AUSTRALIAN Melanie Landau has become the first woman in the southern hemisphere to be ordained as an Orthodox “rabbah”, a qualification that has the main attributes of being a rabbi.
The Melburnian, who is currently living in Jerusalem with her young family, received her s’michah last month from Yeshivat Maharat in New York, the first yeshivah in the world to ordain women as Orthodox clergy.
Yeshivat Maharat “grants ordination to women but doesn’t give out titles”, explained Landau, “and the title that women work out is in relation to the institution they will be working with.” Some institutions of religious higher learning in Israel have now followed Yeshivat Maharat’s lead in ordaining women.
Titles for ordained women include “maharah” (a halachic spiritual leader), “morateinu” (our teacher) or, Landau’s choice, “rabbah” (rabbi).
“Although there are biblical precedents for women in leadership, [Orthodox] women have been taking leadership only for women. Some people might find it’s going against tradition but I see it more as reigniting tradition,” she told The AJN from Israel.
Landau said halachic impediments to women’s spiritual leadership include not being counted in a minyan, not being halachically legal witnesses and not being permitted to lead prayers, although at Shira Hadasha in Melbourne, where she has been a long-time congregant, women lead in some of the prayers, she noted.
A lecturer in Jewish Studies at Monash University for eight years, where she also co-founded the Darsheini community learning program, Landau has wanted to be a rabbi since her childhood at a Jewish school in Melbourne around 20 years ago and spoke to a female rabbi about it.
She has worked with women and couples for more than 10 years, on what she termed “the transformative potential” of rituals. She has studied in various yeshivot and batei midrash in Jerusalem, as well as studying gender politics, law and psychoanalysis.
Landau has focused strongly on building bridges between Jews who have strongly contrasting approaches to Judaism and she has also been involved in “conflict transformation” between Israelis and Palestinians.
Describing herself as “at home in Jerusalem and in Melbourne”, Landau said she still has to decide whether she will make aliyah.
Not identifying with any particular stream of Judaism, Landau stressed that her work in rabbinic leadership “is beyond denominational lines”.