The Rabbinical Assembly is actively working to promote the career trajectory of women rabbis. In 2004, the RA published the landmark study entitled Gender Variation in the Careers of Conservative Rabbis: A Survey of Rabbis Ordained Since 1985. As a follow up, the RA received a grant to implement a coaching program for women rabbis, which resulted in great success.
In recent months we have become aware of trends and preferences that have affected many of our female colleagues negatively. Many of us have been disappointed at the resistance of congregations to hiring women rabbis, despite the RA's efforts over the past two decades to educate congregations about the contributions of women to the rabbinate.
As part of our program to support our women colleagues, the RA has embarked on a several pronged approach:
- Over the summer, the RA in concert with other arms of Conservative Judaism, drafted a statement of inclusive hiring to which all of the members of the LCCJ (Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism) gave their approval. This statement is meant to be a rallying point so support hiring practices of rabbis movement-wide.
- The RA has presented two MOCA Monday seminars with search committee chairs and other lay leaders specifically on hiring women rabbis. (This ongoing series of teleconferences teaches best practices in the job-search process with experts in the field and with lay people from congregations.) The first was with Michael Mills, a senior corporate executive, who spoke about how inclusive hiring practices benefitted the bottom line of his business and how that translates to the synagogue world; and the second featured Vivian Lewis, a human resources professional, who provided guidance to members of search committees about how to conduct an appropriate search process and interviews including items about what kinds of questions to ask and what kinds of questions not to ask. This session was held with the blessing of the United Synagogue.
- The RA has planned a series of sessions during the winter of its CORE program (two of which have already taken place and are available here) specifically aimed at women rabbis on presentation skills and authority in the rabbinate.
- At the upcoming senior interview week to be held in mid-February, there will be a special orientation breakfast which will focus on inclusive hiring practices, especially hiring women rabbis with the dean the JTS rabbinical school and the dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.
- Elliot Schoenberg has published a revised edition of Aliyah, a publication for congregations in the search process which includes a chapter on hiring women rabbis. Search committee chairs distribute this publication to members of their committees.
- In addition, both Elliot and Bill Lebeau spend considerable time speaking to each search committee chair about interviewing and engaging a woman rabbi for the congregation.
The above represents the efforts of the RA to congregations in the search process. We are also engaged in working with women rabbis and rabbinical students in navigating the hiring process.
- Elliot authored a new publication entitled The Highway for rabbis in the search process which includes a section on engaging a woman rabbi noting that “gender bias continues to be an issue that needs strong advocacy.” This book also includes a list of questions search committees may ask of women candidates and sample responses. These answers were vetted by both women rabbis and women lay leaders in congregations.
- The Rabbinical Assembly has embraced Interview Stream, a new technology that allows rabbis to practice interviewing via webcam. InterviewStream provides candidates the possibility of answering real questions garnered from prior searches. The website records the answers and allows the user to see how they interviews. One bank of questions is targeted to reflect questions posed to female candidates specifically.
There are several other projects being planned and we will let you know about them as they are put into place.
The Rabbinical Assembly is committed to furthering the career of women rabbis. We are proud of all of the good work that our women members have accomplished over the past 25+ years.