Discrimination Against Women Rabbis?

The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism (R.A.) has released findings from its first-ever study comparing the careers of Conservative rabbis by gender, though the movement has been ordaining women rabbis since 1985. Thirty percent of all ordained Conservative rabbis since 1985 are women, and the 43-page report noted gender disparities in salary and job advancement, revealing some unforeseen and alarming trends.

First, the usual but still sobering facts: male rabbis’ salaries on average exceed those of those of women holding comparable positions by a whopping 21,000 dollars. Also: only 15 per cent of all women rabbis with children work in congregations. And of the women who do, few had the “power” pulpit positions.

And here is where the study results become even more upsetting: nearly 40 percent of the women rabbis surveyed were not married. Of those who were married, less than half had children, whereas most of their male counterparts were married, with kids. Clearly, after nearly 20 years of the Conservative movement’s ordaining of women rabbis, they are facing the same old dilemma: having to choose between career and family.

“What I find most interesting about the results is the vast number of women alongside an emerging number of men who are avoiding the pulpit because of its nature,” said Rabbi Karen G. Reiss Medwed, 35, a rabbi-educator and the mother of an infant and a toddler “I count myself among those who don’t want a pulpit—because it prevents me from living the Jewish family life that 1 not only enjoy but that I preach others should also observe.” But for women who haven’t given up on being pulpit rabbis, the present is not cheerful. An observer at several recent rabbinical conventions told LILITH “I’ve seen enthusiastic women rabbinical students metamorphosed into disappointed people a few years later. “

In response to the study, the R.A. said that it is committed to “sweeping reforms in policies and programs” for the advancement of women rabbis. One suggestion the R.A. is floating in response to evidence that some congregations just haven’t been “adequately exposed” to women rabbis is to create a video featuring women rabbis “preaching, teaching and talking” for use by synagogue search committees.