What’s wrong with this headline?

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Today’s Jerusalem Post had an article that began as follows:

Woman rabbi flies to US to preach aliya

It’s not every day that you meet a rabbi wearing a sleeveless, green dress, especially in a state dominated by a strictly Orthodox establishment. But then again, Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, spiritual leader of Kehillat Yozma, Modi’in’s Reform congregation, is not your average Israeli rabbi. And now she is involved in a unique initiative, together with Modi’in’s Mayor Moshe Spector, to encourage members of US Reform congregations to make aliya. (MORE)

Now I am guilty of the same crime as the headline writer. I frequently refer to female clergy as “woman rabbis” or “woman cantors.”

These are actually rather common terms, heard even in the Reform and Conservative Movements where women make up a significant portion of those in seminary at HUC, JTS and American Jewish University, formerly UJ. (I don’t know if this is as prevalent in the Reconstructionist Movement, but I would guess so.)

Is there anything, aside from gender, that actually distinguishes female from male rabbis in these more progressive movements? Do they have different responsibilities? Not that I know of. I certainly do not hear of non-female rabbis called “male rabbis.”

Yes, there are still Jews in these movements who are uncomfortable with a female having a pulpit. Unofficially, there are synagogues that would not hire a female rabbi, particularly to be the head spiritual leader.

But regardless of how one feels about females in clergy positions, it is essential to be careful with terminology as to not demean the education, skills and position these rabbis have attained.

After all, I wouldn’t want to be described as a female editor.

Posted on July 6, 2007
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