Revenge of ordination by media

shawl2I keep meaning to highlight two stories from earlier this week that dealt with female ordination. The first was a very well-written and interesting profile of the Rev. Marsha Foster Boyd by David Crumm in the Detroit Free Press. She was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and will be taking over as the fourth president of Detroit's Ecumenical Theological Seminary in October.

Many U.S. denominations still do not ordain women and, among those that do, women clergy often complain of a stained-glass ceiling that bars them from top leadership. Boyd has invited the Rev. Leah Gaskin Fitchue, the only other woman to achieve a similar milestone, to speak at her installation.

The word "still" is interesting and completely unnecessary. My denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, doesn't ordain women. No need to say we "still" don't ordain women. as it adds an editorial nudge. It's the annoying kid in the back seat asking, "Are we there yet?" It assumes that where we are now is not good.

Anyway, there was another interesting and well-written piece in The New York Times about an Orthodox Jewish woman who will be leading a synagogue. The piece, by Michael Luo, explains a bit about the inherent conflict of such a move.

[Dina Najman] will not be called rabbi; instead, she has been given the title of rosh kehillah, or head of congregation. It is the highest position in the community, and she will be performing many of the functions of a rabbi, within certain limitations that have been laid out by the congregation's leaders in an effort to abide by Jewish law.

One thing to note about stories such as this is how much coverage they should receive. It's always a challenge, and one best handled by accurately characterizing how big a deal the news hook is. I thought Luo tread the delicate balance well. For instance, here's how he characterized the congregation:

The congregation is on the leftward fringe of the Orthodox movement. Kehilat Orach Eliezer, which is about 15 years old, has intentionally avoided affiliating with any movement so that Jews from a variety of theological backgrounds can feel comfortable attending, but most members identify themselves as Orthodox.

I asked a few Orthodox Jewish friends what they thought of the story. Most said they didn't think it was that big of a deal. They said communities on the fringe of Orthodoxy sometimes act outside the tradition but that the episodes never seem to set trends.

Luo definitely made it seem as if this was more of a trend than an isolated incident:

Indeed, propelled by an explosion in Jewish learning for women, they are now teaching Talmud classes, acting as advocates in Israel's rabbinic courts and functioning as primary authorities on questions of family purity law. In Israel recently, a woman was even ordained by an Orthodox rabbi, although she does not occupy a pulpit and many in the Orthodox world do not recognize her status. And, in New York several years ago, a handful of women were hired as congregational interns by Orthodox synagogues.

All in all, though, I think this story provides a nice counterpoint to the debacle that was the WomenPriests coverage. Unlike in Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism has no central governing body that has forbidden such roles for women. There is clearly room for debate.

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