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We’re Still Figuring Out What A Rabbi Looks Like

rabbiAfter you read this paragraph, close your eyes for a minute and picture a rabbi.

Where is this rabbi?

What is the rabbi wearing?

What is this rabbi doing?

And finally… was that rabbi you pictured a man, or a woman?

When I asked this series of questions at a Sisterhood Shabbat service a few weeks ago in Mississippi, more than half the congregants said they pictured a male rabbi. This was not surprising to me. Men filled this role for hundreds of years, and the idea of a male rabbi is part of our tradition. But it is also important for us to consider the role women have in leading our communities and embrace them as leaders. I will go ahead and tell you right now that I am especially invested in this conversation, because I plan to enroll in rabbinical school and hope to serve as a congregational rabbi.

When I spoke on this topic at Sisterhood Shabbat, I called on the congregation to empower women as leaders in the Jewish community. I was especially adamant that women rabbis receive equal pay, which is not yet a reality.[1] These sentiments were mostly well-received, as I believe they would be in many congregations I visit. Most people have adjusted to the idea that women can be rabbis and that they should be treated with respect, but some communities are not quite sure how to do that.

In my travels across the South I have come across some interesting questions related to the role of women as rabbis. One thing I have found very interesting is the Name Question. As in, should rabbis be addressed as “Rabbi (last name)?” “Rabbi (first name)?” Just by a first name? I have met rabbis who employ each of these combinations and their reasons for doing so are compelling. Those who choose to go by their first names do so because it creates a closer relationship and allows them to do more sincere pastoral care. At the same time, calling clergy by their title and last name is a tradition which many people feel is a necessary sign of respect. I think there is an added layer of nuance for female rabbis, who might struggle to command an appropriate level of respect and who might choose to go by their last names to help with this issue.

Allison P_webSpeaking of what to call someone, people in the communities I visit are often riveted by the question of what to call a woman rabbi’s husband in place of “rebbetzin,” the Yiddish word used for a rabbi’s wife. Some suggestions I have gathered include rebbetz-bro, rebbetz-him,[2] rebbetz-sir, and “the luckiest man in the world.” These questions and related suggestions are funny, but they also show that the concept of a woman rabbi is still relatively fresh, and we still have some details to work out.

Being an ISJL Education Fellow has prepared me for some of the challenges I expect to face as a young female rabbi. You might be shocked to learn that teachers, directors, and congregants are not always excited to take advice or direction from a 23-year-old. I have been learning to present myself in a dynamic, professional way that convinces these people to take me seriously despite my age. I expect the strategies I have learned to cope with this issue will be useful as I go forward. Being a Fellow has also confirmed for me how much I love to help Jewish communities grow to their fullest potential and how much I do, in fact, want to be a rabbi.

When I close my eyes, I can even picture it.

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[1] According to a study published by the CCAR, women head rabbis receive, on average, as little as 80%-93% as much pay as their male counterparts.

[2] Thanks to the HUC Rabbinical School in Israel class of 2007 for the first two suggestions.

Posted on March 26, 2014

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Mensch Madness, Game 3: Mordechai vs. Moses!

In this alliterative Mensch Madness match up, Mordechai and Moses are about to meet!

This match is tough, because both of these mighty M-heroes saved the Jews from oppression and certain doom. At this point in the year, many may think that Mordy has the slight advantage because of his strong performance a few weeks ago during the Holiday of Purim. However, in the coming weeks Moses will steal the spotlight, yet again, as we begin our Passover celebrations.

mord

Reviewing the Megillah (hey, another M!), it was indeed Mordechai who devised a plan that landed his (secretly Jewish!) niece Esther in the palace as the new Queen. Then, while Mordechai was patrolling the palace, he overheard a plan to kill the king. Mordechai gave word to the king, thwarting the assassination attempt, and King Ahashuerus recorded Mordy’s deed in his royal diary. Mordechai’s next challenge was an evil man named Haman (BOO!), who had climbed his way up to become the king’s right-hand man – a Scottie Pippen/Michael Jordan type of relationship. One day Haman was walking though the city and ordered the civilians to bow, but Mordechai refused. Outraged, Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people. Mordechai communicated with his niece, Queen Esther, and devised a plan to save their people. The plan worked and Haman was defeated. Mordechai saved all of the Team Jewish players, and became King Ahashuerus’ new MVP.

Quick game recap for the other player today: Moses not only saved the lives of thousands of Israelite people, but also defeated the evil Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of Egypt, delivered God’s laws, and helped create a new civilization. What impresses this ref most about Moses is that he did all of this without growing up within the Jewish community: since all Jewish baby boys were supposed to be killed, Moses’ mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Sea of Reeds to save his life. After being discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was raised as an Egyptian Prince. Thus, after growing up as an iconic Egyptian royal figure, he dishonored what he thought was his heritage and took a chance that ultimately made him the greatest Jewish prophet in our tradition.positioned his niece Esther to become the queen of Persia. Then, while Mordechai was on patrol, guarding the Kings palace, he overheard a plan to kill the king, and thwarted that plot. King Ahasuerus recorded Mordechai’s deed in his royal diary. Mordy’s next challenge was an evil man named Haman. Haman had climbed his way up to become the king’s right-hand man – a Scottie Pippen/Michael Jordan kind of relationship, you might say. One day Haman was walking though the city and ordered the civilians to bow, but our man Mordy refused. Outraged, Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people. Learning of his plot, Mordechai communicated with his niece, now Queen Esther, and devised a plan to save their people. The plan worked and Haman was ousted and hung. Mordechai became a well respected, high ranking man in the eyes of King Ahasuerus – the new all-star on the team.

mosesAs impressive as it was for Mordechai to save the lives of so many Jews in Persia, Moses, along with help of God, created the lasting Israelite nation. The Torah states, “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom Adonai singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Adonai sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 34:12).”

Looks like the Big Coach weighed in on this one – and so, Moses hits the shot at the buzzer and defeats Mordechai.

Who will go on to win Mensch Madness? Stay tuned, Southern & Jewish sports fans!

Posted on March 25, 2014

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Two Mississippi Rabbis Will Shave for the Brave

My Mississippi rabbinical colleague Rabbi Debra Kassoff and myself will both be making a bold statement this spring; more accurately, we’ll be making a bald statement.36r

As you may be aware, during this past year a young boy year fought a brave battle with cancer, and lost. His name was Samuel Sommer, affectionately known as “Superman Sam,” and his Mom, Rabbi Phillis Sommer, decided to document the family’s experience through a blog as they fought their way through life. He became an internet sensation, being sent on trips, dealing with hospital visits, and facing the potential end of his life. First the blog was created, but it caught fire and not only were social media sites, but actual news sites were covering his story.

I first became aware of this when people began to change their profile picture to the icon of Superman. A comic book aficianado, I immediately took notice. Then, my staff brought something to my attention that I hadn’t yet seen. St. Baldrick’s, an organization that raises money for children’s cancer research, was having an event… for Rabbis. It is called 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, and I signed up. At an annual convention for Rabbis, at least 36 rabbis will be shaving their head to raise money for these kids as well as to show support for their brave fight.

The shave will take place at the CCAR Convention in Chicago on April 1. Following the shave, I’ll share some more of my thoughts on the experience, here on the Southern & Jewish blog. For now, you can visit http://bit.ly/36rabbis to make a donation to St. Baldrick’s in memory of Samuel Sommer, and support Rabbi Kassoff, my other rabbinic colleagues, and me, as we prepare to go bald for children and a brighter, healthier future.

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Posted on March 21, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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