Should Women Be Ordained as Rabbis?

Should women be ordained as rabbis? Many learned men and women have been weighing in on this question, especially within Messianic Judaism, over the last several decades. Some of the most in-depth treatments of this issue from both the egalitarian and complementarian perspectives have been offered in the last few years.

This article aspires to take a close look at Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s article “Called to Lead: The Role of Women in Messianic Judaism,” representing an egalitarian view, namely women being afforded spiritual leadership at every level including that of rabbi.1

To address Rabbi Brumbach’s conclusions, we will need to first investigate the Creator’s intentions in making woman by returning to the very beginning.

The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. Then God said, “Let there be light.” God saw that the light was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1:2–4) 2

Earth and everything above it and on it came from this state by a dividing process on days one through four that produced distinct elements with specific, unique qualities, which interact with what was made before. Each time God “saw” that it was good before dividing the next elements. Creation was indeed a process in which God was watching, evaluating how what he had created worked in sync with each previously created part before bringing forth the next.

His final step was to make humans:

So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

Woman was brought forth after Hashem had placed man in the garden.

Adonai, God, said “It isn’t good that the person should be alone. I will make for him a companion suitable for helping him.” (Gen 2:18)

It is interesting that Hashem would notice that the person he created was lonely. After all, he wrote the book from beginning to end. Wouldn’t he have known that it was not going to work to just create the lone creature? It was significant that he created them both, man and woman, drawing attention to the fact that his purposes included both.

It was woman, however, that the serpent was able to convince to eat of the forbidden fruit. The serpent challenged what God had said and convinced Eve she would gain wisdom from eating of it.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any wild animal which Adonai, God, had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You are not to eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1)

At that moment Eve was persuaded of the desirability of the fruit of that tree.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it had a pleasing appearance and that the tree was desirable for making one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Gen 3:6)

And, of course, at that point she shared it with Adam.

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her; and he ate. (Gen 3:6)

It was Adam, however, whom Adonai held accountable for this act of disobedience, even though it was Eve who not only ate first, but presented it to her husband to eat. Adam and the land were cursed for this direct disobedience.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to what your wife said and ate from the tree about which I gave you the order, ‘You are not to eat from it,’ the ground is cursed on your account.” (Gen 3:17)

Adonai then placed a curse on woman, related to her gender-specific role of child-bearing and her place in the family.

I will greatly increase your pain in childbirth. You will bring forth children in pain. Your desire will be toward your husband, but he will rule over you. (Gen 3:16)

Finally, Hashem placed a further curse on men, reminding us that man’s role was established to provide sustenance for his family, but now it would be with great difficulty.

You will work hard to eat from it [the land] as long as you live. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat field plants. You will eat bread by the sweat of your forehead till you return to the ground — for you were taken out of it: you are dust, and you will return to dust. (Gen 3:17–19)

This pattern is borne out in the roles of men and women throughout the Bible, where we see that men are at the vanguard of caring for their families and, by extension, their communities. We see women working in tandem with their husbands to support their common goal of participating in fulfilling God’s plan for mankind on earth.

We can derive two points from this account that further the discussion of the roles of male and female:

1. Hashem is all about distinction, but always for mutual blessing. All his creation exists to function together to make his whole and fulfill his purposes. The final plan seems to be a reconciliation, or coming back together, of all that was created.

2. Woman was created “from” man to walk with him as “a companion suitable for helping him” (Gen 2:18). Although they have much in common, there are also clear differences in more than just anatomy. Each has complementary functions and assignments to bring about Hashem’s plans for earth.

As we analyze the roles of men and women in the Word, we will begin to see a divine design of Hashem’s creation that he declared to be good. Every time Hashem “sat back” and surveyed all he had made and declared it to be good, he was noting that it all worked together, in sync, perfectly fit together for his divine purposes for earth and all inhabitants: every living creature — on land, the air and in the sea — as well as the functioning of the orb down to the smallest grain of sand.

