Women’s Rabbinic Network Reacts to Strip Searches at Kotel

Image: Women’s Rabbinic Network Logo

The Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) is a professional organization of Reform women rabbis. It is a constituent group of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). I am proud to be a member of the WRN.

For more about the incident in question, here is the story as reported in the Times of Israel.

Women’s Rabbinic Network Reacts to Strip Searches at Kotel

The Women’s Rabbinic Network, representing over 700 Reform women rabbis, strongly condemns the invasive body searches of female students of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at the Western Wall yesterday morning. These students, our future colleagues, were violated and disrespected, and we join our colleagues of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis and the Jews of the greater Reform Movement in calling for an immediate apology and the appropriate discipline of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz who ordered these searches and the security personnel who carried out them. This is just the latest incident in an ongoing battle for egalitarian rights at the Kotel and the right of all Jewish women to pray freely at this holy site. As women rabbis, and as Jews who identify with the Reform movement, we are acutely aware of our second-class status in the eyes of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. Month after month, Women of the Wall gather to celebrate Rosh Chodesh and are subjected to mistreatment, verbal and sometimes physical assault. With the latest position of the Israeli government in abdicating the agreement to create a fully egalitarian space, it is not surprising that the mistreatment of women and Women of the Wall members is escalating even further. The WRN stands firmly in support of Women of the Wall, with all the women cantors, rabbis, and students, as well as all who fight for equal status and treatment at the Kotel in the face of increasing violence and disrespect.

For Comments Contact:

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore, Executive Director

WRN cell: 908-962-4659

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Is Wonder Woman Jewish?

Image: Directors Patty Jenkins and actors Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Connie Neilsen talk about Wonder Woman at San Diego Comic Con, 2016 (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

I’ve waited for this movie for 50 years.

When Linda and I sat down yesterday in the theater, I was wary. I’ve had my heart broken in movie theaters before. The first time I was nine, when Walt Disney tarted up Mary Poppins (1964) beyond all recognition, drenched her in sugar, and perverted P.L. Travers’ books. I felt I’d been robbed, and I left the theater sobbing.

I feel strongly about certain characters in literature.

So when there has been talk about a Wonder Woman film, I’ve perked up my ears, but I’ve not let myself hope too much. Hollywood has a way of messing up good stories, especially good stories with female protagonists. I was encouraged to hear that Patty Jenkins was directing; her writing and direction of Monster (2004) were miraculous.

I was even more encouraged when I heard that Gal Gadot had been cast as the lead. She is beautiful, she is strong, she can be very funny, and I liked the idea of the world hearing an Israeli accent in that role. A Jewish woman as a super hero? Oh, yeah!

I saw the poster and dared to hope. WonderWoman

As sexualized as the comic book figure was, as campy as the TV show, the image in the poster is that of a warrior. She is kneeling on a beach, at the edge of her world.  The sun behind her is either rising or setting, with no clues as to which it is. Is she at the beginning of a journey, or recovering from battle? Is her grave expression sadness or something else?

I won’t spoil the film for you. I spent quite a bit of it in tears, watching a brave woman do terrifying things in defense of innocents. Some of those tears were that I was finally seeing the movie I’d wanted to see ever since I first found a Wonder Woman comic book discarded on a sidewalk in Nashville 50 years ago and recognized her as mine. Some of those tears were the tears of a graying feminist who finally got to see a great movie about a wonderful woman, directed by a woman. Some of them were because the movie is genuinely moving, and occasionally pretty scary (take that PG-13 rating seriously, please.)

Does the film have Jewish content? You bet. It stars a Israeli woman. Wonder Woman may have a Greek name but she learns a very Jewish lesson: humanity was born good, with a terrible capacity for evil. The fight is to free that which is good while curbing that which is evil. It is not a simple task.

Go. See the movie. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Women Rabbis Making History

Image: Photo of Rabbi Regina Jonas believed to have been taken after 1939. (Jewish Women’s Archive)

Tonight was the event I most looked forward to at the CCAR Convention: the Women’s Rabbinic Network gathered for our annual dinner.

One of the most moving aspects of the dinner is roll call. The president calls us by ordination years, beginning with the soon-to-be ordained rabbis: “Class of 2017!” A few of them were with us, and we clapped and cheered for them. Then the newest rabbis: “Class of 2016!” When she got to “Class of 2008!” I stood up with my classmates and enjoyed the warmth. As the years count down, we get to the pioneers, women who carved the way for the rest of us, right down to “Class of 1972!”

At that, one woman stands up. Her name is Rabbi Sally Priesand. We go crazy, standing and cheering for her, because she is the trailblazer for the rest of us, ordained on June 3, 1972. Since that day, the Reform Movement in the United States has ordained over 700 women as rabbis. We serve as congregational rabbis, as military chaplains, as academics, and as counselors. There are major scholars among our ranks, and teachers like myself. Two of us have served as presidents of the CCAR, and many women rabbis are on faculty at rabbinical schools worldwide.

For many years, we thought Rabbi Priesand was the first woman ordained as a rabbi. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall did the world learn of Rabbi Regina Jonas, a German woman who was ordained in Berlin in 1935 by Rabbi Max Dienemann (1875–1939) director of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis. Rabbi Jonas served the Jews of Berlin and elsewhere faithfully until 1942, when she was sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. There she provided pastoral care, teaching, and services for the Jews in the camp, until she and her mother were transferred to Auschwitz on October 12, 1944. They were likely murdered that same day.

Although Rabbi Jonas worked alongside Rabbi Leo Baeck and the psychologist Viktor Frankl at Theresienstadt, neither of them ever mentioned her after the war. Were it not for the records in East Berlin, including her rabbinic thesis, we would never have known about her.

