SEMIKHAH (Heb. סְמִיכָה; "laying," lit. "leaning" of the hands). The word is used in two senses.
The act of semikhah constituted the dedication by the owner of animals sacrificed on the altar. The act, which was obligatory whenever sacrifices were offered by individuals (Men. 9:7; Maim. Yad, Ma'aseh ha-Korbanot 3:6), was carried out by the owner laying both his hands with all his might between the horns of the animal immediately before it was dispatched (Lev. 1:4ff.; Sifra 4; Maim. loc. cit. 3:13). The ceremony took place in the courtyard of the Temple, where the animal was slain (Men. 93a, b). It had to be performed with bare hands, so that nothing might interpose between them and the head of the beast (Maim. loc. cit.). It did not apply, with two exceptions, to communal sacrifices (Men. 9:7), nor to birds (Git. 28b). Another requirement was that the act had to be carried out by the owner in person and could not be performed by proxy (Men. 9:8; Maim. loc. cit. 3:8).
Of Judges, Elders, and Rabbis
All Jewish religious leaders had to be ordained before they were permitted to perform certain judicial functions and to decide practical questions in Jewish law. The Bible relates that Moses ordained Joshua by placing his hands on him, thereby transferring a portion of his spirit to Joshua (Num. 27:22, 23; Deut. 34:9). Moses also ordained the 70 elders who assisted him in governing the people (Num. 11:16–17, 24–25). The elders ordained by Moses ordained their successors, who in turn ordained others, so that there existed an unbroken chain of ordination from Moses down to the time of the Second Temple (Maim. Yad, Sanh. 4:2). For some centuries the tradition of ordaining by the laying of the hands was continued, but the rabbis later decided to ordain by merely conferring the title "rabbi" either orally or in writing (ibid., 4:2).
Ordination was required both for membership in the Great Sanhedrin, and the smaller Sanhedrins and regular colleges of judges empowered to decide legal cases. Three rows of scholars always sat before the Sanhedrin, and whenever it became necessary to choose a new member, a scholar from the first row was chosen and ordained (Sanh. 4:4). During the time of Judah ha-Nasi it was decreed that any religio-legal decision, including decisions relating to purely ceremonial law, could only be given by those properly authorized (Sanh. 5b). While any qualified Jewish person could serve as a judge in civil cases, only Jews of pure descent were eligible to adjudicate in criminal matters involving capital punishment (Sanh. 4:2). Ordination was also required to judge in cases involving corporal punishment and fines, to intercalate months and years, to release the firstborn animals for profane use by reason of disqualifying blemishes, to annul vows, and to pass the ban of excommunication (*ḥerem). Only a transfer of the Divine Spirit which originally rested on Moses empowered the ordained person to make decisions in these crucial areas. Ordination could be limited to only one or some of these various functions. The lowest degree of ordination entitled the rabbi to decide only religious questions, while the highest degree entitled him to inspect firstlings, in addition to deciding religious questions and judging criminal cases (Sanh. 5a; Maim. loc. cit. 4:8). The complete formula of ordination was "Yoreh Yoreh Yaddin Yaddin. Yattir Yattir" ("May he decide? He may decide. May he judge? He may judge. May he permit? He may permit"). Rav, the founder of the academy of Sura in Babylonia, was authorized to exercise only the first two of these three functions since it was feared that his excessive knowledge of blemishes might enable him to declare a blemish permanent and the animal thus be permitted for profane use, where to the bystanders it appeared transitory (Sanh. 5b). The privileges of ordination could also be limited to a specific period. R. Johanan only ordained R. Shaman for the duration of his Babylonian visit (ibid.).
