Since Old Testament times, rabbis were always men. In 1972, this changed, when the Reform movement of the Jewish faith ordained the first woman rabbi. Their numbers have grown since then, and many women also have become cantors – another role typically held by men since ancient times.
The Jewish faith has three distinct movements – Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. In 1972, the Reformed movement began ordaining women as rabbis, with the first being Sally Priesand, who was ordained by the Hebrew Union College.
Female Rabbis - History of Controversy
In any faith where men have traditionally held the chief clerical positions, this was sure to stir controversy. Indeed, that was exactly the case after Priesand’s ordination. When, in 1983, the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary decided to ordain women as rabbis, there was an uproar not only from the Conservative movement, but also from the seminary’s Talmud faculty, who were strong traditionalists .
Eventually, the strong opposition failed in their efforts to prohibit the ordination of women as rabbis. However, a new group within the Conservative movement soon formed, and currently it is still threatening to break off and form a new Jewish denomination. In fact, in 1990, it announced the establishment of a new rabbinical seminary that trained only men for the rabbinical calling .
Currently, Roman Catholic and most Protestant denominations are experiencing problems attracting people to be clergy. While many Roman Catholics claim allowing married men to be ordained as priests, their Protestant counterparts are experiencing the same serious lack of vocations. The level of commitment and the pay, among other reasons, are causing a grave shortage in Christian vocations.
Female Rabbis - Shortage of Male Leaders
That is one of the reasons the Reformed and Conservative Jewish sects continue to ordain women as rabbis. Only the Orthodox arm of Judaism – the strictest and most traditional – still refuses to consider women for rabbinical orders. According to one source, the reason women are now being ordained as rabbis has much to do with the rise of secular Judaism in both Israel and the United States. Beyond that, some 52 percent of Jewish marriages have been to Gentiles, an alarming statistic to faithful Jews, who feel their Jewish identity is being compromised .
So, the ordination of women as rabbis is seen by many as an attempt to strengthen the Jewish faith and keep others from straying. One Jewish intellectual says today’s young Jews “are choosing to stick with traditions as their primary address,” meaning that they accept female rabbis and see them as a positive sign for the future of Judaism.