OPINION: Titles are important, and women deserve them

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By the BP Editorial Board

When Shalhevet brings in a prospective Judaic Studies teacher and everyone loves her, the assumption is that she will be hired—especially because Shalhevet is always looking to add more females to the Judaic faculty.  And when Ramie Smith, soon to complete Yeshivat Maharat in New York, visited Shalhevet last January, she immediately clicked with students and faculty alike. She was clearly knowledgeable about Jewish Law and Torah Study, and all agreed that she would be a valuable asset to the Shalhevet Community.

But when Rabbi Segal announced the new hires for the 2015-16 school year on April 17, Ramie’s name was noticeably missing. The reason: according to multiple sources, Shalhevet was not willing to call her Maharat, the title being used by all female graduates of her yeshiva. Officials seem to have been worried calling a teacher by that title could cause community members to view Shalhevet as a non-mainstream Orthodox high school. If so, Shalhevet gave up an amazing hire to protect its reputation.

We at the Boiling Point are very disappointed with this decision and the school’s stance on the issue of female titles. Five years ago, Shalhevet was suffering from weak enrollment and unstable administration.  Back then, maintaining a certain appearance in the Los Angeles Orthodox community was arguably necessary. But with growing popularity, a new building and an incoming freshman class of over 60, the school really doesn’t need to worry about losing community support because it hired an educated woman with the title maharat.

Furthermore, multiple male Judaic studies teachers at Shalhevet have used the title “Reb,” a variation of “rabbi,” even though they never received rabbinic ordination at all. Ms. Smith deserves the title that she soon will have earned by completing her four years of learning in Yeshivat Maharat. Shalhevet should be recognizing her hard work with the professional title that accompanies it.

At a school that encourages female students to learn Judaic studies just like male students, not conferring recognition for a woman’s learning is hypocritical.  Shalhevet has just sent a different message: that women who have spent  just as much time studying as men, and studying the same material with the same love, fascination and awe for Torah, will not receive the same distinction.

Rabbi Segal says he is always open to reconsider. We hope he will before the next Ramie Smith comes along.

This story won a 2015 Simon J. Rockower Award, Second Place for Excellence in Reporting About Women.

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