The ordination itself, which required the presence of three elders, one of whom was himself ordained, was originally performed by every ordained teacher upon his pupils (Sanh. 1:3; tj, Sanh. 1:3, 19a). Nevertheless, as the influence of the Babylonian exilarch increased, it became necessary for the ordinants to obtain his authorization before serving as judges in Babylonia (Sanh. 5a). In Ereẓ Israel it also became necessary for individual scholars to obtain the consent of the patriarch before ordaining their pupils. On account of the high regard entertained for the patriarchs of the house of Hillel, who were the recognized heads of the Jewish community of the Holy Land during the centuries subsequent to the demise of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai, no ordination was considered valid without the patriarch's consent. The patriarch himself was at first permitted to confer it without consulting the Sanhedrin. Later the patriarch could only grant the degree in cooperation with the court (tj, Sanh. 1:3, 19a). The term used in the Holy Land in the days of the Jerusalem Talmud for ordination was minnui (literally "appointment" to the office of judge). In Babylonia the designation of semikhah (semikhuta in Aramaic) was retained (ibid.). On the day of ordination, the candidate wore a special garment (Lev. R. 2:4). After the ceremony, the scholars present praised in rhythmic sentences the person ordained. At the ordination of R. Ze'ira it was sung: "No powder, no paint, no waving of the hair, and still a graceful gazelle"; at the ordinations of Ammi and Assi: "Such as these, such as these ordain unto us" (Ket. 17a). After the ceremony, it seems that the ordinand delivered a public discourse on a specific topic (cf. the case of the incompetent teacher, Sanh. 7b). Semikhah could only be granted by scholars residing in Ereẓ Israel to scholars present in the Holy Land at the time of their ordination. The ordinand did not have to be present at the ordination; it sufficed if the ordaining teachers sent a message to him, as long as they all were in Ereẓ Israel (Maim. Yad, Sanh. 4:6). It is related that Johanan was grieved because he could not ordain Ḥanina and Oshaya since they did not reside in Palestine (Sanh. 14a). It is also related that there were two sages, Jonathan b. Aknai and Simeon b. Ẓirud, one of whom was ordained because he was in Palestine while the other was not because he left. The appellation of "rabbi" is therefore never used for the Babylonian amoraim since they did not possess semikhah, and they have the title "rav." As a result, the Babylonian sages were dependent upon their Palestinian colleagues. "We submit to them" was the Babylonian attitude (Pes. 51a). Nevertheless, to expedite justice, the Babylonian scholars were empowered to adjudicate all monetary cases as the "agents of the judges in Israel" (bk 84b). Once ordained in Palestine, a scholar could exercise his full authority even outside its borders.
After the *Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–35 c.e.), the Roman emperor Hadrian attempted to end the spiritual authority still wielded by the Sanhedrin, which had been shorn of all government support, by forbidding the granting of semikhah to new scholars. It was declared that "whoever performed an ordination should be put to death, and whoever received ordination should be put to death, the city in which the ordination took place demolished, and the boundaries wherein it had been performed uprooted" (Sanh. 14a). R. *Judah b. Bava was executed for ordaining several of his pupils in a no-man's-land between Usha and Shefaram. It is not clear when the original semikhah with the powers described above was discontinued. Majority opinion favors the latter part of the fourth century during the time of Hillel ii. According to Naḥmanides (cf. his notes on Maimonides, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, no. 153), this happened before the fixing of the permanent calendar by Hillel in 361 c.e. Some date it with the extinction of the patriarchate at the death of the last patriarch, *Gamaliel vi, in 425 c.e. Others set the time as late as 1062 with the death of Daniel b. Azariah, the Gaon of Palestine. Still others cite proof that this traditional ordination continued until the time of Maimonides.
In Medieval and Modern Times
Due to the changing conditions of Jewish life, which transformed some of the functions of the rabbinate, semikhah acquired new connotations. In the geonic period the rosh golah, the *exilarch, conferred a license (reshut) only "to effect compromises among litigants, to investigate legal disputes, to act as arbitrator, and to execute legal documents." The geonim too were authorized to appoint scribes, leaders in public worship, judges (*dayyanim), and teachers. In the tenth century *Sherira Gaon wrote: "The row [in the academy] takes the place of the Sanhedrin and its head takes the place of Moses our teacher," thus continuing to a certain extent the claim to a kind of sacred order among the academy scholars. The head referred to evidently is the av bet din. *Samuel b. Ali, Gaon of Baghdad in the 12th century, defined the functions and authority of the av bet din when writing of R. *Zerachiah b. Isaac ha-Levi: "We have ordained him av bet din of the academy and have empowered him to render decisions in money and ritual matters, to proclaim the firstborn permissible for profane use by reason of blemishes, to preach the Torah in public, to deliver lectures, and to appoint an interpreter." The 12th-century traveler *Benjamin of Tudela wrote that in his day the exilarch had the authority to appoint local clergymen in Persia and in many other countries and that they came to him to secure the right to deliver decisions. *Judah b. Barzilai of Barcelona (11th–12th century) distinguished between a ketav minnui, a certificate of appointment as dayyan or head of an academy, and a ketav masmikh, a certificate of ordination "whereby they ordain one of the students to be called rabbi or ḥakham. Cases involving fines are not adjudicated outside Ereẓ Israel and ordination is not effected by the laying on of hands on the head of the ordinand. They merely write a certificate of ordination."
