Be a better rabbi’s wife
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Be a better rabbi’s wife

It’s just not as easy to be a rabbi’s wife as it used to be. The lives of women and wives have become increasingly complicated, as they try to figure out how to juggle home, family, and work. Try adding to that a responsibility to the several hundred families of your husband’s congregation — who expect you to learn with them, socialize with them, and often counsel them — and it’s a tough gig.

Which is why Yeshiva University’s Center for Jewish Future ran a conference in Teaneck this week at Cong. Keter Torah, providing a forum where 30 or so modern rabbis’ wives could take a closer look at what it means to be the wife of a rabbi.

"The role of the rabbi’s wife has changed significantly," said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center. "I felt it with my own wife, as did many of my peers, so I insisted that we have this conference."

Bander, who is rabbi emeritus at the Boca Raton Synagogue in Boca Raton, Fla., saw his shul grow from 60 to 600 families, and when it did, the pressure on his wife became intense. It’s one thing trying to relate to 60 families. You can have them all over for a Kiddush after services, but 600 is impossible.

And his wife, an occupational therapist, still wanted to work, and had family responsibilities. So instead of trying to be everything to everyone, she took on specific projects for the shul, such as overseeing the building of a mikvah.

"It’s a balancing act," he said.

The trouble is that most women just don’t know what they are getting into when they marry a rabbi, said Dr. Cirelle Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt, whose husband, Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt, is the rabbi at Schara Tzedeck Congregation in Vancouver, B.C., has a Ph.D. in psychology. When her husband was an assistant rabbi — first at Keter Torah, then at Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood — she was a part of the shul, but something of a second draw when it came to being a rebbetzin, so she could hold a full-time job. But now that her husband has his own large congregation, she has more obligations. So she teaches several classes for the women of the shul and sometimes is a panelist on various shul forums. She also does her fair share of entertaining.

"This hasn’t been a sore point. I am happy to do it," she said. "It just wouldn’t be my career."

And she would like to go back to work — something that is complicated further because a rabbi works nights, days, and especially weekends, which leaves her with almost full responsibility for taking care of their children as well.

"It’s difficult to find that sacred time for your own work," she said.

"Rabbis need to create space for their wives to develop themselves — just as all husbands in other fields need to create situations where their wives can develop themselves," said Rabbi Dr. David J. Schachter, the senior scholar for the Center for Jewish Learning. "I don’t know why this conference hasn’t been held before."

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