Graduation marks new class of women Halakhic leaders
Graduation marks new class of women Halakhic leadersCourtesy

After more than a year of social distancing that limited ceremonies to small private events, the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) of the Ohr Torah Stone network commemorated the graduation of its 2021 class, attended by hundreds of family and friends.

Three women, Rabbanit Dr. Hannah Hashkes, Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis and Rabbanit Chamutal Shoval successfully completed the intensive five-year course. The curriculum spans the wide breath of halakhic topics including Shabbat and festivals, kashrut, the laws of mourning, family purity and Jewish marriage and divorce. Upon graduating the WIHL, women are certified as spiritual leaders holding the title of Morot Hora’ah, authorizing them to provide direction in matters of Jewish law that they mastered.

Each of the women will hold positions of spiritual influence in their individual fields, joining previous graduates of WIHL who are already providing halakhic and spiritual leadership in communities and in religious organizations around Israel. Rabbanit Dr. Hashkes will be heading up the WIHL's new International Halakha Scholars Program; Rabbanit Marili Mirvis as the spiritual leader of the Shirat HaTamar community in Efrat, and Rabbanit Shoval will serve as the Head of the Women's Beit Midrash in Gush Etzion.

“Throughout Jewish history and our tradition, we have been blessed to experience positive change that has altered the future of our people. I firmly believe that we are witnessing a moment like this here with women's scholarship and halakhic leadership growing” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “Change requires humility, patience and utmost respect and constant concern that we are defending the sanctity of the halakhic process and the long-term interests of all sectors the Jewish people. The holy effort to expand the roles of Jewish women spirituality is a development which deserves to be celebrated. By placing halakha as our moral compass, we can be sure that it is a historic development which will exalt Hashem’s name while also contributing to bringing more and more people closer to our tradition and halakhic observance.” Along with Rabbi Brander and WIHL's Rabbi Shuki Reich, graduation certificates were presented by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Ohr Torah Stone's Founder and Rosh HaYeshiva under whose leadership the WIHL was first established.

Rabbanit Devorah Evron, Director of the WIHL, who herself was recently selected to serve as a spiritual leader alongside the Rabbi of Bar Ilan University said, “There is a feeling of great hope coming out of this event represented by the enormous dedication our graduates have put into the study of Torah as well as how we know they will take that learning and transform it into daily communal life.”

The WIHL empowers Jewish women with the proper skills and credentials not only to achieve self-fulfillment and earn a meaningful livelihood but to educate, guide, inspire and provide meaningful leadership to the world Jewish community. In keeping with the program’s aim of effectively preparing fellows to cater to the diverse needs of the worldwide Jewish community, WIHL fellows are also provided with Pastoral and Leadership training.

Rabbanit Dr. Hashkes said, "During my academic studies in Jewish philosophy, I met many people involved in Torah learning, who were looking for the key to the development of halakha. The answer is that it is found in the written word and its actualization in the real world."

Rabbanit Mirvis said, “Today, many women are learning Torah. We must teach our daughters that just as they can contribute to professional fields such as law and medicine, they can contribute to the world of Jewish spiritual leadership, where they can grow and give to those around them. We must remember that the words of the Torah were not written for someone else, they were written for us."

After an in-depth halakhic exploration of why this event was so significant to warrant the blessing, Rabbanit Shoval recited the Shehecheyanu saying, “I am proud to be a part of this group of talmidot chachamim.”