Monday, May 3, 2010

"Rabba" title and Ego: Why do women want to be man-clones?

A dear friend read my post that suggested that ordaining Sara Hurwitz a "rabba" undermines marriage as the basis of Jewish life, and asked, "Don't these women (feminists) have enough to do in their lives? What, I wonder all the time, is it that they REALLY crave?"
Here's why competent women who are already leading push for the title; push to be equivalent to men. Be prepared; it may sound harsh.

They need, for their personal egos and self-esteem, to have deference and recognition. Therefore, when they’ve studied and teach and lead, they crave status; they want it emblazoned before their name that they’re learned and important.

 I do understand it somewhat, because once I got my Ph.D. I got to be called “doctor” for life. In the beginning, right after I’d just exerted myself to earn that degree, it was important to me to get some kind of reward/recognition of my accomplishment, and I loved being called “doctor.”

 But as time went on, I realized that I deserved that permanent recognition less and less. Why? Because I came to see being who I am doesn't earn respect--instead it's the outcomes of my actions.  My ego, I realized, should not be tied up in getting credit; my ego, properly, should be focused on how I impact other people. (That doesn’t mean I can be completely selfless, but I stopped putting “Dr.” as my title, and I’m conscious of the desire for affirmation vs modesty/humility).

I think there was a values-shift between say, the 1940’s, '50s and early 60s and afterward. Before, there was much more emphasis on serving others and being humble (after all, WWII required lots of sacrifice). But then Boomers became the center of attention and suddenly “giving kids confidence” and instilling self esteem was the major goal for education. Boomers were told they were wonderful, and what that did was establish that it was appropriate for kids to be honored; it was “normal” for kids to get egos massaged and elevated. From the 60s on, it became "all about us" as great and precious kids who could grab the world and bring peace and love and have great sex and be mothers/CEOs at the same time. With feminism, the world was unlimited; women could “have it all.”

Men didn't mind sharing the glory, because "liberation" got them more sex and less responsibility.

One indicator of the shift was that Little League decided to downplay “wins” and “losses” after girls were admitted. It reflected the broader view that nobody was a “loser” anymore. Everyone was a “winner.” With the “new math,” no longer did it matter if 2 +2 didn’t equal 4; all that mattered was that kids understood the concept of putting things together. “Very Good, Johnny; you came up with 5 and that’s almost right! And you understand that when you add two sets of things together, you get more of them!”

Feminists’ kids were thereby indoctrinated not only to have and do it all, but for everyone to pat them on the head for it. “Call me Rabbi! … because I expect you to tell me I’m important, and to recognize in your own little head that I AM important! Don’t just appreciate what I DO; tell me I’m great because of who I AM!”

I didn’t put all that in my first blog post, but the more I think about it, that’s the driving force behind feminists’ demands for the same title as a male rabbi.

I take Torah classes with excellent female teachers, most of whom are rebbetzens.  They can be comfortable and confident without being called "rabbi" because the Torah, the content, conveying it to students, and living it is what’s important.  Title is irrelevant.  They don't need public affirmation that they're erudite and competent.

Also, women who know Torah understand that sharing life with a spouse means support through the ups, downs, glory and daily strife—not as a man-clone, but as distinctly different.  Being a rebbetzen means serving the community, with its attendant honor and status.  Women not married to rabbis excel and serve as well, in titled capacities of all sorts, just not "rabbi."  Does that make their work inferior? Not at all.

As a woman sitting separately from men, behind (or next to) a mechitza (divider), there's something positive seeing men lead, participate and interact with each other; in the women's section in synagogue, I can be a voyeur into a male world, and that’s a very unique opportunity. Men don’t get that kind of opportunity to see into women's religious world, really. Then again, men are wired so they care about such things less, and women, more socially conscious, are wired to interpersonal dynamics more.

Maybe that's why feminists crave others' reinforcement so much--it's an expression of a social need.  For men, there's a competitive need, a desire to rank, to show superiority.  This isn't just sexist speculation, but what replicated research insists.

I don't mind calling Sara Hurwitz anything she wants to be called; I respect her considerable achievements, and even more, her continuing contributions.  But it's imperative that Judaism not be distorted to suggest that genders are interchangeable, or that a couple united in marriage isn't the basis for the fullest means of Jewish expression and accomplishment.


  1. Are we not teaching girls to value their gender? Is that part of the reason feminists want to blur the gender lines?

  2. Pardon me, but I think you are making an unfair assumption here. While some women involved in the movement to advance female leadership in the Orthodox community may be motivated by a quest for recognition, others certainly have purer motivations.

    I personally know women who have taken on major leadership roles—not as Rabbas, but in synagogue positions which serve essentially the same functions—who are wonderful, giving people performing what they believe to be an incredibly important service to the community, and I don’t doubt that some of the women studying for the title of Rabba have similarly admirable motivations.

    There are a plethora of reasons why having women leaders side-by-side with rabbis would be beneficial to the Orthodox community; assuming that the only possible motivation is an inferiority complex or an inflated ego, leading to an unfettered desire for deference and recognition, is condescending, unfair, and inaccurate.

    Having educated women in positions of leadership, with official titles and official roles in the synagogue, provides inspiration to the women of the community, gives young girls positive role models to emulate, and allows female congregants to ask questions they would not feel comfortable addressing to a male rabbi.

    Additionally, having women as leaders is important precisely because of the gender differences you are so insistent upon. Giving congregants the chance to learn Torah as only a woman can teach it, to receive counseling from someone attuned to emotions in a different way, to connect to Judaism through a female—as well as a male—perspective, broadens horizons and increases understanding. And contrary to what you may say, a rebbetzin--even a rebbetzin with no day job to distract her--does not fill these needs in a comparable fashion.

    Your sweeping generalizations indicate that you haven’t thoroughly considered this issue, and likely have not spoken to anyone who believes sincerely in the cause of women’s leadership. I hope you will pause and recognize that this question is not as simple as you have made it out to be.