Sara Hurwitz, First Female Orthodox "Rabba"
Sara Hurwitz on becoming a first in the Orthodox community, the backlash, and what keeps her going.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor
THERESA KANE: When I was growing up, my brother and I were devout and going to Mass on a regular basis. He was an altar boy. And I remember thinking, I wish I had been a male, so I could be an altar boy and I could be a priest. But I never went to the next question to say, well, why can't I still be a priest even though I'm not a boy?
I had this desire to want to be of service to other people, so I actually found myself thinking that I would like to be a Sister. And then out of my experiences of about 10 years in administration, it just became so natural to say, well, of course we can be priests. [MUSIC PLAYING]
And there were thousands of people coming into the cathedral. One of the Sisters asked me was I going to include the issue of women. And I said, yes. And then I said to her, would you? I don't know if I'd have the courage, she said to me.
- Sister Theresa Kane, leader of a group representing most of the nation's 140,000 nuns delivered a strong dissent from the Pope's conservative view.
THERESA KANE: The Church in its struggle to be faithful to its call must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our church.
THERESA KANE: I urge you, you Holiness, to respond to the voices coming from the women of this country who are desirous of serving in and through the church as fully participating members. When I addressed the Pope in 1979, it was a shift in mentality for Catholic women. It probably was the only moment that someone would have had to speak up publicly about it. It has done a service-- something probably beyond myself. I think I was an instrument there. I think I facilitated it. But then it took on a life of its own.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: My transparency about my failings and all of the things that make me seem not "like a pastor," are what allow me to be certain people's pastor.
Mostly I grew up in Colorado Springs. We were in a very conservative religious tradition, Church of Christ. The God that I was taught to fear was like an angry, capricious bastard with a killer surveillance system who was basically constantly disappointed in me for being a human being.
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Graves' disease. I couldn't close my eyelids so my eyes literally bulged out of my skull and I developed this anger about how people treated me. And it ends up if you add a lot of drugs and alcohol to the anger, then it no longer protects you, it starts to kill you.
I had embraced the idea that I was going to be dead by the time I was 30 and I was OK with it. And so the weird thing about getting sober is it felt like a fairly rude interruption of my life. God picked me up and I'm kicking and screaming, being like, screw you. And God's like, that's adorable. I'm going to put you on this path now.
That's why it felt like grace. It gave me a completely different view of God. I fell in love with Lutheran theology, this idea that we're all simultaneously sinner and saint, 100% of both all the time. The idea that nobody is worthy and everybody's welcome. The fact that I can make a mistake and it's not this thing that's going to determine my value forever-- that's grace.
I was just literally the only religious person in my friend circle, and so I agreed to it. And I looked out and I saw these comics and academics, recovering alcoholics and queers, and I just thought, these people don't have a pastor. And then I went, oh, shit, I think it's supposed to be me. I think I'm supposed to be a pastor to my people as myself, with my struggles and failings, not some platonic ideal.
I had coffee with everybody in Denver twice and I couldn't get more than like 30, 40 people to come to church, and I felt like a failure. Then I was asked to preach at Red Rocks, there's 10,000 people. And then "The Denver Post," they did this front page article about me. My church doubled in size overnight because of this.
My parish is kind of a hot mess. It's a bunch of people who don't really belong in a church. The drag queens and the weirdos and the gays, but then we have these baby-boomers from the suburbs. One of my parishioners said, look, as the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I want to go on record as saying, I'm so glad there are people who look like my mom and dad at church now 'cause they love me in a way my mom and dad can't.
I have seen this thing about grace change me and change people in my congregation in a way that just telling them how to be good never would. I had to start a church I'd be willing to show up to. I don't like church-- it's exhausting to be like, oh, I better watch what I say. Can't make that joke, don't talk about that part of my past-- who's going to do that? To me, it felt really defiant to say, no, I think we can be a part of organized religion and do it on our terms.
SARA HURWITZ: My philosophy in life has always been to put one foot in front of the other and not think about the consequences so much.
There are no female rabbinic role models, really. So it didn't occur to me that it was possible. I was born in South Africa. And I lived there until I was 12. Coming from a very small, close-knit Jewish community to this very vast, big community in South Florida was a little bit jarring for me. And so I gravitated towards the synagogue, and I gravitated towards Jewish communal life.
I met with Rabbi Weiss. And we talked about women and Judaism. And Rabbi Weiss said that within five years from now, there will be women rabbis. And I think that I kind of perked up at that moment.
I received the title "rabba" in January of 2010. But there was tremendous fallout.
I think the community to the right is afraid of feminism and feared that this was not within the framework of Jewish law.
I can't tell you how many times I've been the 10th person in a room when we're trying to begin a certain prayer, and we've had to wait for that 10th man. And somebody inevitably in the room will say, oh, don't you wish you could count? And ha, ha, ha-- and they'll think it's a joke. It's not funny. It's not funny, because I take it very seriously.
This is what I've chosen to do. Each time I go to a community, I see people open themselves up to the possibility of having a woman as a spiritual leader. And I think what gives me the nerve to do what I do is the small differences I can make in people's lives-- the 11-year-old girls who were sending me letters saying that now they had a role model to look to.