A Note From the Editors:
Katarina Kronrad, who wrote a description of her bat mitzvah project (“One Lucky Girl”) in the Winter 2011-2012 issue of CJ, got a letter from the White House. This is what it said:
Michelle and I offer our congratulations on this milestone in your spiritual journey. We pray that the cherished memories of this special occasion will always nourish your faith. May God continue to bless and guide you throughout your life.
Kol hakavod on the winter issue of CJ. You not only covered klal Yisrael in all its richness, but the writing was delightfully informative. From Katarina’s mitzvah trip to China to the problems facing women in the rabbinate to the chavurah in the Caribbean with its virtual rabbi, the entire issue was rich with experiences, wisdom, and pride.
With reference to Rabbi Peretz and her angst about wearing leather (“The Best of Times, The Worst of Times for Women Rabbis”), may I suggest that the Torah does not specify leather for tefillin. I don’t see why women could not fashion straps and boxes out of cloth that are precisely like the leather ones. The knots could be replicated, and as long as there is no specific prohibition, women could express their own approach easily to the wearing of tefillin just as they have with colorful and meaningful tallitot.
Keep up the good work. The editorial and writing standard is wonderful.
About Our Cover
The cover photo for the Winter 2011-2012/Chanukah 5772 issue was problematic to us for a number of reasons. It was very difficult to discern the gender of the two individuals wearing tefillin and holding hands. Was it two men? Two women? A man and a woman? In truth it was two women who are each married to other people but are good friends and were standing close to each other for a group photo. Many of our congregants looked at the photo and assumed it was a picture for a story on homosexuality and Conservative Judaism. Imagine our surprise when inside we found stories about tefillin and a story about women rabbis in the movement and the challenges they face. For the record, we would have been happy to read about the growing comfort GLBT Jews are finding in our congregations.
As Conservative rabbis we seek to normalize both the wearing of tefillin and the reality of women rabbis. Disembodying the women on the cover and sexualizing the wearing of tefillin feeds into the persistent fears and anxieties that many in our movement retain about observant women and women rabbis. When movement leadership, organizations and publications start affirming women’s positions and career tracks and when they stop treating women as “other” and objects of investigation, then our movement will truly move forward. As the magazine that represents the united voice of our movement, we implore CJ to do what it can to promote women’s observance and women’s leadership. If that was your intention, we are grateful for your attempts but seek more from you in the future.
Rabbi Francine Green Roston, Congregation Beth El, South Orange, New Jersey
Rabbi Nelly Altenburger, Congr. B’nai Israel, Danbury CT, ZSRS 2006
Rabbi Marci Jacobs Aronchick, Cong. Ansche Chesed, New York, NY, JTS 2006
Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker, Kehillat Ramot Zion, Jerusalem, SRS 2007
Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass, Charles E. Smith JDS, Potomac, MD, JTS 1994
Rabbi Lia Bass, Cong. Etz Hayim, Arlington, VA, JTS 1994
Rabbi Pamela Barmash, Washingon Univ., St Louis, MO, JTS 1990
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, Israel Ctr of Cons. Judaism, Queens, NY, ZSRS 2005
Rabbi Dana Z. Bogatz, Congregation Sinai, Milford CT, JTS 1998
Rabbi Yael Buechler, Solomon Schechter of Westchester, Hartsdale, NY, JTS 2011
Rabbi Debra Cantor, B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom, Bloomfield, CT, JTS 1988
Rabbi Carie Carter, Park Slope Jewish Ctr, Brooklyn, NY, JTS 1997