These reformulations and transformations of the ancient semikhah tend to show that from the fifth century onward there was both a document of appointment to office and an act conferring powers, which was always of a sacral nature. This was particularly strong in the centralistic and aristocratic regime of the geonic leadership but the sacral element was never present to the same extent as that involved in ancient semikhah. Despite this continuity of many elements of the traditional semikhah, attempts at its complete restoration were made from time to time. As early as the days of *Elijah ha-Kohen Gaon of Palestine in 1083 such an attempt was made. From the very structure and logic of an autonomous pattern of national leadership and of a cultural scale of values in which learning and the scholar were supreme, it can be deduced that everywhere in Jewish communities – even after the 12th century – there was some formula for conferring judicial function and powers and for attesting to scholarly achievements. Of necessity this would be to some greater or lesser extent of a sacral nature. After the *Black Death, and under the influence of diplomas and titles conferred by Christian universities, the term semikhah reappeared in Ashkenaz (Franco-Germany), becoming transformed into a diploma conferred by a teacher on his pupil which affirmed his capacity and right to be judge and teacher. The first waves of the Spanish exiles tended to regard the Ashkenazi semikhah as evidence of an improper pride and imitation of Christian ways. Yet various factors – the messianic hopes entertained after the expulsion, the feeling that it was necessary to respond to exile and dispersion by the restoration of a central sacral authority, and the urge for an authority that could grant penance and absolution to people who labored under a sense of guilt for having lived for some time as *anusim – combined to recall Maimonides' view that in principle semikhah could be restored (see above), and on the basis of this to advocate ordaining one man who would renew the sacral chain of ancient semikhah, thus later restoring the Sanhedrin and paving the way for repentance and the Messiah.
Controversy on the Renewal of the Semikhah
Despite the continuity of the Jewish judiciary even after the loss of the traditional formal semikhah, there have been some attempts to reinstitute the original semikhah, Maimonides' viewpoint is focal to this concept of renewal for he ruled that "if all the Palestinian sages would unanimously agree to appoint and ordain judges, then these new ordinants would possess the full authority of the original ordained judges" (Yad, Sanh. 4:11). Based on this ruling, an attempt was made in 1538 by R. Jacob *Berab of Safed, at that time the largest community in Ereẓ Israel, to restore the practice of ordaining. At Berab's initiative, 25 rabbis convened, and they ordained Berab as their chief rabbi. Berab then ordained four other rabbis, including Joseph *Caro, the author of the Shulḥan Arukh, and Moses di *Trani. Caro ordained Moses *Alshekh, who later ordained Ḥayyim Vital, the leading disciple of R. Isaac *Luria. Berab hoped that he could thus unify the various Jewish communities by ultimately reestablishing a Sanhedrin. Cases involving fines could now be judged again, and flagellation, which was required by law to atone for the sins of the Conversos, could be ordered by the court. However, Berab had neglected to obtain the consent of the Jerusalem rabbis. The latter felt slighted and rejected Berab when he requested that they recognize his authority. They protested his innovation, and the head of the Jerusalem rabbinate, *Levi ibn Ḥabib, wrote an entire treatise to prove the illegality of Berab's actions (Kunteres ha-Semikhah). A caustic controversy arose between Ibn Ḥabib and Berab, and after the latter's death in 1541 the renewed institution of ordination gradually languished into obscurity. Modern scholars have approved Ibn Ḥabib's opposition; it was also felt that he feared that Berab's actions would arouse messianic speculations which could result in a false messianic movement (see B. Revel in bibl.). It may also be that Ibn Ḥabib held that it was not permitted to hasten the advent of the messianic era by reestablishing the Sanhedrin but to wait for Divine initiative (see J. Katz in bibl.).
