The CCAR and the Reform Movement have recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of women’s inclusion in the American rabbinate, which began with the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand in 1972. As a part of this celebration, CCAR Press has published The First Fifty Years: A Jubilee in Prose and Poetry Honoring Women Rabbis, a heartfelt tribute to women rabbis and their indelible impact on all of us. The book features voices from across the Jewish spectrum—many of them pioneers themselves—reflecting on the meaning of this anniversary.
Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, PhD, is one of the contributors to The First Fifty Years. In her piece, she addresses the term “woman rabbi,” discussing the beauty that differences bring to the Jewish community and why we should eradicate the notion of an “ideal” rabbi.
Simply declaring that I am “a rabbi, not a ‘woman rabbi’” does nothing to change the underlying structures and assumptions that continue to hold back our progress as a Reform Movement.
I want to be accepted and celebrated as a woman and a rabbi because I want to eradicate the notion that there is an ideal rabbi, a standard model—white, heterosexual, male, Ashkenazic, etc.— against whom all others are labeled lesser than, deficient, exceptional, strange. Erasing the specificity of my gender or any other aspect of my identity that does not fit a narrow stereotype of “rabbi” might open doors professionally. But at what cost? How much of myself must I leave at the threshold?
As Jews, we should know deeply that difference and distinction and variety are not the problem.
When we bless “separation” at Havdalah, we don’t say, “Thank God there’s Shabbat, so we only have to tolerate those horrible six days temporarily.” No! We say instead, “Thank God there are different kinds of time.”
I want to say: Thank God there are different expressions of sex and gender. Thank God for women rabbis, and nonbinary bet mitzvah students, and transgender cantors, and interfaith families, and folks who have chosen Judaism in myriad ways. None “lesser than.” None the “default.” None the “exception.” None the “distraction.” All feeling truly as though we belong.
Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi, PhD, is a freelance rabbi dedicated to connecting folks to the breadth and depth of Jewish tradition through inclusive, innovative, and insightful Jewish teaching, speaking, and ritual. You can learn more about her work at www.rabbinikki.com. Rabbi DeBlosi currently serves as Vice President of Varied Rabbinates for the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She is a contributor to The First Fifty Years: A Jubilee in Prose and Poetry Honoring Women Rabbis.