Women rabbis are at the forefront of starting new synagogues, even if they don’t go by that name as they push at the boundaries of traditional Reform, Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism. These “indie synagogues” are known for their exuberant prayer styles and their success at attracting larger numbers of unaffiliated young Jews has gained the attention of more conventional Jewish leaders, writes Lauren Markoe in Religion News Service (April 8). Examples include the Kavana Cooperative, a Jewish prayer community in Seattle, Mishkan Chicago, and the Los Angeles-based Ikar congregation, which boasts an impressive 600 family units in membership. Women tend to be leaders of these unconventional congregations because they themselves are still seen as unconventional in Judaism and thus are more likely to push the envelope on accepted practices and traditions, Markoe adds.
These women rabbis tend to stress consensus building rather than top-down directives, something that fits in with feminist psychology as viewing women as eschewing a top-down leadership style, according to historian Hasia Diner of New York University. Unlike mainstream Jewish congregations, these independent groups tend to meet in rented or public spaces—from churches to city parks. Rabbi Rachel Brous of Ikar opts for no pews because they are an impediment to dancing during services. She cites the more emotional and bodily worship evident in Israel as her inspiration. One Conservative rabbi notes that many of these women have come from Conservative Jewish backgrounds, even if they are post-denominational.