With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, R. Judah Leib *Maimon, Israel's first minister of religious affairs, made a similar plea to restore the Sanhedrin. He was, however, opposed by the overwhelming majority of his colleagues of the non-Orthodox groups as well as by rabbis of the extreme right. Israel's then Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isaac *Herzog, was also hesitant, and again the attempt came to naught.
"Neo-Semikhah" and Hattarat Hora'ah
The term semikhah has also been utilized for ordination other than the formal traditional semikhah. It has evolved from the term hattarat hora'ah which literally means "authorization to render decisions" in matters permitted or forbidden by Jewish religious law. The infinitive lehorot, in the sense of the authoritative interpretation of the law, occurs in connection with the duties of the descendants of Aaron, the priests, who also served as teachers and judges in Leviticus 10:11 (cf. Deut. 17:9ff.). It was also understood in this sense in the Talmud (Ker. 13b). The hattarat hora'ah generally was a rabbinical diploma testifying to the fitness of the person to whom it had been issued. It also empowered the recipient to fulfill the functions of a rabbi, which were originally those of acting as a judge for the members of the community that engaged him. At first this document did not resemble the language of the original semikhah, it did not state yoreh yoreh yaddin, and had none of the far-reaching authority of the original semikhah. The earliest form of hattarat hora'ah was called iggeret reshut ("letter of permission") or pitka de-dayyanuta ("writ of jurisdiction"). Such a document, composed in Aramaic in the geonic period of the ninth century, reads:
We have appointed Peloni b. Peloni [i.e., N., son of N.] a justice in the town of… and have invested him with authority to administer the civil laws, and to supervise all matters relating to the Commandments and that which is prohibited and permitted and connected with the fear of God. He has the authority to do that which he thinks is proper to anyone not obeying his verdicts. The miscreant is likewise liable to [the punishment of] Heaven" (A. Harkavy (ed.), Zikkaron la-Rishonim ve-Gam la-Aḥaronim, 4 (1887), 80).
Originally, the title "rabbi" was restricted to religious authorities performing the functions of judges ordained with the formal tradition of semikhah. As stated, their counterparts in Babylonia were always referred to as "rav" (cf. Sanh. 136f. and bm 85bf). The title "rabbi" appears again in the Middle Ages. It was then bestowed on both Ashkenazi and Sephardi authorities in rabbinic law, although not in the same sense as its previous usage during the talmudic period when the original semikhah was still granted. By the 13th century, documents of "neo-semikhah" ordination began to resemble the format of the traditional semikhah. Recipients were empowered to be yoreh yoreh in matters of rituals, while the more advanced student was permitted to be yaddin yaddin in all areas of Jewish law. The Sephardim made more discriminate use of this rabbinical epithet than the Ashkenazim by calling the ordinary rabbinic scholar ḥakham, and reserving the more honorific designation of "rabbi" for men of outstanding learning (cf. David Messer Leon's Kevod Ḥakhamim, ed. by S. Bernfeld (1899), 63). During the second half of the 14th century the title Morenu ("our guide and teacher") was introduced as the designation for one who possessed "neo-semikhah" in Franco-Germany. Formulas for "neo-semikhah" were fixed, as well as the stipulation of well-defined qualifications and privileges for those possessing this degree. Formerly there was no need for all rabbis and scholars to carry a patent of semikhah with them since their authority rested on personal, rather than institutional grounds. This changed with the uprooting of yeshivot and communities in the 14th and 15th centuries in Franco-Germany. Formal semikhah became a necessity for safeguarding the academic standards of the rabbinate at a time when the dispersal and migration of scholars and yeshivot endangered the continuity of academic traditions. However, as soon as semikhah was formalized, a process of institutionalization set in, thus making it possible for lesser types of scholars to attain rabbinical authority and privilege. This was also hastened by the oncoming practice of local rulers to appoint "chief rabbis" for the purpose of tax administration. The social, personal, and academic problems involved in the "Ashkenazi semikhah" continued to form a subject for lively discussion among scholars well into the 17th century. It came under heavy attack from Sephardi rabbis after the expulsion from Spain.
