This Is One Of Those Moments

Barbra Streisand as YentlIt’s hard to believe that in 2009 there are still important films that are only just making their DVD debuts, but such is the case with Yentl. I’m not sure what the hold-up was, but the film has finally gone digital with a 25th anniversary, two-disc directors’ cut edition. It may be easy for nonbelievers to dismiss Barbra Streisand’s masterpiece as a vanity production, but the film broke through Hollywood’s glass ceiling as the first woman (since the silent era) to write, direct, produce, and star in a film. The glass ceiling hasn’t been totally shattered. No woman has yet won the Academy Award for directing. (In fact, if I’m reading the list correctly, I don’t think any women have even been nominated. Ever.)

Watching the film again for the first time since college, I was struck by just how good the film is. I know, I sometimes see Streisand’s work through the goggles of a gay man who, after all, once had a “Wall of Barbra” in my living room.


Wall of Barbra, West Hollywood, CA

But watching the film with seven years as a full-time, professional Jewish educator under my belt, the story of a woman who risks her entire world for the sake of learning… well, let’s just say I was moved to tears when (SPOILER ALERT!) she gets accepted to the Yeshiva. That a woman broke through Hollywood’s barriers to tell the story of a woman who broke through her Jewish community’s barriers only made the message more resonant.

I was similarly moved this week reading about Sara Hurwitz. If you’re not familiar with her name yet, you will be. To quote from an e-mail sent to the mailing list of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center for advanced Jewish learning dedicated to empowering women:

In the years following her three years of full time study at Drisha, Sara, the Madrichah Ruchanit (spiritual counselor) of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, intensively studied for and successfully passed the examinations that traditionally entitle candidates for rabbinic ordination to receive yoreh yoreh certification. Her new title, MaHaRaT, which is an acronym for Manhigah Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit – a leader capable of serving the halakhic, spiritual and educational needs of her congregants – reflects the depth and breadth of her accomplishments and her commitment to her role as a full member of the clergy.

Maharat Sara HurwitzThere has been (and will continue to be) a lot of debate about whether or not she should have the title of Rabbi. I’ve heard conflicting reports as to whether Maharat Hurwitz wanted the title “rabbi” at all. In an article published last month by the JTA, she was quoted as saying, “I hope to reclaim and redefine my new title, so that it comes to have the identical connotation that the word rabbi does.”

This sounds to me a lot like the same-sex marriage compromise argument. I know plenty of us who would trade the word “marriage” for the 1000+ federal benefits currently being denied married couples of the same gender. But I also know that even once those rights were granted, most of us would not stop fighting (or at least hoping) for the true equality that comes in both name and deed.

Still, as someone who is neither Orthodox nor a woman, I can only root from the sidelines and offer my congratulations and support to both Maharat Hurwitz and the many I hope will follow in her footsteps.

5 Responses to “This Is One Of Those Moments”

  1. I think part of the irritation factor is with the fact that there already ARE Orthodox women rabbis.


    KRG · March 29th, 2009 at 11:08 pm
  2. KRG-
    Share the love: the way the system is set up, LOTS of people get to be “the first Orthodox woman rabbi”! Someone earns that distinction, then the majority of the Orthodox world says that she’s not really a rabbi and/or not really Orthodox, clearing the way for someone else to be the first Orthodox woman rabbi a couple years later. Lather, rinse, repeat, and there’s no foreseeable end to this cycle.

    (Still, all snark aside, mazal tov and b’hatzalachah to Maharat Hurwitz.)


    BZ · March 30th, 2009 at 12:01 am
  3. I believe that you are mistaken in the idea that the ‘glass ceiling has not been shattered.’ Yes, no woman has ever won the Academy Award for best directing, but that does not indicate a lack of films directed by women.

    Oh, and 3 women have been nominated: Lena Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” (1975), Jane Campion for “The Piano” (1993) and Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” (2003).
    These films, all good, were certainly not the best of their year – in 1975, “Seven Beauties” lost to the classic “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” in 1993 “The Piano” lost to Speilberg’s directing of “Schindler’s List” and in 2003, “Lost In Translation” lost to Peter Jackson’s epic “Return Of The King.”

    There will always be female-dominated and male-dominated fields. Perhaps directing is not one of the female-dominated ones, but the women in that field are certainly trying to even the playing field. It is impossible to tell what the future will hold, but, as Hillary Clinton said over this past election, there are “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” – I believe that as women get better and better in their respective fields, they will work their way up.

    As Charles Eliot (President of Harvard, 1869-1909) once said of Radcliffe College, then the women’s branch of Harvard: “although it is to yet to be seen whether the women have the originality and pioneering spirit which will fit them to be leaders, perhaps they will when they have had as many generations of thorough education as men.”
    Women have certainly blown away any expectations, starting with the original suffragettes a few years after Eliot’s reign at Harvard ended.

    While women certainly deserve equal opportunity, it’s certainly not for lack of trying in this case.
    So please, don’t worry so much about things like Academy Awards. There are more important things to be concerned about – like the genocide in Darfur, or wars, or famine, or drought, or diseases. Or, if you’re so concerned about women’s rights, perhaps you should be more worried about women in Saudi Arabia who are being given lashes for being alone with a man they are not related to.


    BG · April 2nd, 2009 at 12:25 am
  4. Jane Campion was nominated for a directing Oscar in 1993 for The Piano. She didn’t win that one, although she did take the screenplay Oscar.

    Best I can tell, she’s the only woman.


    Alaska Jew · April 2nd, 2009 at 12:25 am
  5. Whoops. There were actually 3 female nominees for director. Campion was #2 in 1993. The first was Lise Wurtmuller in 1976, and the most recent was Sofia Coppola in 2003.


    Alaska Jew · April 2nd, 2009 at 12:29 am

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