SYDNEY lawyer Judith Levitan, who earned her rabbinic ordination last week, wants to be “a resource for the community, to help people connect meaningfully and be inspired by Judaism”.
The Legal Aid NSW employee, who is an active member of the Sydney Women’s Tefillah Group, teaches bat mitzvah students and is a founding member of the Jewish Alliance Against Domestic Violence, became the first Orthodox woman in NSW to earn smicha after a three-year course at Yeshivat Maharat in New York.
“I guess what inspired me was the fact that I could,” she told The AJN this week.
“The opportunity arose … I didn’t ever in my wildest dreams think that I would end up being a rabbi.”
If not for a family holiday to Disneyland in 2017, it may never have happened.
“At the same time we were in Disneyland there was a conference on in New York run by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance [JOFA]. And I thought, we’ve travelled halfway across the world, I’m already almost there, so I left my husband with the children,” she said.
The conference featured various speakers who had obtained smicha and Rabbanit Levitan was encouraged to follow their path.
The course was mostly done remotely, with two trips to New York each year for intensive lessons.
“We studied Gemara and there was a halachah shiur. There was also leadership and innovation and a pastoral Torah track,” she said.
“The aim was to get us to attain a level of mastery or skill over ancient Jewish texts and also be able to apply the principles that we’ve learnt in contemporary scenarios.
“[Yeshivat] Maharat really wants to equip women to be leaders in the 21st century and to face challenges and be able to respond with empathy and appropriately, and also halachically.”
Classes took place in the afternoons, New York time, which she said fitted her schedule well.
“I’d do the classes in the morning, get the kids ready for school and then go off and do a full day’s work, then come home in the evenings and prepare for class the next day,” she said.
“That was challenging, having the stamina to maintain that pace. What kept me going was the enjoyment that I was getting from learning and also it was a very supportive environment. I’ve made lifelong friendships through doing the course.”
She said she was “relieved and excited” to have finished and “also very excited at the opportunities that this brings to teach and to bring people closer to Judaism”.
She added, “I’ve always thought that there are many opportunities within Orthodox Judaism for women to participate and to lead a very full spiritual life, particularly in the areas of learning, so what I would say is use my example.
“Keep learning, try something new, explore all opportunities to get involved.”
Rabbanit Levitan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.