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The God Squad: Are women equal in God's eyes?

April 05, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: Two of your last columns are tied together in my mind. Recently, you offered a prayer for the new pope and said, "Old practices that are true but not popular need to be preserved. Old practices that are just old and not true need to be let go."

The week before, you asked readers for the one question they'd ask God. After reading these two columns, I have my one question for God: Are women and men spiritual equals? If they are, and a woman has a calling, why shouldn't she be able to fully participate in the (Catholic) Church and be a priest? — L., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

A: In Orthodox Judaism, women cannot be rabbis, cannot read from the Torah scroll, cannot be counted in a prayer service and cannot sit in mixed seating with men. The struggle to allow women to be priests is thus a part of a larger struggle for women's full religious rights.

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I'm on your side. The single most important reason why I'm not an orthodox Jew is that I want my daughter, Mara, to have the same ritual horizons as my son, Max. I understand you and I agree with you. However, I've always tried to see the other side of every dispute, particularly disputes where I have strong opinions and therefore know all too well that in such disputes I might not be sufficiently open to views that contradict my own.

So let me try my best to make the best case against the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, not because I believe these arguments are dispositive but rather because I believe they're both important and authentic.

The first thing that must be understood is that an all-male priesthood doesn't mean or even imply that men are holier than women, closer to God than women or in any sense better than women. Separate does not always mean unequal. Men and women are both made equally in the image of God.

Different roles do not in and of themselves mean lower spiritual status, just different status. It has been widely assumed that one of the main reasons for excluding women was a concern that their traditional roles as the primary caregivers for children would inevitably conflict with their nearly unlimited duties as priests.

Of course, nuns solve this problem the same way women priests would solve it — by taking a vow of celibacy and forgoing marriage and family in favor of celibate service to the church and God.

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