Monday, June 9, 2008

Female Rabbis

This was a totally new concept to me - why, you might ask, should it be considering the number of females being ordained in the Anglican Ministry.

Here's a little article that I came across just recently:
From the Buffalo News: "Female Rabbis Common Today"
"Q: Why does the Jewish faith allow female rabbis? Has this always been a part of the Jewish tradition? If not, when did the change take place? I don’t remember females in this role in the Old Testament.

A: There were no women rabbis in the Hebrew Bible because there were no rabbis in the Bible. Rabbis emerged as the leaders and teachers of Judaism after the priestly Judaism died with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century.

The opposition of rabbis to ordaining women was based on their ruling that women are exempt from all commandments that must be fulfilled at a specific time. This exemption was not the result of sexism but rather of not wanting to put women in a position where they’d face a conflict between their duties as mothers and their duty to fulfill a particular commandment. No one wanted women to have to leave a child to obey another commandment.

The problem, however, was that in Jewish law, you can’t obey a commandment that you’re not obligated to obey, and because women were not obligated to pray at a certain time and read from the Torah at a certain time like men, they couldn’t simply decide to do these things when they had no other family obligations. So, because women could not read from the Torah, lead the congregation in prayer, or be counted in the group of 10 Jewish men needed to pray communally (called a minyan), they could not be rabbis.

After the rise of liberal Judaism at the beginning of the 19th century in Germany, and then in America, a more inclusive view of the role of women was adopted. Now women and men could sit together during prayer. Now women could have bat mitzvahs and could become rabbis.

However, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear and have more to do with sexism in America than anything in the new understanding of Judaism, no women were ordained until Sally Priesand became a rabbi in 1972. I had the honor of being ordained with her at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the seminary of Reform Judaism. Sally just retired from the pulpit to become Rabbi Emerita of the only synagogue she ever served, Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls, N. J.

Today a large percentage of rabbinical and cantorial students at HUC-JIR are women. Women can be ordained as rabbis in the seminary of Conservative Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism. Even some Orthodox rabbis are looking into ways to accommodate both the demands of traditional Jewish law and those of parents who want their daughters to have the same spiritual horizons in Judaism as their sons.

All this began with Sally Priesand, whose accomplishment reminds us all that one person can make a difference in the ancient wisdom traditions that must balance responsiveness to what the world is learning with respect for the accumulated wisdom of the past. God bless you, Sally!"

For more about Sally Priesand

- Jewish Women & the Feminist Revolution

- Nations First Female Rabbi Retiring
"Sally J. Priesand, the first U.S. woman rabbi, arrived at Jewish seminary nearly 40 years ago determined to fulfill her dream to become a teacher of her faith. Many people thought she came for a different reason. Now as she prepares to retire more than three decades later, Priesand is widely seen as a role model who's helped change contemporary Judaism."

- Sally Priesand - Wikipedia

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