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Miriam and Deborah

01/13/2022 12:11:17 AM


Both our Torah portion and Haftorah this week have a special focus on female religious and spiritual leadership. In Beshallah, after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, Miriam the prophetess, leads the women in celebratory dance and song. In the Haftorah (taken from the Book of Judges) Deborah the prophetess, serves as one of the most successful of the Judges. She is the religious leader of the tribes, advises their military leader, Barak, and finally leads the people in a song of praise and victory. Reading these passages causes me to look back at one aspect of our journey together at B’nai Torah, which is the way that women have been included in our worship and leadership, and to contemplate what might happen next.


When I arrived in 2004, women were involved in the highest levels of lay leadership, and were treasured as educators and administrators but could serve only the narrowest roles in our ritual life. In 2013, as we read this same portion, I wrote my weekly article noting that this was the Shabbat that we were celebrating an adult Bat Mitzvah ceremony, and that we were anticipating Liora Dressler becoming the first woman to lead Musaf on our Bimah, as part of her Bat Mitzvah just a brief time later.


Today, as a congregation, we take it for granted that our B’nai Mitzvah, our teens, and our adult members will be able to participate in the service in any way they are capable, leading or reading every part of the service, irrespective of gender. We are blessed to have ten rabbis who are members of our congregation, male and female, and almost all have had a turn speaking from our Bimah and/or helping with the spiritual needs of our congregants when needed. The sight of a female rabbi on our Bimah is not new, but could become even more regular.


As our President, Roger Panitch, shared in December, we have begun the search for an additional Rabbi to serve our community. Our Rabbinic Search Committee is hard at work speaking with candidates, and by early next week they will have had at least a first interview with every rabbi who has sent a resume so far. This will enable them to finalize which candidate (or candidates) we will invite to our community for a weekend visit.


Based on the work of the committee so far, I am confident (as there was when we interviewed for a second rabbi six years ago) that there will be at least one female candidate for our community to consider seriously. I would hope, and indeed expect, that our community will choose the most excellent candidate available; the one who is best able to teach, lead, and tend to our community in partnership with Rabbi K and myself, and has the specific talents needed to expand our engagement efforts.


I’m enthusiastic about the work of our search committee, and looking forward to their finishing their first round of interviews and sharing their first round of findings with our community. Our congregation already has many Miriams and Deborahs, who lead us in worship and serve as our teachers. I wait as you do to see if we will be adding one more.

Fri, December 1 2023 18 Kislev 5784