Rabbi Sarah Cohen, New York, NY, JTS 2001
Rabbi Melissa Crespy, Cong. Agudas Achim, Bexley, OH, JTS 1991
Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, JBFCS, New York, NY, JTS 1989
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill, Orangetown Jewish Center, Orangeburg, NY, JTS 2004
Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Jay Phillips Ctr for Interfaith Learning, St. Paul, MN, JTS 1985
Rabbi Sue Fendrick, Newton, MA, JTS 1995
Rabbi Michelle Fisher, MIT Hillel, Cambridge, MA, JTS 2002
Rabbi Sarah Freidson-King, Temple Beth El, Rochester, NY, JTS 2010
Rabbi Miriyam Glazer, American Jewish University Los Angeles, ZSRS 2005
Rabbi Sarah Graff, Cong. Kol Emeth, Palo Alto, CA, JTS 2001
Rabbi Hannah Greenstein, Jewish Community Project Downtown, NY, NY JTS 2009
Rabbi Julie Gordon, Jerusalem, HUC-JIR 1984
Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom Cong., Columbia MD JTS 1989
Rabbi Arielle Hanien, EdD student, Davidson Grad School in Jewish Educ., ZSRS 2006
Rabbi Carla Howard, Jewish Healing & Hospice Ctr, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin, Am Yisrael Conservative Cong., Northfield, IL, JTS 1990
Rabbi Jane Kanarek, Hebrew College Rabbinical School, Boston, MA, JTS 1998
Rabbi Elana Kanter, The Women’s Jewish Learning Ctr, Scottsdale, AZ, JTS 1989
Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz, Temple Beth El, Springfield, MA, JTS 1992
Rabbi Lynne Kern, ZSRS 2001
Rabbi Shoshana Mitrani Knapp, Chappaqua, NY, JTS 2007
Rabbi Gail Labovitz, American Jewish Univ., Los Angeles, CA, JTS 1992
Rabbi Carol Levithan, JCC in Manhattan, New York City
Rabbi Chai Levy, Congregation Kol Shofar, Tiburon, CA, JTS 2002
Rabbi Lynn Liberman, Beth Jacob Cong., Mendota Heights, MN, JTS 1993
Rabbi Miriam Midlarsky Lichtenfeld, Niskayuna, NY, JTS 2003
Rabbi Beverly W. Magidson, Dtr. of Chaplaincy, JFNENY, Albany, NY, HUC-JIR 1979
Rabbi Amy R. Mayer, Temple Israel, Daytona Beach, FL, JTS 2007
Rabbi Karen Reiss Medwed, Hebrew College, JTS 1995
Rabbi Andrea Merow, Beth Sholom Cong., Elkins Park PA, JTS 1997
Rabbi Avis Miller, Rabbi Emerita, Adas Israel Cong., Wash., DC, RRC 1986
Rabbi Beth Naditch, Educator, Newton, MA JTS 1999
Rabbi Ita Paskind, Congregation Olam Tikvah, Fairfax, VA, JTS 2010
Rabbi Dina Rosenberg, Bay Ridge Jewish Ctr., Brooklyn, NY, JTS 2011
Rabbi Francine Green Roston, Cong. Beth El, South Orange, NJ, JTS 1998
Rabbi Charni Flame Selch, Cong. Bnai Israel, Northampton, MA, JTS 2001
Rabbi Dina Shargel, Temple Israel Center of White Plains, NY, JTS 2006
Rabbi Marion Shulevitz, Amsterdam Nursing Home, New York, NY, JTS 1989
Rabbi Diana R. Siegel
Rabbi Teresa Snyder, Corrections Chaplain, Watertown, NY, JTS 2007
Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper, Yavneh Day School, Los Gatos, CA, JTS 2005
Rabbi Diana Villa, Schechter Rabbinical School, Jerusalem, SIJS 2000
Rabbi Risa Weinstein, Silver Spring, MD ZSRS 2007
Rabbi Sara Zacharia, Los Angeles, CA, ZSRS 1999
Rabbi Deborah Zuker, Temple Ner Tamid, Peabody, MA, JTS 2011
The Editors Respond
Dear Rabbi Roston et al:
We are astonished at your reaction to the cover photo.
We knew that the image showed two women, each married to other people, who are good friends, standing close to each other, as you wrote.
We saw it as a compelling and evocative image of friendship, and of women’s support of each other. The composition is wonderful – or at least it seems so to us – and the tefillin not only show women’s relationship to the mitzvah, they also contribute to the photo’s beauty.
We do not think that showing arms is disembodying – surely you cannot think that the only way to respect people is to show their entire bodies in every photograph. We absolutely do not agree that this picture is sexualizing anything. It is not theoretical to say that women hold hands out of friendship – after all, you’ve just acknowledged that in fact the women shown in this picture were doing exactly that.
