Charting Career Paths
Conservative Rabbinical Assembly to launch survey on women rabbis.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
New York Ci t y
re women rabbis hitting the stained-
That's one of the questions to be
asked in a new study by the
Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly,
which is undertaking the first study of
Conservative women rabbis since the movement
began ordaining them in 1985.
"Overall in society, it's clear that women's
advancement in many areas is not equal to that of
men," said Rabbi Julie
Schoenfeld, the R.A.'s director
of rabbinic development, who
is heading the study.
"The assumption is that
many" women rabbis "are not
earning as much as men."
Until now, there has been
no hard evidence to back up
that assumption in the
Conservative movement or the
Reconstructionist and Reform
movements, which also ordain Rabbi Faudem
But the R.A.'s study, which is scheduled to be
released in the spring of 2004, will attempt to
gauge issues such as whether a salary gap exists
between men and women rabbis, why women rab-
bis chose the positions they did and what kind of
competition they faced for jobs.
"We are attempting to establish a baseline of
data," Rabbi Schoenfeld said.
The study ultimately will have implications for
all three of the denominations that ordain women,
women rabbinical leaders said.
"Any time a study like this comes out, it holds
up a mirror to make sure that what you're doing is
right," said Rabbi Amy Small, president of the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and
rabbi at Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Chatham,
If the study reveals an earnings gender gap in
the Conservative movement, "we'd want to go
back and make sure we don't have that problem"
in the Reconstructionist movement, Rabbi Small
said. Of the 236 Reconstructionist rabbis, 110 are
The $25,000 study, launched with a $17,000
grant from the Jewish Women's Foundation of
New York, in addition to funding from the
Rabbinical Assembly and private donors, should
"have broad implications around the country,"
said Sherri Greenbach, executive director of the
Jewish Women's Foundation.
The foundation is a private, non-denomination-
-al grant-making group that supports Jewish
women and girls.
"Although there is a lot of anecdotal informa-
tion" about women rabbis, she, said, "to create
change there needs to be quantitative information
about why women rabbis are making the choice
The study is still in the planning stages.
The R.A. has hired sociologist Steven M. Cohen of
Hebrew University to head the study. Cohen, who
will work with a panel of Conservative rabbis to for-
mulate the study's questions,
said he will examine the
"career trajectory" of female
and male rabbis.
"There is an impression
that men have been more
likely to have been hired for
the more prestigious, larger
congregational posts," he
said. "We don't know that
for a fact, but if it's true, the
question is why."
Women face. other issues
too, said one member of the
rabbinical advisory panel, Rabbi Toni Shy of Temple
Beth Israel in Port Washington, N.Y.
The difficulties many career women face in hold-
ing a high-powered job while raising a family are
especially acute for women rabbis, who are expected
to be available at all hours of the day, Rabbi Shy
said. As a result, she said, fewer women with young
children are going into the pulpit.
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of
the United Synagogue, the Conservative movement's
congregational arm, said congregations need to
know "that a rabbi is going to be there when they
need that rabbi."
"I've heard congregations say that if a rabbi is a
woman and someone is in the hospital at 3 a.m.,
she's not going to want to leave her children" to
attend to that person, he said.
At the same time, he added, congregations need to
give women the same respect men receive.
Rabbi Epstein said the study will help both syna-
gogues and rabbis understand each other's needs.
In 1985, Amy Eilberg became the first woman
ordained at the Conservative movement's Jewish
Theological Seminary of America, following a pro-
tracted debate over women's ordination.
Today, there are 177 women among about 1,500
Conservative rabbis. The telephone survey will
attempt to reach all of these women, as well as 177
of their male contemporaries, to capture a "whole
generation," Rabbi Schoenfeld said.
Locally, Rabbi Michelle Faudem has worked as
rabbi-in-residence at Hillel Day School of
Metropolitan Detroit since her 1995 ordination as a
Conservative rabbi. Rabbi Faudem, who said she
prefers an educational post over a congregational
pulpit, said she'd be very interested in seeing the
results of the Rabbinical Assembly study.
Rabbi Lauren Berkun, who was ordained in 2001,
is the Midwest rabbinic fellow for Kollot: Voices of
Learning, a national program of the Jewish
Theological Seminary. "Every woman in my class
who wanted a pulpit got one, and they were very
prestigious appointments," said Rabbi Berkun. "But
this is very different from the glass ceiling issue."
In the Conservative movement, there are eligibility
requirements based on years of service for pulpit
jobs. For example, Rabbi Berkun said, a rabbi must
have 10 years of service to be eligible to apply for a
position as senior rabbi in a major congregation.
"Women have made lifestyle choices as mothers
that may tend to eliminate them from these posi-
tions," she said. "But this is true as well for men,
who are now beginning to make life choices about
family and career.
"Twenty years ago, rabbinic pride tended to be
based more on the size and prestige of your congre-
gation. Today, there are other criteria, and some peo-
ple have argued this is due to the increasing num-
bers of women being ordained."
Rabbi Berkun, who is married to Rabbi Jonathan
Berkun, a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, said
she has-not ruled out a pulpit position in her future.
"For now, it's important to us to have the diversity
in our careers," she said.
Rabbi Zari Weiss, co-president of the Reform move-
ment's 220-member Women's Rabbinical Network,
said women generally have had substantial support
in the Reform world, though anecdotal evidence
suggests that women rabbis earn less than men.
In that respect, the report's "results might affect all
of us," Rabbi Weiss said.
The Reform movement, which has about 1,700
rabbis — including 373 women who belong to the
Central Conference of American Rabbis — became
the first Jewish stream to break the rabbinic gender
barrier when Sally Priesand was ordained in 1972.
Since then, Reform women rabbis have reached
leadership ranks in the movement's professional
Among them are Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple
Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Calif, one of the more
notable pulpit positions, and Rabbi Jackie Koch
Ellenson, director of the Women's Rabbinical
The Reconstructionist movement ordained its first
woman, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, in 1974, though
women began occupying leadership positions in
Reconstructionism in the 1960s, Rabbi Small said.
Rabbi Schoenfeld said women in all the liberal Jewish
movements stand to learn from this study.
"We think that what happens with Conservative
women rabbis will have much broader implications
beyond the Conservative movement," she said. EJ
— Sta writer Diana Lieberman
contributed to this report.