BY EDEN FARBER / AJT //
Last week, a favorite teacher of mine sent me an article from The New York Times, “Whither Moral Courage?” by novelist Salman Rushdie. The author wrote of activism nowadays and how we as a society ignore most of it.
“We find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage – the courage of the life of the mind,” says Rushdie.
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And with that, we lose sight of all the accomplishments of the morally courageous – those who fight for the future; who fight quietly behind the scenes; who fight not with violence, but with peace.
Today, American Orthodoxy (and that to the right of it, which I will not be dealing with in this article) is the only denomination in Judaism that does not traditionally have female lay leaders; but, in quiet peace, some brilliant and inspirational women have decided to change that.
Yeshivat Maharat, a rabbinical school for “confirming Orthodox women as halachic and spiritual leaders,” is graduating its first class this year. Three splendid women have dedicated the past four years of their lives to training to be a maharat, a halachic communal leader. Learning in their beit midrash, they been a part of the most powerful activism – taking initiative.
In what I can only understand to be a divine signature of approval, all three graduates have already been hired, and their work in feminist activism has only just begun. I know that at least my friends and I are personally excited to see this institute flourish as time goes on as well as for Orthodox women to make their way into the rabbinate, as they have in every other denomination.
It’s an opportunity I am so thrilled for and one I even hope to be a part of.
So you can imagine the dismay felt when the Rabbinical Council of America put out a formal condemnation of the program. The graduates’ many years of quietly making a place in our world were disregarded with one violent swoop.
Who can see and remember years of training when there’s a long, dismissive article right in front of their face? That sort of intellectual “activism” is hard to fight against – especially in Orthodoxy.
What would Rushdie say now?
“It’s a vexing time for those of us who believe in the right of artists, intellectuals and ordinary, affronted citizens to push boundaries and take risks,” he wrote. “Speak up. Every little bit counts.”
To speak up for the work these women are doing: It’s our job. They’re not making a name for themselves (though they may rightfully do that along the way), and they’re doing more than learning for the sake of learning (although they are certainly spiritually inspired).
They are carving a path, a path for us so that we can live in a world of equal opportunity for every walk of Judaism. We don’t necessarily have to feel comfortable with it now, and I’m not saying that every woman must become a female rabbi or that we should all follow one.
But we have to acknowledge the good they’re doing and support them. The support is crucial. Whether you’re Orthodox or unaffiliated, equal opportunity is something we can all understand.
The devastation of not being able to fulfill your life’s goal would be overwhelming, and that’s a universal truth. So if we have the opportunity to help someone else to not be closed off to their life’s goal, or to a higher spiritual place, what’s stopping us from doing our part?
Rushdie made a powerful point: Don’t get caught up in glitz and glam. It’s what’s driving the activism that’s important. And equal-opportunity Torah study sounds like a pretty worthwhile incentive.
So, American Orthodoxy, I have but one question: I’m ready for equality; are you?
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.