When famous artists like Chagall depict rabbis, they are painted as bearded men, often hunched over ancient texts or wrapped in their prayer shawls. When depicted in film, a rabbi is almost always shown as a saintly older man, most often with a European accent, with Hollywood representations almost exclusively always showing rabbis as men. This stereotype is so common that American Sign Language’s word for “Jew” borrows from this imagery, showing the mimicking of running one’s fingers through beard hair.
In contrast to these traditional rabbinic images, Rabba Sara Hurwitz—who uses a title to denote the feminine form of the Hebrew word for “rabbi”—became one of the first ordained Orthodox women in the world when she completed her rabbinical studies in 2009. When she was originally ordained, she used the title “Maharat,” created to denote religious female leadership. However, the title was not always clear to others, so Hurwitz subsequently changed it to “Rabba” to reflect her rabbinic role. While throughout Jewish history there have been a tiny number of Orthodox women who have received private ordination or served as female leaders, in Orthodoxy, being a rabbi has almost exclusively been seen as the domain of men.