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The Rabbi and the Rabba

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Weiss, who stresses that Hurwitz upholds Halacha—she doesn’t, for instance, lead services or act as a witness under a wedding canopy—talks of her with a parental protectiveness. “Sara deserves the recognition,” he says. “But the right wing is very intimidating and very frightening.” Indeed, the controversy has been a lot less invigorating than any of Weiss’s previous crusades. “The world that I’m dealing with now, the people who are very critical—they’re not the Turks, they’re not the Poles, they’re not the Russians. They’re family,” Weiss says. “And in certain ways, it’s more painful.” “He has internalized this in a very sad way,” says Rabbi Angel. “Many rabbis who he thought would be his natural allies kept quiet. And I think that’s a very upsetting thing, when you go out on a limb and nobody’s there to catch you.”

Toby has rarely seen her husband so uncomfortable. “To see him, for weeks, entrenched in trying to put out the fires, it was very painful,” she admits. “I actually cried one night. I heard him on the phone with someone, and he said, ‘I just wish this would go away.’ ”

But then there are days when Weiss appears steadfast—proud, even. “I have a lot of enemies,” he says. “I’m not happy about it, but I’m convinced I’m on the right side of history.” He could, of course, simply capitulate to the RCA, shut down Yeshivat Maharat, and withdraw Hurwitz’s title. But no one expects that to happen. “Anyone who thinks Rabbi Weiss is going to back down on anything doesn’t know Rabbi Weiss,” says Rabbi Saul Strosberg, one of his former students. His fiercest critics agree. “He basically gave up that one name, rabba,” says Agudath’s Avi Shafran. “Big deal. It was a superficial change—just a paint job. I admire him for that: So far, he’s stuck to his guns. Though I’d admire him even more if he gave up his guns altogether.”

Many of his allies suspect Weiss is biding his time—until the squall is behind him, more women complete Hurwitz’s level of scholarship, and he must decide whether to ordain his female graduates in three years. “His retraction or ‘backing up’ or whatever you want to call it doesn’t mean that he’s going to stop pushing the envelope,” says Reform rabbi Ellenson. “I’m sure it’s not over for him. This community is going to have to wrestle with the reality that women are capable of deep learning and leading. This horse has run out of the barn.”

I remind her that Weiss pledged not to confer the title of rabba again. “My response to that is, ‘He isn’t going to do it again,’” she says, “‘until he does it again.’”


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