Future of Women in Judaism

As mentioned on our Facebook Fan Page, I was recently asked to write a piece about the future of Judaism as it relates to women’s involvement.  I took it on in a true Melissa form and am both proud of the result and humbled at its inclusion.  To see my byline alongside Anita Diamant (Author and Found of Mayyim Hayyim) and Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz (Founder of Uri L’Tzedek) is one of the greatest honors in my life.

Since I am spending today in the car with my parents, headed to celebrate my niece’s 6th birthday I leave you with a few links to peruse in my absence.

My piece for the Future of Judaism Series at Patheos: An Ever-Evolving Judaism: Women Meeting the Needs of Community

The entire “Future of Judaism” series at Patheos.

A brief blog post about the series which acknowledged my piece from MyJewishLearning.com

I’d love to hear your feedback!


Experiencing a Women’s Mincha

post by Jessica

A little over a week ago, I was asked by a friend to do the d’var Torah (literally word of Torah, generally what we’d call in English a short sermon) at the women’s mincha being held at the synagogue on Saturday afternoon. Having never been, even though it was right up my alley, I was very curious about going and this seemed like a great excuse. Plus, since it was my bat mitzvah parasha, I actually had a reasonable idea of what I wanted to say.

Aside from that though, I had no idea what to expect from the experience. It was totally different from anything I’d been to previously. The only thing I had to possibly compare it to was the women’s megillah reading on Purim, and I knew it would be different from that. I arrived a little early, as requested by the organizer, and helped set up the little beit midrash so it could be used for praying. Women trickled in as the time neared, and I started to relax. Almost everyone there were not only people I knew, but friends. When we started the service, one of the organizers got up and explained a little bit about what they would and wouldn’t do. They would read from the Torah, without the Torah blessings, although it would be broken up into the three aliyot (sections) and there would also be no repetition of the main prayer out loud. Otherwise, it would be your pretty average gathering.

I was surprised. I think that might be the best way to describe it. As my friend got up to lead the davening, and the women responded, it was the most amazing sound. Twenty or so women, singing the davening (prayers). It gave me the most amazing shiver down my spine of joy. This was why this moment was different. Praying with men and women is beautiful. I especially like it when you can hear both groups equally, making a joyful noise. I’m not sure I had ever heard a roomful of only women praying. It was almost overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful. I did my dvar Torah, two women read from the Torah, and I enjoyed the entire service, especially hearing some of the children who had come to the service singing loudly as well. All of that put together made for a really fulfilling experience for me.

Is it a perfect answer for women looking to participate in prayer? Of course not. However, it definitely fulfill some of the needs. It allows women an opportunity to do things like read Torah, lead a group in prayer, talk seriously about Torah, in a smaller, welcoming environment. It truly was a beautiful service and helped me connect to prayer in a way that I hadn’t in a long time.

All in all? I keep thinking to myself, “self, why didn’t I go earlier this year?!?” and also that I am truly glad that these groups exist. I don’t think I understood before at all. Poor mans substitutes. Turns out, it’s something beautiful, all by itself.

Memorable, For Now

"Things NOT Appearing at Our Passover Seder" - post by Jessica

Passover preparations are now finished in our house. In a few hours, we’ll head to my in-laws for the seder and enjoy the two days of the holiday with them. It was a marathon sprint, but we’re almost there!

I have been thinking about writing this post since we started our series on Passover. I liked the topic of our favorite or most memorable seder so much, and then realized that I wasn’t sure what to write about! Maybe it’s because that seder experience is one I really enjoyed at the time, it’s not one that I really want to repeat. Funny how things go like that.

It was my senior year in college, and my roommate and I had foiled our kitchen in glory. It was impressive. Especially for two newbies at it, like ourselves. It wasn’t probably totally kosher, but it was the closest I had ever been. We’d stocked up on food, and I braved the seders.

