Sunday, January 20, 2019

"What's in a name?," Jewish edition

Recently, my husband and I went to Hadar to hear Rabbi Jason Rubenstein give the Dr. Eddie Scharfman Memorial Lecture 2019, "All Revelation Begins With Heartbreak--Radical Faith in Torah and Ourselves, From Maimonides to Plaskow."  The presentation was fascinating and, apparently, almost too popular--the place was packed, and the only reason I got a seat was that a kind gentleman had mercy on this older woman carrying a cane.

Afterward, I spotted Rabbi Shai Held in the crowd.  "Rav Shai, I have two comments.  One, this was great!  Two, when are you moving?  This is crazy.  Hadar needs a bigger place, and it has to be wheelchair-accessible."  Ever since Hadar had to make an emergency, last-minute rental of Lincoln Square Synagogue's event space to accommodate the "over-subscribed" panel discussion "What Feminist Torah Needs to Look Like," it's become increasingly clear that Hadar has outgrown its current facility.

But the space issue wasn't the remarkable thing about this conversation.

My "greeting" was.

To paraphrase the Haggadah, I am a woman of nearly 70, but I can't remember ever before having called a rabbi by their first name.

Rav Shai?!

Where on earth did that come from?

When I was a kid growing up in South Jersey (er, southern New Jersey) in the 50s and 60s, it would have been unthinkable to call a rabbi by his first name.  (Yes, "his"--all rabbis were male, at that time.)  Even after I moved to New York City and joined first a Reconstructionist, then a Conservative synagogue, I continued to call my rabbis by their last names, as did most of the other congregants.

In fact, when women first began being ordained as rabbis and cantors, I found it downright offensive that they were frequently called by their first names.  Why should it be Rabbi or Cantor Last-Name for a man but Rabbi or Cantor First-Name for a woman?  Was a woman's rabbinical or cantorial ordination worth less than a man's, that she should be treated with less respect?

But lately, I've noticed a shift in practice.  It started when an old friend roughly our age joined a Orthodox synagogue in which it was a given that the entire rabbinical staff was called by their first names.  All of a sudden, it was "Rav Avi" and "Rav Steven" and "Rabba Sara."  Was my Conservative background suddenly making me more traditional than the Traditional?

I guess I'm just catching up with the times.



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