If you are interested in learning more about women in the rabbinate, there’s a wonderful new book out that explores the topic. It won a National Jewish Book Award this year: The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate. I recommend it highly.

There are now many women rabbis in America and around the world. For synagogue-going Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Renewal Jews we are no longer a curiosity. Even in the Orthodox world, where change happens very slowly, there are now women with rabbinic educations, doing rabbinic work under various titles. When I looked around that room tonight, I felt honored to be a member of this group of women who have dedicated their lives to Torah and the care of the Jewish People. I felt honored to be part of history.

Shabbat Shalom! – Mishpatim

Last week, in Parashat Yitro, Moses delivered the 10 Commandments from God to the people of Israel (Exodus 20). This week he continues to deliver commandments to us, hence the name  Parashat Mishpatim [“Laws”].

It is filled with rules and regulations for Jewish living, and finishes with descriptions and commandments for the three great “pilgrimage festivals” of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. It lends itself to a variety of divrei Torah, because each law in it is a gate to a little world of its own.

You may have wondered how I find the divre Torah that I post on these weekly offerings. Usually it’s pot luck – I notice nice ones during the week as I study the portion myself, and I list them. Sometimes I scramble them together at the last minute, searching the blogs of colleagues for divrei Torah on the portion.

This week I choose to highlight the work of my women colleagues. Women rabbis are no longer a novelty, but we have not yet reached full acceptance even in the Reform world, if you take our salaries as a measure. Some of these women are pulpit rabbis and some work in the Jewish institutional world. I share with you their brilliance in expounding on Parashat Mishpatim:

The Roots of the Amicus Brief by Rabbi Beth Kalisch

The Other Side of the Coin by Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz

Gutsy Listening by Rabbi Elka Abrahamson

Respecting Life, Do Not Add Insult to Injury by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Covenant & Commitment: Who is Responsible for the Vulnerable Among Us? by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell

Mishpatim – Laws by Rabbi Kari Hofmeister Tuling, PhD

Living the Details of Life by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Shifra and Puah — Who were they?

This is a wonderful examination of this week’s Torah portion by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild. She looks at the figures of Shifra and Puah, the midwives who defied Pharaoh. Her questions about the treatment they have received from the traditional commentaries bothers me too. What do you think about the questions at the end? Who WERE Shifra and Puah?

Shifra & Puah, midwives of our history. Parashat Shemot names some strong women without whom Moses w… – http://wp.me/p2PDCW-oj

Science and Religion, Another View

Image: Photo of Rosalind Ellis Franklin. I have been unable to obtain rights information for this photo; if any reader is aware of the owner, I would appreciate that information.

Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience, and experiment. . . . I agree that faith is essential to success in life, but I do not accept your definition of faith, i.e., belief in life after death. In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining. –Rosalind Franklin in a letter to her father, 1940.

These words were written by one of the discoverers of DNA. I’ve been reading her biography, Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox. It is a well-researched and highly readable account of the tragically short life of a scientist whose work in the 1950’s has changed all our lives.

If you are thinking, “Didn’t Watson and Crick discover the structure of DNA?” you are partly correct. However their work would have been impossible without the data and the images produced by Franklin’s methodical experiments. Some scientists today feel that she was unfairly robbed of credit she should have been given at the time. (Read the book or follow the links for more information about Franklin and DNA.)

I was fascinated by this young woman. She was the daughter of one of the most influential Jewish families in Britain, a descendant of King David, no less. She was a brilliant scientist known not only for her work with DNA but also for work on RNA and viruses, and one of the leading experts on the structure of coal in her day – all before her death at 38!

I can see in her words above that she had done some serious thinking about an issue that troubles many of my students, who find most of their childhood notions of God completely blown up by science. If science is true, then religion is … what? Bunk?

This young Jew (she was about 20 when she wrote those words) must have felt the tension between the religious language she learned as a child and scientific truth. I find her statement above impressive.

Since the scientific revolution it became difficult to talk with a straight face using  much of the language that we traditionally used to talk about topics of ultimate meaning. There is no big man in the sky. Life evolved on earth, it did not appear neatly organized over six days. No angels. No heaven in the sky. No hell under the earth. No “book of life,” not really. So why not just throw out all that religion stuff, all the fairy tales?

Rosalind recognized that real religion is the recognition of something greater than one’s self. For her, that Greater One is “the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future.” She knew that she was not the center of the universe, no matter how brilliant she was, no matter how fancy her pedigree. She was not distracted (and in fact, she seems mildly annoyed) that others cling to impossibilities.

If you find her and her ideas interesting, I recommend the book. I felt that every moment of reading it was well-spent.

Another Eulogy for Miriam

Image: Miriam, By Ephraim Moshe Lilien [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Reblogged from the blog of Rabbi Stephen Fuchs. Thank you, Rabbi Fuchs, for the insight that the Sages included so many midrashim on Miriam because they recognized that she was shortchanged in the text!

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

When the Children of Israel complain—yet again—because they have no water, Moses loses it completely (Numbers 20). Many think he lost control because he was grieving the loss of his sister Miriam.

Miriam had saved his life when he was a baby (Exodus 2) and was his confidante throughout his life.

The Sages taught (based on Numbers 21.17-18) that because of Miriam, a well accompanied Israel that disappeared when Miriam died. (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 4 :12, section 3). Another Midrash suggests that Miriam’s well was one of ten sacred things  God created at twilight, just before the first Shabbat (Pirke Avot 5 :8). Rav Hiyya taught that Miriam’s well became an eternal memorial to her, embedded in the sea of Galilee and visible from the top of Mt. Carmel. (B. Shabbat 3a ; Yerushalmi, Kilaim 9 :4, p. 32C)

These midrashim represent the Sages’ desire to give Miriam the credit…

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