Sisterhood Blog

Remembering Rivka Haut

By Phyllis Chesler

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Courtesy of Phyllis Chesler // Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut, right

Yesterday, a fearless and legendary leader of Jewish women, Rivka Haut, was memorialized, mourned and buried.

The funeral took place at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale on March 31. Rabbi Avi Weiss compared Rivka to black fire and white fire — the black fire are the letters and words of the Torah, the white fire, upon which these words are written, are more fluid, tender, kind. Just like Rivka. It was an apt and yet extraordinary comparison.

There was a delay in bringing the casket into the synagogue. And so I said, to lighten the moment, “Rivka has probably flown the coop. She cannot bear such attention and so much praise.” People laughed. Here is what I said at Rivka’s funeral:

“With whom else could I be such close friends?

God introduced us. We met over a Torah in the women’s section at the Kotel. It was December 1, 1988, and Rivka asked me to open the Torah for us so that women could pray from it. This honor, which will never be surpassed in my lifetime, wedded me to Rivka’s vision, to Torah study, and to a deep friendship.

My darling Rivka turned this wild rebel child into a more refined rebel. She taught me gentleness, forgiveness, the importance of putting family first—but, like me, she was also a fabulous and fearless feminist, who took on the world, including the rabbis, for the sake of justice and truth. Rivka was my teacher and my chevrutah. When we studied Torah together or wrote devrai Torah, we were literally in heaven. We worked so beautifully together. A single phrase, even a word, and forever after, we both remembered our previous discussions on that point. This kind of companionship is utterly intimate and irreplaceable.

Rivka was humble, strong, tireless–a woman who lived her life doing God’s will. She loved her family beyond measure, her daughters, her sons-in-law, but especially her grandchildren. Rivka understood that “We are dust, a passing dream”—God’s dream, and that it is all in God’s hands. I can hear Rivka saying this. Right now.”

Rivka was the world’s leading agunah activist, the author of four books. She was a pioneer of all-women’s prayer groups and was among the first Orthodox Jewish women to learn and teach Talmud. On December 1, 1988, Haut led a group of women in prayers with the Torah at the women’s section of the Western Wall. This led to a still ongoing movement for Jewish women’s religious rights at the historic Kotel — not at Robinson’s Arch. Haut has supported and helped free countless agunot. She also taught Torah, Talmud, and Midrash at rabbinical academies such as The Academy for Jewish Religion and Yeshiva Chovevei Torah.

Rivka grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She obtained a Master’s of English Literature from Brooklyn College and a Master’s in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She was married to Irwin Haut for 37 years until his death in 2001. Rivka, who passed away at 71, is survived by her daughters, Dr. Sheryl Haut and Tamara Weissman, her sons-in-law, Dr. David Rosenberg and Seth Weissman, her grandchildren Ariel, Ayelet, and Aaron Rosenberg and Eleanna, Adi and Nitzana Weissman, and her sister Arlene Talerman.

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