Women clergy bring a new sensibility to an old callingDon't you find it a little disturbing that Rabbi Grossman is referred to as Ms. Grossman when quoted, instead of using her title, Rabbi? Do you think a man would have had his title equally changed? Hmm...
Some Christian and Jewish clergywomen with years of experience - and who've reached the challenging and often-elusive post of senior pastor- say they still encounter resistance. They point to frontiers thatremain, but are also encouraged by the strides already made.
"I wanted to be a rabbi long before women could, but I didn't think itwould happen in my lifetime," says Rabbi Susan Grossman, who leads Beth Shalom, a Conservative Jewish congregation in Columbia, Md. "There's been more change in women's role in Judaism in the last 30 years than probably all of Jewish history!" Women of both faiths share the experiences of difficulty in findingjobs, being shunted into smaller, often remote congregations, andreceiving lower pay and fewer benefits than their male counterparts, as shown by studies of both Protestant clergy and Conservative Jewish rabbis.
Partly out of necessity and partly out of inclination, women have extended the boundaries of ministry beyond the congregation to serve as both military and hospital chaplains, educators, and counselors for social service agencies, according to a major 1998 study, "ClergyWomen: An Uphill Calling."Studies also show that clergywomen experience more stress than theirmale counterparts in a demanding occupation. As a result, a number are leaving the pulpit.
At the same time, clergywomen have been credited with being less interested in hierarchy and more in collegiality. They've brought newperspectives into the theological discussion, a more inclusive style, and opened the doors to worshippers who've felt disengaged from institutional religion.
"My mother often said that if there had been women rabbis when she was young, she wouldn't have been alienated from Judaism," says Ms. Grossman.
Jaqueline Ellenson, director of the Women's Rabbinic Network in the Reform Jewish movement, also points to progress. The more liberal Reform denomination was the first, in 1972, to ordain a woman rabbi -the recently retired Sally Priesand. Now 450 women constitute about aquarter of the 1,800 Reform rabbis.
"The walls are down in terms of attitudes toward women rabbis in themovement - getting jobs is no longer an issue," she says. But otherchallenges remain, particularly bringing about pay and benefit equity.
"And women are not moving up in the congregational hierarchy atthe same speed as men," she says. Only about a dozen women serve assenior rabbis in large congregations.
Yet women are having an impact on "conversations about prayer andspirituality, interpretations of text, and recovering of history," she adds. For instance, the project to produce the soon-to-be published revision of the Reform prayer book was headed by a woman.
The age-old question...If the wife of a rabbi is known as a rebbetzin, what do you call the husband of a rabbi? The usual answer: Lucky!
(But in my house, we call him Rabbi, too!)