community events and serve as a “teacher and spiritual guide.”
“Michal has all the essential qualities necessary for successful spiritual leadership: she combines knowledge of Torah, passion for Yiddishkeit (Judaism), and extreme sensitivity to others,” Katz said in a news release
As of May, four Orthodox congregations in the United States employed women as clergy. All are graduates of Yeshivat Maharat, a liberal Orthodox seminary for women, where Kohane is a student set to graduate in 2020.
The first woman spirtual leader to graduate from the yeshiva, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, uses a feminized version of the title “rabbi.”
Since its founding in 2009, the New York City school has drawn controversy. Although its graduates eschew the title “rabbi,” the Orthodox Union has ruled that women cannot serve as clergy and has asked women serving in clergy roles to change their titles. The Rabbinical Council of America also opposes women serving as clergy.
Prior to entering Yeshivat Maharat, Kohane worked in various roles at Jewish organizations in Northern California. In 2013, she was fired from serving as director of the San Francisco federation’s Israel center after writing an essay criticizing the Jewish community’s focus on young adult engagement. In parallel to Yeshivat Maharat, she is pursuing a doctorate in organizational psychology.
“Combining Jewish learning and community work has been central to my life since very early on,” Kohane said in the news release. “And I’m extremely honored and excited to begin the New Year as Rosh Kehila of this vibrant shul.”

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