Occasionally, semikhah became a source of income for rabbis and it was necessary for communities and general councils to promulgate takkanot regarding the privileges and qualifications connected with semikhah. By the end of the 16th century, the title of Morenu had ceased to be of a purely academic character and it was increasingly used as a symbol of social status in the communities (see Breuer in bibl.). The scholar equipped with this "neo-semikhah" was only able to exercise his authority with the consent of the community that elected him. His jurisdiction was limited to that community. R. Isaac b. Sheshet rendered a decision (1380) on this point in the case of the French community of Provence, which would not permit the interference of R. *Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg in its affairs (Teshuvot ha-Ribash, nos. 268–73). Meir had ordained and appointed a new chief rabbi for Provence who he felt was worthier than the community's own choice. Nevertheless, his intervention was rejected. Because of his involvement in this type of dispute, some scholars erroneously thought that Meir had attempted to reintroduce the original formal semikhah. However, within the confines of his own community the scholar's jurisdiction was supreme. No other rabbi had the right to intervene without his consent (cf. Samuel Archivolti's Palgei Mayim (Salonika, 1608), 15a).
It was an established principle, dating from the time of the tannaim, that no pupil was to issue a decision in the presence of his teacher (Er. 63a). The age for receiving semikhah or the hattarat hora'ah was 18. Eleazar b. Azariah was appointed head of the academy at this age (Ber. 27b, 28a) as was Rabbah (Ber. 64a; cf. Yev. 105a) and Hai Gaon. David Messer Leon received his title at 18, at Naples (Kevod Ḥakhamim, 64). The question of what degree of learning entitles a scholar to receive the diploma from his teacher is fully discussed by Messer Leon. It is necessary for the student to master the original sources of Bible and Talmud and to possess logical reasoning power. In the 18th and 19th centuries it became customary for aspiring rabbinical students to receive ordination from leading rabbinical figures, in addition to the diplomas they received from their own teachers. They were orally tested by noted rabbis, and if found sufficiently learned and worthy, they were also granted certificates of ordination by these well-known scholars. The following is the text of such a diploma granted by R. Isaac Elhanan *Spektor of Kovno (d. 1896), from whom most Russian rabbis of the second half of the 19th century received their "neo-semikhah":
קושט אמרי אמת ניתן לכתוב על האי גברא יקירא ברב …יליד…ופלפלתי עמו הרבה והוא מלא דבר ה׳ בש״ס ובפסוקים וגם הנהו דרשן מפואר נאה דורש ונאה מקיים: ובכן אמר יישר כוחו וחילו לאורייתאו, יורה יורה ידין ידין בד״מ ואו״ה וגו״ח וטוט״ה [בדיני ממונות ואיסור והיתר וגיטין וחליצה וטומאה וטהרה]: ויהא רעוא שישלח לו הרחמן מקום מכובד לפי כבודו כי …ראוי והגון הרב הנ״ל לנהל צאן קדשים. ובאתי עה״ח יום …ימים לחדש :לפ״ק :נאם יצחק אלחנן החופ״ק קאוונע
Verily, these words of truth may be ascribed to that worthy man, rabbi…, a native of…, with whom I have fully discussed the Talmud and codes in which I find him to be filled with the Word of the Lord. He is also an excellent preacher, preaching what is moral and practicing what he preaches. Therefore I say: Let his power and might in the Torah be encouraged. Let him teach and decide in all matters of monetary, dietary, and ritual law, get and ḥaliẓah, and laws relating to cleanliness and uncleanliness. May it be the will of the Almighty to send him an honorable position in accordance with his virtues. The said rabbi well deserves and is truly competent to guide a flock. Signed on this date… Isaac Elhanan, who dwells here in the holy congregation of Kovno.
Modern Practice of Ordaining Rabbis
During the 19th century, a drastic change took place with regard to the position, requirements, and training of rabbis. The change originated in Germany, which became the center for the development of Reform Judaism and for the scientific study of Jewish history and the Jewish religion. Knowledge solely of the Talmud and codes was no longer deemed sufficient, and many communities now demanded that their rabbis be versed in the vernacular, secular studies, and auxiliary Judaic subjects. The yeshivot and unsupervised instruction by individual rabbis were found to be increasingly unsatisfactory. The discontent with the traditional rabbinate was further intensified by the rapid spread of Reform Judaism. To meet these new conditions, rabbinical seminaries were organized in rapid succession. With the development of these schools, curricula were evolved which no longer placed the stress on Talmud and codes. The more the particular seminary moved away from Orthodoxy, the less its curriculum emphasized Talmud and related subjects. Bible, homiletics, Jewish history and philosophy, the grammar of Hebrew and of cognate languages, pastoral psychology, and synagogue administration gradually became integral required courses of study for rabbinical students. Many of these seminaries no longer granted the traditional rabbinical degree, but rather certified their graduates as "preachers and teachers in Israel." Some schools granted two different diplomas. Most graduates were simply awarded the "preacher and teacher" degree, while the more advanced students also received the traditional yoreh yoreh yaddin yaddin ordination after passing special examinations in Talmud and codes. Some schools continued to include the traditional formula of ordination in the format of its degree, but this formula was now being utilized in the ceremonial sense rather than as an indication of the graduate's knowledge of the codes.
