Only 1/5 of America’s “Top 50″ Rabbis are Women

This article is a list of what are, apparently, America’s Top 50 rabbis. I’m sort of against having a “Top 50″ of anything on principle – who gets to decide? what values are we using to make that decision? it’s never objective and shouldn’t be anyway – but as of right now, it’s one of the measures we use in this culture to make note of people we deem as significant.

So why are there so few women on this list?

I have been lucky enough to know many female rabbis in my life, and I would say that there are only 12 women on this list probably because female rabbis (and, likely, female religious leaders in general) are more likely to give extremely helpful private counsel, than to thrust themselves into the public eye. Which isn’t wrong; private counsel by our religious leaders can save lives and knit families back together. But I think, if we’re going to make a “Top 50″ list of anything, we should probably take that into account. Often the work that women do, especially spiritual women, is of a less culturally visible nature than the work that men do. That’s definitely not something biological or preordained, it’s more how we’re culturally raised. But if so much of the work that female rabbis are doing is so important, why don’t we value it?

I see this along the same lines as valuing the work that parents do; it’s not paid (except in poop-filled diapers), it’s not visible to the public eye, but it’s some of the most essential work of society. Similarly, quiet emotional work is not visible to the public eye, but as it prevents suicide and fosters emotional growth for many, many people, it’s some of the most essential work of society. It is a mark that men made this Top 50 list that there are no women on it; the only rabbis they are valuing here are the ones that are most visible to the public. And most of those kind of rabbis, like most of those kind of everything in the public sphere, are men.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    So, to get the scope of this:
    how many female rabbis are there in the US?

    If there are significantly more than 1/5, you actually have a point.

  2. Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Seems weird to not mention that Orthodox Judaism does not even allow women to be rabbis, and Conservative Judaism within my lifetime also had such a ban, and maintains certain religious beliefs that violate gender parity. Only the Reform and Reconstructionist movements are actually fully pro-gender-equality.

    Among the Reform and Reconstructionist rabbist listed, 12 are men and 9 are women.

    (I am not Jewish but my wife is Reform.)

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