A Good Reason Not to Lose Faith in the Rabbinate – the Rebbetzins (Guest Post)
(Guest Post by Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg)
In the wake of the recent horrific rabbinic scandal there has been a loud call for the inclusion of more women’s voices in the administration of the Mikvah, involvement in conversion protocols, oversight of the rabbi, and leadership of the Jewish community. There is no doubt that women have a distinct perspective, great wisdom, and much to offer in these areas and many others, and their continued participation should be encouraged.
However, it should not go unsaid that in almost every single Jewish community, there already is a woman in a position of great leadership who helps shape the vision and agenda of the community, who has full access to the rabbi and is uninhibited to speak with him freely: the Rebbetzin. I recognize that not every rabbi’s wife has an interest in serving in the traditional role of rebbetzin, nor is she required to. However, the position of rebbetzin, while unofficial and unpaid, affords tremendous opportunity to impact the community with a woman’s perspective and priorities.
As rebbetzins, we learn with bat mitzvah girls, kallahs, and conversion candidates, we are often involved in the supervision and maintenance of the mikvah, we teach classes, field questions, host people at our Shabbos and Yom Tov tables and partner with our husbands in leading the community. Additionally, rebbetzins are charged with keeping their husbands humble, reminding them that at home they are not rabbi, but father and husband.
Rebbetzin is a role that I cherish and feel blessed to fill. It is not an easy job, and I’m sure there are times when I don’t do it well, but it is deeply rewarding and extremely meaningful. It impacts my children in a positive way and I feel enriched from my involvement in the community and from my interaction with its members.
Although there is no formal schooling or graduate program for this unique position, we are so fortunate that Yeshiva University, and Rebbetzin Meira Davis who runs the program each year, deeply value the role of the rebbetzin and find it necessary to nurture our growth and inspire us in our roles. It is for this reason that for the last number of years, they have organized a two-day conference for rebbetzins, the Rebbetzin Esther Rosenblatt Yarchei Kallah. Every year, I look forward with great anticipation to gathering with other rebbetzins from all over the world to study together, hear thought-provoking presentations, and enjoy the camaraderie of mentors, peers, and friends.
This year’s conference, which was held earlier this week, focused on the goal of “Nurturing Our Strengths and the Appreciation of our Role as Rebbetzin.” The themes and ideas that were presented were vast and touched upon many different aspects of our rebbetzin role. We started out with a session about how we can best attempt to inspire today’s youth and bring them closer to spirituality and a love of Hashem. We had a frank discussion with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski on addiction and substance abuse in our communities. We learned from tremendous role models about resiliency and how to stay strong during the most difficult times.
Dr. David Pelcovitz taught us about the Jewish and psychological approach to happiness. He explained how there are three techniques to bring us Simcha. First, we need to count our blessings, because when you start to count them you realize that there are many. Second, we must set real and attainable goals for ourselves. Lastly, we should always attempt to savor every moment of our lives. He reminded us not to waste time on the phone and to always rush through our days, but to slow down and enjoy the little things in life and all that Hashem has given us. We were coached on how to help couples who are having a difficult time communicating with each other, and advised about the best methods for resolving conflicts in relationships.
One of the most important qualities of a successful rebbetzin is empathy and the capacity to feel the pain of others. Towards that end, we heard from a single woman about her experience in the singles scene. She explained in great detail about the hurtful things people said to her and the way she was treated and judged, and she gave us advice on how we can best help the singles in our communities. A very courageous and special woman who struggled with infertility explained her ordeal and the challenges she faced living in the Jewish community without children. In a timely session we had an open and frank discussion with a well-known therapist on what to do when confronted with crisis or scandal in general and we focused in particular on how we can best respond to the most recent scandals that have rocked the Jewish world. There were many other shiurim and sessions that were presented and each one gave me tremendous insight into who I am as a person first and foremost, and what I can accomplish as a leader within the community.
Each year I leave the conference with so much to think about and to incorporate into my life and role as rebbetzin. I return home with renewed excitement and enthusiasm to do more, be better, and serve you as best as I can.
Unfortunately, we have seen a crisis of faith in the rabbinate in the last few weeks and though the reason is understandable, the sweeping suspicion of all rabbis is unjust and undeserved. In fact, I left this conference feeling a strengthening of faith in our rabbis because I met and got to know many of their rebbetzins. The close to one hundred women who gathered together this past week are selfless, educated, spiritual, wise, nurturing, caring, remarkable people who voluntarily fill a role that is demanding, stressful, and often underappreciated. This conference reminded me that Jewish communities around the world are so fortunate to have exceptional women in the highly influential leadership position of rebbetzin and their husbands are lucky to have them at their sides, guiding them, advising them, and helping them reach their greatest potentials.
These outstanding women inspired me and spending time with them reminded me how fortunate and blessed my family and I are to be part of the Boca Raton Synagogue family. Being rebbetzin of a community filled with warmth, love, unity, gratitude and opportunity is something I will never take for granted. Though it is not always easy to balance communal responsibilities with family obligations, and I recognize that I cannot be both rebbetzin and mommy 24/7, I hope to continue to learn, grown and develop in this sacred role for years to come.
Women can be and should be in leadership positions. Thank God we are fortunate to have strong and committed women working hard for our communities each and every day, to insure a bright future for the Jewish people.