To your point about how you would like to see stories about GLBT issues, CJ has published many such stories.
The cover photo was not a direct illustration of the story about women rabbis but was meant as a supplement to it. The story promoted women’s leadership. The photographs illustrated women’s friendships.
It was difficult for some people to figure out the genders of the people in the picture, which brings up the question of why it is so important to do so. Maybe we all should move beyond gender.
JOANNE PALMER AND RHONDA JACOBS KAHN
More Rabbis Respond
The idea that the front cover of CJ sexualized tefillin or in some way demeaned women never entered my mind until I read that some people had taken it that way. My first reaction to the cover was rather disparaging – great, another photo of women wearing tefillin, as if that image has in any way promoted or advanced our movement. It hasn’t, yet we persist in publishing those photos. But on deeper reflection, the front cover grew on me. It wasn’t just wearing tefillin, but two people (and frankly I couldn’t tell if it was a man and a woman or two women) joining hands in a moment of prayer. That struck me as a rather powerful and positive image. The ambiguity of the characters involved may indeed be one of its strengths. You look at the photo and it inspires wonderful questions. Who are these people? Why are they holding hands? What has moved them to do so? At what point in the service have they joined hands? Are they even at a service? The photo doesn’t answer these questions – but our imaginations might.
Actually, having learned that the photo was the catalyst for dialogue only increases my esteem for its choice as the cover, and I’m inclined to give kudos to CJ’s editors for using the magazine to wake us all up. Halevai, we should have more covers that get our blood pumping. That’s precisely what our movement needs.
As an afterword to all this, let me say that our challenge as Conservative Jews is not to convince people that in our movement women can put on tefillin. Our challenge is to convince Jews that putting on tefillin is a meaningful act, whether you’re a man or a woman. I think the cover of CJ, demonstrating the drawing together of two people, their arms wrapped in sanctity and their hands clasped in friendship, is a heck of a great graphic on the meaning and power of tefillin.
RABBI PERRY RAPHAEL RANK
Midway Jewish Center
Syosset, New York
I am left puzzled and slightly disturbed by your recent cover photograph. Why did you not show the faces of the people pictured? It is through visage that we recognize both the unique individual, and the divine image each of us reflects. The focus on discrete body parts seems to undermine that by objectifying the human person. When it comes to God and each other are we only just a nice set of… arms?
RABBI DAVID GREENSPOON
I am aware that a number of women rabbis signed a letter to CJ’s editors expressing disappointment with the cover photo. A mixed group of Conservative rabbis also discussed their reactions to the photo. Some objected to the image of holding hands in conjunction with tefillin. But a number of them liked the picture and saw it as completely appropriate, even moving. Almost no one in that group saw homosexuality in the photo.
I didn’t feel I could sign the letter because my personal reaction to the photo was entirely positive, and I believed the letter risked sending a mixed message. It is reasonable to take issue with the editors for not anticipating that the photo, as ambiguous and without explication as it was, might generate negative responses that would have to be fielded in defense of egalitarian practice.
However, I don’t think the rabbis’ letter makes a clear distinction between the objections that the picture might fuel charges that women laying tefillin is titillating and sexual, and our own beliefs about what is appropriate. If we say that the photo sexualizes the idea of women and tefillin, ironically we may be implying that we endorse the same anti-egalitarian (and inappropriately sexualizing) premises that underlie the most visceral objections to egalitarian practice – and apparently be objecting instead to the assumed and unembarrassed egalitarianism of those who published the picture.
RABBI CHANA THOMPSON SHOR
Queens, New York
I read “The Best of Times, The Worse of Times for Women Rabbis” by Joanne Palmer (Winter 2011-12) with great interest. Overall, I thought it made some very important points about why there is a disparity between male and female rabbis in the current job market and why women have had a more difficult time securing positions as pulpit rabbis. Many of the explanations were not surprising. I have observed the same phenomenon in the legal profession over the past 30 years.
