In response to The Orthodox Union’s recent statement regarding women’s roles in Orthodox synagogues, Leah Sarna, WGF Fellow (Class 27), Matt Reingold, WGF Alum (Class 23), Sara Wolkenfeld, wife of David Wolkenfeld, WGF Alum (Class 17), and Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, past faculty for the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, voiced their reactions in a symposium featured on Lehrhaus—an online forum created to spark thoughtful discourse within the Orthodox community, which received support from a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumni Collaboration Grant, made possible by the Jim Joseph Foundation—whose editors include Wendy Amsellem, WGF Alum (Class 13), Zev Eleff, WGF Alum (Class 22), Leslie Ginsparg Klein, WGF Alum (Class 16), Ari Lamm, WGF Fellow (Class 27), and Shlomo Zuckier, WGF Alum (Class 24).

“An Alternative History of American Modern Orthodoxy” by Leah Sarna, WGF Fellow (Class 27)

Conjure up in your mind a world in which Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik ztz”l, founder, philosopher, and halakhic mind of Modern Orthodoxy, had been born a woman.  Our community would be utterly different. Josefa Beila Soloveitchik would have studied Tanakh growing up, but she would not have been tutored in the complex methodologies of Brisk.  Her incredible soul and brainpower would have been drawn to philosophical inquiry in the university, and there it would have remained, serving the world of the academy alone—or perhaps just her household.  The reins of leadership within American Orthodoxy would have been taken up by others, and America’s Jewry would have been impoverished because of it.

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“A Vision for the Visiting Scholar” by Matt Reingold, WGF Alum (Class 23)

The scholar-in-residence component of congregational culture is an exciting one.  Learned thinkers, academics, and teachers provide excellent opportunities to share new and dynamic wisdom.  Their roles are very different from the local rabbi.  Scholars-in-residence do not, on the whole, develop long-term relationships with members of the community.  In most situations, they don’t speak to the halakhic guidelines of particular communities.

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“Schools Need Leadership, Too: The OU and Day School Education” by Sara Wolkenfeld

The question of who can and cannot be clergy has ramifications beyond the realm of the synagogue.  Day school education offers an important lens through which to read the recent findings of the rabbinic panel, convened by the Orthodox Union, on the halachic permissibility of women clergy.  After all, day school education is seen as a core value by many in our community.  Read against the backdrop of the OU statement on clergy, it is worth re-examining what transpires in our schools.

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“Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are” by Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, WGF Summer Institute Faculty

Much that is worth saying (and a fair amount that isn’t) has been said about the statement by the OU poskim and the accompanying statement from the OU itself.  Rehashing that would be of little communal value, even if we were to continue the pretense that my husband wasn’t one of the signatories.  And so I do not want to respond to this by addressing the statement’s premises, or its conclusions.  Instead, I want to ask: if we take seriously the call for women to fully submit themselves to the authority of the mesorah and its transmitters—to understand that even outside the realm of halakhah women and men must accept Torah authorities’ views of what is consonant with halakhic ethos or values—what steps should we as a community take to help make that happen?

Leah Sarna, WGF Fellow (Class 27), is a third-year student at Yeshivat Maharat in New York City.  She earned a BA in Philosophy & Psychology from Yale University, where she spent her time leading the Orthodox community and the partnership minyan as well as the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project and Dwight Hall: the center for public service and social justice at Yale.  She also participated in interfaith groups with Evangelicals, Muslims and Mormons.  Leah hails from Newton, Massachusetts, where she attended the Maimonides School, and she spent a year before college studying at the Beit Midrash for Women at Migdal Oz.  Leah has interned at Harvard Hillel and Ohev Sholom, the National Synagogue and is currently interning at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains.  Leah aspires one day to build a community, synagogue and soup kitchen somewhere.  She can be reached at

Matt Reingold, WGF Alum (Class 23) teaches at TanenbaumCHAT, a co-educational secondary community day school in Toronto in the Jewish History and Jewish Thought departments.  He received his PhD in Jewish Education from Toronto’s York University, with a focus on curriculum development that integrates the arts into secondary Jewish education.  During the 2016 year, he served as Shaarei Shomayim’s co-chair of adult education, where he worked to develop meaningful programming that would be relevant for all congregants.  He can be reached at

Sara Wolkenfeld is Director of Education at Sefaria, a digital library and new interface for Jewish texts, and also teaches Talmud at Ida Crown Jewish Academy.  She has previously worked as Director of Education at the Center for Jewish Life — Hillel at Princeton University, where she and her husband David, WGF Alum (Class 17) directed the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus.  During the summers, Sara teaches at the Drisha Institute in New York City and she lectures on various Jewish topics on campuses and in synagogues. She holds a BA in Judaica and Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and has studied Talmud and Jewish Law at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Drisha, Pardes, Nishmat, Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School and Beit Morashah.

Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz is Associate Principal, General Studies at SAR High School, and has also served as Director of General Studies at The Frisch School.  She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University, writing her dissertation about the cultural history of the Manhattan Project.  In addition to teaching high school, she has served as an adjunct professor of history at Yeshiva University and Stern Colleges.  She has lectured widely both on the history of science and on Jewish topics, frequently addressing issues of contemporary importance in the Orthodox community and has served as a faculty member for the Wexner Graduate Fellows.