Women Rabbis in the Pulpit
Edited by Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts and Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah.
It remains a paradox that for many congregants the highlight of the Shabbat morning service is not actually in the prayerbook — and I don’t mean the whisky and fishballs. The rabbi’s sermon is not a formal part of the liturgy but it is often the moment we look forward to being stirred, enlightened, even elevated — guided across the bridge between ancient text and the world we live in.
This lively and thoughtful collection was published at the end of last year to mark the 40th anniversary of the ordination of the UK’s first woman rabbi, Jackie Tabick (and 80 years after the first in Europe, Regina Jonas). It contains contributions from most of the 55 women who have received semichah from London’s Leo Baeck College including Rabbi Tabick herself, plus a foreword from America’s first female rabbi, Sally Priesand, who preceded her by three years.
Thematically, they range from social concerns with refugees or maintaining a relationship with Israel when some of the actions of its government trouble us to try to find meaning in ritual or spirituality in practice.
Some are inspired by incidents in life, others from traditional customs such as the blessing of the Priests or leaving bare a corner of a wall to remember the destruction of the Temple. Others concentrate on close readings of a verse in the Torah. Along with citations of Talmud and Midrash, there are references to Leonard Cohen and Genesis.
While the authors may be Progressive, the content of most of the contributions is not denominationally restrictive — although one or two are at the cutting-edge of identity issues, such as that from the transgender Rabbi Indigo Jonah Raphael (formerly Rabbi Melinda Carr).
Forgive me if I do not reveal my personal favourites. For would-be sermon-givers, this will be a helpful handbook, while if your own rabbi is having an off-day in the pulpit or you oversleep on Shabbat morning, you might enjoy having this to hand.