by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
The orthodox world has been rigorously debating women’s roles in Jewish communal leadership and whether women can formally serve as rabbis. Meanwhile, though it has no stated progressive agenda or goals, Chabad has quietly revolutionized the role of women in leadership. Chabad rebbetzins may not have the title of rabbi, but in most cases they are involved in, and empowered with, setting the vision of their community and executing the leadership necessary to make it a reality as much as their husbands are. They design programming, lead meetings, teach, give support at lifecycle events, play very public roles and are often listed as co-directors, equal with their husbands.
At the opening I attended, it was the rebbetzin, not the rabbi, who served as the master of ceremonies. The rabbi gave a wonderful dvar Torah and speech, but it was the rebbetzin who welcomed hundreds of people, offered expressions of gratitude to the list of dignitaries, gave her own dvar Torah, and charged the community with a vision of where they are going next.
The contemporary Chabad rebbetzin is functioning in a significantly different way than her predecessors and many of her peers in the orthodox world. And yet, one doesn’t find people questioning her motives, her commitment to halachik norms, or her respect for rabbinic authority.
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