This past week, a Wall Street Journal article by Joseph Epstein criticized Jill Biden for including the title Dr. in her name – arguing that her doctorate was not up to the standards of what a Dr. should be. Epstein argued that use of Dr. should be reserved for medical doctors alone, and that Biden’s PHD does not deserve the same recognition. The irony is that the term doctor is derived from the Latin docere, meaning to teach and originally referred to professors in universities. The label was intended precisely for people like Dr. Biden, and not for those in the medical field.
While Mr. Epstein has since claimed that his opinion piece was not intended to be misogynistic, it clearly reads that way. Attacking a prominent woman’s credentials as inadequate and then calling her ‘kiddo’ is a recipe for disaster.
The article reminded me of a book I read in seminary about the long-standing attempts by women to earn the title Rabbi. It was not until 1972 that this actually happened when Sally Priesand was ordained in Cincinatti, Ohio. Until that time, women who sought to be rabbis were forced to take on various other titles or no title at all. They were told that they did not have the same abilities and that the title Rabbi must only be given to the men who earned it.
Dr. Biden deserves her honorific title as much as any other woman or man who has earned a PHD in Education or a semicha rabbinic degree.