This week our weekly progressive Judaism debate tackles…gender equality

Rabbi Ellie Tikvah Sarah

Rabbi Ellie Tikvah Sarah

Q: As Regina, a new film about the world’s first female rabbi, is premiered in the UK – we ask: is enough done to include women in Judaism?

  • Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah says…

Is this the right question? Are women doing enough to include ourselves in Judaism? When exclusion is de rigueur, it’s usually those excluded, who have to knock down the closed door.

Rabbi Regina Jonas is a good example. If it hadn’t been for her persistence, she would not have received s’mikhah [ordination] in 1935.

She wrote her rabbinic dissertation on the halachic arguments for women’s ordination, and when her Talmud professor refused to sign her s’mikhah certificate, found others to back her.

Jewish women have made huge gains in recent years. In the 1990s, women rabbis established the ‘half empty bookcase’, running conferences aimed at enabling women’s participation, and produced two books, Hear Our Voice (1994) – including my essay on Rabbi Jonas and dedicated to her memory – and Taking up the Timbrel (2000).

Since that time, the ‘bookcase’ has been steadily filling, women’s study and prayer groups have multiplied, more girls have celebrated becoming batmitzvah on equal terms, liturgies have been created and revised, and the progressive rabbinate has become 50 percent female.

So what more do Jewish women need to do?

Keep insisting on equal rights and equal rites until Judaism becomes the inheritance of all Jews, regardless of gender.

• Elli Tikvah Sarah is rabbi at Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue

  • Alice Alphandary

    Alice Alphandary

    Alice Alphandary says…

I belong to the community that had the UK’s first female rabbi to lead a congregation, we currently have a female rabbi and half of the council that I serve on comprises women.

So I could answer ‘yes’, but I think there is more to be done. In services, communities refer to Adonai, and rarely to Shekhinah. Using more inclusive language is one simple way to increase the welcome we give to women and to improve the quality of our worship by reminding ourselves of the different attributes of God.

Turning to Judaism in the home, I think women have some clearly defined traditional roles in terms of being the home-maker. We should continue to support those that wish to continue these roles, while offering other women the space and respect to take on other roles.

But doing more to include women is only half the story – I can remember my shock the first time I went to a Shabbat dinner where I saw a man lighting the candles.

So I look forward to an ever more inclusive Judaism that sees a world where, in the words of American feminist Judy Chicago: ‘Both men and women will be gentle. And then both women and men will be strong.”

• Alice Alphandary is a member of South London Liberal Synagogue, where she serves on the council