Returning to the beginning we get the clearest reason for how man and woman are to relate to each other. It is about all elements of God’s creation — with the highest form being that of mankind — fulfilling their distinct complementary roles that points toward the fullness of God’s order for earth.

In the words of Rabbi Russell Resnik, “Creation is not an end in itself, but is moving toward a goal — the completion of God’s order and shalom (peace, wholeness). Indeed, the theme of Creation and its consummation underlies the entire Torah.”3 All of our prayers are focused on having God’s peace.

The Example of Deborah

With the Creation account in mind, we will begin where egalitarians tend to start when building a case for women being such strong leaders that they must have been created to do all that men can do — with a study of strong Biblical women. Like Rabbi Brumbach, I find the story of Deborah compelling, but I cannot agree with his conclusions.

As a highly respected, much sought-after judge and prophetess, Deborah called for the great general Barak to tell him that Hashem had literally given him marching orders against Canaan, whose army had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. The prophetess reveals Adonai’s plans for the battle. Barak learns where to engage the enemy, and how many soldiers —10,000 — to take, and is further assured that the enemy will be handed over to him (Judg 4:4–14).

Barak tells the prophetess that he will go only if she agrees to go with him. Her response is revealing. “I will gladly go with you; but the way you are doing it will bring you no glory; because Hashem will hand Sisra [the commander of Yavin’s army] over to a woman.” This referred to not only Barak’s not being willing to go without the prophetess, but also to the fact that after the battle Sisra would be killed by a woman (Yael) who offered him refuge. For any great general to be subdued by a woman was the opposite of gaining glory.

At the beginning of this recounting, it is noted that Deborah is the wife of Lapidot. This is not a casual comment.

Now D’vorah, a woman and a prophet, the wife of Lapidot, was judging Israel at that time. (Judg 4:4, emphasis added)

I have found it is rare for a married woman in scriptures to be mentioned without her husband’s name, and usually his position also noted, for example, Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:3).

Even when Yeshua encountered the “woman at the well,” who wanted to receive of his living water, Yeshua implored her to first go get her husband and come back.

“Go, call your husband, and come back.” She answered, “I don’t have a husband.” Yeshua said to her, “You’re right, you don’t have a husband.” (John 4:16–17)

The implication is that the woman’s husband needs to be present for whatever is going to transpire between them, as noted in Eph 5:22–24:

Wives should submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord; because the husband is head of the wife, just as the Messiah, as head of the Messianic Community, is himself the one who keeps the body safe. Just as the Messianic Community submits to the Messiah, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

The traditional relationship of a woman to her husband was one of submission to his leading. The husband’s role is to provide for and protect his wife and family.

Deborah, who traditionally would have been submitted to her husband, was not being sought out to be the spiritual leader — or the head — over Barak or the soldiers. She was to provide prophetic inspiration — especially through her prophetic singing of God’s praise — that Hashem was with them. In addition, nowhere do I read that Deborah would bear the weight of responsibility if the battle went wrong, which would be the case if she were in total charge.

The Example of Miriam

Moses’s sister Miriam is another strong woman cited as an example of egalitarian leadership.4 Although in Micah 6:4 Hashem reminds the people of all he has done for them, including having sent “Moshe, A’haron and Miryam to lead them,” in reality it was Moses alone whose arms grew heavy beseeching Adonai for the victory over Amalek. It was Aaron and Hur who held up his arms, not Miriam.

However, Moshe’s hands grew heavy. . . . A’haron and Hur held up his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other; so that his hands stayed steady until sunset. (Exod 17:10–12)

Miriam was respected, but she was not sought out as a senior leader.