That said, however, I found several of the quotes from some of the female rabbis interviewed extremely disturbing. These quotes described a reality in which female rabbis perceive a demand that they be “sexy.” Rabbi Alana Suskin was quoted as saying: “You can’t be sexy – but you must be sexy. It’s a double bind – if you’re young you might come across as too flirty; if you’re motherly you’re not sexy enough. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” She then acknowledges, however, that this wasn’t her experience. Rabbi Cheryl Peretz also was quoted as saying that clothing is more of a problem for women because “clothing is about being sexy, and it’s deeply rooted in our cultural norms.”
With due respect, these comments are giving young female rabbis, not to mention their potential employers, the wrong message completely. Many women understandably want to look attractive and their best. But the use of the term “sexy” (even if meant by these rabbis to mean “attractive” rather than “provocative”) is completely inappropriate and substantially undermines the seriousness with which all of these women approach their professions. This discourse also makes it much more difficult for female rabbis to gain acceptance in a still male dominated profession.
ROBERTA ROSENTHAL KWALL
What About Men?
Rabbi Charles Simon (“What Is Happening to Men?” Winter 2011-2012) identifies one of many factors describing where the men (and boys) have gone.
Perhaps our tradition of liberal education is a factor. If everyone is the same, why stay Jewish? Conservative Jewish children require a Jewish mother, not a father.
Perhaps there are a number of men who are not ready to follow assertive leadership from a woman, especially if she’s on a mission of change. I joined a 300+ member synagogue that had enthusiastically hired a senior woman rabbi. Within a few years a significant portion of the membership was gone. New leadership organized a program of continued change and marketing in response to the loss of membership. Soon after, the membership was around 100, and because it was unable to meet its financial needs, the synagogue closed its doors.
If we regret the accelerating feminization of Conservative Judaism we need a more complete identification of the important factors.
The Chancellor’s Loyalty to Israel
While I very much agree with JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen’s premise as to the importance of Israel to the Jewish people, and the need to transmit our knowledge and love for Israel to the next generation (“Israel: Our Loyalty and Love Undiminished,” Winter 2011-2012), I take exception to some of his observations. While most Conservative Jews would agree with Chancellor Eisen’s views as to the importance of Israel to Jews everywhere, there is an undertone of support for those members of our community who have not undertaken the burdens of living in Israel, but nevertheless seek to assume the benefit of adding their two cents to Israeli domestic issues, or to risk other people’s lives and security.
The question of addressing each other with civility and respect is a red herring – nobody actually advocates incivility and disrespect! However, a civil and respectful tone to our discourse does not mean that you can’t say that the substance of the other person’s position is unacceptable.
I strongly disagree with fellow Jews who actively lobby for Israel to make concessions and to take risks, while they do not live in Israel, do not serve in the IDF or send their children to the IDF, do not pay taxes in Israel (whose marginal rate dwarfs ours), do not live in the range of rockets and missiles, and have never lived in circumstances where getting on a bus involves risk. I do not share Chancellor Eisen’s view that there is an “inadequacy of communication” or “divides” between Conservative Jews and Israelis. I have plenty of friends and relatives in Israel, and our communication is more than adequate. One of the reasons why we have no such “divides” is that I do not presume to tell my Israeli friends and relatives that I know more about the Middle East and the Arab world than they do, nor that I (or any American politician) have the wisdom to lecture Israelis on the proper trade-off between peace and security.
The article invites us to take a guilt trip, suggesting that some are “banished from Jewish tables” or made to feel unwelcome in our community because, as Chancellor Eisen puts it, their “views on Israel seem heretical or their criticism untempered.” There may be some circumstances where the most extreme viewpoints would receive a frosty reception. I decline to take a guilt trip because proponents of the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement may feel unwelcome in our synagogue.
The idea of civility toward each other, and reaching out to fellow Jews, should not be used as a back door to suggest that viewpoints that are contrary to how most Conservative Jews feel should be accepted, or that our microphones should be made available to the most extreme viewpoints.
Chancellor Arnold Eisen devoted his recent article to a defense of the views of JTS rabbinical students regarding Israel. He bases his defense on the results of a study of rabbis and rabbinical students conducted by the sociologist Steven Cohen. Chancellor Eisen is proud to confirm that, “although their politics may have moved to the left, their loyalty and their love are undiminished.”
