Sisterhood Blog

Rabbis Gone Wild — About Modesty and (Gasp!) Zumba

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock // One Orthodox Rabbi has strongly condemned Zumba classes.

In recent years, a slew of savvy Orthodox rabbis have taken to condemning women for everything they do. Their brilliant speeches can be found on YouTube and other websites, and have made their rounds on social media. The topics of their impassioned speeches run the gamut: from life challenges to laziness to Zumba to healthy dating — most of which include, at some points, women and their inherently provocative nature.

One such famous rabbi — let’s call him the Zumba Rabbi — is Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, the founder of Ohr Naava, a Torah center for women and girls, ostensibly for those who are at risk. Rabbi Wallerstein, a true tzadik bestowed with unparalleled wisdom by God, uses his pulpit, err stripper’s pole, to preach to women about sexism and racism, condoning both.

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Single Mother and Rabbi

By Chanel Dubofsky

Courtesy of Diva Communications// Rabbi Felicia Sol with her children

The new film, “All of the Above,”, explores what happens when a single, Jewish clergy member wants to become a mother. The documentary, produced by Diva Communications, features interviews with Rabbi Lisa Gelber, an associate dean, at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Rabbinical School, Rabbi Julie Greenberg, from Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir in Philadelphia, Batya Schechter and Rabbi Felicia Sol of B’nai Jeshurun in New York, among others, and includes interviews with writer, activist and Ms. Magazine co-founder Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Diva Communications Founder Debra Gonsher Vinik describes the film as being for “anyone who is a mother, wants to be a mother, or has had a mother.”

Gonsher Vinik has produced and written sixteen documentaries of which eight have been nominated for Emmy awards and three have won the honors: “And The Gates Opened” (2007), “The Eternal Light” (2008), and “Yearning To Belong” (2009). In the last few years, Gonsher Vinik has concentrated on interfaith documentaries highlighting social justice issues. She is a Professor and Chairperson of the Communication Arts and Sciences Department at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Her next project is entitled “The Beauty of their Dreams” and will explore how faith is playing a crucial role in the education of girls. Gonsher Vinik talked with the Sisterhood’s Chanel Dubofsky about “All of the Above.”

Chanel Dubofsky: Running through the film is this idea of “the dream” — a partner and kids, the traditional nuclear family, and having to mourn it when it doesn’t happen. Why do you think the notion of “the dream” runs so deep?

Debra Gonsher Vinik: It does run deep. I don’t know that Felicia and the others thought about it, it was just a given that it was one of those things in life that you would do — it doesn’t dawn on you that it won’t work out. It didn’t even occur to Felicia, etc. that it wouldn’t go that way. I assumed that I’d get married and have children, but actually, the idea of being with someone was more important than the idea of having children. I heard the “you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than getting married,” blah blah. At some point, I just said, this is my life, I like it a lot, I’m successful, I love being by myself. It didn’t work out the way I thought, but so be it. I gave up, I just said, it’s not going to happen. You have to come to accept and find the joy in your life. (Of course, six months after I gave up, I met my husband.)

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Female Rabbis Should Have Male Friends

By Danya Ruttenberg

Does a woman need to give up friendships with members of the opposite sex when she marries a man? For Rabbi Rachel Miller Solomin, the answer is yes.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

In a piece for Tablet, she writes about the decision to write a friend — a Catholic priest with whom she said explicitly she would never have a sexual relationship — an email curtailing their friendship.

Then, it happened: I thought I had some time to meet Nick one evening, and I found myself not wanting Joshua [her husband] to come along. At first, I wasn’t sure where the feeling was coming from. Then I realized that I was longing to pour out my heart to someone, and Nick seemed like both an ideal candidate and — because my husband should have been my primary confidant — the wrong choice. I decided not to see him, and that’s when I wrote him the email.

She notes that though she is now also more “discreet” in her friendships with women than she had been in the past, she feels a “special danger” when the friend is a man, because close friendships can be so emotionally intimate. “Now I want only Joshua to know the secret me,” she writes.

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Coming Out of the Child-Free Closet

By Chanel Dubofsky

How hard is it for female rabbis to come out of the child-free closet?

In February 1997, Ellen Jaffe Gill’ s essay on not wanting to have children, was published in Moment Magazine. In the piece, Jaffe Gill (then McClain) discussed how her decision not to have children did not prevent her from engaging fully in Jewish life. As a writer, she was in fact transmitting the covenant on her own terms.

“I don’t remember a lot of reaction to the piece in Moment,” she recently told The Sisterhood via email. “What was telling was that a few years later, I tried to write a feature story about childlessness by choice for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and couldn’t get it off the ground because very few peoplewould talk to me on or even off the record.”

