Culture, Religion, Sex & Gender

Sports, lies, and videotape (when the rabbi is a woman)

It’s hard enough being a young female rabbi without inadvertantly offending the key master of the entire Boston Jewish community. [I’m late in posting this, I blame the holidays.] For those of you who haven’t been following football, the uproar in Boston right now is over charges that Patriots coach Bill Belichick knowingly had a Patriots employee videotape opposition plays to get the scoop on their offense before the game. Belichick has been fined $500,000, and it’s pretty disgraceful for the Pats (who nonetheless creamed the competition on Sunday without videotape help, go Pats!). Many of you know the name Bob Kraft from Kraft stadium in Israel, from his great philathropic work in the Boston Jewish community and around the world. You should also, then, know that he is the owner of the Patriots and a davenner in Newton, MA.
Well, seems that on Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi at Kraft’s shul decided to use perhaps an unfortunate metaphor in her sermon — as covered by Jason Schwartz on the Boston Daily Blog of Boston Magazine.

Her main trope was that people should act as as though God is always watching them. Not a bad lesson, except that in making her point she must have made an endless number of references to acting like you’re being videotaped. This was awkward… The guy sitting next to my dad leaned over and whispered, “Does she even know Bob Kraft goes to this Temple?” and a hefty portion of the congregation craned their necks over to Kraft’s pew toward the front. To his credit, he didn’t have any sort of discernible reaction. But, about five seconds after that sermon mercifully ended, he was up and out of there. In fairness, it was toward the end of the service and plenty of other people were leaving too, but trust me, there was no hesitation in his step.

Funny in its own right. What isn’t funny are some of the posts in response. Mostly they are other members of the shul rebuking Schwartz for his opinion/for exposing the incident. Some good stuff there. Some, however, focused on the rabbi:
“Saul” wrote:

The more important question here is why the rabbi of your congregation is a woman. There’s no way a male rabbi would have not known about the sensitive situation Mr. Kraft is in. This is just another example of what happens when a woman does a MAN’s job.

And “Bob” (presumably not Kraft) wrote:

The blogger did not embarrass Bob Kraft – the rabbi did that all by herself. And the blogger didn’t embarrass the rabbi – she did that all by herself, too. After years of her silly sermons where she tries to find spiritual messages to share with the congregation in tales of her daughter’s poop-filled diapers, and all the other stories of her kids, her mother-in-law, her cooking, her…. on an on…. she is clearly beyond feeling embarrassment. This is not the first time she stumbled into inflaming the sensitivities of the community. Maybe next sermon she can talk about harming people through acts that are intentional vs reckless vs simpleminded and uninformed. That would make for a good Yom Kippur sermon, as long as she doesn’t include more stories about her kids.

Errr… Does this mean that all stories of family and home-based experiences should be left off the bimah, while sports analogies are encouraged as long as they are sensitive to the feelings of sports celebrities??

8 thoughts on “Sports, lies, and videotape (when the rabbi is a woman)

  1. One of the comments I remember from the book “The New Rabbi” describes the change that has occurred over the last generation to the stature of the Rabbi. In the Fifties, American rabbis were the true leaders of their communities and often times the lone expert on a variety of issues beyond Jewish thought. They were generally one of a handful of people at their shul with an advanced degree if no the only person. They made their names as orators, providing their communities with political and educational vision as well as spiritual leadership. Today’s rabbi is not necessarily the renaissance expert they once were. It is not that the don’t know as much as before but they are probably leading a flock that has more expertise. The book does observe that while the community’s expertise has increased, the sermon has changed. Often times the rabbi provides a teaching or a question and answer session.
    I wonder if these observations find merit in this situation. I certainly suggest reading the comments on the Boston Globe. While many of them confer disappointment with Schwartz for his airing out the dirty laundry, there also seems to be some undertones of dissent regarding this particular rabbi.
    Certainly, the rabbi erred in her sermon. We know this because of the reaction of the community. Even if her topic is on the mark for Rosh HaShanah, which it was, she clearly alienated a significant portion of the community. This was clearly a gaff. I also want to offer that Bob’s suggestion for a Yom Kippur sermon is an excellent one – “harming people through acts that are intentional vs reckless vs simpleminded and uninformed” would be an excellent follow-up. It seems to me that the medium is also the message in this situation and the informality that this rabbi employs in order to connect with part of the community has done a good job of alienating the other.

