Thursday, March 19, 2015


Last week, my wonderful amazing husband forwarded the following article to me, which I am now sharing with all of you:

I read it (please do access it and at least go through a bit of it) and was constantly shaking my head. I remember when Malka Bina began her ground-breaking institution of Matan; have been involved with so many people who are part of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance), have watched the development of the YCT community and its addressing of women scholars and leaders, and so on. Here is another issue in which I kind of feel like Forrest Gump, in that I WAS THERE as these things happened!

And now we have Maharat, Rabbah Yoetzet and other titles for women to take leadership roles in Halachically oriented communities, if not in all Orthodox and right-pitched Jewish observance spaces. When I explain the contours of my life to others, they often reply “Oh so you are a Rabbi.” Well…… not exactly! While I have often been asked why am I not a Rabbi or the appropriate analogous role, I reply that I may function in a very similar manner, but do not carry the title because that was just not part of my experiential context in my formative years. Yes, I teach and lecture in many different venues, I advise people on various matters of Jewish observance, teach potential converts, learn Jewish texts, run a Partnership Minyan in our home monthly, and do answer various questions that are asked of me regarding Halachic matters, using appropriate resources. Professionally, I carry the title of Dr. as an academic degree. I can honestly say that I am not sure whether or not I would do anything differently if the soul that inhabits my body was born and exposed to the opportunities that are available today. Yes, I would have loved to have a Drisha or a Hadar or a Hartman Institute or PARDES or any number of other learning options that abound today when I was in my 20s, but alas, it is my colleagues and friends who have created these institutions and we have collectively paved this road for women today to take their place in our more observantly based Jewish world of learning and scholarship and leadership.

My dearest Aunt Sandy, with whom we often spend wonderful time in Israel, reminded me some time ago that when I was little, I apparently stated that I wanted to be the first Orthodox woman Rabbi. Funny to be reminded of dreams and aspirations from so long ago! But the reality is that I am in fact living those dreams and aspirations, just in a way somewhat different than new options that are available to women today.

So is this a revolution, to revisit the question posed in the article that was brought to my attention? I have a very distinct memory of that word from a high school play with this line and its double meaning, “Yes, the peasants are revolting!” Ha! Ha! No, I do not think this is a revolution but rather an evolution – a process that has taken time, decades really, to evolve as those of us in religiously observant spaces really continue that time-honored process of Gemara (Talmud) in which we consider what it is we are doing, are allowed to do, should be doing, have developed a custom of doing, and so on. We follow our Talmudic teachers in looking around, considering all of the options and possibilities, interface various aspects of our lives as observant Jews, and then reconsider the possibilities, sometimes retracting earlier positions and taking on the practices of others we have observed.

As a mother of three daughters, I am thrilled with the options that they and my younger colleagues have to achieve notice for their scholarship, skill sets and leadership in Modern Orthodox and other religiously observant spaces. I am so glad that we have evolved to this point.

As we do so, we should not forget that this is not only NOT a revolution; nor is it a totally new phenomenon. Pesach is coming and here we speak of Miriam, Yocheved, Shua and Puah, four women (and here we should include Pharaoh’s daughter as well) who took on important leadership roles, meaningful initiatives, saved lives and did so much. Truly they and so many others from the narratives of our Tanach and Talmud and years of Jewish History that has evolved are wonderful role models for today’s Jewish observant scholarly women who take their place amongst our leaders. This is what women want – the respect, consideration, and notice to which they are entitled. Hopefully we have evolved to that point!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sanctified Texts, You Gotta Love Them

Every now and then in my learning I imagine meetings between people and what those conversations might entail. So, in that vein, Charles Kimball (When Religion Becomes Evil) – I would like to introduce you to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning).

You see, both of you love texts. Both of you are committed to protecting the integrity of the institution of religion and sanctified texts that serve to define it. Both of you speak about the potential problems of reading texts out of context, especially when one desires to make a case for what they believe (ahem, KNOW) to be true. Both of you talk about the need for humility, to remember that there are many ways to interpret the texts that are foundational to who we are and what we believe.

Mr. Kimball, as you speak so eloquently about the danger of misusing and abusing these important texts, so too does Rabbi Sacks. Allow me to use his words:

Every religion based on a body of holy writings, a sacred scripture, contains hard texts: passages which, if taken literally and applied directly, would lead to results at odds with that religion’s deepest moral convictions. There are passages in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran that, taken in isolation, are radically inconsistent with the larger commitments of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons as bearers of God’s image. (The Great Partnership, pp. 251 – 252)

In these words, Rabbi Sacks gives us all clear warning. God gives us our sanctified texts to use and wrestle with, NOT to claim ownership and absolute knowledge of them. How true it is that too many people in our world riddled today with religious extremism just love to claim that ownership and knowledge, using what amounts to no more than slight and misused soundbites to further their own sense of correctitude and slam the rest of us over the head with their “I know better than you” stance. Mr. Kimball, you most correctly point out that religion does indeed become a force for evil, and not good, when this is done.

How sad and painful this is for us; how horrifying it must be for God. God, who wants to guide us and help us to be better, to rise above the challenges and missteps so overwhelmingly present in our world, gives us the gift of these sanctified texts – to pour over, to think about, to use carefully and humbly.

I learned a pithy but quite dangerous saying from a colleague of mine a while ago that goes like this: ‘My Leviticus is better and bigger than your Leviticus!’ Remembering that the book of VaYikra, or Leviticus, is about ritual purity – that is trying to be the best we can in our world, resisting the practices of Egypt that went against every standard of human rights we uphold, observing discipline in eating, remembering the purpose of worship, balancing what it means to be a human being in this world while confronting its challenges and so much else.

As I often like to remind all of us, the very middle of this book, which is the middle of the Five Books of Moses reminds us to LOVE YOUR FRIEND/NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, … FOR I AM GOD. Beautiful! If you want to take one phrase out of context, I cast my vote for this one. Yes, there are wars that are difficult to read about in the Torah, annihilations that we do not fully understand, practices of other people that were heinous, rebellion and so much more. But, all of this is part of the much larger picture of which the central message is LOVE YOUR FRIEND/NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, … FOR I AM GOD.

Just imagine what kind of world we could build if THIS was the text we would take out of its framework and throw around all the time. So here is an idea, for those of us who JUST LOVE text, choose the text the best exemplifies the best of who we are and what we can become -- Here are a few suggestions -- Do not judge another until you have reached his place; Judge the other one favorably; Do not place a stumbling block before the blind, etc. -- and just point that text with a loving finger and gentle voice at everyone you know. Leave the “I will take you down” texts in favor of the “I want to build you up” texts. That is the point of Torah, of the New Testament and the Koran…. And too often that is forgotten or lost. Thank you Charles Kimball and Rabbi Sacks for reminding us how much we should just … Love those texts!