Jaffe Gill, who entered Jewish professional life at 44 and is now a cantor and rabbinical student in her 50s, had a tubal ligation at the age of 31, “after ten years of being sure I never wanted to have a baby.”

For a very long time, I thought I wanted to be a rabbi. There are a lot of reasons why I changed my mind, but a big one is that I could not find the role model I needed — a child-free female rabbi. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to have kids, but it was so hard to say it out loud, and saying it in front of people who were committing their professional and personal lives to the Jewish community seemed impossible.

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Newsweek List Takes a Page From 'The Sisterhood 50'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Members of ‘The Sisterhood 50,’ 2010. (click to enlarge)

Newsweek magazine, this year in conjunction with its sister publication The Daily Beast, has just published its annual list of America’s 50 “most influential” rabbis. It’s Newsweek’s fifth such list but the first time that a woman — writer Abigail Pogrebin — has been directly involved in the selection, which no doubt explains why the number of women on the list has more than doubled. This year, 13 women made the list; that’s up from 6 last year.

The Newsweek list has come under fire in years past for including a paucity of women and for ranking rabbis at all (though, to be sure, rabbis who make the list often include their ranking in their official bios, and I’ve heard a few of them mention the distinction when being interviewed about something totally unrelated).

Interestingly, six of the seven women who were new to the list were on The Sisterhood 50 last year — a list compiled by Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner in response to the shortage of female rabbis mentioned. Pogrebin says that she had The Sisterhood 50 “very close by, always,” when working on Newsweek’s rabbi rankings. “Other lists are instructive and their own snapshot of a perspective,” she told The Sisterhood. “I wanted to very much consult what was already out there, and some of those lists were intended to be a corrective.”

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Sisterhood 50 Nominations Pour In

By Gabrielle Birkner

Members of the inaugural Sisterhood 50 list (click to enlarge)

My colleagues and I like to joke that Newsweek’s publishing of an annual “most influential rabbis” list makes about as much sense as the Forward publishing an annual list of “most influential newsweeklies,” which, of course, we don’t.

In a more sensible move, the Forward’s women’s issues blog, The Sisterhood, last week put out an influential rabbis list of its own. Ours featured only women rabbis, a demographic that makes up only a small percentage of Newsweek’s list. Out of the 50 rabbis chosen by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and his friend Gary Ginsberg for Newsweek, only six were women.

Since 1972, when Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion ordained its first female rabbi — paving the way for the ordination of women at the flagship Reconstructionist and Conservative seminaries, in 1974 and 1985, respectively — America’s rabbinic seminaries have ordained more 1,000 female rabbis. So many of these rabbis are playing disproportionately large roles in changing lives and communities, it was a challenge to choose just 50 (plus five in Israel) for The Sisterhood 50 list.

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Which Women Should Have Made Newsweek's Most Influential Rabbis List?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Newsweek is just out with its 4th annual list of what it deems to be “the 50 most influential rabbis in America.”

This year, as last, few women have made the cut and all but one are in the bottom half of the list.

The first woman to appear — Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, the president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis — comes in at position number 17. Still, it’s one higher than her ranking on last year’s list, when she was also the highest-placed member of the female rabbinate.

In all, six female rabbis were included this year. With one more than last year, at least there’s an upward trend, even if it is slow.

The others dubbed worthy of the 2010 list are Rabbis Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s GLBTQ synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Sharon Brous, founder of the progressive Los Angeles congregation Ikar, Naomi Levy, a well-known speaker and founder of L.A. outreach organization Nashuva, and Jill Jacobs, a social justice visionary and rabbi-in-residence at the Jewish Funds for Justice.

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Rabbi Recounts Seminary Profs' Sexist Remarks

By Gabrielle Birkner

On the heels of a Forward survey revealing that fewer than one in six Jewish communal organizations are run by women, and that those women who do occupy top jobs earn less than their male counterparts comes an essay by Rabbi Rebecca W. Sibru about her personal experience with sexism during rabbinical school and in Jewish workplaces. Sibru, who attended the Jewish Theological Seminary during the 1990s, recounts the following decidedly inappropriate remarks from her professors:

One professor told me, “More important than anything you learn in school will be to get married and have babies.” Another, asked how long an assignment should be, replied, “Like a woman’s skirt: Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.”

She writes that during rabbinical school, communal leaders urged her to forgo ordination in favor of a degree in education. After all, she was told, teaching Hebrew school or at a Jewish day school is “what you will wind up doing once you have children anyway.”

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