Hamas Chief Cool With Women Rabbis

One of the most common questions I get from Orthodox Jews is how I can defend the Conservative movement’s decision (from 1983) to ordain women as rabbis. I was too young to be a part of the debate concerning women’s ordination in the late 70s and early 80s, but from what I’ve read it was a very tense time at the Jewish Theological Seminary where students and faculty were split on the issue.

It has now been close to thirty years since women began studying for ordination in Conservative Judaism. Within the Conservative movement, women rabbis have become commonplace and it is no longer an issue for the majority of Conservative congregations. The conversation has shifted from a halachic nature (Can a woman serve as a rabbi according to Jewish law?) to a more social nature (Are women rabbis treated fairly in the rabbinate?).

Truthfully, I never understood how women rabbis are problematic from a Jewish legal standpoint since there’s no problem with women serving as teachers, which is the main function of a rabbi. However, in the Orthodox world, the issue of women rabbis is still in its infancy with a minority of liberal Orthodox leaders like Rabbi Avi Weiss advocating for female rabbinic ordination. The first woman to be ordained by Rabbi Weiss, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, has been successful in her rabbinate but is far from being accepted by most Orthodox Jews.

Over the weekend, I read of support for women rabbis from a most unlikely source. In fact, I did a double take when I read the Jewish Daily Forward’s title for this article: “Hamas Chief on ‘Noble’ Women Rabbis”. Did the leader of Hamas, a known terrorist organization, really come out in favor of the ordination of women as rabbis and call women rabbis “noble”?

It turns out that the Jewish Daily Forward sent the husband (“Rebbetzman”?) of Rabbi Diane Cohler-Esses to Egypt to interview Hamas chief Mousa Abu Marzook over the course of two days before Passover earlier this month. This could have been a great story (Dayenu!) if it were only about a Jewish journalist in Egypt meeting face-to-face with the ruler of a foreign oppressor and trying to get out of Egypt before the holiday commemorating freedom from Egyptian bondage.

But the story gets much better. Journalist Larry Cohler-Esses is married to Rabbi Diane Cohler-Esses, a Conservative rabbi who was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1995 and is the first woman from the Syrian Jewish community to become a rabbi (and the first and only person (male or female) from her community to become a non-Orthodox rabbi. She had to give her husband permission to fly to Egypt in the days before Passover to interview the Hamas leader. He was concerned about leaving home during the week of Passover preparation. She flippantly told her husband that he wasn’t much help anyway so he should go to Egypt.

In Egypt, during the two-day interview the two men discussed Passover in the 21st century:

Abu Marzook could not believe I was leaving Cairo so fast, or understand why I’d end up divorced if I didn’t. I explained about the Seder, and about Passover, when the Jews had to…well, leave Egypt really fast. He said, “But that was 4,000 years ago when the Pharaoh was trying to kill the Jews. No one’s trying to kill you now.”

“Actually,” I said, “kind of, you guys are.” And we were off on what ended up being a five-and-a-half hour discussion over those two days.

Surprisingly, what Mousa Abu Marzook was most fascinated with was his interviewer’s rabbi wife. When Cohler-Esses told the Hamas leader that his wife is a rabbi, Abu Marzook was astounded and asked, “There are women rabbis?” he asked.

Cohler-Esses explained to Abu Marzook that about one-half of all rabbinic students in the liberal American seminaries are actually women. He then explained his wife’s personal struggle in becoming a rabbi because of her roots in the Syrian Jewish community. The Hamas leader, whose Muslim religious beliefs treat women as second-class citizens, seemed dumbfounded that she hasn’t been accepted by her community. “She’s done nothing wrong,” he said. “What she’s done is noble.”

Obviously, the issue of women rabbis was only a side conversation in a long and serious interview by Cohler-Esses, who took a small dose of criticism by some for even meeting with a member of Hamas. But this story is amazing. Who would have ever thought that the most vocal proponent of women’s rabbinical ordination in the Orthodox movement might just be the leader of Hamas?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Dolls for Jewish Girls

For generations Jewish girls collected and played with their Barbie Dolls. Yes, both Barbie and Ken looked quite Aryan but I don’t believe many little Jewish girls were complaining about their dolls’ non-Semitic looks. Now, all of a sudden, there is a plethora of very Jewish looking dolls on the market. I know this because I was escorted through the American Girl Place in Chicago this past August by my own little Jewish doll. She grabbed me by the hand and dragged (yes, dragged) me past dozens of dolls to show me the elaborate display of American Girl’s answer to religious pluralism. And that’s when I met Rebecca Rubin for the first time.

Rebecca Rubin is not a stereotypical Jewish girl. At least not from this century! She’s a cute little brunette growing up in New York City in 1914 (think Fievel from “American Tale” but a little girl instead of a mouse). Rebecca Rubin now lives with our family. We’ve adopted her, but she’s maintained her Rubin sir name and Lower East Side Depression-era attire.

