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Making change, inside or out?

All week I’ve been fascinated by the reports of Catholic women being ordained as priests – 12 women were ordained on a boat outside of Pittsburgh on Monday (these “irregular” ordinations take place on rivers, which are beyond archdiocese jurisdiction), and last week another secretly ordained woman priest “came out” about her ordination and resigned from her position in the Archdiocese of Boston. These ordinations on the margins remind me of the ordination of Haviva Ner-David by an Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem and raise some of the same questions about how we make change in our communities.

In all Jewish denominations except for Orthodoxy, women became rabbis by seeking change from the inside. With varying strategies and degrees of politeness – from Sally Priesand simply applying to the Reform seminary to Ezrat Nashim presenting a “Call for Change” to the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement – they lobbied for and gained acceptance to the official seminaries (though real equality in status, access, and pay remains elusive).

The model of the womanpriests movement is one of making change from the outside – flouting the law and expecting to change it through facts on the ground. This approach can succeed (as in the case of the Episcopal Church), but is often perceived as marginal. Change from the outside can come from urgency, civil disobedience, or the basic belief that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (as the writer Audre Lorde put it).

The success of making change from the outside is beautifully illustrated by new rituals in the Jewish community. The Miriam’s Cup, for example, which was created by a women’s group outside of Boston, is now sufficiently mainstream to be available for purchase in Judaica shops across the country.

I’m moved by the courage and ingenuity of those who make change from the outside, and I’m also impressed by the determination and resilience of those who battle institutions to make change from the inside. Both approaches have appealed to me at different times. I see my professional work as an educator as an example of “making change from the inside,” but I’ve mostly given up on that approach in my own religious life. What’s your approach to making change?

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2 Comments

I think we all forget that it is indeed the orthodox that keeps this religion alive. Many of the reform and conservative Jews have intermarried and to make it worse their children see even less interest in Judaism than they do.

I think the reform and conservative need to come to their senses not the orthodox.

You've broached a highly interesting issue.

A few years ago I was actively vacillating between Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism (I was born into a secular household and, having returned to the fold, had to make a choice). On the one hand, I was genuinely attracted to OJ and felt it was the expression of Jewishness that appealed to me most. On the other hand, I was baffled by the status they accorded to women.

I was told repeatedly that the problems which existed in the movement were social, not religious by nature and therefore I had to Ì¢‰âÒjoin and fightÌ¢‰âÂå. In the end, however, I joined a Conservative congregation and am hoping that Orthodoxy will come to its senses.

Fighting for change from the inside requires absolute dedication, a huge investment of energy, emotions and time. Orthodox feminists are spelling out the basics, fighting for change on a daily basis. They are, to put it bluntly, in a hostile environment and run up against stiff opposition on a daily basis. I am sure they are called names, threatened, harassed and put down.

Those battling for the outside are, most likely, in a supportive environment, surrounded by people who share our goals and are sympathetic to our cause. We are at least not under perpetual stress.

I feel I am not up to the task of fighting from the inside. I would probably just explode every time I were told that women don't have enough brains to become rabbis or are supposed to sit at home.

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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Making change, inside or out?." 3 August 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/makingchange>.

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