Nobody prepares you for those odd, out-of-the-way problems life presents every once in a while. I grapple with one such issue rather often – something I never thought I’d have to deal with. But then I grew up, fell in love with a (female) rabbi, and everything got complicated.
That’s when I took on the dreaded “r” word. You know — the word that describes a rabbi’s partner. A rabbi’s female partner. Because, you know, once you know that someone’s a rabbi’s partner, what else do you really need to know? There are so many rights (and rites) denied to me as a lesbian, in the world in general as well as in Judaism. This one word, which frankly somewhat offends my feminist sensibilities with what I believe are the implications it carries about the appropriateness of defining a woman (or anyone) through her partner’s profession, has not been one of them. It’s a word my partner’s congregants sometimes use, though most of them aren’t familiar with the term. It’s something tossed out with a grin by Jewish professionals, as though it’s somehow extra-cute to call me a rebbetzin when the rabbi I’m partnered to is female.
Maybe one day this can be a term I embrace, but clearly, I’m definitely not there yet.
In the interim, I’ve been drawing great strength and no small amount of random smiling from a lesson bequeathed to me by the woman who is the partner of a previous rabbi for this same remote synagogue. The shul where my partner works is out on what my New York-bred mind calls “the frontier,” and Jews grow pretty hardy there, hardy enough to laugh at themselves and certainly hardy enough to remake terminology they don’t like. The previous partner-of-a-rabbi didn’t like the word “rebbetzin” either, but she fashioned an awesome, and I think feminist, repurposed version. She wasn’t the rebbetzin, she explained to people — she was the rebbetzOUT!
It doesn’t hurt that “rebbetzOUT” makes me feel like a gay rock star on top of the supportive partner of an amazing member of the clergy, or just a bit like the Peanuts’ Lucy, pointedly letting others know when the doctor was in… or not. Nobody prepares you for these odd, out-of-the-way problems life throws you every once in a while, but the solutions can be a whole lot of fun.