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gender equality

Toward Gender Equity: Tools for Reform Jewish Communities from the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate

Introducing critical tools to implement gender equality in our communities

A little over three years ago, the CCAR created the CCAR Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate. At that time, an important conversation, long active underneath the surface of the rabbinate, was re-emerging with greater urgency. There was a confluence of things happening at the same time: We had just published The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate; the 2016 election season had generated a great deal of newly public anger about the treatment of women; and women were more willing to share stories and experiences that had been hidden away, sometimes for decades. Given our mission to support rabbis, the time was right to create this Task Force. We are grateful to our colleagues who served on the Task Force.

The work of advancing gender equity certainly didn’t start with this Task Force. There were earlier Task Forces that did help move the needle. Moreover, this is the work that the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) has been involved with and has led since its founding. We are very grateful for WRN’s leadership and partnership on gender equity within the rabbinate, and indeed for working on this issue for so long when others within the rabbinate did not value its importance. Without the foundation they created and the way they brought visibility to these issues, and raised awareness, none of this would have been possible. And in addition, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has been consistently involved in advancing the issue of gender equity more broadly throughout the Reform Movement. More recently, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative, under the leadership of our colleagues, Rabbis Mary Zamore and Marla Feldman, has taken the lead on pay equity and now the issue of parental leave, and we are so grateful for their leadership and vision.

When we initially convened this Task Force, we agreed that it would be a three-year process. We set out to use that time to first assess and study the landscape, so that we would know what the concerns were among our colleagues. We then began a process of creating resources, as well as making recommendations for policy changes. As a result of our work, policies have changed with the Placement and Rabbinic Careers system. Some pieces of this work, like the production of The Clergy Monologues that can be shown in communities as an educational resource, are still in process.

Many critical resources are now complete and available to congregations and Jewish communities, including:

The Task Force section of the CCAR website contains many other useful resources, including sample sermons, text study resources, related articles, research, rituals, and bibliographies.

We are pleased to offer a full set of materials related to Implicit Bias Training for use by search committees hiring rabbis, synagogues, institutions, and organizational boards, as well as for us as rabbis who hire staff. These materials are available as free downloads for your use.

There is a much talk about the efficacy of implicit bias training. We know that the “one and done” method is not particularly effective, nor is training that attempts to rid us of our biases. Instead, what our materials aim to do is make us aware of our biases so that they don’t become obstacles. We all have biases—this is a part of human nature. But when we are aware of them, we can be more intentional about our interactions with others and not allow our choices to be governed by our biases.

We are especially pleased to share one of the outcomes and learnings of the Task Force here with you, a video about implicit bias. This video is meant to be used as a way to begin the conversation about implicit bias and ground people in the work of the training we have created. It can also be used on its own and is a great way to spark important conversations about bias. We invite rabbis and Jewish professionals to use it with your board, your youth groups, or anywhere within your community.

As we began our work, it became more and more clear that ultimately, in order to really achieve success and reach our ultimate goal of creating culture change, we would have to work together with our Reform Movement partners. One of the culminating pieces of our three-year process was the convening of a Reform Movement Gender Equity Summit with representatives from all the different Movement organizations, including URJ, HUC-JIR, WRN, ARJE, ACC, WRJ, NFTY, ECE-RJ, PEP-RJ, and MRJ. Together, our goal was to create shared commitments to advancing gender equity and agreements about accountability. While our focus, as the CCAR, has understandably been about rabbis, there is much work for us to do together on gender equity throughout the Movement as a whole.

This work is also grounded in the broader contexts of inequity. We understand that the conversation around gender equity must be braided into the conversation about diversity and inclusion, and privilege. These conversations cannot be disentangled from questions about race, gender, and sexual identity, and people with different abilities. So too, these conversations cannot be detangled from the context of the #MeToo movement and the disheartening realities of accusations of past sexual misconduct by clergy or leaders within the Reform Jewish community that are the focus of current investigations by the CCAR, HUC-JIR, and URJ at this time. These accusations require serious institutional reckonings, and there is serious communal and spiritual work that must be done in order to heal.

The work of gender equity is a segment of that broader and necessary conversation and work, but it is not separate from or in competition with it. Gender equity has been our focus these three years as a Task Force, but it is not our sole focus. We want to express gratitude and admiration for those of our partners who have already begun serious work in the DEI and REDI areas. 

At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us that the work of gender equity is more important than ever. Report after report is showing that women are leaving the work force in greater numbers than ever, and that the pandemic is disproportionally affecting women negatively in terms of professional advancement, salaries, and loss of benefits. In addition we know that with our Jewish world workplaces, harassment of women is still an issue, pay equity is still an issue, and barriers to professional advancement are still an issue. Which is to say that the conversation about gender equity is not over. 

Although the Task Force is formally coming to an end, we will be continuing to embed aspects of this effort within our ongoing work, with more resources and projects to come. It is our hope that the ongoing work of gender equity will one day no longer be needed. We hope that it will come to be seen as outdated. But in the meantime, there is still much work to do to ensure that our communities are safe and sacred for all. Thank you for being part of this work, and thank you for your commitment to gender equity.


Rabbi Hara Person is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus served as the chair of the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate. She was one of the first-ever women rabbis, the second female president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and she is rabbi emerita at Shir Tikvah in Homewood, Illinois. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman served as vice-chair of the Task Force and is senior rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia.

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