How far will the Chief Rabbi go on women?

By Simon Rocker
February 20, 2014

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis this week spelt out the reasons for his opposition to partnership minyans at the annual conference for United Synagogue rabbis.

Two months ago he announced that PMs – semi-egalitarian Orthodox services where women can read from the Torah – were inappropriate to hold on US premises.

On Tuesday he led a shiur which examinied in greater detail why these new-style services are an innovation too far.

But there is a wider question: what will Chief Rabbi allow to improve the participation of women in the synagogue?

At the conference, rabbis got the impression that there are some changes he might not personally favour but would not want to ban.

Over the past year or two, one or two US congregations have been quietly introducing new customs.

At Golders Green, for instance, the Sefer Torah is taken around the women’s section before it is read on Shabbat and festivals.

South Hampstead has recently decided that girls under batmitzvah age can sing Anim Zmirot, the Hymn of Glory, at the end of the service – in groups rather than individually.

At increasing number of Orthodox synagogues, women also dance with the Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah. It was this practice that apparently prompted the head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations to remonstrate against “Reform” tendencies within Orthodoxy last autumn.

It seems that Rabbi Mirvis is happy to give his rabbis a certain amount of autonomy in deciding what is right for their congregations – within halachic parameters.

But it is yet to be seen whether he will issue central guidelines setting out what he regards as permissible and what oversteps the mark.


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