Gender not an issue in finding rabbi job

Rabbi Geri Newburge is a rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. (Krasson & Kovnat Photographers)

Rabbi Geri Newburge is a rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. (Krasson & Kovnat Photographers)

NEW YORK, Sept. 17 (JTA) — Three decades after the first woman broke the rabbinic barrier, women entering the rabbinate say gender is no longer an issue when it comes to getting a job. But as for their pay — well, that´s a different story. Many newly ordained women say they never encountered any overt discrimination while job hunting. And synagogue search officials say they no longer think of female candidates as unusual, given that many synagogues already have women in senior positions. Indeed, says Rabbi Zari Weiss, co-president of the Women´s Rabbinical Network, a 400-member Reform group, the "world has changed" for women rabbis. But Weiss, who was ordained in 1991, said the second and third generation of women in the rabbinate still face major hurdles, such as pay parity. Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg, 28, who is starting this year as assistant rabbi at the 2,700-family Reform Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, says about half of her HUC peers were women, many of whom felt grateful for their pioneering sisters who paved the way. "We´re not fighting to have our voices heard or our needs addressed," she says. That´s in part because women have risen to some top spots in the rabbinical organizational world, not only at major pulpits. Rabbi Janet Marder, of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, Calif., recently was named president of the Reform rabbi´s union, the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Barbara Penzer, of Temple Hillel B´nai Tora in West Roxbury, Mass., is the former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Women rabbis such as Julie Schonfeld also occupy professional leadership roles in groups like the Conservative movement´s Rabbinical Assembly, where Schonfeld is director of rabbinic development. And at Conservative academic institutions such as the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, Rabbis Cheryl Peretz and Mimi Weiss are assistant deans of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. But elsewhere, women lag behind men in the rabbinate. "Across the board, there is still a great discrepancy in terms of pay — it´s shocking," Weiss says. Just how wide the gap in pay is remains unclear. The Rabbinical Assembly has commissioned a $25,000 study to examine the situation in the Conservative movement. Due to be concluded next spring, the study will address what one Conservative figure dubs "the stained glass ceiling" and other career issues women may face. The prevailing assumption is that many women rabbis are not earning as much as men, said Schonfeld, who is heading the study. 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 women. But the Rabbinical Assembly´s study will attempt to gauge issues such as whether a salary gap exists between men and women rabbis, why women rabbis chose the positions they do and what kind of competition they face for jobs. 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, the study should "have broad implications around the country," said Sherri Greenbach, executive director of the Jewish Women´s Foundation. The foundation is a private, non-denominational grant-making group that supports Jewish women and girls. Although there is a lot of anecdotal information about women rabbis, she said, "to create change there needs to be quantitative information about why women rabbis are making the choice they´re making." 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. The Reconstructionist movement ordained its first woman, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, in 1974. Of the 236 Reconstructionist rabbis now ordained, 110 are women. In 1985, Amy Eilberg became the first woman ordained at the Conservative movement´s Jewish Theological Seminary, following a protracted debate over women´s ordination. Today there are 177 women among about 1,500 Conservative rabbis in all. The telephone survey, which will be headed by sociologist Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew University, will attempt to reach all of these women, as well as 177 of their male contemporaries, to capture a "whole generation," Schonfeld said. There are no women rabbis in the Orthodox rabbinate.

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