In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam are being chided for criticizing their brother Moses. In fact, there is every indication of Moses’s two siblings being jealous of Moses: “Is it true that Adonai has spoken only with Moshe? Hasn’t he spoken with us too?” (Num 12:2). Miriam and Aaron were both acknowledged as prophets, but Hashem is making a distinction that Moses is a greater prophet. Hashem reminded them:

When there is a prophet among you, I, Adonai, make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. But it isn’t that way with my servant Moshe. He is the only one who is faithful in my entire household. With him I speak face to face and clearly, not in riddles; he sees the image of Adonai. So why weren’t you afraid to criticize my servant Moshe? (Num 12:6–8)

Further, there is no indication that Miriam was “making decisions” alongside Moses and Aaron as has been suggested (Brumbach, p. 4). I do not see that she was specifically called on to make a decision. Aaron’s leadership and decision-making did not always bear good fruit, the most glaring example being when dealing with the golden calf, but the people did call on him to make that decision (Exod 32:21–24).

Examples from the B’rit Hadasha

The B’rit Hadasha provides further evidence that women are not to be in spiritual headship roles. An obvious example is that women are not included among the twelve apostles or shlichim. There were many women who served alongside the disciples (talmidim). Tabitha, who was well known as a seamstress, has been referred to as a talmidah but there was never an indication her voice carried any special authority in the community. The reference was to her devotion to following Yeshua (Acts 9:35–42).

There were many females devoted to Yeshua, such as another Miriam, sister of Marta, who sat at Yeshua’s feet.

On their way Yeshua and his talmidim came to a village where a woman named Marta welcomed him into her home. She had a sister called Miryam who also sat at the Lord’s feet and heard what he had to say. But Marta was busy with all the work to be done; so, going up to him, she said, “Sir, don’t you care that my sister has been leaving me to do all the work by myself?” However, the Lord answered her, “Marta, Marta, you are fretting and worrying about so many things! But there is only one thing that is essential. Miryam has chosen the right thing, and it won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:39–42)

There is no suggestion in the Gospels of devoted followers necessarily “leading” others beyond the explicit leadership we see of the Twelve.

As Rabbi Brumbach noted, it was women to whom Yeshua first revealed himself after his resurrection, sending them to inform the talmidim.5

Yeshua said to her, “Miryam!” Turning, she cried out to him in Hebrew, “Rabbani!” . . . “Stop holding onto me . . . because I haven’t yet gone back to the Father, to my God and your God.” Miryam of Magdala went to the talmidim with the news that she had seen the Lord and that he had told her this. (John 20:16–18)

It cannot, however, be concluded that Miriam was herself a leader just because she was called to witness what had transpired. All believers are called to testify or witness of Hashem’s workings in their lives for the sake of the kingdom (Acts 1:8).

In all the instances of Yeshua’s personal encounters with women, none was ever described as having spiritual leadership over their own husbands and especially not over congregations or the community at large. They opened their homes for meetings and provided resources to promote the ministry, but were never recognized as leading the community or messianic congregations.

In direct contrast, there are many examples in the word describing the headship relationship that men have with their wives:

To the woman he said, “Your desire will be toward your husband, but he will rule over you” (Gen 3:16).

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is the Messiah, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of the Messiah is Hashem (1 Cor 11:3).

Let a woman learn in peace, fully submitted; but I do not permit a woman to teach a man or exercise authority over him; rather, she is to remain at peace. For Adam was formed first, then Havah. Also it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who, on being deceived, became involved in the transgression. (1 Tim 2:11–14)

This is how the holy women of the past who put their hope in Hashem used to adorn themselves and submit to their husbands, the way Sarah obeyed Avraham, honoring him as her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not succumb to fear. You husbands, likewise, conduct your married lives with understanding. Although your wife may be weaker physically, you should respect her as a fellow-heir of the gift of Life. (1 Pet 3:5–7a)

Submit to one another in fear of the Messiah. Wives should submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord; because the husband is head of the wife, just as the Messiah, as head of the Messianic Community, is himself the one who keeps the body safe. Just as the Messianic Community submits to the Messiah, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Eph 5:21–24)

In each reference Rabbi Brumbach makes to women who “led” congregations, the women were described as opening their homes for gatherings, not as the main or senior leaders of those meetings.6

One such is Lydia of Thyatira in Philippi:

Then on Shabbat, we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we understood a minyan met. We sat down and began speaking to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in fine purple cloth. She was already a “God-fearer,” and . . . she gave us this invitation: If you consider me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay in my house. (Acts 16:13–15)

There is also Nympha. “Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, also to Nympha and the congregation that meets in her home” (Col 4:15).