  2. Another possibility is that a blogger wanted to stir the pot and thus posted something which may have little to do with what actually happened or what was actually said. Bloggers have been known to do that, you know. Without actually hearing or reading the sermon, we have only one guy’s opinion of what it was about, and having taught widely in the Jewish world, I can tell you that there is often a huge difference between words I’ve said and what people actually heard or remembered.

  3. This sounds like radical stir the potto me. WHile it’s true there are a few dinosaursout there who just can’t deal with women, period, bu=y and large, when I was preaching from the pulpit it was precisely those sermons where I used examples which were more “typically feminine” (which I am , by and large, not, having been a tomboy from pretty much day one – and out of my class of rabbinical students, I probably was one of the two or three most sports-oriented – the guys, not so much even vaguely interested in sports) which got really positive responses. SOme of which were along the lines of “I’ve been waiting fifty years to hear SArah’s voice” or the like. And, BTW, it wasn’t even mostly all from women. Lots of men really loved to hear about the matriarchs struggles with infertility or how having a baby can change one’s perspective. I suspect because many guys today themselves have experienced those things.
    IMO, the poster who said such nasty things was either a jerk or a troll.

  4. I wasn’t referring to the blogger who left the sexist comment about female rabbis, I was referring to the blogger at Boston magazine who reported – on Yom Tov- about this sermon. I’ve since heard from a person well-connected to the shul that the rabbi’s sermon was actually hardly as it was represented, nor was the reaction to it as Mr. Schwartz portrayed. That’s the point I’m making- that we’re taking what 22 year-old whiz kid Mr. Schwartz says at face value, when we really don’t have any reason to trust his pot-stirring, pot-shot taking agenda. Quite a few reactions to his post were NOT “rebuking him for exposing the incident,” they were basically calling him a liar about what actually happened and what was actually said.

  5. yehudit, are you serious?
    you are going to post comments like that on a simple mistake, and you’re not going to take them to town for their blatant sexism and misogyny!?!!?! oy.
    to all you haterz: rabbis’ sermons for the high holy days are developed over weeks and weeks, and they simply do not have the time to completely overhaul their drashim because a congregant’s employee fucked up. they should learn to deal.
    besides, her theme is one that should unsettle, given the panopticon-like society we live in.
    finally, bob and that other douche bag should immediately apologize. what should the good rabbi speak about in her sermons? something that has NOTHING to do with her life experience as a human and woman created uniquely by God?!?! She should give the job over to a real man who can talk about big boy things, like capitalism and sports. that’s definitely more appropriate for sabbaths and holidays.

  6. I was surprised by the Jason Schwartz blog. The Rabbi’s sermon wasn’t about sports and videotaping, it was a challenge to all of the congregants sitting in the pews.
    The sermon challenged people to consider the very traditional idea that God may actually BE watching, not just with mercy in mind, but also judgment. The Rabbi asked all of us to consider what would happen in our lives if the judgment so clearly described in the Rosh Hashana liturgy were to continue throughout the year. Would it make us uncomfortable?
    The idea of God watching is a little too distant for some of us to connect with, and so the Rabbi had powerful, everyday examples, showing how we ARE watched every day – all the time. Maybe we SHOULD be uncomfortable about how we act.
    The Cal Ripken example was at the end, and was excellent. Our High Holidays liturgy reminds us that we have a chance to change our behavior. It is up to us. Ripken consciously changed his behavior when he realized he was being watched, when he realized that his own self-centered world wasn’t the whole world. He is someone who grew! This is what our high holiday season is all about.
    A lot of people that I have talked with understood what the Rabbi was saying, and have been as surprised as I am about Jason’s blog. The blog does not reflect our experience. The sermon did not point to any one member of our congregation. It was about ALL of us. Our liturgy doesn’t ask us to be comfortable at this time of year. It asks for introspection and personal growth, both of which are within our reach. That was the powerful message the Rabbi delivered, and it was the message that we heard and carried away with us.

  7. I was gonna say something, but invisible hand said it all for me.
    leave it to bostonians to think it’s all about their precious sports team.

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