Increase in women rabbis' influence in liberal communities

More than 100 women gather for evening prayers at Kfar Saba's Hod Vehadar Synagogue.

hod vehadar 88 (photo credit: )
hod vehadar 88
(photo credit: )
Spreading prayer shawls over their heads, more than 100 women came together for evening prayers Sunday night at the Hod Vehadar Synagogue in Kfar Saba. Speaking English, Hebrew, Spanish and Russian, young women wearing kippot stood next to bare-headed elderly women in pantsuits. Hailing from various denominational and cultural backgrounds, they had gathered for an evening dedicated to studying the Jewish bookshelf and women's voices within Judaism. Organized by the Women's League for Masorti Judaism in cooperation with the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies, the study day was led by a group of women rabbis whose presence is being increasingly felt in liberal communities throughout Israel. Sitting later in the evening in a discussion on the place of the matriarchs in Jewish liturgy, a small group of women listened attentively to Rabbi Einat Ramon, the first Israeli-born woman rabbi, and the dean of the rabbinical school at the Schechter Institute. Most of the women, who had grown up in Orthodox North American communities, admitted that it was still difficult for them to become accustomed to the prominent role that women now play in Masorti communities. "When our synagogue slowly moved in the direction of becoming egalitarian, I had great difficulty with it," said one woman. "Recently, I had an aliya to the Torah, and I stood up there shaking like a child." "There is a certain sense of guilt involved," said another woman. "It's something inbred. You feel like I hope daddy isn't listening." "When you're a transitional generation, one of your creative contributions is to suffer a little," another woman said. By contrast, Svetlana Ben-Adi, a Ra'anana resident in her 20s who is undergoing conversion at Hod Vehadar, said attending services led by a woman rabbi seemed completely natural to her. "I feel really comfortable at this congregation, since I didn't grow up in a Jewish community where services were led by a male rabbi," she told The Jerusalem Post. "What these older women were saying is extremely important to me," Ramon told the Post. "It was amazing to hear them reveal the struggles in their hearts... "I led a feminist struggle in the Conservative movement in Israel beginning 20 years ago, as a secular Israeli who studied to be a Conservative rabbi. I assumed the movement was egalitarian, but I found that a lot of people were extremely threatened by the idea. Still, I had a strong intuition that egalitarianism was really in the spirit of Israeli Zionism, whose roots are strongly connected to feminism. "I taught myself to live with the dissonance of a very pluralistic movement and that I needed to very tolerant. I am really happy and proud to see the slow, evolutionary way in which egalitarianism has evolved, without being pushed down anybody's throat - happy with the patience both of those who worked toward it and those who were opposed to it." While many of the North American women at the event spoke of the gradual process by which their own synagogues evolved to acknowledge women as community leaders, some of those who attended had to openly oppose the norms of their community in order to do so. Yona, a middle-aged woman from Herzliya, has been attending services at the Masorti synagogue there for the past 20 years, while continuing to go to the Yemenite synagogue in her neighborhood. "People at the Yemenite synagogue have told me that going to a place where men and women sit together, and where women read the Torah, is like worshipping idols - but I like it," she said.