Disaster of the day: Too many women rabbis!

Jewish religious leaders lament a shortage of men in the clergy.

Published June 24, 2008 3:30PM (EDT)

I did not last long in Hebrew school. Though I loved my grandmotherly kindergarten teacher, I eventually realized I'd been swindled into extra class time and additional homework. By second grade, I fought so fiercely that my parents started dreading Sunday morning more than I did; by the end of elementary school, I'd dropped out altogether.

Evidently, though, a good number of girls have the faith (or patience) to stick with it. According to the Boston Globe, 60 percent of rabbinical students are women and 84 percent of those are studying to be cantors in the Reform movement. Girls are also outnumbering their male counterparts by about 2-to-1 at Jewish summer camps and in youth groups. Of course, as Orthodox Judaism bars women from the clergy, that segment of the population isn't included in the statistics.

But rather than celebrating women's full participation in Judaism, religious leaders are lamenting what they see as a shortage of men. They're writing guides for Jewish men, envisioning all-male Passover Seders and reinvigorating synagogue men's groups. One rabbi even suggests that women's increased power within the community is to blame for men's decreased participation. "Perhaps one factor is that men are devaluing something that is done by women," Rabbi Joseph Meszler told the Globe.

It's disappointing that a 3-to-2 female-to-male ratio in rabbinical school would cause a panic among Jewish leaders. And it seems futile to try to solve the problem through further gender segregation. If what Rabbi Meszler says is true, wouldn't emphasizing common ground between male and female congregants go further toward dispelling men's prejudice against joining the clergy? Isn't it the idea that some professions are "men's work" and others "women's work" that got us into this so-called mess in the first place?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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