As if Rebecca Rubin doesn’t look quintessentially Jewish enough, my daughter can beJEWel her even more until this doll has been tricked out with the Jewy-ist accoutrements imaginable. For $68 (that’s not a typo), Rebecca can enjoy a beautiful Shabbat with “The Rebecca Rubin Sabbath Set.” (For much less than $68 I can feed my family a delicious Shabbat dinner, complete with brisket and wine.) The Sabbath set is advertised as featuring “everything Rebecca’s family needs to celebrate the Sabbath: A Russian samovar and tray for heating water and serving tea, a tea canister and a ceramic teapot, two glasses, pretend hallah bread and a scalloped cloth, a pair of Sabbath candles that the women in Rebecca’s family ‘light’ before sundown, and two blue candlesticks that were a gift to Rebecca from Mr. Rossi.” Based on the price of the set, I just assumed those candlesticks from Mr. Rossi were real silver and that I wasn’t getting ripped off too badly.

The Rebecca Rubin doll sells for $100. With all of her hyper-Jewish accessories, figure the total investment will be around $18,000 (and that’s before Rebecca Rubin even starts day school).

If the Rebecca Rubin doll is too Old World Jewish for your daughter’s taste then there’s a whole crop of more modern Jewish dolls on the market. I learned this from an email I received this morning from the Jewish version of Groupon called JDeal, which is offering Gali Girls at a 37% discount today. Not only are these Jewish dolls less expensive than Rebecca Rubin, their less expensive than her candlesticks!

Advertised as “Learn and play the Jewish way! Gali Girls gives young Jewish girls an opportunity to bring positive Jewish values into their doll play, and create a connection between the contemporary Jewish girl and her heritage. While the majority of dolls in today’s market focus on fashion and makeup, Gali Girls reinforces the positive Jewish values that have kept the Jewish people alive and growing for 5000+ years.”

Based on the description, it looks like each of the Gali Girl dolls even comes with a Shabbat kit (in addition to a Jewish star bracelet for herself and her new owner, and a Hebrew/English name birth certificate). Not only that, but the Gali Girl dolls’ clothing is compatible with American Girl dolls. And if your daughter still wants her doll to have the nostalgic immigrant look of Rebecca Rubin, there are Gali Girls options like Shoshana who lives in colonial New York.

If you’re looking for something more feminist and egalitarian for your daughter than either the Rebecca Rubin American Girl doll or the collection of Gali Girl dolls, might I suggest this post-modern religious Barbie doll created by Jen Taylor Friedman, a Torah scribe (yes, a female Torah scribe!) in New York. The Tefillin Barbie Doll can be purchased on her website and comes in various options including a computer engineer Barbie Doll wearing a tallit and tefillin. A Mattel Barbie with tallit, tefillin and book from the Talmud sells for $130 and Torah scrolls are an additional $40. If your daughter doesn’t want the standard looking blonde Barbie, you can send Taylor Friedman any Barbie Doll and she will wrap her in the traditional Jewish garb.

All I can say is, “Barbie… You’ve come a long way baby!”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rabbi Joyce Newmark Returns to Jeopardy to Defend her Title

Rabbi Joyce Newmark of Teaneck, NJ won $29,200 in her first appearance on the television game show “Jeopardy!” last night. She returned to defend her title tonight, but came up empty.

She was welcomed back onto the show by host Alex Trebek who mentioned that she won the night before on the twentieth anniversary of her ordination as a rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also asked her how long there have been female rabbis and if it’s difficult to be one. Newmark answered the question very well, basically explaining to Trebek that she’s never been any other kind of rabbi other than a female one.

Here are two video clips from Rabbi Joyce Newmark’s second appearance on “Jeopardy!”.

JTA Article

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Newsweek Magazine Affirms Female Orthodox Rabbi

Newsweek Magazine released its annual list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America.

Now in its fourth year, Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., list who they think are the 50 most influential rabbis in the U.S.

While the yearly ranking is merely based on the opinions of two Hollywood moguls and some unscientific criteria, it generates a lot of buzz. There’s also a certain amount of ego that becomes manifest among rabbis when the list is released each year, in addition to debate regarding who was ranked too high and who was missing from the list altogether. My teacher Irwin Kula, who ascended from #10 in 2009 to an impressive #7 this year, tweeted a link to the Newsweek list with the question “How can I not share this!”

What is most interesting in this year’s list is which rabbi was ranked as the 36th most influential rabbi in the U.S. She is new to the rabbinate and new to the Newsweek ranking. Her name is Sara Hurwitz and a lot of controversy surrounds her. Rabbi Avi Weiss (#18) ordained her as a rabbi a couple years ago giving her an acronym for a title and then changing it to “rabba,” a title that irked many in the Orthodox world. Earlier this year, under much pressure from the Right, he backed down and decided to not go through with creating women rabbis.

However, it would appear that Lynton and Ginsberg side with Avi Weiss on this one. And so Rabba Sara Hurwitz becomes one of the most influential rabbis in the country according to Newsweek Magazine, while among the people she is supposed to serve she is not even considered a rabbi.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller