What My Rabbi Taught Me

23 October 2013

By Naomi Rivkis, October 2013

When I think about equality in Judaism, the rabbi who comes to my mind first was male. His name was Arnold Jacob Wolf, and I’m told now that he was famous. All I knew was that he was my rabbi, my teacher; the person whom I turned to for advice and inspiration.

One of Rabbi Wolf’s biggest themes was that Jews cannot stand idly by in the face of bigotry and injustice. Not among gentiles, and certainly not among our own people. He publicly upbraided other rabbis in the 1960s, suggesting that the place where they belonged was not at a rabbinical conference eating bagels and discussing Halakha, but out in the streets of Birmingham, helping to fight for racial equality in the United States. Because that’s where the need was. Because he believed the place for every Jew was where the need was.

I never spoke with Rabbi Wolf about the Women of the Wall, but I don’t have to in order to know what he would have thought. For they are standing in the place he wanted us to be — on the front lines of the fight for equality. I honor them because he would have honored them, and I will do everything I can to support their cause, and the overall effort for gender equality in Israel. Because Rabbi Wolf would want me to; because he taught me to. Because Jews cannot stand idly by in the face of bigotry and injustice.

Naomi Rivkis is a licensed massage practitioner in Seattle, Washington. She attended college at the University of Chicago, and was fortunate enough to encounter Rabbi Wolf there. For ten years she attended his synagogue, KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, in Hyde Park. She is now a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle.


« Back to Taking Our Place homepage