Saturday, October 24, 2015

“The Pope, the Church, Rabbis, & Women” by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and at

"Should Rabbis speak out about the subordination of women in the Catholic Church and Catholic theology -- or is it entirely an internal Church question?
From the moment Pope Francis issued the encyclical on the climate crisis and the actions we need to take about it, The Shalom Center stood shoulder to shoulder with him.
But we are deeply critical of the Church's and even this Pope's basic theology and practice toward women.
We stand with him on the climate crisis precisely because Laudato Si went beyond the looming disaster for our Mother Earth to look at its deep causes. The Pope described gross inequality of wealth and power and grossly selfish arrogance toward other-than-human life as the deep issues behind the climate issue. The Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis (signed by 400+ rabbis), which we issued a few days before the Encyclical, spoke of "Corporate Carbon Pharaohs" to describe this reality.
We condemn the Pope's and the Church's ideas and actions in regard to women precisely because it reverses their theology toward the Earth. It accepts oppressive male power and arrogance toward women as legitimate -- even obligatory.
We strongly disagree with Catholic theology about the whole question of the moral agency of women to make their own decisions of conscience concerning birth control and abortion; about the ability of women to serve in all aspects of the Church; and about deeply related questions of sexuality, including the nature of same-sex sexual expression.
Those issues are arising right now as a Synod -- an assembly of bishops -- meets in Rome to consider Catholic theology and practice in regard to the family. One gay Vatican official who spoke up on the eve of the Synod for a change in the Church's behavior toward gay people was summarily fired for "creating public doubt and confusion about the holding of the Church."
Then Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, urged the Synod to consider fuller inclusion of women in the spiritual life of the Church -- specifically, ordaining women as deacons (a first baby step).
I joined in a petition supporting him. And then a rabbi wrote me in Facebook that this is a purely internal issue of the Catholic Church, and rabbis should not be getting involved in it.
His comment made me think through the questions involved in my original visceral response. And I conclude this:
There are three reasons why rabbis are not only permitted but obligated to urge that the Roman Catholic Church commit itself to the full equality of women, within and beyond the Church.
1. We are commanded, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof -- Justice, justice, shall you pursue. As Martin Luther King and many others have said, "A denial of justice anywhere undermines justice everywhere." I protest against the denial of women's equality by the Wahhabi branch of Islam and its results in the practices of the Saudi Kingdom. Since this is an "internal" Muslim matter, should I refrain from criticizing it?
2. Assertions of the indivisibility of justice are no mere rhetoric. They are, rather, a practical truth. In fact, the patriarchal structure of the Roman Catholic Church has resulted in its putting a great deal of money and political effort into subordinating women and gay men in American society way beyond the borders of the Church:
  • Preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage;
  • Opposing and trying to undermine the legality and availability of "artificial" contraception even while 96 percent of American Catholic women use it;
  • Trying to outlaw abortion even when the life of the mother is at stake, and deliberately burdening the choice of abortion so as to make it unreachable for women who legally have the right to choose it;
  • and more broadly, treating the moral agency of women in making their own conscientious choices based on their own religious perceptions, as of no account when their choices differ from male-only top-down theology.
All this is the result of the impact of a large utterly patriarchal Church on our entire society. I would certainly not outlaw such a Church, but I certainly undertake to criticize that aspect of it, seek to persuade it to change, and support those Catholics who challenge it.
3. This male-chauvinist theology of the Church has its roots in misinterpretation of Torah 2,000 years ago among some in the emerging rabbinic community that included early followers of Jesus, even before "Christianity" existed.
To the extent that ancient rabbinic misinterpretation contributed to that result, rabbinic thought and action in our own day is obligated to correct the mistake -- among Jews and among Christians.
That misinterpretation began with misconstruing the parable of the Garden of Eden. One major aspect of that story can be summarized this way:
God (YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life), speaking for and about Reality, says to the human race: "There is amazing abundance all around you. Eat of it joyfully -- but with some measure of self-restraint. From this one tree, do not eat!"
But the human species refuses to restrain itself, and its arrogance brings on two deadly disasters:
One disaster is that the abundance vanishes, so that humans must toil with the sweat pouring down their faces to wring just enough to eat from an Earth that brings forth thorns and thistles.
The other is that human arrogance turns inward also: Hierarchy comes into the world, in the form of "Men shall rule over women."
Hardly anyone has ever seen the first disastrous consequence as a command. If it were, we would be forbidden to invent tools to ease our labor or to shape a society at peace with the Earth.
But a great deal of Jewish and Christian theology has till recently seen the second disastrous consequence as a command: Men must rule over women.
But that is not the point of the story. The point is to warn us of the sad future that will arise as a result of the human race's arrogance toward the earth and its unwillingness to restrain itself from gobbling up all Earth.
And the Eden parable, together with the parables pf Manna and the Song of Songs, are also intended to inspire us to move toward healing and transformation.
The Eden story is about a childish human race growing up into rebellious adolescence, and then into an adulthood of drudgery and hierarchy. But growth is not supposed to stop there. The real goal of the Bible is for the human race to grow up into a maturity that is joyfully at peace with the Earth and in which women and men are joyfully at peace with each other. The vision is embodied in the Song of Songs -- Eden for a grown-up human race.
But much of Rabbinic theology, as well as Early Christian theology, did view the subordination of women not as a disastrous consequence but as a command.
In the last generation of Judaism, we have gone a long way to correcting that dangerous, unjust, and destructive misinterpretation of Torah. (We have not yet fully fulfilled the obligation.) So have many branches of Christianity. But not yet the Catholic Church.
I believe it behooves us as Jews and especially as rabbis to do teshuva -- turn our ancient mistake into today's transformation -- for the way in which our forebears had a hand in misshaping what became Catholicism.
In a nutshell, if it is desirable for us to applaud the Church when it tries to move beyond arrogance toward the Earth, then it is desirable -- even obligatory -- for us to criticize the Church when it encourages arrogance toward women."

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