By Simon Rocker
December 27, 2013
It was hardly a shock when Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote to his rabbis last week to rule out partnership minyans – Orthodox services where women can read from the Torah and lead certain prayers.
Whereas his recent decisions to go to Limmud or approve the election of women as trustees of the United Synagogue were welcome, they were not unexpected and hardly radical.
Partnership minyans are a different matter, and most people would have been amazed if a relatively conservative institution such as the United Synagogue had endorsed them at this juncture.
So far, the chief rabbi’s comments have attracted little criticism, even from supporters of partnership minyans themselves.
Miriam Camerini, from Milan, who organised the partnership minyan at Limmud’s pre-conference Shabbat, said: “Before I read it, I imagined it would be worse and much more against.”
One Orthodox rabbi who attended Limmud felt that the chief rabbi had adopted a nuanced position – barring such minyans within the United Synagogue but not condemning those held outside its jurisdiction.
That interpretation was echoed by Miriam herself, who thought the chief rabbi a “mensch – he’s just doing his job as an Orthodox rabbi. He’s just saying no one should have them in his synagogues. He’s not saying anything judgmental.”
It was certainly a milder response than she has experienced in her native Italy, where talk of partnership minyans usually met with the claim that it would “potentially destroy the community.”
Although she has lectured on the subject at home, “it’s never been done there because of the fierce opposition”.
What Rabbi Mirvis said was this: “It is my view that such services are not something that can take place within our synagogues or under our auspices. Whilst I welcome innovation where this is halachically sound, particularly encouraging both men and women to participate more actively and meaningfully in prayer, there is virtually complete consensus within the Orthodox rabbinate, including within the modern Orthodox rabbinate, on this matter.”
Could he be open to persuasion in years to come? That may depend on how far partnership minyans spread across the community and whether they start drawing people away from the United Synagogue and regional congregations.
But it would be interesting to see whether he'd be ready to talk about such a controversial issue as this at Limmud – if he, as many hope he will, came to the conference again.