I’m an independent American rabbi. I teach Torah to affiliated and unaffiliated Jews, speak in scholarly forums, officiate at life-cycle events, lead services and write creative liturgical meditations, poems and healing services. At the famous 92nd Street Y, I organized kiruv for interfaith couples and created batei din for conversions. I aim to bring more people into the circle of Judaism and to foster a love of Israel.
It’s extremely distressing that Israel, supposedly the de facto homeland for all Jews, is controlled exclusively by the Orthodox rabbinate, which discriminates against non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel and around the world. That personally impacts on me, a woman rabbi, and all women rabbis whose voices have contributed to the ongoing Jewish story, as well as many other stellar rabbis. This is having an extremely negative impact on how Israel is perceived, and it breaks my heart. Any thoughts? Rabbi Lynnda Targan
Philadelphia and New York
Dear Rabbi Targan: As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I commend your efforts to introduce people to Judaism and foster a love of our land. How I, too, wish the status quo in Israel were otherwise. Coming from pluralistic Los Angeles, where a disproportionate number of my friends converted to Judaism – so much so that my husband jokes that I discriminate against those who are actually born Jewish – I shudder to think that even some of my Orthodox-converted friends wouldn’t be recognized as Jews here.
However, exclusionary politics is not exclusive to Israel. Years ago, back in that other goldene medina
, I worked on a project dealing with conversion. Some Conservative rabbis stated they had a problem recognizing Re- form conversions, or acknowledging Reconstructionist Jewish converts as bona fide Jews. Yup, it happened.
Still, I’d love to see pluralism here in Israel. I would fight for buses on Shabbat in Tel Aviv, even though I won’t board them. I would fight to stop funding yeshi- vot, even though I would pay for my children to study in them. Call me naïve (or very Californian), but I have no problem with anyone who wants to call themselves a Jew or a rabbi, just as long as I can choose my own rabbi, synagogue and brand of Judaism.
This country must make room for other denomina- tions to flourish, even if it means having separate batei din. There is no other way to break a monopoly that lashes out from every direction at all Jews (worldwide and locally).
On a recent trip to New York, I caught a Friday Ma’ariv
prayer service at one of the city’s iconic shuls. B’nai Jeshurun’s liturgy is shorter than that of the South African Orthodox service of my youth. We certainly didn’t hear guitars and violins during “Lecha Dodi
.” Women rabbis and hazanim were unknown; the choir itself was strictly men only. But never, ever did we rise from our chairs in spiritual joy and dance around the shul filled with the happiness of Shabbat. The Jews I saw in Manhattan were actively celebrating being Jewish, though in Israel many of them would not be counted as such.
And that’s a tragedy.
We need those Jews in the Diaspora, but equally importantly, we need a nonjudgmental type of Judaism here. Although the shul of my youth was Orthodox deluxe, we all drove there to daven
, and then drove to the beach, or drama lessons or golf. Here, in this strict, severe, cultish sort of craziness that “religion” has become, there seems to be no place for less than 100% observance.
I almost never go to services anymore, my kids even less. Religion doesn’t talk to us, with religious politicians trying to collapse the government if their able-bodied boys are no longer allowed to all wriggle out of their civic duty to join the army. Kashrut is a farce. Conversion is cruel. Beards seem to be getting longer and strictures are stricter and religious coercion is creeping into our supermarkets.
I agree with every word of Rabbi Targan. We are suffering from the rabbinate here, too.
Your work is important to a segment of the nation of Israel and perhaps to the world’s perception of Israel, but is indeed less acknowledged by the haredim. We believe that the more authentic we are, the more appreciated we will be. I hear your pain that we, the haredim, only recognize a rabbinate that is explicitly male, according to Torah specifications, and believe that Judaism belongs to Jews, again, according to Torah specifications. Historically, women rabbis lead women only, with the exception of the biblical Deborah.
Perhaps the “problem” needs reframing. You are a spiritual leader, a mentor. Mentorship is not specifically male. However, we are not open to broadening the definition of “rabbi.” This is not a concept we play with or change.
Judaism is not a modern idea with beautiful prov erbs. It is not even a way of life. It is not a choice. It is the definition of who we are. Sometimes it is not “cool” or popular or easily understood by the world at large. It is, however, Divine, which ensures a stable, nonchanging, clean point of perspective.
While we should all connect to our Judaism from a deep, intimate and personal space, we also connect to a universal collective field of consciousness, a “thought field” that includes all of us. If we are all playing on the same field on the same team, a certain objectivity is needed. We cannot make up rules as we go along. Humility needs to be our guiding light, accepting what Hashem wants. We are spearheaded by the Divine word, not by world popularity or “politically correct” concepts.Comments and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org Three Ladies, Three Lattes is available from www.ktav.com
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