And the well-documented faithful workers Priscilla and Aquila also opened their home to meetings.

Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers for the Messiah Yeshua. They risked their necks to save my life; not only I thank them, but also all the Messianic communities among the Gentiles. And give my greetings to the congregation that meets in their house. (Rom 16:3–5)

There is one reference to a woman — Phoebe — described as a shammash (deacon), with no further reference to her in a leadership role.

I am introducing to you our sister Phoebe, shammash of the congregation at  Cenchrea, so that you may welcome her in the Lord. (Rom 16:1–2)

Throughout the New Testament, there are many men and women who stepped up to facilitate the gospel going forward, especially in opening their homes for meetings. When physical needs of the people arose in the early community, a group of seven men — referred to in most translations as deacons — were chosen to free up the Twelve to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word.

Around this time, when the number of talmidim was growing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against those who spoke Hebrew that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called a general meeting of the talmidim and said, “It isn’t appropriate that we should neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among yourselves who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will appoint them to be in charge of this important matter, but we ourselves will give our full attention to praying and to serving the Word.” (Acts ٦:١–4)

Even though we see one woman (Phoebe) referred to as a shammash (Rom ١٦:١) the qualifications listed for this role specifically speak of men. In ١ Timothy ٣:٨–١٠, shammashim are to possess the same qualifications as prescribed for a congregation leader, or overseer, and both descriptions use masculine pronouns (٣:١–١٠).

There is no reference to a woman being a deacon, but there are qualifications for women who are married to deacons.

Similarly, the wives must be of good character, not gossips, but temperate, faithful in everything. (1 Tim 3:11)

The Greek word for “wives” here can also be translated “women,” depending on the context, which has been used to argue for women deacons in this passage. The following verse, however, employs the same word clearly as “wife,”

Let the shammashim each be faithful to his wife, managing his children and household well. (١ Tim ٣:١٢)

This suggests that “wife” is intended in 3:11 as well, and this interpretation is in line with the whole context of 1 Timothy 3.

Discussion from a Jewish Point of View

For the traditional Jewish issues related to women in leadership, specifically as rabbis, I found Blu Greenberg’s On Women and Judaism to be a valuable resource. Greenberg addresses the wide range of views of women in Jewish thinking throughout the ages.

At one extreme, some maintain that the Jewish woman was little more than a man’s chattel [citing Exodus 20:14]. At the other extreme are those who contend that Judaism placed women on a pedestal — not only was the Jewish woman better off than her sisters in surrounding cultures, but she was also a higher spiritual being than man.7

Greenberg’s goal seems to be to reconcile the issues related to both men and women’s roles in society as well as in our corporate liturgical life. She explains, “if the lines are blurred in everything but anatomy, if male and female become interchangeable concepts, then perhaps what awaits us down the road is not perfect equality but pure confusion.”8 She goes on to point out that “equality clearly does not mean sameness. Nor is physiological function the whole difference.”9

I would not want to misrepresent, however, the major thrust of Greenberg’s study. She is on a search to reconcile her love of Judaism with what she believes to be the perceptions of her society on the acceptable role of women. She leans toward feminism by her own words. She was suggesting there being no limits on what women are permitted to do when she wrote this 25 years ago. Although I respect her journey and her transparency, I believe we have evidence that it was Hashem who established the limits, not men.

