Women in Male-Dominated Religious Roles: Event Recap

By Kathy Bolano, Communications Intern

On Thursday March 12th, we had the honor of hosting a Friends In Faith event with Cantor Julie Yugend-Green about being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated religious role. She is an ordained clergywoman, and her position as a cantor is significant because music is an important part of the Jewish prayer service. As cantor, she leads the congregation in prayer along with the rabbi.

Growing up in a conservative Jewish home in Minnesota, Cantor Green credits her mother for the support and environment that nurtured her ability to pursue the role of cantor in a time when people simply thought “but we’ve never done it that way.” She spoke of how her mother lobbied the rabbi in the family’s temple to have a woman hold the Torah during Kol Nidre Service (the eve of Yom Kippur), how it had to go through a synagogue committee and was eventually approved.

As a teenager, the beautiful chants and prayers captivated her and spurred her to ask her cantor to teach her to do the same. Her request prompted the same response from her temple leaders–“but we’ve never done it that way.” But Cantor Green wanted to pursue the position, so whenever she was in town and had a free Friday night, she would stop by her family’s temple and lead the Kabbalat Shabbat.

After college, and about two weeks before her wedding, one such Friday night, she was cantoring and she had an “Ah Ha” moment. She realized that she wanted to be a cantor, after much debate between her rabbi and her cantor as to which seminary school she should attend, Cantor Green ultimately went to study at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and was ordained as cantor in 1994. She joined Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion Temple as cantor in 1997 and became a founding member of the West Suburban Chevra Kadisha, a partnership between Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion and West Suburban Temple Har Zion.

Cantor Green considers Israel like a second home, but at the same time she is not recognized as a cantor by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Israel, who believe that rabbis and cantors should be male. She expressed that these situations hurt: for example, there are certain ultra-orthodox neighborhoods  within Jerusalem where she feels like no matter what she does, she could never do enough to compensate for being a female in a traditionally male role. At her congregation in Oak Park, she had noted that she is not treated very differently from male cantorial counterparts aside from a few comments on her appearance such as wardrobe or hair style. She did express that there have been situations in the past where a congregant’s orthodox relative did not feel comfortable with a female cantor. The synagogue and Cantor Green always strive to achieve Shalom Bayis, Peace in the Home, and worked with the family accordingly.

We would like to thank Cantor Julie Yugend-Green for sharing her story with us here at the Niagara Foundation.

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