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Why is it that rebbes and rabbis are invariably men?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Question:


If a woman's role is really so important, why don't you have a mother to be the Rebbe? Why isn't she the one that you turn to when you really want to know what G-d wants? Why is it that the spiritual leaders in Judaism are the men?


Answer:


Firstly; there have been female "Rebbes" in Jewish history. The Bible tells us of Devorah1 who judged the Jewish People for 40 years, as well as the prophetess Chuldah2 who lived in the times of Jeremiah. The Talmud speaks of Bruriah3, the wife of Rabbi Meir, who had many disciples.


Although this appears to be the exception and not the rule, women have always been, and continue to be, influential and instrumental in their own ways. Men might play a predominant role as public spiritual leaders, but they are not the (sole) spiritual leaders of Judaism. Guidance and inspiration doesn't only come from public figures or through prestigious titles. In every generation and in every community one can find female leaders albeit sans the title rabbi.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the premise of the question is that it would be an honor and "promotion" for a mother to become a rabbi. But is that really so?


Many years before a person ever turns to a rabbi for advice, s/he turns to his/her mother for guidance. Speaking of "leaders in Judaism", it is specifically because the woman's role as spiritual guide is so important, and specifically because she is the one a child turns to when developing the perspectives that will shape his/her life, that any other position a woman maintains, as lofty a pursuit it may seem to be, is a digression from her most noble path: motherhood.

Footnotes

  • 1. Judges chapters 4-5
  • 2. Kings II chapter 22
  • 3. See for example Talmud tractate Brachot 10a

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Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Rebbes
Plural form of Rebbe. A Rebbe is a Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.