I’m a “Woman Rabbi”: Bringing Our Full Selves to Jewish Community
Sermon for Shabbat Terumah, February 2022, at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City
“Excuse me, miss,can you tell me where the rabbi is?”
I take a beat before responding. I decide on a chuckle and a quick, “You’re looking at her!”
“Isn’t that skirt a little short for a rabbi?”
Baffled, I glance down at the dress that falls well below my knees.
“If my rabbi had looked like that, I would have gone to shul (that’s Yiddish for “synagogue”) more often!”
… That one required real self-control on my part.
And perhaps my favorite: Being introduced to my Orthodox Senior Rabbi’s three-year-old son. “This is Rabbi Nikki.” The child lifts his eyes to me shyly, taking in the kippa (or yarmulke) I was wearing along with my traditionally “feminine” clothing.
“But… but… rabbis don’t wear earrings!”…
Type “rabbi” into Google’s image search and dozens of bearded faces will soon stare out at you from the screen. You’ll scroll twice before you see a woman. Overwhelmingly, these rabbis will be white, Orthodox, Ashkenazi (of Eastern European descent).
It is tiring, frankly, and sometimes triggering, to see such erasure over and over and over again. To walk the halls of a synagogue, for example, and see not only portrait after portrait of past senior rabbis–by definition, all or mostly male– but also to see Jewish art valorizing only one type of spiritual leader.
It is angering to know that some opportunities are closed to me because of my sex. To hear that a family asked for yet another referral for a different freelance rabbi to conduct their relatives’ funeral, because they “just didn’t feel comfortable” having a woman officiate.
It is devastating to read and to hear and to witness the pain and the trauma of my far-too-many colleagues who silently endured and still endure sexual harassment and rape, even at the hands of our teachers, our rabbis.
Sometimes I look at the selfie that Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman ordained by the Reform movement, generously agreed to take with me
in my fangirliest of fangirl moments, and I…