Orthodox female clergy are essentially under attack (not physically) by their denominations governing body, the Orthodox Union. These women, who have graduated from the single rabbinical school willing to ordain them, are not even allowed to be called rabbis (they go by Maharat or Rabba) but they proudly provide the services that rabbis do, serving as spiritual and communal leaders.
And yet, as our partner site JTA reports that the lesser titles are not lesser enough for the all-male deciding body:
“Following its rabbinic ruling prohibiting synagogues from hiring female clergy, the Orthodox Union is pressuring synagogues that have hired the women to change their titles.
In February, the Orthodox Union, an umbrella Orthodox Jewish group, issued a Jewish legal ruling by seven rabbis that bars women from serving as clergy or in a position of spiritual authority. Four O.U. synagogues currently have women serving in formal clergy functions.”
But it’s not that this “governing body” doesn’t want women to do work at the synagogue, mind you. They just don’t want women to have a title that connotes the high level of work they’re doing. Maharat Ruth Friedman, who works at a Washington, D.C. synagogue, spoke to JTA and explained this: “They’re not comfortable with the title…It’s a pretty transparent way of saying ‘we don’t have a problem with the work you do. We’re not comfortable recognizing that you have a title that connotes a certain respect and education and professionalism.’”
There’s something about this idea that women can totally do the labor without getting the credit, acknowledgement, and authority that is particularly galling and taps into some good old-fashioned sexism. Think of all the silent, unacknowledged work that women have done in religious traditions from ancient times until today, including the work of raising children in the traditions (Kveller essays make that one clear) and running many a festive celebration. This kind of ruling, therefore, feels like a retrograde slap in the face.
So, echoing the words of one righteous female non-rabbi on social media, we have a suggestion for what these female leaders should call themselves now that they’re being asked to change their titles: how about “Rabbi?”