Last week, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David wrote the following message to his congregation:
“This Shabbat morning, with God’s help, Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn will be offering the drasha at B’nai David – Judea, the Orthodox shul of which I am the senior rabbi. As I am presently on a study trip in Israel, this is not really news. Rabbanit Alissa is the only other member of our clergy. The news is that this is the first time that her words of Torah will be not only inspiring, but they will also be of historic importance. Though not intended or designed as such, they will constitute an act of sacred civil disobedience.
The Orthodox Union issued a policy statement today, forbidding its member shuls from employing women like Rabbanit Alissa as members of the clergy. They based this policy statement upon the findings of a panel of very distinguished rabbis, which determined that women in the clergy was contrary to the “Halakhic Ethos”, in that tradition provides no precedent for ordained women clergy, and in that – in their opinion – women serving in clergy is inconsistent with traditional Jewish gender roles.”
Rabbi Kanefsky continues to explain how according to Jewish law and history, this is a misguided policy and that indeed, Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn would speak on Shabbat and continue to speak at B’nai David as a respected member of the clergy.
I applaud the immeasurable amount of courage it takes to stand up to giants, admire Rabbi Kanefsky’s unwavering conviction and Rabbanit Thomas-Newborn’s immense bravery and grace. She battles for herself and so many women and men that will come after her; those seeking the ability to have their voices heard among the leaders and preachers of the Jewish people.
As a female member of the clergy at Sinai Temple, I find that my gender often affords me more opportunities than disadvantages. I am approached about mikvah, issues related to infertility and birth, marriage and Bat Mitzvah. These are all subjects about which my other colleagues speak beautifully and intelligently. But as a woman, my door is often knocked on first.
But I know…it wasn’t always this way. Many female rabbis fought uphill battles so that today, I can freely teach from the bimah and write as I wish. So that I can feel comfortable and proud in my own skin and help inspire other women and men to reach for their dreams and not feel suffocated by a starless sky.
In 1985, Rabbi Amy Eilberg was ordained as the first female rabbi in the Conservative movement. In her prayer to her class on commencement day she said, “The years of struggle, of pain and of exclusion are at an end. Our movement faces a new beginning, a new era of equality and vitality, and a beginning of a healing process that will bring us all to a new kind of unity, in which we all may be included and to which all must contribute.” Rabbi Eilberg serves as the reminder to many that the female voice in Conservative Judaism is lauded, respected, and counted.
As we read in this week’s Torah portion, Miriam “took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously…”
Rabbanit Thomas-Newborn reminds us that for many, the battle has just begun.
And Rabbanit, we stand by your side. With our timbrels, with our voices, we give thanks to God for those that came before us, paving the road, helping us speak.
You can find the remainder of Rabbi Kanefsky’s message at the Jewish Journal.