Progressively Speaking: Does Judaism ignore women?

Progressively Speaking: Does Judaism ignore women?

Charley Baginsky takes a topical issue and applies a Liberal Jewish perspective

Lilian Montagu
Lilian Montagu


In the year celebrating a century since some women were given the vote, it’s no big revelation that Judaism, and indeed all religions, were traditionally misogynistic.

Indeed, if we look back to when Liberal Judaism was formed in 1902 – with a commitment to full equality from the start – women were very much overlooked.

Lily Montagu (right) -– a founder of Liberal Judaism, a suffragette and an inspiration to many of us today – was often the exception rather than the rule. For a long time, few women held leadership roles in global Jewry, even in Progressive movements, and no female rabbis.

Regina Jonas was the first woman to be ordained, in Germany in 1935. After she was murdered by the Nazis, there wasn’t another for almost 40 years. It took Britain until 1975 to ordain its first female rabbi, Jackie Tabick.

Happily, things have changed. By the time I graduated from Leo Baeck College in 2008, I had never once thought about my identity as a woman being relevant to my career choice. Female rabbis and leaders now form at least 50 percent of Progressivie Judaism’s clergy and much of our lay leadership.

Women fill the roles of senior rabbi at the Liberal movement’s oldest shul, the Liberal Jewish Synagogue (Rabbi Alexandra Wright) and  co-editors of our new siddur (Rabbis Elli Tikvah Sarah and Lea Mühlstein). It’s a similar story at Reform Judaism.

And it is not just in our Progressive movements that substantial progress has been made. The Board of Deputies has made efforts to be more representative and women have filled leadership roles in nearly all parts of our Jewish world.

But let’s not celebrate too soon My female colleagues and I are con-tinually subject to comments and descriptions our male counterparts would never hear, we still see all-male panels at Jewish events and Jewish ‘mansplaining’ is definitely a thing.

So while we should be proud of what Progressive Judaism has achieved, we must recognise that much work remains to be done.

  • Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships
read more: