For years I have wanted to write a treatise on egalitarianism in Jewish worship and ritual. I had imagined it being long, detailed, and complex. Now that I have entered my twilight years, my life and my faith have become radically less complexified. I mean, if God wants to bond with truck drivers and short-order cooks, His presence must be manifest to the hoi polli, even to this bipolar auto-defrocked rav.
I have, among other spiritual rearrangements, come to see that worship, ritual, and halachic standing, must be equal for men and women. This has haunted me through all my life’s rabbinical iterations: Hebrew school, Ramah, Lubavitch, Traditional (“Conservadox”), Conservative (semi-egalitarian), Modern/Open (Avi Weiss) Orthodox . . .
I am no fool, or at least my ears are open. I have heard all the denominational choruses for equality clamoring in their unique pitch. As I ride the roller coaster of my own Yiddishkeit, my stomach also always churns. Not fair. Not conscionable. Inconsistent with the justice and lovingkindness that we have been taught are God’s hallmarks. Inconsistent, period.
Now I read ravenously about the answers proposed by the spectrum of faith-communities. So far, they all seem empty, sophistic, jumbled, intellectually and spiritually dishonest, a misrepresentation of God’s desires.
One of my beloved Gemara rabbeyim, now a dynastic Chasidic Rebbe, once warned that the answers to life’s questions must be simpler to understand than the questions we pose.
Thus, after decades of futilely trying to balance the Jewish rights of men and women with the classical view of Halacha, I see no equitable solution other than smoothing out the spiritual cracks and bumps in the texture of the bima, shulchan, seating, chazzanut, aidus, preaching, lein’en, minyan, teaching, paskin’en . . . basically, anything men are empowered to practice, so should women.
Each kehillah should have an equally engaged rav and rabba, who will share rabbinical duties. But, the rav will counsel men on their delicate questions, and likewise the rabba with women: niddah, infertility, infidelity, dysfunction, spousal abuse, and so on.
The most pivotal requisite to unify a kehillah in egalitarianism, is that nothing else be done to compromise worship and customs: a full daven’en, lein’en, and aliyos, Megillah, shofar, gabboyus, meticulous observance of kashrut and Shabbat, fidelity to regional minhagim. In a word: still a real schule.
This mandate to smooth out the bumps and twists in our places of worship, study, lovingkindness, decision-making, pastoral care, recreation, leadership, in the eyes of classical Halacha. In good conscience, it might never be entirely accomplished. But, let’s agree that with a good spirit among us, details may yet be ironed out, sometime by evolution, sometime by revolution.
Our proposal is not for the faint of heart. But, as mucked up as things are, the answers so far are still more difficult and unjust than the questions.
Time to simplify. Time to de-complexify.
Maybe the time has come for those of us who are not yet too weary to heed the conductor’s call, “This train is leaving the station!” The only remaining question is, who will be boarding and who will be left waiting at the station?
MARC WILUDZANSKI WILSON is a retired rabbi who writes from Greenville, SC