Kathryn Silberlings’s article entitled “Gender and Ordination” takes a slightly different turn. Silberling interprets Paul’s admonition against women having authority over men by suggesting he was speaking about women “learners” as opposed to leaders. “There is no prohibition here against a woman exercising proper authority — only against her domineering or usurping authority.”10

Again, she is assuming that a woman could have proper authority in matters of teaching. I do not see any Biblical or historical issue with women as teachers, even the teaching of men, but it is the question of whether she should have authority over the man by those teachings, which would occur if she were a rabbi.

Ruth Fleischer’s article “Women Can Be in Leadership” states at the outset:

That is what this chapter is about — harmony of the sexes within Hashem’s plan. Not the elevation of one sex over the other, not the servitude of one sex under the other, but a program that utilizes the gifts and calling of each, individually, and as men and women, to advance the kingdom of Hashem. The purpose of this chapter is to provide biblical, historical, Judaic, and Christian support for this position.11

Fleischer makes some important points, but she concludes with the questionable assertion that changing times must lead to changing roles of women in the “church.” Relying on the status quo alone is not advisable in revising policy or halakhah. Judging by the trends we see today, the status quo — at least in America — is opposed to God himself, and much more so to godly principles such as the role of women in spiritual leadership. Fleischer references various emancipations that she believes should inform us to “begin the practice of ordaining women as priests,” that is, rabbis and pastors. She points out that there is such a movement in some sects of Judaism, which I encountered in the next study I cite.12

In The Ordination of Women as Rabbis, fourteen faculty members of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America present papers exploring the subject of women as rabbis.13 Eleven of the fourteen members of this faculty are in agreement for women to have the opportunity to become rabbis — again, potentially leading a congregation.

One troubling thought I had while reading this study was that there was a tendency to use “equal” synonymously with “same.” Hashem never claimed men and women would be the same, especially in our callings as they relate to his plan. This discussion could have benefited from acknowledging that we can be different in our callings but equal in Hashem’s love and plan for us.

A bigger issue in this study was that each presenter took the reader along a halakhic path to understanding how women cannot be denied higher education or access to performing mitzvoth, and then several — including Dr. Anne Lerner — made what appeared to me the leap to argue that women should be able to receive smikhah. Lerner noted that improved education for Jewish women is occurring. She adds that the introduction of the mixed pew or family seating was a further break with religious tradition, and goes on to say, “in the wake of which all subsequent steps, including the ordination of women, are but a logical consequence.”14

Dr. Lerner notes that a recent survey in her congregation indicated there is still opposition within the membership to women becoming part of the Conservative rabbinate, but she does not consider this opposition to be significant, especially since she notes that the younger members tend to agree that women should have the opportunity to be ordained. She reports that when an under-35 demographic responded to the question, 15.1% stated they would be disappointed or leave the movement if women were ordained, but over double (38.6%) stated they would leave if they were not ordained. Lerner is expecting with time, the older generation will give way to the younger.15

Just because women are becoming better educated and given more mobility in the congregation, it does not follow that they can fulfill any function they choose. There is still the issue of calling and distinction.

Addressing another article in Voices of Messianic Judaism, cited above, I found I resonated with Sam Nadler’s “Male Leadership and the Role of Women.” Nadler summarizes the stories of the prophetesses Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Anna, acknowledging that the gift of prophecy is not gender-specific. He goes further and mentions that there were 70 elders who also prophesied — but these were all men (Num 11:16–30).16

Nadler comments on Judges 4:4 — “D’vorah, [also] a prophetess . . . was judging Israel at that time” — “but it does not follow that because one is a judge they could therefore be an assembly leader.”17

Women could teach and testify, as did the woman of Samaria when she said, “He told me all the things that I have done” (John 4:39). Likewise Priscilla together with Aquila explained to Apollos “the way of Hashem more accurately” (Acts 18:26).18

