‘They call me Hana’

Though she is not addressed by the title, Pelech’s Hana Godinger (Dreyfuss) is the first woman to be appointed ‘rabbi’ of a state-religious school.

By
October 2, 2014 12:10
Woman rabbi

Hana Godinger (Dreyfuss) is the first woman to be appointed ‘rabbi’ of a state-religious school.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Hana Godinger (Dreyfuss) always wanted to study Torah, so she did. After studying at such institutions as the Migdal Oz Beit Midrash for Women, Matan, and Beit Morasha, she has reached one of the highest positions in the field: She is the head of the beit mi - drash at Midreshet Lindenbaum (Bruria) – a women’s Torah study center in the Ar - nona neighborhood – and she was recent - ly appointed the first “rabbi” of the Pelech girls’ high school.

The 35-year-old married mother of three, who holds a BA in philosophy and psychology and a master’s in Talmud, lives in Nahlaot. She was born and grew up in Beit El, a place she defines as “totally different” from her present lifestyle.

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Yet despite all her groundbreaking achievements – she is the first woman to be appointed as a rabbi for a modern Orthodox girls’ school – she doesn’t feel at ease with the word “revolutionary,” pointing out that it leads to the kind of confusion she wants to avoid.

“When we speak about the huge and welcome change that has occurred in recent times in the world of Torah study among girls and women, the use of the term ‘revolution’ is misleading,” she says. “You can’t seriously think about and describe a spiritual journey in terms of a revolution; you need to remember that spirituality requires a much softer and gentler terminology.”

While her own path in the universe of women’s Torah study is sown with innovation, she is careful to keep it all deeply rooted within religious and spiritual borders, and she is careful to choose accurate words to describe it.

“The heart of the matter is not how many women will dedicate their life to Torah study – although that is, of course, important in itself – but whether [such study] is another layer in their avodat Hashem [service of God],” she says. “Does it have the necessary spiritual meaning when [they] come to the Torah?” Regarding the present state of women studying Torah in the country, she says that while from outside it may appear to have reached a plateau, such study is in fact increasing in depth.

“I don’t know if we are going to have women as poskot [decisors of Jewish law] soon,” she adds, “but what really matters is that it is right for the women who want to study Torah to do so, and above all, it is right for the Torah that women wish to immerse themselves in studying it. That is a blessing for both sides. So the specific achievements and the figures matter less here.”

Despite the novelty of her position at Pelech, she says her appointment as the school’s rabbi was a natural development.

“At Pelech, we tell our girls that they can do and achieve whatever they wish, that their status as females is not and should not be an obstacle. Yet whenever they had a question or a thought regarding halachic issues, they had to address them to a male abbi. That caused a lot of confusion, and even worse, it was sending a double message,” she explains. “So it is a natural thing that we reached the conclusion that these girls needed a woman for the position. By doing that [appointing a woman], we are in fact telling the girls that these questions and internal conflicts regarding the requirements of Halacha [and the decisions each girl makes about it] are her responsibility – not her father’s, not her husband’s. It’s all in her hands when it comes to the Halacha.

That is a very crucial change.”

She adds that “I am not called ‘Rabbi Hana’ – they call me Hana.

But yes, I am the rabbi of the school.”

ASKED WHETHER she imagines a future in which a man would take upon himself the livelihood of the family and caring for the children to enable the wife to dedicate her life to Torah study, Godinger says the issue is a completely different one.

“The question is not whether that could or could not happen, whether it is desirable or not. Of course, it would be a good thing and a blessing in itself. But the major issue is, does it come from a genuine will [to perform] avodat Hashem or not? And at the same time, we have to ask ourselves all the time: What is the deep, genuine place from which these things are coming? If a woman feels that [studying Torah] will add to and empower her own avodat Hashem, then it is the right thing, and in that regard, the quantity is less important – though as I said, I am happy about the growing number of women studying Torah.”

Turning to the issue of co-ed Torah study, she says she is not against it, but again, she draws attention to the reasons and the particular conditions of such cases.

“Personally I encourage studying in couples, since I believe that Torah study with one’s spouse is of enormous importance and impacts the couple’s life and unity,” she says. “As for others, it depends. There is incontestably a positive impact from men and women studying together, and there is a price also – it has to be taken into account beforehand.... This thing has opposing aspects to be considered.”

Regarding men’s reaction to women stepping into the world of Torah, she sounds optimistic.

“If a woman wants to study Torah to elevate and enrich her spiritual inner world, for the sake of the Torah and for her own avodat Hashem, why would any man object to that? If it doesn’t stem from any other reason, I see only support and encouragement.”

Godinger is cautious not to sound judgmental about feminist theories, but she reiterates that the whole domain of women’s Torah study has to be considered purely from a spiritual aspect.

“The spiritual world is a very delicate one,” she says. “It has to be handled with gentleness, precaution, and has to remain in the world of faith, of spirituality, in the world of the Torah and avodat Hashem.”


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