In contemporary Israel, where there are solely traditional yeshivot which ordain rabbis, the traditional method and form of ordination is utilized. In the United States, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of *Yeshiva University also ordains its graduates in the traditional fashion after they complete a course of study which stresses Talmud and codes. The Jewish Theological Seminary does not grant the traditional ordination to its students. The Hebrew Union College includes the traditional formula of yoreh yoreh yaddin yaddin in the Hebrew version of its certification, but this is purely in the formal sense. The title "rabbi" is therefore no longer an indication, as it was up to the last centuries, that its bearer is thoroughly acquainted with the Talmud and codes, but it is the commonly accepted title for the spiritual leaders of all Jewish denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist.
Ordination of Women
Female rabbinical ordination began to be seriously pondered in the late 19th century in Germany and the United States as a natural, if uncomfortable, consequence of Reform Judaism's insistence on the equality of men and women. Ordaining women also emerged as part of a larger debate about women's rights and their access to the learned professions. If women wished to become doctors, lawyers, and ministers, professions which then largely excluded them, why should they not also aspire to the rabbinate? However, the ambivalence of Reform Jewish leaders, who struggled to balance their long-stated commitment to the religious emancipation of Jewish women with their own ingrained prejudices about women's proper sphere, and their perceptions of the receptivity of their congregations to female rabbis, delayed a positive commitment to women's ordination for nearly a century, despite a series of challengers. It took the collision of second-wave feminism with American Judaism to propel women into the rabbinate in a sustained and institutionalized way. By the first decade of the 21st century, the presence of hundreds of female rabbis had expanded traditional notions of religious leadership throughout the Jewish world.
The American debate over female rabbis first surfaced publicly in the 1890s as the press ordained the charismatic female Jewish preacher Ray *Frank "the girl rabbi of the golden west." In the decades that followed, a series of individuals challenged the established American rabbinical seminaries, each seeking unsuccessfully to become the first woman ever ordained and hoping to blaze a path for others to follow. These include Martha Neumark (1904–1981), whose request for a High Holiday pulpit, following three years of intensive study at Hebrew Union College, ultimately led to a 1923 vote by the lay board of governors supporting the policy of only ordaining men. The aspirations of other able women of this era were also disappointed, including those of Helen Hadassah Levinthal who was not ordained with her male classmates at the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1939, despite becoming the first American woman to complete a rabbinic curriculum. Apparently, none of these challengers were aware that in 1935, in Germany, Regina *Jonas (1902–1944) had already been privately ordained. She used her rabbinic position to offer solace to her persecuted co-religionists in Nazi Germany, but, because she shared their fate, the news of her breakthrough perished with her.
In the 1950s, the question of women's ordination received new attention when the story of Paula Herskovitz *Ackerman, a rebbetzin who succeeded her late husband in the pulpit was considered so newsworthy that her picture appeared in Time magazine. Publicity about the growing success of women in the Protestant ministry also prompted Reform rabbis, Jewish journalists, and leaders of the Reform National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods to return to the question of women rabbis. Concurrently, in the 1950s and 1960s, a small group of idealistic and able women students had come to huc-jir with hopes that their studies would lead to rabbinic ordination. The question of female ordination gained greater urgency in the 1960s. As many Americans and American Jews embraced a feminist commitment to egalitarianism, female ordination became an important symbol of Judaism's commitment to gender equity.