Reading the survey itself, however, one may glean the very opposite from the results. It is true, for example, that overall attachment to Israel among the ordained rabbis and students surveyed remains high. But whereas 95 percent of older rabbis felt a strong or very strong attachment to Israel, for younger rabbis and current students that number drops to 88 percent. The drop is not precipitous but it does indicate a change.
Trends among our students reflect weaker attachments to Israel, a decreasing sense of connection to Israeli Jews, and an increasing sense of ambivalence and even shame toward Israel. These trends should not be overlooked.
Chancellor Eisen does no service to the Conservative movement or Israel by whitewashing the results of this study. Our movement needs to take a close and careful look at the issues of our attachment to Israel, the connections that we create, and the love for Israel that we instill. In order to assure that the trend away from Israel does not continue, we must be able to ensure that our rabbis and leaders share a passionate and close connection to Israel. By no means does this imply that we cannot be critical of Israel, its government, or its policies on a wide variety of matters. Nevertheless, unless that criticism comes from a place of love and deep connection, it may end up harming Israel more than helping her.
RABBI NEIL COOPER
Temple Beth Hillel – Beth El
Thank You From Colombia
On behalf of Chavurá Shirat Hayyam we would like to thank you for giving us the possibility of sharing our story with the Masorti world. Here in the oldest city in Colombia, Santa Marta, there is a small Jewish community that is blazing a trail establishing a Masorti center for life, education and ritual, which in turn will allow for the integration of all the Jews in the city who now lack a center for their community life. Our chavurah is your chavurah, our house is your house. We extend an invitation to you and to any Jew who wants to visit us. All are welcome.
Once again we would like to thank you for allowing the world to get to know a small Jewish community that has the desire and gumption to consolidate itself into a great Jewish community.
ADAL ALFARO LÓPEZ, President
SANDRA SÁNCHEZ GARCÍA, Secretary
GREY LÓPEZ RIAÑOS, Treasurer
Conservative Jews Care About Israel
As an artist/activist with the mission of engaging the American Jewish community in shaping the future of the Jewish state, I noted with satisfaction the logical connection between Chancellor Arnie Eisen’s persuasive recasting of Zionism (“Israel: Our Loyalty and Love Undiminished”) Danny Siegal’s charge (“Beyond Nostalgia, Looking Back at More than 50 Years of USY”), and Joanne Palmer’s piece about the status of women rabbis (“The Best of Times, The Worst of Times for Women Rabbis”). Chancellor Eisen asks us to become engaged in serious and meaningful conversations with Israelis about the nature of the modern Jewish democracy and work with like-minded Israelis to make “Israel a state that palpably belongs to all Jews everywhere.” Danny ends with this challenge: “I would submit on this 60th anniversary of glorious USY that we reinforce it and expand it and fund it to whatever extent is needed.”
Finally, we read that although women have been rabbis in our movement for 25 years, there are still strong and powerful cultural archetypes and stereotypes. Compared to women in public religious life in Israel, however, we American women aren’t doing too badly.
The connecting thread between these three articles is clear. I continue to urge Conservative Jews to care deeply about Israeli society and to be concerned when core democratic values are being suppressed. I firmly believe that if American Jews support organizations such as Masorti, Women of the Wall, and the Israel Religious Action Center we could engage with Israelis in the ways envisioned by Chancellor Eisen. The Women of the Wall, a transdenominational group that has Masorti women in key leadership positions, is the most obvious example of a group working for social change.
I often say that we have no control over Hamas or Fatah and thus no impact on the peace process, but we can have a real effect on social change in Israel. I firmly believe that everyone who loves and is loyal to the dream of a modern Jewish democracy should be involved in Zionism’s next stage.
FRAN GORDON IMMERMAN
The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project
“The Best of Times, the Worse of Times for Women Rabbis” (Winter 2011/12) implies that Rabbi Lisa Gelber encountered some opposition to the idea of women as rabbis in the synagogue in Seattle. That was not the case; the opposition came from a small congregation in Ohio. She met with nothing other than support in Seattle.