Meet Sydney’s first woman to become an orthodox rabbi

May 20, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Rabbanit Judith Levitan has been granted smicha making the first woman in Sydney to be ordained as an orthodox rabbi.

Rabbanit Judith Levitan at work

Following three years of study involving travelling twice a year to New York, Rabbanit Judith passed her final exams having faced two examiners one in New York and the other in Jerusalem last week.

The legal aid lawyer had been studying with Yeshivat Maharat in New York with Rabbi Daniel Sperber from Jerusalem Israel being part of the examination process.

In Sydney, Rabbanit Judith attended classes in New York via Zoom 3-4 times weekly.

She has been a member of the Maroubra Synagogue for 11 years. She told J-Wire that she is not employed by the synagogue and does not hold any official position within its community.

Acknowledging the congratulations from Rabbi Yossi Friedman, Rabbanit Judith said: “I am an active of the Maroubra community I took this journey to smicha as a means of personal growth.  I will have to explore what opportunities may arise in the future.” She is not employed by the synagogue and remains a committed volunteer.

She said that Rabbi Moshe Gutnick is aware of her course and she has had ongoing discussions with the Sydney Beth Din.

Rabbanit Judith continued: “I follow all the laws of Halacha and I do not wear a tallit or lay tefillin. I will not conduct a mixed service and I will not read from the Torah in a mixed service.  But I can give Dvar Torah from the bima.”

People can bring halachic questions to the new rabbi who can also teach.

She said there could be problems and questions that people have which they may prefer to discuss them with a woman.

She said: “I see myself as an additional access point for this with something on their mind within Jewish law who might be uncomfortable on women’s issues.”

Rabbanit Judith Levitan is involved in many aspects of Maroubra Synagogue life one of which is teaching Bat Mitzvah girls, not only from within the shul’s community.

Whereas the Rabbanait prepares brides for their weddings she will be working with the rabbis to explore opportunities to conduct a wedding.

However, she can attend and speak at a shiva house but cannot officiate at a funeral.

Rabbanit Judith is involved in many aspects of community life and hopes to work with the Rabbis to explore further opportunities.

Rabbanat Judith said the course involved “rigorous study” of Jewish texts over three years.

Nine other women will graduate at the same time as Judith of the 27 currently doing the course.

The graduation will be held in Sydney on June 10. It will be a virtual graduation conducted over zoom involving students in the USA, Israel and Australia. The graduation will be coordinated out of New York at Yeshivat Maharat.

The course for women rabbis started in 2008.

The Sydney Beth Din stated: “The term ordination, which normally refers to conferring of certain religious powers on a minister, does not correctly describe Smicha.

With the conferring of Smicha, nothing changes in the way an individual performs religious functions. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of Torah knowledge gained.

Never the less, there remains a great deal of Halachic controversy around the awarding of formal Smicha to women.

That said, we applaud Rabbanit Judy for her incredible commitment to the study of Torah and observance of Mitzvot.

We are certain that with her newfound knowledge and skills she will continue to be an incredible asset to Orthodoxy in general and to our community as a whole.”

Ellyse Borghi in Melbourne received Smicha from Yeshivat Harel in Israel last year.


2 Responses to “Meet Sydney’s first woman to become an orthodox rabbi”
  1. Robert Weil says:

    Congratulations to the Rabbanit. So wonderful to see an orthodox woman embracing her Yiddishkeit with such respect, sincerity and devotion. What a contrast to those radical clowns such as ‘Women of the Wall’ who thrive on provocation and controversy.

    • Lynne Newington says:

      Maybe my head is buried in the sand because I’ve never heard of them…..

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