Debate Magazine

Who Woulda Thought It?

Posted on the 03 April 2011 by Starofdavida
Who Woulda Thought It?I simply adore my rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife). She runs the children’s group at my synagogue, which I’ve been attending since I was three. Even after I was supposed to go to the older kids’ group when I turned seven, I stayed with the younger kids’ group with my rebbetzin. Once I got a little older, I started helping her run the group, and now I help as an official volunteer.
When I say she runs the synagogue, I mean that she runs the synagogue. If I enumerated everything she does for the synagogue, you would accuse me of lying - no single human being can do all that in one day. But she does. I don’t get how (I maintain that she’s figured out a way to add a few hours to the day), but she gets it all done somehow r another.
She’s an older woman (her oldest grandchild is only a couple years younger than me), and most Orthodox women of her generation tend to lean towards the concept that men should be breadwinners and women should be domestic angels. I always assumed she was different, though. Her daughters and granddaughters read from the haftarah (selection of Tanakh read in the synagogue) at their banot mitzvah, an unusual thing for Orthodox girls to do, so I figured my rebbetzin was a little more leftist to allow for it. She’s also such a powerful woman in the synagogue: how could a woman so strong be sexist?
Wow, was I in for a surprise. At the lunch the synagogue provides for the children’s group after the services end, my rebbetzin sat at our table and heard me discussing women in Jewish leadership.
“Women’s place is in the home,” she said immediately, and my eyebrows shot up. “When’s the last time you were home?” my mom asked her jokingly. She laughed, probably racking her brain to think back to the last time she was home, since she practically lives in the synagogue, eating most meals there and spending most of her waking hours working on upcoming functions. “I should be,” she replied. “What are you? Phyllis Schlafly?” I asked. (As we all know, Phyllis Schlafly is the famed attorney and lecturer who opposed the ERA and is painfully anti-feminist, supporting women as housewives and mothers…while getting her JD and running all over the country lecturing against feminism.)
I must say, I was really disappointed. I love my rebbetzin, to the point that I consider her my third grandmother. I wasn’t really expecting her to give her support to women rabbis or women in Jewish leadership, but I was surprised that she was so adamant about a woman’s place in the world, especially since she’s pretty liberated herself.
All I can say is that I hope attitudes like hers change over time, that Orthodox people come to realize that expanding women’s roles will benefit the Jewish community at large.

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