Ironically, Friday’s announcement by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is an acknowledgement of the reality and impact of Orthodox women clergy. We are facts on the ground. I am the Rabba the RCA is decrying. I received ordination from Yeshivat Maharat in June this year and fully consider myself a member of the clergy. In some ways I’m lucky, as an Australian living in Jerusalem for the last four years, I’ve mostly been removed from the internal dynamics of Orthodox community politics and sectarianism. At the same time, I am willing to open my heart to hear deep concerns that people have, even when their concerns may directly negate me — and my values.
The RCA understands that they cannot accept women’s ordination as part of their commitment to “sacred continuity”. I also care deeply about sacred continuity and I understand that my conception of sacred continuity is not the same as the RCA.
For me, sacred continuity is about calling in all of the men and women who have been alienated from Torah and from the Divine because they have not found communities that reflect their values or that welcome them in their fullness and contradictions. For me, sacred continuity is about creating a space, through our recently founded Yeshivat Kol Isha, where women grappling with intimate details of halakha around sexuality and menstruation can do that with other women and find a place for their own voice and reality to be reflected in halakhic discourse. For me, sacred continuity is about not having to be split off and deny parts of the self, and being able to bring everything that I know and have learnt, to deep engagement with God and Torah. For me, sacred continuity is about opening up the language of God and ways of connecting to the Divine so that we can repair the bad reputation God has received through the misuse of religion as a justification for violence, exclusion, humiliation and cruelty. For me, sacred continuity is reclaiming our original litmus test as Jews as “compassionate ones, children of compassionate ones.” For me, sacred continuity is about finding that place inside us where being connected to my tribe to Jewish people, connects me even more deeply to all of humanity, and to the divine in each person.
Some of my colleagues, who I deeply respect, will to go into the heart of their Orthodox communities and lead from within. They honor the tradition with humility and bring their voices and perspectives to leadership thereby enhancing the whole community. It is a deep loss for the Jewish people that some doors to the Orthodox community may be closed for them. A grievous loss that we cannot afford. An exclusion we are in no position to make. Other rabbinic colleagues of mine are also directing their gifts to work in the wider Jewish pluralistic world, or beyond to other social change and educational organizations. I choose to work in conflict transformation, as Fellowship Director of Encounter, which I consider to be part of my rabbinic vocation and service.
At a time of environmental degradation leading to disaster, widespread violence and proliferation of armaments, radical global inequality, devastating effects worldwide of sexism and racism, we cannot afford to be holding back women from taking spiritual leadership — including as Orthodox clergy. We need to muster all the intelligent and flexible minds and hearts we can.
The Jewish world and beyond needs the rabbinic leadership of women — for women and for men. Whether they are operating in the heart of Orthodox communities or whether they are branching further out in the Jewish world and beyond — we cannot afford to squander this incredible resource. Jewish people around the world are floundering because they are lacking a sense of connection to Torah and to the Divine. Incredible talented women are serving these most precious people. We cannot turn our backs on the work to be done in the world. That is what will ensure “sacred continuity.”