Want To Help Women Rabbis Get The Respect They Deserve? Here’s A List

Recently, my colleague, Rabbi Jordie Gerson, wrote an op-ed regarding the most common type of erasure that female clergy encounter: the omission of title and withholding of respect. It is a large-scale battle, but one that is fought in small moments.

The article sparked a wide-ranging discussion among my colleagues in the Reform rabbinate. Many of the male rabbis who spoke up were interested in knowing what concrete steps they should take at this juncture. They were already aware that women face discrimination in myriad forms; they knew that the cumulative effect makes it more difficult for women to be hired, paid fairly, evaluated fairly and promoted. “How can we help?” they asked.

I responded: “You say that you would like to be an ally to your female colleagues? Thank you. Here is your to-do list.” The following list is a bit longer and more detailed than my original list, thanks to the input of several colleagues, male and female, some of whom are quoted below. If you are not a rabbi, feel free to adapt it.

1. Refer to every colleague as Rabbi Last-Name regardless of how cute or young or approachable or bubbly or fun she is. When I was a kid, I was the girl in your kindergarten class who wore dresses every single day, complete with frilly socks and mary-janes. As an adult, I still have a penchant for all things pink and sparkly. I also have a title – two titles, to be exact. Use them.

2. Pay women fairly. Across the board, women receive lower pay for equal work in Jewish institutions. This discrepancy is real and not the result of life-choices or career path; it shows up in nearly every kind of job.

I am happy to report that the Reform movement has decided to make pay equity a priority. Rabbi Mary Zamore, Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, writes: “We are proud to share that Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) and Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) have received significant funding from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York to organize together an initiative to address the gender wage gap that exists within Reform Movement institutions in North America.”

3. Recognize that women have a harder time establishing themselves as experts. You can help women in the field; pull out your latest brochure for adult education, count how many male experts versus female experts you have. If women are not hitting the 50% mark, notify those in charge of choosing that from now on, your expectation is 50%, starting with the 2018/2019 school year.

4. Make sure every hiring committee and every personnel evaluation committee has specific training in spotting gender bias. Women routinely get evaluated more negatively than men. You should know how to counteract it.

5. Start following feminist blogs and periodicals and help educate others regarding the latest in feminist thought in your various forms of communication.

6. At High Holidays, give a sermon on feminist theology and engage thoughtfully in its critique of the tradition. If you need a text, see my contribution to The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate.

7. Refuse to participate on all-male panels or celebrations. Even if the topic is “Men in the Synagogue,” there should be women on the panel. Any time someone asks you for a name for a position, give them a woman’s name.

8. Ask for parental leave in your next contract, need it or not. As Rabbi Jill Maderer writes, if men want to be allies, then “men should negotiate for and when/if applicable take parental leave.” Rabbi Michael Adam Latz agrees: “I advocated for family leave in all my contracts. And when both my daughters were born, I took the two months granted to me. It is important that men not only advocate for it, but take it as well.” Similarly, Rabbi Daniel Plotkin observes that “not insisting on parental leave perpetuates the stereotypes about who is ‘supposed’ to raise the child.”

It would be helpful, in fact, if all rabbis, male and female, asked for parental leave in their contracts so that those who do need it are not marked by their need. Better yet: if all hiring committees simply included it as a matter of course, because parenting is a Jewish value.

9. Recognize that women face harassment on account of their gender and believe them when they report it to you. Have a defined process for reporting harassment at your workplace, and let your staff know about the ethics procedures in place for reporting misbehavior.

10. Say something when you hear off-color remarks. Rabbi Leana Moritt explains that it would be very helpful if men “constructively call out comments that marginalize, objectify or minimize women. They may seem innocuous, unconscious or even well meaning (?!), but shining a light to this dynamic is the only way to begin really tackling this pernicious problem.” In other words, if you overhear a congregant say something like, “if rabbis looked like you when I was young, I would have gone to services more often,” make it clear (gently) that such comments are simply not welcome. If you are not sure what to say, ask one of your female colleagues for suggestions — in female networking circles, we routinely share with each other our best comebacks.

Finally, a word of gratitude: thank you, again, for your willingness to help change our world.

Rabbi Dr. Kari Hofmaister Tuling received her ordination from the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in 2004 and her PhD from the same in 2013. She serves Congregation Kol Haverim in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Her book, Thinking About God: Jewish Views is scheduled to be published by JPS in 2019.

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