I hadn’t yet started my first cup of coffee when I saw the Times of Israel headline, “Outcry after Women’s Day Magazine appoints a ‘rabbi in residence’ and Chooses a Man.” I blinked and reread the headline, but it didn’t disappear. I read the article and was dismayed. Rabbi Leder is an exceptional spiritual leader, and because people value his empathy, I was more upset about his decision to accept the offer from Women’s Magazine. So, Rabbi Leder, I ask you to please inform the person who offered you this position that you are resigning and advocate for one of the many qualified women rabbis we know.
I am a male Boomer like Rabbi Leder. I have watched too many women become marginalized by the male Jewish power establishment, and I should have advocated more vocally for gender equity. I have also coached and mentored women rabbis who shared their stories of obnoxious, unethical, and illegal behavior by male colleagues, professors, and volunteer leaders. Like many men, I will not participate in a panel where only men participate. It’s 2022, and we must rapidly advance women into volunteer and professional executive leadership roles on Jewish boards, synagogues, and organizations.
On receiving criticism about his new role at Women’s Day Magazine, Rabbi Leder responded, “I would hope that we can all see each other as people first. I think that’s the goal of every religious leader, is that we first recognize the humanity and equality in every human being…” His lofty sentiment is utterly disconnected from the current reality. Saying that you don’t see a person’s gender is as naïve as saying that you don’t see a person’s color. In both cases, you make that person invisible. That is why Jewish women are still so under-represented in positions of leadership.
On one occasion, a female colleague was offered a position for which a funder had requested me to apply. I asked the recruiter for feedback on what I might have done differently. He responded, “Nothing. The funders said that it was time for a woman.” I was initially unhappy that my gender held me back from this coveted opportunity. But I knew the funders made the morally correct call. Having been married for almost 42 years to a female attorney who has advanced to the highest levels of her profession with a significant amount of struggle, I became happy that my female colleague accepted the offer.
I don’t want to contribute to our toxic and divisive culture by publicly criticizing a rabbi who continues to devote his life to the Jewish people and transform many Jewish lives. But if men don’t join with women in the struggle to achieve gender equity in Jewish life, we’ll still be discussing this issue twenty years from now. Remember the Talmud’s advice, “Anyone who can protest against the transgressions of one’s household and does not is punished for the actions of the members of the household; anyone who can protest against the transgressions of one’s townspeople and does not is punished for the transgressions of the townspeople; anyone who can protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not is punished for the transgressions of the entire world (Shabbat 54b-55a).” Rabbi Leder: please resign your new position and urge that a woman be appointed as rabbi-in-residence instead.