Not Quite Far Enough
We’ve come a long way.
Or have we?
Contrasting images from this past week keep swirling in my mind’s eye:
This past week the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox rabbinic association, prohibited the ordination of women rabbis. RCA president Rabbi Shalom Baum justifies this decision by saying,
“…as the role of women in society advances, we must consider and encourage appropriate professional opportunities open to learned women in our community, as we find positive ways to express the beauty of Torah and the importance of its values that have been extant for millennia.”
Guys, this is the 21st century! Seriously. Have we not yet learned that “separate but equal” isn’t really equal?!
It is not surprising that Orthodox women, such as Rabba Sara Hurwitz are speaking out, and progressive rabbinic associations, such as the Reform movement’s Women’s Rabbinic Network and Central Conference of American Rabbis are rallying in support of Rabba Hurwitz and her Orthodox colleagues:
…As such, we, the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, hereby stand with unequivocal support of ANY woman, who after appropriate, rigorous study and counsel through a recognized rabbinical seminary is ordained by said institution. We applaud these women and their commitment to the study of Jewish law, history and culture for the sake of transmitting our sacred tradition to future generations. We also commend the rabbis and lay leaders who have taken the bold step of teaching, supporting and hiring these newly ordained women as clergy. We stand together with our new Orthodox colleagues who, together with us, work to ensure that Judaism is alive and thriving for all Jewish people who wish to be included in our sacred community.
Snapshots 2, 3, 4: Shabbat morning, November 7, parshat Chaye Sarah at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial Convention.
With 5000 members of the Reform movement gathering together for Shabbat morning worship, women and men dance together with the Torah. The room is filled with joy and singing. Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall, Nashot HaKotel, joins hundreds of others in dancing with the Torah in her arms, her eyes twinkling and a wide smile on her face.
As she dances by me, I snap a quick picture and pray that the time will come when she can do this in her own home – our Jewish home – Israel, without the fear of harassment or arrest.
The Torah service continues with the honoring of Daryl Messinger on her installation as chairperson of the URJ. In its 142 year history the URJ has never before had a woman serve as chairperson. For a movement that is unerringly committed to egalitarianism, that has ordained women as rabbis since 1972 and cantors since 1975, this appointment has been a long time coming.
And finally, the Torah service ends, with the traditional hagbah and g’lilah, lifting of the Torah to show the assembled the words that had been read and dressing it. I was invited to participate in this honor with my colleague Rabbi Stan Schickler in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators. Despite this being a honor usually accepted by men because of the physical strength needed to do it, we decided I, as president of ARJE, should take it on.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the comments I have received since Shabbat morning. Women have been simultaneously shocked that I could physically lift the scroll and proud of me and my accomplishment. Yet, as my friend and colleague Rabbi Valerie Lieber wrote on Facebook:
…people should not be surprised when kick-ass women like Laura can excel at it. Women like her and so many others are super strong and balance so much. We were built for this honor!
So, as I reflect on this past week and these snapshots about the role of women in Judaism, I am left wondering. How far have we really come? We have come far.
But not quite far enough.