Skip To Content

Introducing ‘Pulpit Plus One’

llustration by Lior Zaltzman

I moved to Nashville in July with my husband Aaron, when he was hired as an assistant rabbi and teacher. “Have you met Julie, the new rabbi’s wife?” is how I’m commonly introduced.

It’s interesting to be in a position that’s not a position at all. I wasn’t hired, and I wasn’t technically interviewed — and yet of course I was interviewed! When Aaron was flown out for interview weekends, I was flown out too.

At one particularly intense interview weekend, when we were still engaged, a congregant asked me if I was going to wear a sheitel after getting married. “No, I don’t think so,” I replied, not wanting to dismiss the idea entirely, but also knowing it was very unlikely. “We’ve never had a rebbetzin [rabbi’s wife] who doesn’t wear a sheitel,” replied the congregant. “I don’t know what to tell you,” I said…because I didn’t.

We landed in a great place, and I feel very lucky. I also am utterly fascinated by the role — real and perceived — of the “rabbi’s wife”, or husband, or partner. Because it can be invested with expectations, and because the role is quite new for me personally, I’m curious to explore what it means (and doesn’t mean) for others in a similar situation.

Pulpit Plus One: The Secret Lives of Rabbis’ Husbands, Partners, and Wives will be, I hope, an honest and lively look at communal leadership from the leaders who are often neither hired or compensated. The interviews will also include those who have opted-out of the very idea of being leaders by association.

In this Sisterhood series, I plan to profile a wide diversity of individuals who are partnered to pulpit rabbis. Diversity includes denominations, genders, orientations, types of relationships (married, engaged, partnered), and also attitudes towards the whole lifestyle: love it, hate it, “meh” it.

By doing so I hope to illuminate a role that is complex by definition. It’s not that I want to shatter expectations or impressions, but rather show the nuances of the role and the variety of approaches to it.

Overall, it’s been wonderful — and complicated, and funny, and occasionally heart-breaking — connecting with those I’ve already interviewed. Please be in touch if you’d like to be involved. And I hope you all feel as I do: that these normally untold stories are important to share.

Someone here recently asked if I’ve had to change my behavior in any way because of my public role in the Jewish community. The answer is yes — in ways big and small, though mostly neither unpleasant or unanticipated. But at the time, sitting at a coffee shop on a wintry morning, my mind whirred as I tried to think of an answer that was both true and didn’t have any teeth.

“Well, I curse a lot less,” I said.

Julie Sugar is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.