I am going to be a terrible rebbetzin.
There are all kinds of personal reasons for this (drinking, swearing, scandalous clothing choices, etc)–but I think the most important factor leading to my impending doom as the Jewish Calamity Jane is the fact that NO ONE CAN BE A PERFECT REBBETZIN.
It is impossible to succeed. In this anachronistic (yet still very relevant) role, as it is currently constructed in today’s “post feminist” world, there are plenty of ways to screw up, yet no way to actually win.
A rebbetzin is expected to have an independent career so that rabbis can be paid less. However, the rebbitzen’s career must be dropped like a hot rock the second words like “Israel” or “sabbatical” are mentioned.
A rebbetzin is supposed to invest time and energy into her home. Yet if she doesn’t show up to services or volunteer efforts at shul enough, she’s a slacker.
A rebbetzin is supposed to listen to everyone’s problems and empathize. However, he can’t publicly have emotions of his own like anger, exasperation, boredom, frustration, etc.
The issues rebbetzins face have a lot in common with the impossible juggling act that is expected of the average working woman–but instead of one family judging them, rebbetzins have hundreds of families judging them!
I learned a lot at the clergy partners’ conference I attended at Hebrew College yesterday. I learned about the history of the rebbetzin role in America. I learned about how rabbis’ contracts can affect their spouses’ lives. I learned that pretty much everyone struggles with boundaries. And I learned that I will be a bad rebbetzin.
I have decided to embrace my bad rebbetzinhood. This is an important turning point for me; rather than becoming intimidated by a role that not even RuPaul herself could ever hope to master, I’m choosing to turn everything upside down and just have fun with it.
I am still keenly aware of the pressures which I will face in a few years, so I think it’s important to problematize our unquestioned notions of gender, tradition, and perhaps even the very concept of spiritual “leaders” (e.g. the way we tend to think of clergy as superhuman). I want to think about exactly what I’m not allowed to do and why I’m not allowed to do it. Who says I’m supposed to wake up one morning a perfect Stepford wife, and where on earth did they get that idea? With my own rebellious misadventures in mind, I am starting a special ten part series of this blog–the “Bad Rebbetzin Blog”–wherein I detail exactly how I am going to be a bad rebbetzin. So stay tuned!
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