Reality check: Wage gap for Jewish professionals worse than national average

Much to the dismay of a number of Jewish organizations, the Senate neglected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act last month, effectively shelving it for the foreseeable future. The bill, which would have augmented current civil rights law to protect against sex-based pay discrimination, had received broad support from civil rights and women’s rights groups but faced opposition from business organizations, whose members said it would be both difficult and expensive to enforce.

Even with the bill off the table indefinitely, the pay gap between genders has made headlines, particularly within the Jewish community. This fall, the Jewish Communal Service Association and the Berman Jewish Policy Archive published the results of a study that found that although women comprise two thirds of Jewish communal professionals, their salaries significantly trail those of their male counterparts by an average of $20,000 per year (when adjusted for age, experience, education and other factors).

When The Forward published a report revealing the individual salaries of top Jewish communal leaders, editor Jane Eisner wrote about the findings: “…The gap between male and female salaries among Jewish executives did grow smaller from 2008 to 2009, but women still earned only 67 cents to every dollar earned by men. The median salary for men was $316,074; for women it was $213,855.”

I’m unsurprised to learn that the wage gap between genders still exists in the workplace, but I’ll admit to being surprised that it’s so severe within Jewish organizations, where I expect “social justice” to be much more than a catchphrase masking hypocrisy. In fact, based on these reports, it’s not just that the Jewish community’s wage gap equals that of the general workforce: If The Forward is correct in its data, we’re actually worse.

According to a 2009 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar that men earn in the same jobs. At 67 cents for every dollar, women working for Jewish organizations are worse off than the average population but still doing better than other minorities, for whom the disparity is even greater: African American women make about 62 cents and Latina women just 53 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

So what should we make of all of this? In “Making Jewish Paychecks Fair,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs outlines four changes she’d like to see Jewish organizations implement as a means of achieving pay equity within the community. She advises Jewish groups to make salary scales public, replace mishpokhe (Yiddish for “family”) with professionalism, hold organizations responsible for bad behavior, and quit using the so-called “mommy track” as an excuse for paying women less. While there are no quick fixes for gender inequity, Jacobs’ suggestions seem like a solid start toward equalizing a community that largely professes to support equality.

And if we want to even the playing field, perhaps we should also rethink salaries as a whole, not just as they relate to gender disparities. According to the same Forward article, some of our top leaders are taking home astronomical paychecks upwards of half a million dollars per year. Though the study doesn’t indicate how much the average staffer makes at any of these organizations, I’m willing to bet it’s a fraction of what their bosses bank annually. This is common, of course, and expected at any company, Jewish or not – do more work, make more money. But non-profits, even Jewish ones, are not known for their high-paying salaries (except, it seems, at the top), and I suspect the wage disparity between boss and bottom-rung is staggering.

I don’t have the answers. Still, it’s a lot to take in: I can’t help but think that the Jewish community should be doing a better job, on the whole, of treating – and paying – its workers as fairly and as equitably as possible. As a people who profess to be educated, intelligent and compassionate, shouldn’t our wages reflect our values?

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I was very involved with the Federation in San Francisco, and the actions of Wayne Feinstein, who was top guy there, would curl your hair. He used a private conversation he had in Israel with a (female) Wexner scholar and donor to that Federation against her in a private court proceeding, years after they were in Jerusalem together. The friendship he had with the ex-husband of this Wexner scholar trumped his professional, and I think Jewish, obligations.

I'm sure a woman would have been more trustworthy.

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How to cite this page

Bigam, Kate. "Reality check: Wage gap for Jewish professionals worse than national average." 16 December 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 13, 2024) <>.