Tradition applauds the piety and good sense of the women of Moses’ day. It was because of their merit that Israel was redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 1b). Despite all the hype, they refused to join the men in making the golden calf (Midrash Tanchuma).
Their reward was that Rosh Chodesh became their special festival (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 45). The Taz says the three pilgrimage festivals were given in honour of the three patriarchs; the 12 New Moons originally honoured the 12 tribes, but when the men made the golden calf the festival was given to the women. And when it came to building the tabernacle the women’s generosity and enthusiasm were marked (Ex. 35).
History consistently recognises the piety of Jewish women. It is a pity, then, that the impression has arisen that women have no place in Jewish religiosity. Some say that because women’s spirituality is more instinctive, they need fewer rituals to express it. Nonetheless, today many observant women are seeking ways within halachah of active involvement in worship. First going to the sources to find what is possible, many are finding new fulfilment in what has issued from their search.
Some are asking about being rabbis; there are halachic limits to their becoming congregational officiants, but there are many ways to be rabbinic in the sense of scholars, teachers and arbiters of the tradition, and there may come a need to find a title through which to acknowledge their contribution.