Nadler goes on to note,

It is true that one of a senior congregational leader’s main responsibilities is to teach and preach the word of God (Acts 6:2, 4; 1 Tim 5:17), but it does not follow that all teachers are congregational leaders. Though women teach (and often, quite well) it does not mean that biblically, they were elders, overseers, pastors, or rabbis in a local congregation, since none are ever mentioned.19

Nadler suggests that the Ephesus congregation was out of order in that “the normative congregational priorities (especially prayer, 1 Tim 2:8) were evidently being handled by the faithful women,” there being a perceived necessity for women to step up as men were not doing so. “Paul corrects this issue by mandating male leadership in the service and congregation” (1 Tim 2:8; 3:1–2). Nadler further clarifies, “All instruction regarding women and their role is meant to restrict them from senior congregational leadership (1 Tim 2:12).”20

Nadler makes an interesting observation on 1 Corinthians 14:35 concerning women not being permitted to speak in the congregations. It is to be noted that this reference includes the qualifier “as also the Torah says . . . for it is shameful for a woman to speak out in a congregational meeting.” He notes that Hashem is a God of order and would not establish the way things were to be from Creation as recorded in Torah referencing the roles of men to lead and women to support — and then later switch them around.

The most powerful observation Nadler makes is that “the husband was always the leader, even if he was disobedient to the word” (1 Pet 3:1–2). And further, that “the home was seen as the microcosm and training ground of the congregation” (1 Tim 3:4–5). “Therefore, it would seem to be incongruous, to the point of absurdity, to have a [woman] in a senior leadership position in the congregation when she could not have such a senior leadership position in her own home.”21

Hashem’s creation is all about distinction for mutual blessing as discussed in this paper’s introduction. I have yet to see evidence in my research or that of others that establishes a precedent — logically, historically or biblically — for women to be in charge in their own homes or in the assembly.

Women were created to be the receivers and nurturers of the future of mankind. That calling is to partner with their own husbands to fulfill Hashem’s vision for our time on earth. Hashem does not define our callings by what we are not, but rather by what or who we are. It is a positive that men were created to be on the vanguard. This is what has been assigned to men. It is a positive that women are to nurture and assure that mankind does have a future. The very dearest of women’s assignments cannot be duplicated by men.

The question is not simply who has been called to do which jobs, but also what messages we are sending to each other. Yes, there has been a lot of mistreatment of women, but there has also been a loss of respect for men who are trying to walk their God-given path.

I find it interesting that Hashem admonishes men to love their wives, but for women to respect their husbands. “Love your wives, just as the Messiah, as head of the Messianic Community, is himself the one who keeps the body safe” (Eph 5:23). “And see that the wife respects her husband” (Eph 5:33). When we have to be told specifically who needs to love and who needs to respect, it is because it is men’s temptation to not love their wives and women’s to not respect their husbands.

Hashem wants us to know our Messiah is about love, honor, and respect. He is about reconciling, restoring and empowering us in our callings. He is all about distinction for mutual blessing. Clear lines. Land and Sea, Man and Woman. Even though man and woman are created so similar, we are not the other. Hashem does not hold women accountable for how this battle on earth turns out, any more than the prophetess Deborah was responsible for the battle she helped Barak fight against Canaan. As long as we do what we are assigned and help our mates to do what they are assigned, Hashem’s plan goes forth.

This is not a “common” world. It is the Creation of Hashem himself. Our job is not to give in to cries of “unfair” about what Hashem has created. Our job is to make sure that there is fairness, even justice, but the goal is not what we might believe to be injustice, but what the Creator would call unjust.

It is never unjust to acknowledge what Hashem has created for his purposes. I share the sadness of those who cry “unfair,” but I cannot share the solution some are presenting. We do need to be about providing pathways for all mankind to study.

