Jewish tradition teaches the importance of paying fair wages as a matter of justice. In Leviticus 19:13, we are taught that to withhold a worker’s wages is to defraud her, an act akin to robbery. In Genesis 1:27, we learn that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the divine, and are thus deserving of equal rights and treatment. Together, these teachings compel us to fight for fair wages for all people.
The struggle for women’s equality is vital to our history as Reform Jewish women, to our education, to our sense of community, and to our religious practice. During WRJ’s history we have seen many barriers to women’s advancement fall in the arenas of employment, education, armed services, property rights, and in other areas of life. In the religious realm as well we have seen many changes in our 100+ years. There was a time when reading the Torah, leading worship, becoming b’not mitzvah and other religious activities were privileges reserved for men and boys. Thankfully that has changed, and women have made remarkable strides toward equality in Reform Jewish life.
Yet, we know there is still work to be done, both in our community and in broader society. In 2015, women in the United States who work full-time year-round earn on average only 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Women of color face an even greater disparity, with African American and Latina women earning an average of 64 and 54 cents on the white male dollar, respectively. The gap is only slightly smaller in Canada, where women on average earn 81 cents on the male dollar. These figures have improved slowly over the past 50 years—in 1960, women on average earned just 60 cents on the male dollar—but the wage gap has remained stagnant now for more than a decade. We cannot continue to wait for progress. The gender wage gap persists at all levels of education, within occupations, and across industries. The pervasiveness of this disparity indicates that deeply embedded pay discrimination, rather than women’s occupational decisions, is responsible for the injustice of pay inequity.
This year WRJ launched a pay equity initiative to begin a new conversation about women’s equality in the workplace, in society, and in our personal lives to ensure that the next generation of women will not face the same injustices women face today. The issue of women’s economic empowerment, through the focused lens of paycheck fairness, will provide opportunities for our individual members, WRJ affiliates, WRJ Districts, Reform congregations, and others in the Reform Movement to engage in legislative advocacy, social action efforts, and educational programs.
These words from the 1991 WRJ resolution “Equality for Women in the Rabbinate” still ring true:
Full acceptance means equal recruitment and employment opportunities, equal salaries and nondiscriminatory conditions of work, and promotional opportunities at all levels of responsibility, based on ability, not sex.
Full equality for women in Reform Jewish life means full equality for our clergy, educators, youth workers, and administrative and maintenance staff, as well as for lay leaders and participants in every facet of Jewish practice and professional life. WRJ takes pride in its longstanding commitment to the core Jewish principles of equality and justice, and commits through the pay equity initiative to advance a focused, strategic plan to advocate for pay equity in our community and in broader society.