Yesterday I celebrated Mother's Day in an unusual way. Instead of the traditional "early bird" dinner with my extended family, I traveled to New York City for a reunion of Jewish feminist matriarchs: the founders of Ezrat Nashim. I was invited to this gathering as a daughter of the movement to present a reflection on Jewish feminism today.
Raised as a Reform Jew by an ardent feminist, it was drilled into me that I could grow up to be anything I wanted. An astronaut, a doctor, the President — whatever (though I’m sure an underemployed freelance writer slacker mom wasn’t what my highly accomplished mother had in mind.)
A year ago we congratulated Sara Hurwitz on becoming a Maharat. Today we rejoice in her new title: Rabbah.
The subject of ordaining Orthodox women rabbis is highly controversial. Last year Sara Hurwitz completed the required course of study in Yoreh Deah to become a spiritual leader, but instead of receiving the title of rabbi, a new title was created for her. "Maharat" was created from an acronym that loosely translates to mean a leader in religious law and spirtual matters.
Ray Frank's position in American Jewry
was truly a novel one. In 1890, she became
the first Jewish woman to preach formally
from a pulpit in the United States,
inaugurating a career as "the Girl Rabbi
of the Golden West" that would help to
blaze new paths for women in Judaism.
Virtually overnight, Frank became a sensation
in the Jewish world, and she would remain so
for nearly a decade.
One-hundred and nineteen years ago today, Ray Frank became the first Jewish woman to speak from a synagogue pulpit in the United States. Ray Frank's story is particularly intriguing due to its complexity and the questions it raises. This was undoubtedly an important event in American Jewish women's history, but its impact is not straightforward, and thinking of Ray Frank as a heroine of the women's movement is somewhat problematic.
Apropos of Judith's recent post on Sotomayor and other "firsts," here's a celebratory shout-out to Alysa Stanton who became the world's first African-American female rabbi when she was ordained yesterday, June 6th, at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati. What does Stanton make of her status as a first? "If I were the 50,000th, I'd still be doing what I do, trying to live my life with kavanah and kedusha ... Me being first was just the luck of the draw," she explained.