Rabbi Julia Neuberger gave a panel of women rabbis and a crowded room a wonderful insight into how to deal with disrespect in the rabbinate as a woman rabbi. It was not necessarily repeatable in public! A session in honour of the 80th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman rabbi, Regina Jonas. The panel described ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of their career. As the group of women from across the different denominations, countries and professional positions reflected on the place of women rabbis today, it was clear that some things have not changed, yet in other ways the profession and the community has grown up. Women now occupy the senior positions in The West London Synagogue, The Leo Baeck College, The Movement for Reform Judaism and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue.
Rabbi Kolodny of Masorti Judaism commented on the difficult place for women rabbis who may be in junior positions in synagogues in the USA and are therefore more at risk of redundancy and are therefore finding the career path more difficult. Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, Principal of the Leo Baeck College, noted that women rabbis and students at the college are often the pioneers in raising issues that have become normal for men to now also be concerned about, including childcare, maternity leave, caring for an older relative and work-life balance. Rabbi Dr Dalia Marx, Associate Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem, described the situation in Israel, where women in the non-Orthodox rabbinate often occupy similar roles to men, the challenge is more the place of non-Orthodox Judaism.
Mark Fox, a former Chairman of West London Synagogue, remarked on how the recruitment of rabbis at the synagogue was guided by diversity and that included gender. At West London Synagogue the team is diverse and skilled in many areas. Rabbi Neuberger wrapped up by acknowledging the way the profession was changing and sounded a note of caution and of vision, noting that the changing synagogue dues structure may mean that the role of the rabbi as we know it (itself only around 250 years old) may need to change once again.
Later in the day, Rabbi Neil Janes presented a session with Rabbi Neuberger about the death of Moses and Palliative care. A full room heard how Judaism had a notion of the good death all the way through history. It was only in recent centuries that Jews like wider society stopped really talking about it. The room was filled with personal experiences and professional knowledge of palliative care which showed how much of an issue end of life care will be in the coming years.
Today Rabbi Dr Dalia Marx taught an incredible session about the way the secular kibbutz movement has developed a liturgy around kaddish but with great creativity has changed the theology for their time. She was aware too that with the loss of an ideological drive in the secular kibbutzim, often an expert (a rabbi) was bringing traditional liturgy back in and the secular liturgy was becoming less present.
Rabbi Neil Janes also presented a series of 7 theological texts from classical rabbinic literature which challenge us to think about theology in new ways and also gives space to recognise that there is plenty in our tradition to give rise to non-standard ways of thinking about God. The session was lively and quick paced.
The Lyons Learning Project is offering lots of people opportunities to think about important Jewish issues, using texts and conversations.