Each night, I attended two seders. On the first evening, I led a seder at Hillel, along with the Hillel JLI rabbi (for whom, thinking back, it was probably a trying experience), and we were done relatively quickly. We used the standard Hillel text that I had helped put together, and added a few bits and pieces here and there, and the food was good. Afterwards, I went to R’s parents house. We were already dating at this point and I had been invited, like last year. Unlike the year previous, however, I was no longer a newcomer – I was more and more like family, even though we weren’t engaged yet. On the second night, I drove the hour home to my parents congregation (not yet having any compunction about driving on holidays) and enjoyed the seder with them. The small congregation had brought in a retired rabbi to lead the seder, and although he was a great scholar and an engaging leader, he made a number of gaffes to make the experience less enjoyable. Chief among them was the omission of the third cup of wine. I had suspected he had done the same thing the year before, and this year paid close attention in order to confirm it. Afterwards, driving back to school, I arrived at R’s parents house and just about the same point in the seder, since they had started a little later on the second night.

Perhaps I should think of the first time we were able to have seder as a family, three Passovers ago, or our seder in Jerusalem four Passovers ago as among my most memorable. I think, though, that this particular Passover captures a particular period in my life – when I was still technically single but in a serious relationship, still very much a student, still very much connected to everything that had gone before, and just venturing into what was still to come.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy Passover to those who celebrate, a healthy and happy Easter to those who celebrate, and looking forward to continued writing.

Rabbis, Cantors and Lay Leaders – oh my!

I received some news last week* which prompted me to think about these three roles and what they uniquely offer to both the synagogue and greater Jewish community. There are many similarities, differences, and overlaps that I find it worth a moment of exploration.

Rabbis are the age old teachers in Judaism.  Rav, the Hebrew word for Rabbi even translates to master or teacher, and many modern Rabbis are referred to as Rav.  There are numerous Rabbinical schools, each with their own agenda and emphasis in learning (the details of which are not the point of this post).  All of these programs give “smicha” (ordination) at the end of the road, which essentially certifies these individuals to be Rabbis.  In the modern era Rabbis can be found in synagogues as leaders and educators, on college campuses, Jewish camps and youth programs, hospitals and a wide variety of community organizations. Rabbis bring forth a wealth of knowledge on laws and practice.

I once heard the daughter of a Cantor liken her father’s job to that of “a singing priest.”  While we all thought this was a laughable comment, there is some truth to it.  A Cantor (aka – Chazan) has traditionally been a person with a good voice who could lead their community in prayer and read Torah, while providing an additional teacher to the community.  Like Rabbis, there are schools across the country which train Cantors and offer them ordination, and they will most likely find work in a synagogue setting.  Cantors have a passion for communal prayer like no one else.

As for lay leaders –some have degrees in Jewish Education, Jewish Communal Services, Non-Profit Management, or one of the many other related disciplines – many do not have advanced education in Jewish leadership.  These individuals keep synagogues, federations, and community service organizations running daily.  Lay leaders have a diverse background, which enriches their leadership.

Rabbis, Cantors and lay leaders all keep the Jewish community vibrant in these unique methods; however they all work to engage, support, and encourage their fellow Jew. These leadership roles have been developed over the years to allow people to find a meaningful way to engage in their Judaism, and to use their engagement to help others find their own meaningful Judaism.  Maybe we all need to take a step back and rethink our paths to Judaism and the variety of people who have influenced us before we critique the validity of any of these roles.  Imagine your path lacking one inspirational person – are you still the person you are today?

Every Jewish leader is valuable and we should all unite together to empower them to become the best leader they can – in a way which is meaningful for them.  Together, we can keep growing our leadership rather than watch it dwindle.  If you want to find a way to help and don’t know what to do, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me directly: Melissa@redefiningrebbetzin.com

*When I began this post, I had intended to link to this news, however I since learned it was not yet public knowledge.  I will share the information which triggered this in a follow up post as soon as I am able to do so.  However, I did still want to get us thinking about our leadership.