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January 28, 1994 - Image 70

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-01-28

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Rabbis' wives

step out of

the shadow

to create

personal and


lives of

their own.


"I can get more

Photos by Glenn Triest

ail Hirschenfang seems to
have it all — a career, a hus-
band, a new home and an
active congregational life.
As cantor of Temple Beth
El, Cantor Hirschenfang has
grown accustomed to her vis-
ibility in Jewish Detroit. As
the • wife of Rabbi Daniel
Polish, her role in the spot-
light has increased.
Like many of the wives of
Detroit rabbis, Cantor
Hirschenfang has defined her
role of rebbetzin.
No longer content to only
attend sisterhood events and
services, these women work
at jobs that interest them and
create fulfilling positions for
themselves within temples
and synagogues.
However liberating the role
might have become, rabbis'
wives agree personal time is
tough to carve out, especially
under the watchful eye of con-
gregants. Divorce is not un-
Some congregations expect

of the rebbetzin a certain
level of observance; others
expect a mere presence at
services, functions and fund-
raisers. Congregants may feel
since they pay a certain
salary, they can make judg-
ments on the size of the house
the rabbi and his wife buy, or
the kind of car they drive —
"too big? too much money?"
And there are secrets. The
rabbi must maintain a cer-
tain confidentiality.
Many wonder if husbands'
of rabbis, a position newer
and not so well defined, feel
the same pressures.
Dennis Brodsky isn't sure.
Mr. Brodsky is engaged to
Temple Emanu-El's assistant
rabbi, Amy Bigman.
"I gather I'll have more
social responsibilities than
the average husband," he
said. "I attend services more
regularly, but this isn't all
that strange for me. My
mother is a temple president
and my family has always

been active. The life of the
clergy isn't so hard to un-
"I'm learning names. I
know my actions are pub-
lic. The biggest surprise is
having to explain to peo-
ple that I'm marrying the
rabbi, that yes, the rabbi
is a woman."
Although men like Mr.
Brodsky will etch out a
new role in the coming
years, Cantor Hirschen-
fang is confident women
can do the same.
"For a long time, the role of
the rebbetzin was an impor-
tant, although not official,
position. She played an in-
tegral role in congregational
life. The expectations are dif-
ferent now," Cantor Hirsch-
enfang said. "Many of us
work full time outside the
"It used to be the congre-
gation was hiring a couple.
With the changing roles of
women in society, there is not

things done as

David's wife. It's

borrowed power,

but I'm confident

with it."

— Alicia Nelson

the same time to give. Of
course, the rules vary from
congregation to congrega-
With the Reform tenet of
personal religious autonomy,
Cantor Hirschenfang has felt
comfortable establishing her
own role at Beth El. She
served as cantor of the tem-
ple for several years before
marrying Rabbi Polish.
"I was lucky. In the begin-
ning, the rebbetzin is not
always embraced. She isn't

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