Do all you can to present yourself to God as someone worthy of his approval, as a worker with no need to be ashamed, because he deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth. (2 Tim 2:25)

I submit that at Creation women were set apart and gifted to receive, carry, and nurture new life while walking hand in hand with their husbands as he is called. Having revisited the significant biblical women Rabbi Brumbach and others have presented, I find they each are used by God in these very capacities. Also looking at Jewish tradition, until very modern times, we see women being called to participate as this nurturer and helper to their husbands.

Some of the changes that have been surfacing in recent years in both traditional and Messianic Judaism, whereby women are given an authority in spiritual matters as rabbis, are not only out of line with the intentions of Creation, but have no precedent in biblical history. We must be careful to keep our eyes on Hashem’s plan for his redeeming of the whole world and not be distracted by current events that often are to the contrary.

The family is the model Creation illuminates. Because we do see some women as respected judges, prophetesses, and talmidim, we should not make the assumption that they should do whatever they choose. Regardless of how women might be used by God to further his Kingdom, we never see any of these women carrying the weight of responsibility for others’ eternal souls, or even for the results of a single battle. That responsibility has been given to men in the home and as rabbis in our corporate lives.

Rabbis/congregational leaders are to carry the mantle of leadership for the spiritual journey of the community. Congregational leaders are responsible for the big picture, as Sam Nadler expresses:

The role ascribed to men pertains to the leadership of the congregation as a whole. This includes setting the overall direction of the congregation, keeping the congregation in line with biblical principles, and seeing that the congregation is spiritually nurtured.22

Husbands are charged with this in the home. Our congregational communities are an extension of this basic core of successful life on this planet, as instituted by Adonai. Nadler drives home the point, “Men do not earn the authority for leadership of the congregation due to an inherent superiority; God ascribes it to them.”23

Some may call it hierarchy, but it seems more like Hashem’s fitting us (back) together to fulfill his purposes. In doing so, he does not value any part more than the other. Without both, there would be no future.

Man is to reflect God’s purposes by how he relates to his own wife. Back to Ephesians 5, Paul is quite clear as to the depth and breadth of what a man’s love must be for his wife. He brings home the point that this relationship is fundamental to God’s plan for mankind.

This is how husbands ought to love their wives — like their own bodies; for the man who loves his wife is loving himself. Why, no one ever hated his own flesh! On the contrary, he feeds it well and takes care of it, just as the Messiah does the Messianic Community, because we are parts of his Body. “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and remain with his wife, and the two will become one.” There is profound truth hidden here, which I say concerns the Messiah and the Messianic Community. However, the text also applies to each of you individually: let each man love his wife as he does himself, and see that the wife respects her husband. (5:28–33)

This foundation is at the very core of all human interactions, especially those concerning ministry.

In contrast, I believe woman is neither called nor equipped to have ultimate authority or responsibility for her home, nor for a congregation or a community. I want to focus on the positive side of what she is equipped and anointed for and for which she is universally, biblically praised. We need look no further than Proverbs 31:

11 Her husband trusts her from his heart, and she will prove a great asset to him.

12 She works to bring him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

17 She gathers her strength around her and throws herself into her work.

18 She sees that her business affairs go well.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; since all of them are doubly clothed.

23 Her husband is known at the city gates when he sits with the leaders of the land.

26 When she opens her mouth, she speaks wisely; on her tongue is loving instruction.

27 She watches how things go in her house, not eating the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise; they make her happy; her husband too, as he praises her.

I can see no evidence biblically that a woman was ever called or assigned to take the lead position in her home; on the contrary, she is to yield that position to the man. I do not casually use the term “yield.” To yield implies that a person has the ability to either move forward or defer to another. It takes great strength of character and security in one’s own worth to yield to another, but that is what I believe women are called to do. Women yield from a position of strength, not weakness.

It is this stance that I believe extends to her community at large. I see in the Scriptures women assisting at every level without being specifically responsible for the outcome of events nor the ultimate success of her home and family or community.

