Because It's 5776

Justin Trudeau, the new 43 year old Prime Minister of Canada, when asked by a reporter why it was important to him that his newly announced cabinet was composed of 15 women and 15 men, responded, matter-of-factly, "Because it's 2015."

That reply, and the palms-outstretched shrug that went with it, instantly became an Internet meme, spawning numberless editorials, and a hip hop video scratch-looping the quote with bouncy vehemence - "Because it's 2015, it's 2015..."

"Watch Canada's Prime Minister shut down institutional sexism with just three words," crowed one website. If only it were that easy - but they were darn good words for sure, with some very good realities to match. And, to be sure, it's about time.

Earlier the same day, when one of his aides remarked that there were likely to be questions about his cabinet's unprecedented gender balance, Trudeau was heard to reply, "Do people still think they can get away with the arguments that they're making now against this?" - at which another aide suggested, "I think just calling people's attention to the year is all you really need to say."

So "Because it's 2015" wasn't entirely unpremeditated - but, for that matter, the construction of Justin Trudeau's remarkable cabinet was hardly off the cuff. Not just gender balance, but the first indigenous North American to serve as Minister of Justice; a Minister of Veterans Affairs who is quadriplegic; a former refugee as Minister of Democratic Institutions; and more Sikhs in Trudeau's cabinet than serve in the cabinet of India, including a Minister of Defense in full beard and turban - try that on for size (and, my U.S. friends, before you reflexively mock the notion of Canada's military, consider Harjit Sajjan's four tours of duty in Bosnia and Afghanistan.)

"Un conseil des ministres qui ressemble énormément au Canada...a cabinet that looks like Canada," the young Prime Minister aptly proclaimed.

Our Torah-reading this week is Toldot - "generations" - and the topic is our birthright.

And a question buzzing in Jewish domains of the Internet these days is: who among us may ascend, by way of merit, and accomplishment, by sage endorsement, and by communal embrace, to stations of Jewish governance, and thereby lead in shaping the Jewish future? And the answer today, I believe, must be: all of us.

Because it's 5776.

Why, as a not-Orthodox rabbi, do I care about the Rabbinic Council of America's recent policy statement against women assuming ordained positions of leadership in Orthodox society and institutions? After all - as much as I may sympathize with female friends embarked upon and training for just such leadership - isn't the RCA's decree against women in the rabbinate just Orthodoxy being, well, orthodox, and what's that to me?

It is something quite significant - because these are exciting times (which perhaps is always the case, but these are our exciting times), and they call for exciting people.

My own Jewish faith is that the generative depths of our tradition will best continue to bring forth wondrous and redemptive amalgams of fidelity and imagination (to use legal scholar Robert Cover's terminology) if we lean in to the wonders and the knowledge of our times - rather than away from anything that may produce change where we are most at home. There is no such thing as a society that is not dynamic; and, generally speaking, I love to see that dynamism celebrated in a spirit of adventure - far more than, well, than not.

Speaking about the generative depths of our Torah, there is an ancient rabbinic interpretation that brings a verse from the biblical Proverbs to bear on the opening of this week's Torah-reading in a way that may ring with poignant overtones as we think of gender balance in the rabbinate. The rather patriarchal Proverb says, to translate literally: "Sons of sons are the crown of old men; and the glory of sons are their fathers" (Prov. 17:6) - which has to do with generations reflecting well on one another. The rabbinic homily applies this verse to the birth of Jacob (later to be called Israel), fathered by Abraham's son, Isaac, as follows:

"The matter may be compared to one who was tried by the government and sentenced to burn. But that government saw by way of its astrology that this person was destined to have a daughter and that this daughter would marry the king. So they pronounced, 'This one is worthy of being saved by virtue of his daughter.' Just so, Abraham was about to be burned by Nimrod, but the Holy Blessed One saw that Jacob was destined to descend from Abraham, and said, 'Abraham is worthy of being saved by virtue of Jacob.'"

Jacob, in the parable, is the daughter destined to marry the king, who is God. Even recognizing that, in its time, the terms of the tale took woman- and wife-hood to stand for devoted submission, I cannot help hearing some encouragement for present-day daughters of Jacob, called through Torah toward a pioneering path of sacred service and ordained leadership, in the fact that all of Israel is deemed a daughter by whose merit a whole patrimony is redeemed.

In exciting times it's good to have exciting colleagues - and when good people step up in good faith to lead, more power to them. Call me a hopelessly romantic child of Pierre Trudeau's Canada, with faith in my Home and Native Land newly restored by Justin Trudeau's liberal vision for our times -

But it's 5776. And I like the thought of a rabbinate that looks like the Jewish people.