'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;Yes, I know. What matters is what something is, not what it is called.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I've been thinking about this as I've considered this story about Rabba Sara Hurwitz.
Here's the story in a nutshell (as it were):
Hurwitz, an Orthodox Jew and one of three leaders of an Orthodox congregation in Riverdale, was ordained last year by Rabbi Avi Weiss. At the time the Jewish world took note, though it wasn’t until she was given the titular equivalent of rabbi that the controversy really began.A "radical and dangerous departure," eh? which "must be condemned in the strongest terms".
At her ordination last year, Hurwitz was given a newly-created title, the acronym Mahara”t, which stands for Manhigah Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit, “Leader in Halakha [Law], Spirituality and Torah,” but it never caught on in the wider Jewish world. It was a term no one had ever heard before, and it was difficult to remember.
In addition, many women (and some men) argued that there’s something offensive about giving a woman a different title than accrues to the men who complete the same course of study.
As Hurwitz recounted, “When I walked into a funeral home, it was easier to say ‘rabbi’ than explain what a maharat is and go through the whole discussion.” So her mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss, announced early this year that henceforth Hurwitz would be known as Rabba (It’s actually the term most Israeli women rabbis use for themselves, though it’s largely unknown outside of Israel.).
But the head of Agudath Israel, the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) denominational body in the United States, put Weiss in cherem—a kind of communal excommunication—for giving Hurwitz the rabbi-equivalent title this winter.
“These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition,” the organization said in a prepared statement, “and must be condemned in the strongest terms.” Any congregation served by a woman in a rabbinic position, they said, cannot be considered Orthodox.
Rabbi Weiss has struck a deal with the Rabbinical Council of America and agreed to stop conferring the title “rabba,” though Agudath remains unsatisfied. Whether or not Hurwitz will keep her title remains to be seen.
And you thought the Anglican Communion had problems!
Mind you, her title is not "Rabbi" but the feminine equivalent of the title.
So, taking a cue from Mr. Shakespeare, does it really matter what her title is, as long as she's able to fully function in her role?
As you consider that question, allow me to point out that there are, I think, parallels in other issues.
A few years ago, one of the members of my congregation, whom I dearly love, said to me, "Elizabeth, I understand your passion for marriage equality, and I want you and Barbara to have full access to all your civil rights, but (you knew there was a 'but' in that, didn't you?), the problem is the word 'marriage'. If you had all the same rights, would you be satisfied with some other word for it?"
I looked at him, sighed and asked, "Would you?"
I hate to be simplistic, but I think both issues have to do with the prevailing religious and cultural paradigms of power. Both are very male, very heterocentrist, and firmly fixed in the psyche of our religion and society.
On one level, it's all pretty silly, isn't it? I mean, Shakespeare is right, isn't he? In the end, what difference does it make, really? What matters is what something is, not what it is called. Isn't that right?
So, to argue from the other side of the question, what difference does it make if Sara Horowitz is called "Rabbi"? What matters is what something is, not what it is called. Goose/Gander, Sauce/Title . . . . .
Just the other day, I got a call from a friend who retired to a diocese in the Southwestern part of the country. She's finally found an Episcopal church that suits her and is just settling in. The rector has hired a woman as his assistant who is reportedly "young and filled with enthusiasm and energy."
I asked for her name, thinking I might know her. "It's a small church, after all."
I heard my friend sigh deeply. The long silence was heavy.
"Father Kate," she said.
Now it was my turn to be silent. "Excuse me?" I said, finally.
"Oh, yes," said my friend, "No joke. It's Father Kate."
Then again, isn't this like the communion wafer calling the matzoh bread flat?
'Father' - for centuries and in many places, still - is the Christian version of 'Rabbi'. Both terms that have exclusively male characteristics in their DNA.
Indeed, the little joke I sometimes make is that the church is the only place I can go and put on a long, white dress and be in traditional men's clothes. Every Sunday is, in its own way, a little liturgical drag show.
I've gotten some flap about my email. "motherkaeton@ . . .". There's a long story to that, which I won't go into here, but bottom line, it was a little joke between Ms. Conroy and me, having a little something to do with how 'mother' has become half a word.
It's not so funny to some of my friends and colleagues - almost exclusively women - who have raised more than an eyebrow of surprise and/or distress.
Part of the problem lies in the title 'priest'. I mean, male or female, Bishops are called "Bishop Jones." Deacons, too, and chaplains, as well as doctors, lawyers, judges, mayors and military personnel enjoy a gender-free title that can easily precede their first name or surname.
No one is called "Priest Smith."
I always introduce myself as "Elizabeth". The parents at St. Paul's long ago wanted some kind of title for the children to use so as to convey a sign of respect. So, we settled on "Reverend Elizabeth". Sounds warmer and is more grammatically correct than "Reverend Kaeton."
Sometimes, in very formal circumstances, I'm called "Dr. Kaeton". But mostly, it's 'Elizabeth' - which is what God calls me. It's also what my mother insisted I be called which people - usually those I've just met (and mostly men, come to think of it) - try to turn into a nickname like "Liz" or "Betty".
If you dare break my mother's hard and fast rule and try to "diminish" (in her words) my name, well, I can only warn you that you will have to deal with her in the afterlife - or risk that her spirit might just come to wherever you are and smack you right upside the head.
All kidding aside, there is something about a threat to the dominant power paradigm in all this that keeps niggling at me.
I keep hearing the words of Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and women's suffragist. I haven't thought it quite through just yet, so I'll leave you with his words:
"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle.
The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing.
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
It never did and it never will."
Is all this controversy about a title the surface or presenting issue of a deeper power struggle? Or, to coin a phrase from Shakespeare, is this 'much ado about nothing'?
Indeed, as Juliette says:
What's in a name? that which we call a roseExcept, of course, when the name of the rose is 'Inequality', from the variety of 'Prejudice' in the Garden of Patriarchy.
By any other name would smell as sweet;