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Women's Challenge to Worship Leadership Restrictions

The Jewish celebration of Purim is a celebration of the unexpected breaking into the world. The celebration is centered around Esther, a Jewish girl who foils a plot to have the Jewish community of Persia destroyed, and the reading of the Book of Esther is central to the celebration.

According to the story, when a courtier hatches a plot to convince the King of Persia the Jews are his enemies, Queen Esther has to take several risks to unmask the true enemy of the state and to show the blamelessness of her people. Masking and unmasking are core elements of the story, so it is fitting that celebrants dress in costumes or arrive wearing masks. It is also fitting that women, so often hidden in the official rituals of Jewish worship, reveal themselves as "also obliged in the commandment" to read Esther in public worship settings.

In a five-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting and analysis at the intersection of faith and culture, correspondent Kim Lawton explores the key role women have recently claimed in the celebration of Purim at an Orthodox synagogue in New York City. The turnaround in perceptions within that New York Jewish community reflects the turnaround in the story of Esther and the constant turnarounds one encounters in a lifelong relationship with God.

In a four-minute video of interview outtakes, Rabbi Benjamin Elton provides historical background on the story of Esther and its modern reflection in contemporary Orthodox Jewish life and customs, which in turn reflects the greater learning and education of contemporary women, and the ongoing internal cultural struggle over the roles of women and men in Jewish worship leadership.

For perspective on the leadership struggle women face in Christian Pentecostalism, read "Leadership and Women in Pentecostal Ministry", an interview with researchers James Bowers and Kimberly Alexander archived on Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. For information about the leadership rebellion of women in the Catholic Church, see the REN news video, "Roman Catholic Women Priests." For more on the roles of women in religion, see the "Articles on Women and Religion" page of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a source for high-quality research and scholarship on cutting edge issues. For perspective on faith community leadership in general, see our feature article, "Best Resources for Leadership Research."

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