Sally Jane *Priesand (1946– ), a talented and tenacious young woman, became the first woman rabbi in North America in 1972, ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. The decision to ordain Priesand was never a foregone conclusion, but it seems likely that proclaiming a woman rabbi no longer appeared so revolutionary against the backdrop of the dramatic social and political upheavals in American life in this epoch. By acquiescing to women's ordination, Reform leaders were able to portray themselves as continuing their historic project of adapting Judaism to respond to modernity while simultaneously demonstrating Reform Judaism's commitment to women's equality. Two years later the Reconstructionist movement ordained its first female rabbinic student, Sandy Eisenberg *Sasso (1947– ), and, in 1985, after a vociferous public debate that lasted slightly over a decade, the Conservative movement followed suit with the ordination of Amy *Eilberg (1955– ). Even as the question of the permissibility of women's ordination closed in the liberal movements of American Judaism and the first women were ordained in Great Britain and in Israel, engaged Orthodox Jews began to ask if and when there would be female Orthodox rabbis. In the early 21st century, halakhically knowledgeable women served as rabbinic assistants in some Modern Orthodox congregations in North America, and as expert advocates on legal issues connected with women's status in Israel.
As the struggle for female ordination closed for many, the history of women in the rabbinate has opened. Women rabbinical students and rabbis have had a transformative impact on their seminaries, their congregants, and their male colleagues, and have faced numerous challenges in the effort to reconcile Judaism with women's voices and perspectives. The first generations of female rabbis learned to convince congregations to hire them, to establish their authority in a hitherto exclusively male profession, and to negotiate for benefits such as maternity leave. Moreover, female rabbis have confronted the marginalization of women's voices and views in the sacred texts and liturgy of Jewish tradition and have focused attention on models of female strength, intelligence, and leadership in the Jewish past. Many have joined with other contemporary Jewish women to create new rituals to recognize and sacralize moments of change, joy, and despair in women's lives. They have also extended their feminist critique to include the challenges that face gays and lesbians.
In every context in which they function, on pulpits and in classrooms, under the ḥuppah and at the circumcision table, women rabbis have enlightened their congregants, students, and male colleagues about the impact of gender in Judaism and for Jewish women. In doing so, they have reshaped modern Judaism in ways utterly unimaginable a short half century ago.
See also *Rabbis, Rabbinate; *Rabbinical Training, American; Rabbinical Seminaries.
[Pamela S. Nadell (2nd ed.)]
W. Bacher, in: mgwj, 38 (1894), 122–7; Judah ben Barzilai of Barcelona, Sefer ha-Shetarot, ed. by S.Ḥ. Halberstam (1898, repr. 1967); L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 1 (1909); Graetz, Hist, index, s.v. Ordination; Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19074), 237–67; H.J. Bornstein, Mishpat ha-Semikhah ve-Koroteha (1919); B. Revel, in: Horeb, 5 (1939), 1–26; Baron, Community, 2 (1942), 67–68, 79, see also index s.v.Ordination; Y.L. Maimon, Ḥiddush ha-Sanhedrin bi-Medinatenu ha-Meḥuddeshet (1951); J. Newman, Semikhah (Ordination); a Study of its Origin, History and Function (1950), incl. bibl., xiii–xiv; J. Katz, in: Zion, 16 (1951), 28–45 (second pagination, Eng. summary, iii); S.B. Hoenig, The Great Sanhedrin (1953); S. Zeitlin, Religious and Secular Leadership (1943); idem, in: jqr, 7 (1916/17), 499–517; 56 (1966), 240–1; 31 (1940/41), 1–58, 287–300; M. Benayahu, in: Sefer Yovel… Baer (1960), 248–69; H. Mantel, Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin (1961), index; J. Katz, Sefer Zikkaron le-Binyamin de Vries (1961), 281–94; H.Z. Dimitrovsky, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966), 113–92 (Eng. summary, 12–13); Z. Falk, in: De'ot, 30 (1966), 233–42 (also in: Sinai, 58 (1966), 239–49); Breuer, in: Zion, 33 (1968), 15–46; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Toledot Am Yisrael, 2 (1969), 264–7. add. bibliography: S. Greenberg (ed.), The Ordination of Women as Rabbis: Studies and Responsa (1988); E. Klapheck, Fraeulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi (2004); P.S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985 (1998); H. Ner-David. Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination (2000); S. Sheridan (ed.), Hear Our Voice: Women Rabbis Tell Their Stories (1994); And the Gates Opened: Women in the Rabbinate (film, 2005); R. Alpert, S. Levi Elwell, and S. Idelson (eds.), Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation (2001).