He, she and God: Womens equality is a Divine right

On a recent Friday evening, my 16-year-old daughter led services at Kol Haneshama synagogue in Jerusalem. In a secular society that sees the Orthodox world as too extreme, Reform synagogues like Kol Haneshama fill a critical spiritual need.

What is unique about houses of worship like Kol Haneshama, and about the Reform movement in general, is that my daughter could stand in front of a congregation and lead it in prayer.

As a woman, she is an equal partner in helping to create the religious atmosphere that enables Jews to reach God. This is the Reform Movement's greatest contribution to the Jewish world.

I say "Jewish world" and not "religious Jewish world." If one sees, as I do, instituting egalitarianism as a Divine imperative, then the consequences can only be a better society, with improved relationships between men and women.

And here I part ways with some of my liberal colleagues who see religious pluralism as the crowning achievement of a democratic society.

Pluralism as a concept must come second to equality. Why? Because pluralism connotes tolerance, which by definition is a grudging, negative term.

Religious freedom, another code-phrase for liberals, is no more helpful in setting the parameters of a truly democratic society. For under its banner all manner of behaviors would have to be tolerated, including discrimination against women.

Over the centuries, male rabbis, schooled in the sociological realities of their times, interpreted halachah in a way that served their male egos. They totally disregarded the Divine thrust toward equality of the sexes that was clearly present at creation.

We liberal religionists must not become complicit partners in their disregard.

Conservative Jews in Israel would not allow my daughter to chant Torah in their synagogue. They also would not allow her to be the 10th person making up a quorum in a house of mourning, thus denying a female mourner the opportunity to recite Kaddish over, for example, the death of her father.

For Conservative or any other Jews to justify such inequality by hiding behind the cloak of pluralism is totally unacceptable.

Equality is a God-given right. To request, therefore, that the Reform Movement, which nurtures this right, be "tolerated" in the name of religious freedom is to reduce the glorious creation of the universe and the Divine spark in each of us to a political parlor game.

Reform Judaism deserves its rightful place in the Jewish world precisely because in its name a 16-year-old girl can stand before God and the people of Israel. Orthodoxy's refusal to recognize this Divine thrust toward equality will eventually leave it relying on pure (read: impure) coalition partnerships to protect its religious turf.

Ultimately such machinations will not stand the test of time, for God never intended the human race to be divided into "superior" and "inferior" halves.

Kabbalah expounds the theory that before releasing a soul for life on earth, God splits it in two. When these two parts find one another in life, their encounter is true love and their union fulfills the biblical saying: "And they shall be of one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

That unity — two divinely inspired, equal halves making up one whole — surely dates from the very beginning of time. Any religious movement that refuses to embrace this expression of the Divine thereby removes itself from the protective cover of religious pluralism and religious freedom.

It is time for those in the non-Orthodox religious camp to stop begging for tolerance from Israel's Orthodox religious establishment. For how can one stream of Judaism expect to be accepted by another that has, embedded in its ideological being, a theological mooring that is intolerant in nature?