I don’t think we can dismiss the Bible saying that women should not have a position of teaching men and exercising authority over men (1 Tim 2:11–14). Being the rabbi/senior leader of a community/congregation would mean exactly that. Looking back at the way in which mankind was created, we see a strong, consistent plan for men to carry the weight of spiritual authority. This starts in their homes, continues in their communities, and one can argue it even extends to the world at large.

Patriarchs, not matriarchs, are revered and followed. The officiants in the temple were men. Cohens must be males descended from males. Lineage in the Bible is traced from the father. Kings, not queens, were put in place. All of the apostles being male has significance. And the Messiah was sent as a man, not a woman.

God created our roles for his purposes on this earth. They are not about God loving one more than the other. And I repeat, we are equal, just not the same. We are each to honor our own personal call. As we do, all will shift into place. It’s not so much a puzzle, but a divine plan for Hashem to reconcile all of humanity back to himself.

Therefore, I believe the evidence bears out that Hashem did not charge women with becoming rabbis — spiritual leaders of congregations. What women do bring is the ability to hold together all things in the family and community through their God-given, deep and abiding, nurturing love.

Shari Rubinstein is the co-founder of Beth Yeshua in Sacramento. Her life’s work has been to establish and maintain this community, originally alongside her husband, the late Rabbi “Rube” Rubinstein, of blessed memory. She continues to serve as co-Director of Children’s Ministry, Lead Community Coordinator, and Financial Officer. Shari was simultaneously a high school and college instructor in English and Journalism for over 40 years, and retired in 2007. She lives in the midst of her family of four grown children and their eleven children. Her educational background includes a BA English/Speech, MA English, MA Special Education, and UMJC licensure as a Madrikhah.

For further study

Hoppin, Ruth. Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press, 2019.

Keller, Marie Noel. Priscilla and Aquila: Paul’s Coworkers in Christ Jesus. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2010.

Macarthur, John. Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson 2005.

Pierce, Ronald W. and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Ed’s. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, 2nd Ed. Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Resnik, Rabbi Russell. Gateways to Torah: Joining the Ancient Conversation on the Weekly Portion. Baltimore, Maryland: Messianic Jewish Publishers a division of Messianic Jewish Communications, 2000.

Stern, David H. Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past. Clarksville, Maryland: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2007.

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-to-Day Guide to Ethical Living. New York: Bell Tower, 2000.

________________ Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994.

Torjesen, Karen Jo. When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993.

Young, Brad H. Paul The Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997.

1 Joshua Brumbach, “Called to Lead: The Role of Women in Messianic Judaism,” Kesher, Issue 44, Winter/Spring 2024: 3–24.

2 All Scripture references are from Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).

3 Russell Resnik, Creation to Completion: A Guide to Life’s Journey from the Five Books of Moses. (Clarksville, MD: Lederer, 2006), 4.

4 Brumbach, 4.

5 Brumbach, 7.

6 Brumbach, 7–8.

7 Blu Greenberg, On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition (Philadelphia, Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1998), 57.

8 Greenberg, 172.

9 Greenberg, 173.

10 Kathryn J. Silberling, “Gender and Ordination,” Kesher, Issue 13 (Summer 2001): 68–81.

11 Ruth Fleischer, “Women Can Be in Leadership,” Voices of Messianic Judaism, ed. Dan Cohn-Sherbok (Baltimore: Lederer, 2001),151.

12 Fleischer, 155.

13 The Ordination of Women as Rabbis: Studies and Responsa, ed. Simon Greenberg (New York: Centennial, 1988).

14 Anne Lapidus Lerner, “On the Rabbinic Ordination of Women,” Ordination of Women, 98.

15 Ordination of Women, 100.

16 Sam Nadler, “Male Leadership and the Role of Women,” Voices, 161

17 Nadler, 161.

18 Nadler, 161.

19 Nadler, 161–62.

20 Nadler, 163–64.

21 Nadler, 164.

22 Nadler, 165.

23 Nadler, 165.