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Women’s strides set Judaism apart

While James Carroll is attempting to draw parallels between various religions in his reflections on the inequalities faced by women of faith, there is an asymmetry among the four communities he refers to that must be made clear (“Religious women press for change,” Op-ed, April 15).

The obstacles to full participation and leadership that Mormon, Roman Catholic, and Muslim women face are grounded in the official teachings and policies of their respective central authorities. No such central hierarchy exists in Judaism, and women have indeed achieved full equality in the largest Jewish denominations in America, the Reform and Conservative movements.

The oppressive policies that are being enforced at the Western Wall in Jerusalem are due to the entrenched political power of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, and not to any authoritative position of Judaism itself. These cannot be equated with the official restrictions upheld by the Catholic and Mormon Churches or Islam, which do not have liberal, egalitarian alternatives.


The protests of the “Women of the Wall” are directed specifically against the abuses of the Orthodox rabbinate and its disproportionate control of religious life in the State of Israel. These empowered religious women, many of them ordained rabbis and cantors — and a number from my own congregation, Central Reform Temple of Boston — demonstrate that the change that has already been achieved in our progressive faith communities, both Christian and Jewish, can help achieve gender equality for their sisters in more traditionalist religious settings.

Rabbi Howard A. Berman