Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter, assistant spiritual leader of Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Maryland, will be leaving the Greater Washington area to start her own congregation in Philadelphia in May 2019.
Rabbanit Fruchter envisions the as-yet-unnamed synagogue as a “thriving Modern Orthodox space … rich with learning and tefillah [prayer],” according to her to her July 28 Facebook post.
Beth Sholom’s leadership was informed of Rabbanit Fruchter’s plans at its regular board meeting on July 25, and an email from President Arnie Hiller and Rabbi Nissan Antine went out to congregants on July 28.
Rabbanit Fruchter “will bring her spirituality, scholarship, caring, and innovation to develop a new community in Philadelphia,” the email said.
“She is leaving on the best of terms and we are sad to see her go,” said Hiller in a phone interview. “She has done programming for children as well as the women and men of the congregation that has been phenomenal.”
Rabbanit Fruchter will receive financial support for her new endeavor as a fellow with Hillel’s Office of Innovation and from a seed grant from Start Up Shul. Recently co-founded by congregant Steve Lieberman and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, Start Up Shul aims to create Orthodox synagogues that are in keeping with Halacha (Jewish law) while being more gender-inclusive than the current mainstream model. For instance, Rabbanit Fruchter will give her weekly sermon from the women’s side of the sanctuary in her new synagogue.
After the High Holidays, the board plans to look at its budget and decide next steps, said Hiller. “We certainly would be open to hiring another rabbanit,” he said, but he thinks the board will be looking for the best candidate regardless of gender.
Rabbanit Fruchter and her colleague Maharat Ruth Friedman at Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., are two of a handful of women serving as clergy in Orthodox Union (OU) member synagogues.
A graduate of Yeshivat Maharat — a title derived from the Hebrew acronym of “manhiga hilkhatit, rukhanit, Toranit” (female leader of law, spirituality, and Torah) — Fruchter’s title at the synagogue changed from maharat to rabbanit in March 2018. “There are many female Torah scholars in Israel who are already using the title rabbanit, and using this title, which reflects scholarship and leadership, places her in a larger context of Orthodox female spiritual leaders,” the synagogue leadership explained in a March 15 email announcing the change.
The email also indicated that this was a move highly preferred by the OU in their ongoing conversation regarding the future of female clergy, but Rabbanit Fruchter had already been batting around the idea well before then with Rabbi Antine. Her new title “lowers barriers,” she said, and that bump in some people’s comfort level helps her serve the community’s needs.
Both Rabbanit Fruchter and Rabbi Antine said that the OU’s Jan. 2018 statement on female clergy actually helped normalize her position by explicitly delineating what role a “female spiritual leader” could serve and still be in line with the OU.
“A shul can hire a female spiritual leader and be in compliance with the OU,” said Rabbi Antine. “Our intention is when we have a search, it will be within the OU’s parameters.”
By Rachel Kohn