This week’s Two Voices asks: what impact have women rabbis had, 40 years after the first female ordination?
Rabbi David Mitchell says…
It is inspiring to stand, each week, on the same bimah where a capable young rabbi commenced her work 40 years ago. I’m sometimes mindful of Nachson, a character from the Midrash, who was the first Israelite to enter the turbulent Red Sea; he persevered until the waters formed a path so that others could cross without danger.
Rabbi Jackie Tabick, in her gentle, determined way, began a revolution. It didn’t take long for others to follow, which is why Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, the second ordained woman in the UK, is now the Senior Rabbi of our flagship congregation, West London Synagogue.
Like the indefatigable chalutzim, defying the odds and sceptics to cultivate the desert, these pioneering women rabbis, and the many who followed, toiled to change the Jewish landscape. The results include great scholarship, superb sermons, renewed liturgy, creative rituals, a more compassionate approach to pastoral work and a more professional and collegial way of ministering to our congregants.
Alongside this enrichment of the rabbinate, women rabbis also led the way in the inclusion of LGBTQ Jews. When, more than 20 years ago, rabbis Sheila Shulman and Elli Tikvah Sarah were ordained as the first ‘out’ rabbis, it was the support of their women colleagues that sustained them.
Those of us who followed are, to use a well-worn cliché, standing on the shoulders of giants, and brave ones at that.
David Mitchell is rabbi at West London Synagogue
Rabbi Jackie Tabick says…
My dream is that we won’t need to ask questions like this, that women rabbis should be seen simply as rabbis. But the reality is different and the impact of women rabbis has been enormous.
At first, the impact was practical. At West London Synagogue, separation of men and women for High Holy Days services ended. More girls took the opportunity of having a batmitzvah. The personal contribution made by female rabbis in Jewish scholarship, interfaith work, social action, community development and enriching synagogue life has been immense.
Equality has allowed the empowerment of women who see themselves as entitled to take leading roles in synagogue governance and worship. Girls and young women are told they can do and be anything; this applies as much to their spiritual/religious lives as to their careers.
We have seen women of great talent rise to the leadership of our community. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism and Rabbis Baroness Julia Neuberger and Alexandra Wright lead two of the most prominent synagogues of any denomination in the country.
Women rabbis perform an incredible service to Judaism in wider society showing us as a forward-looking community, promoting our values and articulating our voice with passion and integrity.
Jackie Tabick is the convenor of the Reform Beit Din and Britain’s first female rabbi