The WORD 10/24/13. So, I am not a huge fan of driving on Saturdays, but every rule has its exceptions. For example, this Saturday, activist women in Saudi Arabia are planning a protest to that country’s ban on women driving. Women are supposed to take video of themselves driving and post it on the internet anonymously in order to avoid punishment. (In 2011, a woman was given 10 lashes for driving.)
Every time I think about the fact that there is a country in which women are prohibited from driving, it boggles my mind. I can only hope that women of Saudi Arabia – and their male allies – will find a way to overturn the ban soon.
It occurred to me as I read a news story about this protest that I was reading it during the week of the Torah Portion called Hayyei Sarah – the life of Sarah. The very name of the portion challenges us to remember and consider the contributions of our matriarch Sarah to the formation of our faith tradition.
Further, today is the 30th anniversary of our movement’s decision to permit the ordination of women as rabbis (click here for more info). What a contrast!
Although our movement is far from perfect on gender issues, we can take some pride in knowing that over the last thirty years, women have had equal status under Jewish law in our movement. I firmly believe that the presence of women in the rabbinate has had a profoundly positive impact in a number of ways.
First of all, it has had an impact on our liturgy. For example, Rabbi Debra Orenstein – who grew up in nearby South Orange – compiled a book of new Jewish rituals created by women for women. Infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth were among the experiences for which rituals were added. These are moments that male rabbis overlooked for centuries. Other women have followed in Rabbi Orenstein’s footsteps.
A second way in which the ordination of women changed Judaism was giving our daughters Jewish role models who looked like them. No longer could our daughters say that Judaism was just for the boys. It was – and is – a powerful reminder that the Jewish tradition belongs to all of us regardless of gender.
A third important change was the break-up of another “all-boys” club. Men and women bring different – but complementary – strengths, weaknesses and perspectives to leadership. A quick look at the headlines reminds us that an exclusive, cloistered, all-male clergy often leads to bad news – like banning women from driving or spending $40M to renovate a priest’s residence or declaring that American rabbis are not capable of determining whether or not a person is Jewish.
It’s not that egalitarian clergy are incapable of immorality – we can be just as good at it as anyone else! However, it seems to happen a lot more often among those religious groups who have not chosen to give women equal status.
So, Happy Anniversary to our Conservative Movement for thirty years of ordaining women! And I hope that the Saudi women who are protesting this Saturday successfully overturn their country’s driving ban as one small step on the way to equality.